Happy Bloggiversary 2018 (5 Years and Going Strong)

This past week marks the five year anniversary of this blog. That’s five years of posting weekly without missing a single week. Even when I traveled for work or leisure, I have always made sure to take the time to get a post published. This blog has been going on so long that this is actually the second platform it has been hosted on. The first no longer exists because IGN shut their blog section down. That is a real shame because two to three years of blog posts are no longer accessible to the public. I still have them saved on my hard drive but I’ve never felt like it was particularly useful to repost blog content from two or more years ago. Maybe one day I’ll take the time if enough people request me to.

I just wanted to say thank you to all my readers whether you’ve been reading since the beginning or just started last week. This is a discussion blog, not a diary, meaning that without you there is no blog. Though the process has been slow since I changed platforms, I have seen real growth on this blog. My readership has expanded and on a couple occasions this blog was even recognized by blog awards groups. It makes me happy to know that there is still an audience for long form, critical writing about gaming related topics.

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I also did a lot of reviews of movies this year, which I’m really happy about. Expanding my content to other forms of digital entertainment has been fulfilling and brings a new perspective and area of discussion to the blog as a whole. I will continue this trend of keeping the blog open to all forms of entertainment media moving forward.

Along with my blog, the last year has been good for my other channels as well. I finally got back into streaming regularly on Twitch and have increased the amount I stream and post to YouTube exponentially. When I first started this blog and the related channels, I was only doing one video a week and occasionally streaming. Now I’m streaming and posting videos to YouTube four or more times a week regularly. This is a big step for me and I’m very proud of the accomplishment. I hope to step my game up even more in the coming year and raise the quality of my streams with full high quality audio commentary regardless of the platform the games are being played on. I’ve already put steps in motion  to make this a reality.

The upcoming year looks promising both for gaming and for the content I’ll create here and on my other platforms. I’d also like to expand into making more fun content like silly trailers and more produced/edited gaming footage. Here’s a small thing I did this week just for fun that I hope you enjoy.

There’s no reason to drag things on, so I’ll close this post quickly. I just want to say one more time how grateful I am for the last five years of blogging about games and I’m looking forward to year six. Like I did in this post last year, here’s a list of all the games I’ve beaten in the last year.

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2018 List

 

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Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate – Storytelling Done Right

I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed games since the beginning and always in order. I’ve never skipped a console release title, including those Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles games, which actually weren’t that bad. I’m currently behind so I only just finished Syndicate this week, but I can’t wait to play Origins and Odyssey. I, like most long time AC players, have a weird relationship with the franchise. It constantly teeters between love and hate. There are things that are truly great about the franchise and to have seen how far it has come since the original release more than 10 years ago is both impressive and inspiring. But there are also issues that have plagued the games for years, many of which have only gotten worse over time. In my opinion, the storytelling is the weakest part of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and has been since at least Assassin’s Creed III. But the storytelling issues have existed since even before that game which was already several games into the franchise. This is extra depressing because the story is ultimately why I continue playing the games. I want to see a clear ending to this franchise. That’s not because I don’t like the franchise and want to see it end, but rather that I play games for the stories and I hate stories that don’t have clear endings.

AC has a host of storytelling problems. This is due mostly to the disjointed nature of the games and how they function as parts of an overarching narrative that has itself drastically shifted in direction in non-sensible ways over the course of the franchise. The big problem with the storytelling is that the modern day content has little to do with the Animus content while also acting as the bridge between multiple games that you’re only really playing for the Animus content. But it’s very apparent that the modern day content has always been an afterthought in the creation of these games. Rather than try to clean it up, Ubisoft decided the best way to deal with the modern day storyline was to significantly reduce its presence within the games. You see this a lot in the games that take place after ACIII. The amount of modern day content has been reduced more and more until you finally get to Syndicate where you don’t even play in the modern day. It’s reduced to four or five short cinematics all with the intention of justifying a single end game cut scene that doesn’t feature anyone of significance other than the weird first civilization MCP (yes that’s a Tron reference) that keeps showing up in games since ACIII but never really does anything. Supposedly it saved the world from a solar flare though.

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I see the direction that AC has taken by almost completely diluting away the out of Animus content to non-playable cut scenes and a bare minimum of time on screen as a good thing, but that’s not actually the part about the storytelling in Syndicate that I like the most. The key factor that I think makes the storytelling superior in Syndicate to just about every other AC game to date is the fact that you have multiple never before seen playable characters experiencing directly related stories and spaces. In past games you never had this, save for a short sequence in ACIII as Haythem Kenway. You had two loosely related characters acting independently of each other in the form of an ancestor and an Animus user/viewer. This never worked well for me because the games always slacked on the setting, gameplay, and writing for the Animus user. I genuinely didn’t care about Desmond and his whiny, depressing parent issues. I cared even less when you were some anonymous drone sneaking around the Abstergo offices. Those aspects of the story (and gameplay) have always been trash by comparison to the ancestor. That’s also why you never saw Desmond on the cover of the games. What I cared about has always been the story inside the Animus. Syndicate fleshes this story out more.

In Syndicate, you have two main playable characters and a third one if you play the Jack the Ripper expansion, during Industrial Revolution London. Plus there’s a fourth playable character in the base game that takes place during WWI for a short disconnected sequence. I thought this entire presentation of interconnected stories was brilliant. It added context, emotion, and background to all the characters involved. It strengthened the overall storytelling in a number of ways. It also led to variations in my gameplay style from character to character because I felt compelled to play each character the way I thought they would play rather than how I preferred to play. In many ways it was like playing multiple games in one while still maintaining a focused narrative. And even though the WWI sequence wasn’t directly connected to the main story, it was still excellent because it followed the progeny of one of the main characters. It was like taking a break from the game without taking a break from the game while providing additional information for the overarching narrative. I thought it was brilliantly executed.

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Syndicate doesn’t have the best plot of any AC game. It’s set in a time where capitalism is already ruining people’s lives in a country that’s not that interesting in the grand scheme of the AC universe. But it tells its story better than most of the other AC games I’ve played so far. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it considering the large number of negative comments I heard about it. I genuinely don’t understand where the negativity came from because it’s way better than Unity and is a nice change from Rogue, which is just a smaller scale copy of Black Flag. Many people even told me to skip Syndicate altogether, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Syndicate even handles the age old main character gender problem in games well. The game doesn’t center on either a male or female character. It stars both. And adds one of each additional character in the special sequences. It’s a perfectly balanced form of gender neutral storytelling that lets the player decide what/who to play as while making them both plot relevant without being plot neutral. There are also sequences that are character specific because the two play off of each other in a very effective way. And they have a few differing abilities to offer you a reason to swap between them depending on the mission you’re in.

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It’s a perfectly democratic way to make and play a game that in no way lowered the quality of the storytelling. Really it enhanced it. And, in this case they made me want to play as the female character in the right way. They made her interesting. Evie Frye is a better character than Jacob Frye. Or at least a better assassin. She thinks things through. She acknowledges the consequences or her and her brother’s actions. She has better stealth abilities. I wanted to play as her more. I still made myself rotate between the two often, even when I didn’t have to, but she’s the better character, in my opinion. That’s how you get male gamers to play games with female protagonists. You make the characters interesting and the games good. It’s really that simple. Tomb Raider does well because Lara Croft is a good character and the games are well made. There’s no magic formula. It’s not a political issue. Real gamers play good games. You could do The Witcher with a female protagonist. But it has to be at the quality level of The Witcher. Otherwise it’s just a “shitty feminism game that wishes it was The Witcher.” But by giving the player the choice in Syndicate, Ubisoft managed to make a game with a female protagonist without having to market it as such.  This made it way more appealing and accessible for everyone. Which begs the question: Why have we been playing these shitty out of Animus sequences for all these years to begin with?

The only reason the Animus is part of the franchise is that Ubisoft needed a link between all the games. For some reason they felt that it wasn’t good enough just to have the same name and general Assassin Templar war. They wanted to directly link each game via an overarching story, which in my opinion they’ve done, but failed to do well. Even as they’ve changed it over time and tried to salvage it, the modern day stuff is still trash. And with the death of Desmond, a character I absolutely hated, I all but stopped caring about who’s involved or what’s happening. I just want it to end so I can have a real conclusion. But why didn’t they just connect the games the way they connect the WWI and Jack the Ripper stories in Syndicate from the start? They could have just used the ancestry concept but directly linked the games via historical meetings. You have Altair get married and have kids. Then you have one of those kids become an assassin and travel to another country. Then that person meets another assassin named Ezio Auditore. Then the game follows Ezio.

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You get the same effect you have now of following a story through time and changing between multiple characters. You can even keep the piece of Eden thing they have going. But you don’t need all that superfluous modern day crap that no one even cares about anymore. You link the characters directly to each other through history as the war continues. That would also allow you to return to older characters later in different points in their lives. Like Ezio in Revelations. It takes place years after Brotherhood. Rather than doing the whole memory sequence mumbo jump they could have just done a game about another assassin he met along the way and then at the end of that game, years later in the timeline, that assassin reconnects with Ezio. Then in the next game a now older Ezio goes to Constantinople. No weird annoying bullshit needed. And it’s not like people can’t deal with time hops. The current games do them and it’s not an issue. You just do a sequence like Connor went to England and then wipe forward years later and show him returning from England, or whatever. The audience isn’t stupid. We can follow a shifting narrative. How else have we been playing AC games for all these years? You could go back in time as well. Just do an Edward found this old journal of a past assassin and started reading it opening sequence as a transition backwards. It’s not that hard.

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My point is that Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate does a great job with the storytelling because for 99% of the game it doesn’t pull you out of the Animus. And that 1% isn’t gameplay. It’s only cut scenes. This created a much stronger and more coherent narrative experience. As I said at the beginning of this post, I haven’t played Origins or Odyssey yet so maybe they’ve finally cleaned it all up. But I doubt it. There’s no real reason we needed this modern day storyline to make this franchise work. And I think it could still be done away with now. By implementing multiple playable characters in the same directly connected time periods, they can tell a much stronger story and solve their diversity problems at the same time. Adewale didn’t really need his own expansion in Black Flag. He should have just been playable in Black Flag with his own special sequences as well as in the open world. Haytham could have been playable for a much larger part of ACIII. These games are already connected in many ways. They simply needed to go the extra mile and not make up some weird trapped in the machine AI story filled with solar flares and faceless walking simulator sequences.

Syndicate was the best AC since played Black Flag. It has revitalized my interest in the franchise and I’m very much looking forward to both Origins and Odyssey, both of which I’ve heard great things about. Hopefully that includes great storytelling.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Nintendo Switch) Early Impressions Review

I was unsure about Starlink: Battle for Atlas going into it. The marketing was good but kind of vague. I was getting some No Man’s Sky vibes from it, which isn’t a compliment, but I was also getting some solid story based gameplay vibes from it as well, which is the greatest of gaming compliments. If I’m honest I have to say that the main selling point for me was that Star Fox is in the Switch version. You have to understand how much I love Star Fox and how long I’ve been waiting for a good Star Fox game. Having played every home console Star Fox game on its original release console, including Star Fox Guard and Star Fox 2, it’s my opinion that a good Star Fox game hasn’t been made since 2005. Star Fox 2 is good, but that was made in 1996. I hated Star Fox Zero. It had some good ideas but the controls were terrible to the point where I struggled just to finish the base game and haven’t played it since. So the prospect of a good Star Fox game was very appealing, but not enough to get me to buy Starlink day one, because this wasn’t made in house by Nintendo. Thankfully I received a review copy and I’m glad I did.

Let me be very clear in saying that I’m only about three hours into Starlink: Battle for Atlas at this point. I plan on playing it a lot more and after the three hours I have played, I can already say that I will absolutely finish this game and possibly go for a 100% completion. But I wanted to write something about it now while it’s new so people who are on the fence can get a better understanding of it so they can make a more informed purchasing decision. That’s why I’m leaving this review unscored and I put “Early Impressions” in the title of the post. I also want to make clear that I haven’t looked at the non-Switch versions of the game at all. I don’t even know how they compare graphically so be aware that this review is only talking about the Switch version unless otherwise stated.

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Before getting into the finer details of the game, there are two main things that need to be said about Starlink before anything else. The first is that this game essentially took all the good ideas from No Man’s Sky, layered them over a The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild foundation, and then decorated it with Star Fox paint. That’s what this game is in a nut shell. They took the No Man’s Sky open world, resource management, space exploration concept, added an actual story, dialed back the map to that of large, but not infinite, and allowed players the ability to play an open galaxy space fighter game as Fox McCloud with his crew along for the ride. In other words, they did what people actually wanted rather than try to be overly experimental for the sake of grandeur.

The second thing that needs to be said is that this is not a Star Fox game. The PS4 and XB1 versions of the game don’t contain the Star Fox team. They were added into the Switch version similarly to how Link was added into Soul Calibur II (2002) on the Gamecube version of the game. The difference though is that Fox and crew have been added into Starlink with great care and effort. It’s not lazily done last minute. It’s not a few added cutscenes and no direct interactions. From what I’ve seen so far, Ubisoft took the time to weave Fox, Peppy, Slippy, Falco, and it seems Wolf directly into the plot of the story. There are cutscenes where the Starlink regular characters and the Star Fox team interact directly. Fox and crew enter the Starlink team’s ship during cutscenes and interact with them in dialog during normal gameplay. The point is that while this is not a Star Fox game, you’re able to play the Switch version like it is one, and that’s intentionally how I’ve been playing it so far. In a lot of ways, that might be the future of Nintendo games and if so, I’m looking forward to it.

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Visually speaking, Starlink is very good, but it’s still a Nintendo game. I do believe it could look better on a more powerful machine. That being said, in true Nintendo style they’ve crafted a game that isn’t trying to look realistic so it’s fine that it doesn’t have super PC Master Race 4K graphics. The graphics are by no means bad though. The landscapes are beautiful and fairly well detailed. Fox and crew look great as far as finer details go, but they don’t really fit into the art style of the rest of the game. And the game runs very smoothly. The cutscenes look surprisingly good. Or at least the present day ones do. There are also some flash back cutscenes that are hand drawn comic strip style art. They look good for what they are, but they don’t match the rest of the game, that I’ve seen so far, in tone. Mostly though it’s one of the better looking games I’ve seen on Switch. It’s up there with Xenoblade Chronicles games. There are definitely some things that I believe are scaled down from what they would look like in the PS4 version, but not so much so that I feel like I’m being cheated playing on this platform.

What’s nice about this galaxy is that it’s both diverse and lived in. There are a lot of different settings and landscapes, even on individual planets. It’s not just dessert planet, lava planet, water planet. One planet, of which there are several, has multiple habitats. Wild life is native to certain regions and not others on any given planet. There are abandoned cities, skeletons littered across deserts, active settlements, roving bands of outlaws, and ancient ruins. It’s not a world(s) that exists for you. They just exist and you happen to be there.

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There’s a lot going on in the full HUD. I haven’t turned anything off yet, but I’ve already considered it. It’s all useful information, but it just takes up so much of the screen. Depending on what’s happening, there are times when like 50% or more of the screen is covered in HUD data. Thankfully, you have the ability to toggle off and on each individual part of the HUD and two of the options can be set to appear only at specific times. I like the menus. They’re very simple and easy to understand. They have a very space age tone to them but they still come off very Nintendo. Smooth edges, interactive pictures, and easy to read text. I also really appreciated that you can set the subtitle text size, language, and backing opacity. You can even set the temperature readout to Celsius, Fahrenheit, or Kelvin. I don’t know if I’ve played any other games that have Kelvin as an option. Enemies, target objects, and bases all have floating life bars as well, so you can always see the status of things. This is really helpful and I’m glad it’s there, but it also adds even more HUD to the screen. I guess the best way to describe Starlink overall is that it looks the way it’s supposed to. I don’t think I’d change anything about it visually other than giving it more power so the details could be even crisper in the landscapes.

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The sound is solid. The effects are limited to user interactions, which is a bit of a disappointment, but you don’t usually notice it during normal gameplay. What I mean is everything you do has a sound effect, but only certain things you do things to have a reaction sound. For example, if you shoot a canister that’s meant to be shot, you will hear your weapons fire and you will hear the canister explode. But if you shoot a wall, that’s not meant to be shot, you will hear your weapons fire, but the wall won’t make a sound. Essentially there are a limited number of sound profiles and interactions in the game. But again, most of the time you won’t notice this unless you’re actively shooting things you aren’t meant to shoot. Your ship has sounds for everything from boosting and jumping to changing out weapons. And the things you’re supposed to interact with all make sounds as well. The quality is clean and mostly clear, but it can get drowned out by your weapons fire. You do have the ability to set separate volume levels 1 – 100 for speech, SFX, music, and ambient sounds as well as change the audio mix between three sound profile options.

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The dialog audio is good. There are many different characters that speak in this game and they all have their own voices. That includes NPCs like shop keepers and outlaws. All speaking characters, including outlaws, have individual names and their talking avatar shows up on your screen during dialog. You will never see any characters walking around though. Every sentient being is in a ship at all times. Only wildlife and enemies are just walking around the landscapes. The wildlife have their own sound profiles as well, which is always a nice touch.

The gameplay takes some getting used to. It’s essentially an all-range mode fighter plane game that takes place both in space and on the ground. You have the option to free fly between space, the sky within a planet’s atmosphere, and at ground level. You are always in your ship, but the way you move is determined by the flight mode/space you’re in. In general, the controls are fairly straight forward. You have up to two weapons mounted at any time, which you control with the triggers. You can boost, shield, jump, and interact with the four buttons (A,B,X,Y) on the right joy-con and you use the shoulders and arrow buttons for special commands. When in ground flight mode, you have a lot more control and don’t have to worry about altitude. But you also have limits to how high up you can jump. What is interesting though is that the game seems to have dynamic jumping, meaning it tends to make you jump as high as you need to go rather than having a limited jump height. There is a max limit though before you have to change to flight mode, which you do by holding the right shoulder. My biggest complaint is that the buttons aren’t customizable. I wish I could swap the boost and jump buttons and make the shield a different button as well. I pretty much never shield during combat because of where the button is placed.

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The fact that you’re always in your ship is a good thing. It makes for a more streamlined experience. You travel around planets and mine for resources, among other tasks, but things don’t require as much nitty gritty work. Boxes are scattered around the worlds that contain Electrum, the equivalent of gold/money, mods, and other useful things. You just have to shoot or blow them up to open them. The items contained within the boxes are automatically collected. This saves you so much time. At first I didn’t realize collecting was automatic so I went up to every box and manually collected things. But once I realized I didn’t have to I started sniping boxes from far away and saving tons of time farming. There are also resources that need to be mined from nature like plants and metal ore. These do need to be picked up manually. They can be sold at outposts for Electrum. NPCs will often task you with collecting things for them as well a number of other types of tasks like deliveries, scouting/exploring missions, and hunts for enemies and objects. You use Electrum and special resources to upgrade the main ship, your general skills/perks, and outposts. Your weapons and fighter ships are upgraded through perks rather than individually. But each weapon, ship, and pilot has their own experience gauge and leveling, so it pays to play with various loadouts so you’re developing your entire crew as opposed to just one set. I will admit though that I haven’t been good about that myself just yet. I’m pretty much only playing as Fox in the Arwing and I tend to use the same two guns a majority of the time. In the long run though I will change them once I max them out, otherwise it’s just a waste of XP.

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The game lets you change your loadouts, including ships and pilots, on command. At any time, including in mid-battle, you can just go to the menu screen and change your load outs. Ships and weapons also have mod slots, which matter a lot. Mods can affect a number of things like base damage, elemental damage, healing speed, movement, and so on. You have a limited number of slots for each piece of gear, but these can be expanded a finite amount with general upgrades. The ability to change loadouts in real time is useful because you can create loadouts for multiple scenarios and hot swap them based on the situation rather than having to re-spec your ship for every encounter. Loadouts matter because different mods and weapons work in tandem for the best results. For example, using fire and ice weapons concurrently results in a “Thermal Shock” damage scenario. You freeze enemies susceptible to ice damage, causing them to literally freeze in place and sometimes fall over. Then you burn them with fire ammo. The resulting reaction between the two types of ammo causes additional damage and effects to enemies. There are several types of weapons combinations that have special effects. This is why preparing multiple layouts is so useful.

The Ubisoft Club rewards for Starlink are some of the most useful I’ve seen in any Ubisoft game. The four rewards give you a collection of strong mods that will greatly enhance your performance. I don’t know if these mods will be that useful down the road once you’ve started finding higher level stuff and creating your own via mod merging/crafting, but early on the rewards mods are extremely valuable. I recommend buying them right off the bat if you have the Ubi coins to spare. And since the game has more coins to earn than to spend, you still make a net gain if you complete all the rewards tasks, many of which are pretty easy.

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The game, at least at this point, is not too difficult. That’s not to say that it’s easy, but more that it’s fair and rewards you for playing both smart and dynamically. If you just sit in one spot and fire away you might win, depending on the difficulty, but chances are you will struggle. To master the game you need to understand how weapons combinations work, which enemies require which weapons, which the game helps you with, which mod combinations work the best for your play style, and you need to master maneuvering. You also need to pick the right pilot for you. Each pilot, of which there are at least 10, some of which I found later in the game, has their own strengths, weaknesses, and special moves. Fox, for example, summons Peppy, Slippy, and/or Falco to battle. They only stay for the duration of the battle, but it’s a useful technique. You can do this at ground level or in space. Once you get the hang of the game, you will push yourself to harder challenges. I started at normal, but after only two hours in I changed it to hard. I haven’t tried very hard yet. You can also turn friendly fire on or off. I keep it off though personally.

Enemies have levels and you aren’t aware of how big a difference those levels can be until you challenge something way out of your league. My Fox is level four and I haven’t struggled much, but I have had a ship blow up a few times in the normal course of play. But when I discovered a level 16 special enemy, it whipped my ass. Something to come back to later. That’s the nice thing about the game. There are things you know you’ll want to come back to later. The death system is interesting in Starlink. I think it works well for the type of game it is. Your ship has a life bar that heals automatically after a certain amount of time without taking damage, but if you take too much damage too quickly your ship will blow up, but this isn’t game over. You have a total of at least six ships. Each one has its own stats as one of four classes that I’ve seen so far. When you lose a ship, you can just swap out another one and use that one for as long as you want or until it also blows up. Then the next time you get to a repair shop you can spend Electrum to repair all your damaged ships. This system is really convenient because it means you rarely have to stop play even if you got a ship blown up. This also means that there is no stoppage in normal play. You can get hit with multiple battles back to back. Outlaws can attack at any time. You can fly into a nest accidentally. When you go to the menu the game is paused so you don’t have to worry about dying while trying to re-spec. But you never truly know what you need to be prepared for.

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There are also a number of mini-game and puzzle mechanics scattered throughout the game. Some are quite simple like pulling/plucking things. When you want to harvest plants or open doors, you have to grab them with your ship’s cable and then pull. But you have to pull the right amount. There’s a meter that you need to fill with enough pull pressure before the object will release. You aren’t allowed to over pull it though. It has to be properly measured or the object will remain attached. It’s hard to explain in text form, but as you find more important items, the pull min-game becomes harder. Some puzzles involve shooting targets with certain types of ammo or in a certain order. There are door puzzles that require you to figure out a sequence of locks in a specific order. I also really enjoy the ways you can interact with wildlife. You have to scan them to add to your database and learn more about them. Scanning one isn’t enough though. You need to find and scan three or four of the same species to get full data about it. You can also help animals, which I really like. Sometimes you find animals that have infections and you can help remove them. This will make that particular animal act friendlier towards you. To be honest I have yet to see any wildlife act with hostility towards me unprovoked, but I have had them show fear. The game is so much more than just flying around, collecting, and shooting.

While Starlink is a story driven game, it’s also an Assassin’s Creed style open world game. There are tons of side activities, special requests, hidden treasures, and random encounters you can seek out. You can spend a seemingly unlimited amount of time developing your team and resources without touching the main quest. It’s like No Man’s Sky with the option of meaningful gameplay. Overall, I’m very happy with the gameplay experience. There are some control issues you have to get used to and as with all resource games, mining will most likely get old. But as a whole, this is a great experience that I’ve only scratched the surface of.

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As I said, I’m not super far into this game yet. Less than four hours total. So my understanding of the story is still very limited, but I can say that unlike with No Man’s Sky, this is a narrative driven open world(s) game. And that includes Star Fox’s role in the game. You are actively pursuing narrative based goals. You meet characters and develop relationships with them. Outlaws have grudges against you and/or members of your team that they’ve had past interactions with. You’re not just flying around space collecting resources so you can build better ships. The game does have lots of mining opportunities and developing/upgrading your ships and other things in the game are a core part of the gameplay, but this is a single player, story driven experience with a finite amount of content. That more than anything is why I like this game and was almost completely disinterested in No Man’s Sky at release. The story is what makes the game worth playing.

The writing works. It’s not Naughty Dog level storytelling, but it’s a fairly large cast of characters, real social interactions between them, developing relationships, villains, heroes, mysteries, and side characters that you grow fond of. Now again, I’m still very early in. It’s quite possible that this is all just strong foundation to hook the player in early and then it will eventually devolve into a boring mining collectathon with little story. But it doesn’t seem to be going in that direction at this point in the game. So far I’m happy with the characters, I’m happy with the plot, and I’m especially happy with the fact that all the Star Fox team members are an active part of the story, even though they were added in later.

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I’m not gonna speak much on the replay value of a game I’m only three hours into of this seemingly high amount of content. What I will say is that there appears to be quite a bit of content and I assume there will be some future DLC as well. Because of the way the game is structured, there are multiple ways to play and approach things, which means there is the potential to want to replay the game using different pilots, load outs, and tactics. You also have four different difficulty levels. But because you can change difficulty, loadout, ship, and even pilot at a whim, I see no reason to replay the entire game at this point. It makes more sense to just change things around as you play your first playthrough fairly often and make the most out of a well-rounded experience. So at this point, I can’t say whether or not the game makes sense to replay, but in general there appears to be a lot of content anyway so that’s fine for me.

I’m really happy that I’m playing Starlink: Battle for Atlas. I’m not far in yet, but I’ve enjoyed it a lot so far. I’ll admit that my bias towards Star Fox plays a factor. It’s the game that I think many people wanted No Man’s Sky to be with the tradeoff of a finite amount of content. Finite doesn’t mean lacking amount though. A game doesn’t have to be infinite and in my opinion shouldn’t be. I enjoy the fact that the game has a lot to do but still has defined end goals. As I said, I’m not going to score this game so early in my experience with it, but I do recommend it for people who like open worlds, space fighters, and customization options in games. You can also check out some gameplay on my YouTube channel. I’ll be streaming the game via Twitch on weekends as well.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Take a Breather Mr. Parker

Sadly it took me longer than I expected to finish Spider-Man (PS4) so my review didn’t get published until last week. So now this post, which I had actually starting planning a couple weeks ago, looks like an unoriginal idea in response to the recent Insomniac Games interview where they said “Spider-Man is the Iron Man of Marvel console games.” The idea behind this quote is that Spider-Man, with its 3.3 million units sold in the first three days of release, is only the start of what I guess I’ll call the MGU (Marvel Games Universe). Due to its success, we can now expect to see a whole host of, hopefully interconnected, games set in the same Marvel universe following some of our favorite heroes.

I like the idea of an MGU. I think it’s a wonderful idea that hasn’t been done well before. We have some franchises that connect several characters and games indirectly like Castlevania, Final Fantasy, and of course Super Mario.  We also have countless franchises that connect many games together directly like Uncharted, God of War, and Yakuza. But what both of these types of games fail to do is connect multiple playable characters directly across several games while also allowing each game and character to stand alone in their own right. The only franchises I can think of that do both even relatively well are Devil May Cry and Metal Gear, and I don’t necessarily think either does it exceptionally well. Certainly not compared to how plots work in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).

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I imagine such an endeavor being implemented in a big way, making use of multiple studios and quite possibly spanning to multiple platforms. But that’s not really what I want to talk about in this post. What I want to discuss is what else can be done by Insomniac Games with the Spider-Man map.

I was very impressed by the map/world in Spider-Man. I felt like it was a fairly well done recreation of New York that also integrates Marvel landmarks into it quite well. I did feel like it was smaller than ideal, but it was still quite the impressive, realistic, and highly interactive map. Some time ago, I wrote a post about how I thought it was extremely wasteful that game maps tend to get used only one time even if they have the potential for multiple projects. The original post focused on the map in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and how I thought it could easily be reused to make a completely unrelated pirate game, but I think the general concept of map reuse applies even more to that of Spider-Man.

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Even without the idea of creating an MGU, I think the Spider-Man map can and should absolutely be reused for more Marvel games. Insomniac Games can make a great Marvel game. They’ve already proved that with Spider-Man. But there’s no reason the next Marvel game from them needs to take two plus years of development. Not because they should rush out more Marvel games, but because they already have a wealth of usable assets. They have a working New York City map complete with both Marvel and real world landmarks and a bustling, interactive population of NPCs. More specifically, they already have hideouts/bases of operation for multiple would be MGU characters, big and small.

The Spider-Man (PS4) Marvel themed map locations I’m aware of:

  1. Nelson and Murdoc Law Office (Daredevil)
    1. Josie’s Bar
    2. Fogwell’s Gym
    3. Clinton Mission
  2. Alias Investigations (Jessica Jones)
  3. Sanctum Sanctorum (Dr. Strange)
  4. Embassy of Wakanda (Black Panther)
  5. Rand Enterprises (Iron Fist)
  6. E.A.R.T. Clinic (Cardiac)
  7. Damage Control HQ (Iron Man)
  8. Avenger’s Tower (Iron Man/Every Active Avenger)

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This wealth of Marvel Easter Egg locations can be the staging area for countless other games set in New York. And with the Avenger’s Tower other characters not usually based in New York can  visit the city for an adventure as well. Even Stan Lee appears in the game. So the question becomes why make an entirely new map for the next game when they can rightfully save the time and just change out the character and gameplay for a fraction of the development time and cost?

Let’s take Daredevil as a prime example. Hell’s Kitchen is a district on the map. Matt Murdock’s law office is already located in the game. Daredevil operates on the streets and rooftops of New York City. His main means of transportation is on foot mostly by climbing, hopping, and occasionally swinging from building to building. His fight style is mixed martial arts that’s fast paced, fluid, and a bit heavier than that of Spider-Man. He operates solely at night, which exists in Spider-Man, and even fights Kingpin, the first boss in Spider-Man. If they reuse this map, much of the game is already done. They would just have to change the character render(s), climbing, and fighting as far as gameplay. Most of the development would just need to go into writing a new story and altering the current enemies and bosses. Is that still a lot of work? Of course. Is it as much work as building an entirely new map from scratch including NPCs? Absolutely not.

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Because of the interconnected nature of comics, this is a rare opportunity where it not only makes sense, but is the right decision within the canon of the world to reuse the same map to make multiple Marvel character games. The shorter development time also means lower production costs which allows for an opportunity to create games for more obscure characters that might not be able to get a game greenlit with a AAA budget. Take Jessica Jones for instance. The idea of putting in the same amount of time and resources as was used for Spider-Man to create a game for her is unrealistic. It wouldn’t sell as well and probably wouldn’t be action heavy enough to appeal to a wider gaming audience. But Spider-Man already has a working camera/photography system and a perfect map for a game starring her, so why not make one with recycled assets?

While not every Marvel character could have a game set in this map, there are a host of characters that it would work perfectly for. Even characters not normally based in New York could still work as visiting heroes staying at the Avenger’s Tower.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-11 01-26-50Some characters that could work well in the Spider-Man map:

  1. Daredevil
  2. Iron Fist
  3. Luke Cage
  4. Cardiac
  5. Venom (if we want to go down that road)
  6. Moon Knight
  7. Hawkeye
  8. Punisher
  9. Hellcat
  10. Misty Knight
  11. All the other Spider-Totems

I don’t know what games are in the works or projected to be made in the MGU, but I think it would be a real waste to just throw out a perfectly good map just because we’ve already played a game on it. If implemented well, I would have no problem playing any number of different games featured on the same map. Especially if they were all connected via story and Easter Eggs. They could even have the games be interactive where if you’ve played one it affects things in other maps.

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Let me be very clear on one key issue within this discussion. I’m fine with playing multiple games on the same map, but I expect those saved development costs to be transferred to me, the end user. Spider-Man cost me $80 (Deluxe Edition). If you read my review then you know that I felt that was too high for such a short game. Especially considering that Insomniac Games usually releases games in the $30 – $40 price bracket. So if they do start reusing that map to save time and money, which I believe they should, I would also expect to see lower release prices. Even more so if these Marvel games will continue to be in the 20 – 30 hour category for the platinum completion.

It’s a good map and it definitely has the potential to spawn a number of other great games. How did you feel about the map in Spider-Man? Would you like to see other games produced on it and how much would you be willing to pay for them?

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Spider-Man (PS4) Platinum Review – 8.4/10

I think this might be the first game I ever reviewed after I had already achieved the platinum trophy. Not the first game where I’ve finished the campaign, but specifically getting the full completion. Certainly the first open world game. For the record, I got the game day one and had acquired the platinum less than two weeks after it released. It just took me an extra week to get the review prepared. That’s short for any platinum. Much less an open world game. But length is not the only important factor when it comes to judging a game so while this is an important detail to consider, there’s a heck of a lot more to say about Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games.

I was not actually planning on pre-ordering Spider-Man. I literally made the purchase just two days before it released and the only reason I did was because I happened to roll into some extra money that day and I wanted the collector’s pin for preordering the digital deluxe edition. Otherwise I would have absolutely waited for a price drop. And after having gotten the platinum, I would still recommend waiting for a price drop. Mostly because of how short it is. That being said, it was quite the entertaining experience, short or not.

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Spider-Man is a beautiful game. Not Naughty Dog beautiful, but for a comic book game, it looks very good. What I really liked about it was the character renders. I could see the real actors in the characters and because I recognized a number of them, that impressed me. At the same time, the filler NPCs are kind of low quality. They aren’t generic, which is nice. They do look, dress, and sound different. You can even interact with them on a minor level as individuals. Because it is a comic book game, it looks like what a game based on a comic book should look like rather than actually looking like a comic book or trying too hard to look like real life. It hits that visual balance almost perfectly. The world looks great as well. I’m not from New York, but I have been there and I was very impressed with all the landmarks the game has. I have heard a number of New Yorkers complain that things are missing or flat out removed from the map. But I guess that’s to be expected. What’s really cool is that they’ve also layered in a bunch of Marvel Easter Egg locations. This includes places like the Embassy of Wakanda, the Sanctum Solarium, and the Murdock & Nelson Attorneys at Law Office. If I have to explain to you what any of those are then you’re not a Marvel Fan and it will be lost on you anyway. It is a very nice map, but it’s also very small. The whole thing is made up of only nine Infamous: Second Son style districts, none of which are particularly big.

This is a very fast paced game. Think Arkham City on steroids. You’re moving quickly with just about everything you do. Fighting is fast paced and often includes 15 or more enemies on the screen at one time. Swinging, probably one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game, is extremely fast, free roaming, and variable. By all rights it should be a blur, but no such issues occur. The game truly handles like a dream. Even playing on an original PS4, I experienced no lag or other graphics related performance issues. The loading is a little slow, but not ridiculously so. The menus look really nice as well. They’re very simple. Not overly stylized or extremely detailed. But they present everything you need in a clean and clear manner that’s very accessible at a glance.

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The Spidey suits are without a doubt the most impressive visual aspect of the game. The level of detail is unreal for some of the 28 costumes available. The tips of the fingers. The fabric threads. The metal plating. It’s immaculate. The costumes look so good you can almost feel the fabric on some of them. But there are also a number of little things that really bring this game to life. Pedestrians in the streets. Planes flying over the city. The sunlight beaming on the water at dusk. Overall it’s a beautiful looking game.

The sound is expertly done in Spider-Man. It’s cartoony but practical. You hear the whooshes of his webs firing. You hear every punch and kick landed. The only thing that would have made it better was if little comic book style onomatopoeia appeared during fights. The voice acting is quite good. Each character was distinct. Many were played by actors you’re familiar with which really helped bring the audio visual experience to life. The music was good, albeit a bit repetitive, as is the case in most open world games. All in all, I was very happy with how the sound was handled in this game.

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The gameplay excels in a number of places but falls way short in others. The swinging is phenomenal. The best I’ve seen in any Spider-Man game, though I haven’t played them all. What’s good about it, albeit annoying at times, is that Insomniac Games really tried to create a realistic swinging experience. You have to take into account things like distance. You can’t just swing wherever you want. If you’re above the buildings, you have to wait till you fall beneath them so you have something to web to. You can swing upward but your speed will decrease due to drag and loss of momentum. Swinging and traversal is truly an art form. But at the same time they added a number of fail safes to make the experience more manageable for amateurs.   You can move in and out of swinging to parkour and wall running instantly. Spider-Man will automatically pass through, under, or between things like fire escapes and water towers when you swing into such confined spaces. It was made to be fun, not unruly. At the same time, this game sadly has terrible wall crawling mechanics. Wall running outside is great. It’s smooth and easy to control. But climbing around the inside of a room is just trash in this game. Simple maneuvers like crawling from wall to wall or wall to ceiling are so difficult. Spider-Man will do everything in his power to avoid changing between adjacent services. It’s easier just to jump off a wall and climb up the other one than to crawl between them. This was really depressing for me because what’s Spider-Man without wall crawling?

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Fighting is real smooth. The pacing is fast but manageable. You have an arsenal of eight gadgets to choose from by the end of the game and they all do something quite different. What I also really liked was that when you run out of stock of a specific gadget the game will automatically revert back to basic web shooting. This is very crucial for a smooth gameplay experience. Chaining combos is really smooth and easy to do in this game, and that’s what makes it so fun. Combining gadgets in different ways makes it an experience all your own. One thing I really appreciated was that the game never stops moving. If you’re in the middle of a fight and you go to change gadgets, a gadget wheel pops up in true Insomniac Games style. But you can still get hit while it’s up. Time slows down while the wheel is up to give you time to think, but you can’t just stand there indefinitely. This balance between Dark Souls where you have no time and Ratchet & Clank where you have unlimited time worked really well for a Spider-Man game and felt very appropriate. But aiming certain gadgets and special techniques can be a real pain. You have auto aim but it mostly focuses on the nearest enemy in sight. Sometimes that’s not who you want to hit. In general though, the game plays and controls very smoothly.

Probably the worst aspect of the gameplay is its repetitive nature. The gameplay is really solid, but so much of the game is just busy work to level up your stats and gear. The game’s development system is dually based on XP and tokens. XP is gained through basically everything. Fighting, hitting milestones like distance running on walls, completing objectives, and locating special items. You can hit a maximum level of 50 and then continue to level up in a prestige way where you remain at level 50 but your stats continue to go up every time you earn a certain amount of points. Leveling is automatic as far as stats are concerned but you do have to spend skill points to learn new skills and techniques. Some skills are extremely useful and will become the cornerstone of your gameplay style. Others you’ll mostly ignore. By the time you hit max level, you can learn all the skills and still have five points to spare. The other means of development comes from tokens. There are six types you can earn. Tokens try to be more variable than XP but in the long run they just seem more repetitive. Crime tokens are a good example of this.

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In each of the nine districts on the map, random crimes can happen at any time that you’re not in a mission/challenge. Dealing with crimes is optional and successfully stopping them nets you one to three crimes tokens. These tokens, when used in combination with other types, can be used to unlock suits and develop/unlock gadgets. Each district has you stop 20 crimes to get 100% completion. There are only a few types of crimes committed by four separate groups of criminals. You have to stop five of each. Almost all the crimes are the same. You fight a group of enemies without dying and you get your tokens. Occasionally you have to take out some snipers, locate a missing person, or stop runaway vehicles, but mostly it’s just win a fight. That’s nearly 180 random fights to deal with for a full completion. Plus chasing them down when they randomly appear on the map. It gets old. All the types of tokens work similarly. You do the same things over and over in order to unlock gear. There are little bonus objectives in each of these token missions/challenges, most of which you ultimately need to complete to get enough tokens to unlock everything, but after a while it all becomes a grind. It’s artificial additional playtime and many of the challenges aren’t even fun. Especially the challenge token missions. Some of them are just terrible and you’ll replay them over and over to try to get the gold completion for the additional tokens.

The story missions are great. I’d say 90% of the main campaign missions are absolute gold. Sometimes you have to play as people other than Spider-Man or Peter Parker and that can be boring and annoying at times, but all the story Spider-Man stuff was great. The boss fights. The stealth missions. The chase scenes. I was happy with all of it. Even the photography missions were pretty fun once I got used to them. The side missions are pretty good too. Really if the game wasn’t padded so much and was priced around Insomniac Games usual stuff, it would be a shorter but ultimately stronger game overall. The gameplay is great for the most part at a mechanical level, but the full completion gets old. The fact that you can hit level 50 (max level) well before the end of the game without mindlessly grinding says a lot about how much padding is in such a small map.

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This was one the best written comic book games I ever played. The writing is the way a comic book game should be. The villains are justified while also being over the top. There are multiple villains that show up over the course of the story and they all make sense. They aren’t just popping up to give you something to do. The story weaves them all together very well. The way they wrote Otto Octavius was just amazing. If you know the characters you know he’s going to become a problem later on, but the way they developed him over the course of the game was MCU quality writing. I was so impressed by the campaign narrative in this game. But it’s not just the plot that’s well written. This is a Spider-Man game. That means dialog is everything and the dialog is strong. The quips are funny and cheesy. JJ Jameson is a radio host who randomly appears on your feed while swinging around the city and he’s hilarious. Modernizing him away from newspapers and into podcasting was the right touch.

What’s really important to note is that this game isn’t just about Spider-Man. It’s also about Peter Parker, Miles Morals, and Mary Jane Watson. All of them play major roles in the plot of the game and act as playable characters at some point in the narrative. It’s not just a story about heroes and villains. It’s a story about people. And even some of the villains get some real character development, which is a good thing. The relationships and interactions the characters have with each other, including the villains, is what really makes this a great comic book experience. Probably the best game Insomniac Games ever wrote.

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Defining the replay value is a bit tough with this one. Especially having gotten the platinum in a single playthrough that took only 30-ish hours, which as I’ve said is short for an open world game in my opinion. The truth is that if you get 100% completion there are still some things you can do, like try to get golds in all the Task Master challenges and finish all the base challenge objectives, but you don’t gain anything from doing it. You do continue to get stronger by collecting XP even after you hit max level, but you don’t really need it by that point. Now of course the difficulty you play on will also play a factor here. The game has no difficulty based trophies and lets you change the difficulty level mid-game whenever you want. I played through the whole game on the hardest difficulty so there’s no reason for me to play it again. But if you didn’t play it on hard, maybe you’d want to do that in a second playthrough. But honestly, having unlocked and completed everything, I don’t really have any interest in playing through the game again. It was a great one and done experience with nothing left that I feel the need to do. Especially since I unlocked all the costumes and gadgets already. There will be a New Game Plus mode added soon, but I really don’t see any reason to play it after having gotten the platinum. DLC is on the way, so there’s that, but that doesn’t factor into replay value and probably won’t add enough content to justify the $80 price tag for the deluxe edition.

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On the other hand, this game has without a doubt the best, most addictive photo mode I’ve ever seen. It’s an amazing experience. It’s not perfect. There are definitely limitations with it that shouldn’t be there. But it’s genuinely one of the most entertaining parts of the game. You have so many filters, frames, and stickers at your disposal. You can take pictures anywhere, including cutscenes. And they can be manipulated in so many ways. I almost took the time to make my own comic book with screenshots created in the photo mode. And you really could. I took literally more than 3,000 pictures over the course of the game. Which I’m still not finished sorting as I write this, by the way. That does add quite a bit of value and length to the overall experience. Especially when you consider the 28 costumes you can take pictures in.

Overall I’m very happy with how Spider-Man turned out. Insomniac Games did a great job. It’s not a flawless game and I think it was a bit overhyped with all the 9’s it received, but it’s definitely one of the top games I’ve played in 2018. I would absolutely recommend playing this game but I will also say you can stand to wait for a price drop.

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We NEED to Boycott Nintendo Switch Online

If you read my blog regularly then you know that I am very big on consumers taking control of the gaming industry through organized management of our spending practices. I often write pieces calling for people to actively take charge of the industry’s general direction through boycotts and selective support of certain products and practices. I have on more than one occasion been accused of hyperbole and over dramatization of the situations I write about. Part of the reason for this is that I’m usually looking at the big picture which means predicting long term repercussions that can and often do take years and even multiple generations to manifest. All the way back in 2013, when my blog was still hosted on IGN, I wrote a long post where through thorough analyzation and educated guesses based on past events, I predicted that SONY and eventually Nintendo would ultimately do exactly the same bullshit that Microsoft was doing at the time with XBOX. This post was focused mostly on practices surrounding things like paid online multiplayer access, paid DLC content, and the general direction of all three companies. At the time, many people viewed SONY as the player friendly company that had our best interests in mind while Microsoft was the greedy, evil corporation who only cared about profits. Nintendo was the good egg that would never betray us. Now, five years later, SONY is pretty much the equivalent of Microsoft when it comes to management of their platform and Nintendo is steadily following suit with paid DLC, season passes, and literally this week they will be implementing paid online multiplayer subscriptions. I was right on literally 100% of my predictions about the way the industry was going five years ago. They called me a madman. They called me paranoid. But I knew I was right. Sadly the post no longer exists because IGN removed all user blogs from their website, but I probably have the original draft in a Word document somewhere if anyone really wants to read it.

Current Gen

So in that context, we really need to talk about Nintendo Switch Online. Last week, Nintendo published their latest Nintendo Direct. Overall it was pretty solid. But with less than a week prior to going live, they finally gave some actual concrete details about their new subscription based online service. It is in every way a tragedy. It’s insulting to gamers. It’s not offering anything of value that we didn’t already have for free. And it doesn’t even compare to its competitor services in application or value. Similar to when Nintendo replaced Club Nintendo with My Nintendo, it’s a total shit show.

Let me quickly summarize what the service looks like. For $20 a year, or $35 a year for a family plan, which still needs to have more concrete details published, you get cloud saves, online multiplayer, the ability to use your smart phone to talk to other people in the games you’re playing multiplayer with (you know because it’s a phone), access to a supposedly constantly growing library of NES games, most of which you already own in some other form or have already played and don’t care about anymore, and you get access to “special offers”. These offers currently include the “opportunity” to pay $60 plus I assume shipping (and possibly tax) to buy NES themed Joy-Con controllers you don’t actually need to play any of the NES games and a special Splatoon 2 skin representing an e-Sports team you don’t care about or probably even know. New offers will supposedly be added in the future but for now that’s all there are. It’s objectively a bad service. Not to mention it’s on a platform with a very limited library of popular multiplayer games. If you don’t include Splatoon 2, Mario Tennis Aces, and the unreleased Smash Bros. Ultimate there’s almost no reason to even care about multiplayer on the Nintendo Switch. There are a scattering of games here or there that have multiplayer. Like I play Just Dance online all the time. Some people still play Mario Kart Deluxe and even ARMS online. There are some indies like Overcooked 2. But for the most part the Switch is not a multiplayer platform. You’re buying games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Remember that even the upcoming Super Mario Party won’t have full online capabilities. You’ll be able to play a select list of mini-games against other players online and nothing else.

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The Switch simply is not a platform that has enough dedicated AAA multiplayer value to warrant charging people for the service. And the other benefits are so minuscule and in some cases downright insulting that charging anything for them is egregious. You can’t even send messages to people directly through the console. You have to use your phone. Who in their right mind thought it was acceptable to charge people a fee to use their phone, which they’re already paying a fee to use, to send messages? That would be like buying a soda from McDonald’s and then being charged an additional fee to drink it inside the McDonald’s. To top it all off, Nintendo has decided that they can get away with this because they’re only charging $20, which is cheaper than PS+ or XBL. That’s not a justification. You don’t get to offer a shitty, totally unwanted service at a lower price than a competitor’s service and expect people to be OK with it. Because as much as I hate paying for PS+ at least it’s a subscription that actually provides me with services. I get free current gen games with the service. I get discounts on new games with the service. I can do things like send messages, send pictures, and create chat lobbies with friends on the console with the service. I can even shareplay with the service. It’s overpriced for sure. The games they’ve been offering in the last few years are much lower in value than in the PS3 era for sure. But it’s still a service that has general value above what I was getting when it wasn’t a mandatory service. Nintendo Switch Online offers none of that except cloud saves, which I don’t need in the first place on a portable console with an SD card memory system. My saves are fine. So we need to fix this.

Switch Online Pricing

Usually when I write posts like this it’s about long term issues concerning specific games or services that will have an effect on the future of gaming. But in this case, we’re literally talking about today. Yes there are long term repercussions for supporting Nintendo Switch Online, but the short term effects are just as noticeable and important. The service goes live tomorrow. I don’t want to be insensitive about the fact that the Direct was postponed because of a natural disaster, but it’s very suspect that we were given actual details about this new online service less than a week before it goes live. By all rights I should have published this post days ago but I didn’t even have enough time to properly analyze the details of the service and get the post prepared until now. Usually I publish my blog posts on Wednesdays but this was too important to delay till after Nintendo Switch Online goes live.

Just like we did with XBOX One when it first announced always online, or with Star Wars: Battlefront II, we need to actively and loudly boycott and publicly declare our disgust with Nintendo Switch Online in its current form. Do not give them the ability to take this service forward in this way. Yes I understand that I’m asking you to not enjoy some of your games that you’ve already purchased to their fullest extent. I too own ARMS and Splatoon 2. I too plan on purchasing Smash Bros. Ultimate day one and realize that the experience will be crippled for many people without the ability to play online. But we need to think long term here. This is a crucial moment because it will shape the way Nintendo handles online service forever. With this platform and all future platforms, this is a watershed moment. A moment that we didn’t properly handle when XBOX Live Gold was first announced. A moment that we didn’t take seriously enough when PlayStation Plus was turned into a mandatory service. We have an opportunity here to tell Nintendo an emphatic NO. That we will not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of simply because the price is lower than what Microsoft and SONY are charging, which are also overpriced services we shouldn’t be paying for in their current form either by the way.

NES Joycon
$60 for the crap after paying for the subscription!

I’m not saying we should never be willing to pay Nintendo for an online service. I don’t want to pay for such things and I genuinely believe we shouldn’t have to pay an additional fee just play the games we already paid for. But I already pay and have paid SONY for online multiplayer for a number of years. So it would be hypocritical for me to deny Nintendo the same privilege. But I’m not going to just hand them money for a subpar service just because they’re charging less for it. I’m calling for a boycott to incite change to the service. Not a permanent decision never to pay them for online multiplayer. What we need is to hold out as a group of concerned and conscientious gamers until we get a service that works for us and compares to the other services we’ve already been paying for. That means the essentials of course such as working online multiplayer with better servers than we were already using when multiplayer was free. It means a working messaging and voice chat system that doesn’t require us to own other forms of hardware that have nothing to do with the console we’re playing our games on. It means cloud saves that aren’t deleted when you unsubscribe or let your service lapse. It means not having to check in every week. You will literally lose your service continuity if say you got married and didn’t take your Switch on your honeymoon. That’s absolutely ridiculous. It means a library of current gen games made available as part of the service at no additional cost. It means noteworthy discounts on new games from the e-Shop. And yes that $20 price tag needs to remain consistent even with these additional aspects of the service. Especially considering the lacking multiplayer library to begin with.

Switch Voice Chat

As a Switch owner myself who uses my console literally every day, I implore you to stand with me on this. Do not sign up for Nintendo Switch Online when it goes live tomorrow (September 18, 2018). Hold out. Demand a better service and refuse to settle for the time being just so you can continue playing Splatoon 2 or Mario Tennis Aces. Make a small sacrifice in the short term for much better results in the long run. Tweet about it. Post about it on Reddit, Facebook, and every other platform you use. Make YouTube videos declaring your decision to boycott and why. Discuss it while you’re streaming on Twitch. Do not give in to Nintendo’s clear betrayal of their values and user base. This is not the service that the late, great Satoru Iwata would have wanted. We NEED to boycott Nintendo Switch Online right now and not let it even start to get a footing. This is not just crucial for Nintendo users, but for all console gamers. If this service is profitable, it will only serve to show Microsoft and SONY that they can lower their service quality, even more, and still get away with it. Now is the time for action. It may only be $20 today but that $20 means a life time of regret for gamers present and future.

Thank you for reading.

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Detroit: Become Human Review – 8.3/10

It’s hard to say whether or not I’m a fan of Quantic Dream. More appropriately known as David Cage’s interactive movie workshop, Quantic Dream is the game development studio that created Detroit: Become Human. It is their fifth game. I’ve played three games by David Cage: Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human. I’ve also heard only good things about Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) over the years, but I’ve never gotten to play it myself. Of the three games of his I’ve played, I liked one, absolutely hated one, and absolutely loved one. So while I’d say Quantic Dream doesn’t have a negative record with me, I also wouldn’t go as far as declaring myself a committed fan of the studio. All I can honestly say is that after playing Detroit, I would be happy to play the next game Cage puts out.

I was reluctant to play Detroit: Become Human when I first heard about it. Part of this came from the fact that I found the idea of setting a game about high technology and opulent wealth (to buy said technology) in Detroit to be laughable. It’s Detroit not San Francisco. The city isn’t known for its wealth or its high minded tech culture. But what I was more worried about was the fact that this game was coming from the same studio that sold me Beyond: Two Souls. I think Beyond is absolute trash. When I first heard about it I was really excited, and I did like Heavy Rain so I had confidence in the studio bringing out another hit. But Beyond is just the worst. It is so unbelievably bad as far as both gameplay and writing. So I was not excited to play another David Cage game after that. Luckily I was able to borrow a copy so I didn’t have to pay for Detroit, otherwise I might never have played it. Boy was my fears about the next Quantic Dream title wrong.

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I am happy to admit that I was wrong about Detroit. Not only is it an excellent game, it’s the best game Quantic Dream has ever made. (I’m assuming it’s better than Fahrenheit based on what I’ve seen of that game.) It more than made up for the travesty that was Beyond. It’s the first game they ever made that I’ll actually do a full replay of. In their past games, I’ve taken the time to replay certain sequences to see different outcomes but never the entire game. I will replay Detroit all the way through, making different decisions, and take the time to get the platinum. That’s how much better this game is compared to its predecessors.

Visually it’s great. It’s not the best PS4 game ever made, but it looks very good. Specifically how real the characters look. The character models are based on the real actors, some of which are notable personalities you’re probably familiar with like Clancy Brown and Lance Henriksen. This brings the game to life in ways that many games can’t because you already have a visual point of reference for many of the characters in the story. And the acting, I say acting here instead of just voice acting, is phenomenal. Jesse Williams, who I had only previously seen in Cabin in the Woods (2012) gives such a powerful performance that I wanted to see other stuff he’s in after I finished the game. I can’t remember saying that about any other character/actor in any other game I’ve ever played. The delivery of his lines and the emotion of his character model, Markus, were masterful. I truly saw the humanity in the android characters. I felt for them. I wanted them to be granted freedom and equal rights.

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It’s not just the characters that look good though. The landscapes, the neighborhoods, the graffiti, and everything else all comes together nicely to create a Detroit that I found believable in the world of the game. It’s probably the best looking game I’ve played this year set in a real world environment. Spider-Man comes in at a very close second for reference.

The sound is real good in this game. The sound track works well, the effects work well enough for what it is, and the voice acting is perfectly balanced. You feel like you’re actually in a world of other people. Conversations aren’t unrealistically loud to make sure you hear them. You can miss lots of stuff throughout the game if you aren’t listening and looking. Interactions can be completely missed because you didn’t notice the conversation going on low in the background. It’s a nice touch of realism, even while being kind of annoying when you miss something.

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Gameplay wise, this was much better than past games from Quantic Dream. There are still camera issues, but overall it’s a much cleaner gameplay experience than the other titles by them I’ve played.  Gameplay, specifically controls, was my biggest complaint about Beyond so it was nice to see them clean it up by a noticeable degree in Detroit. I didn’t have any control issues with QTEs. A lot of games in this genre often misread commands and end up making you fail where you know you shouldn’t have. This happens a lot when I play TellTale Games titles. Surprisingly, I only missed two action sequence QTE commands over the entire course of my first playthrough. Part of that may just be that I’m a lot more familiar with the genre now, but I think those results are very telling about how well the game responds. I had no such luck when I played Heavy Rain back on PS3.

What’s really nice about the gameplay in this one is that your decisions really do matter and for once the game directly and clearly shows you that and in what way they affect the overall story. At the end of each chapter you are shown an events flowchart that plots all the decisions and outcomes you made and where those led to. But what’s even more useful is the fact that it shows you how much you didn’t do. In most cases the game doesn’t reveal what other outcomes you could have gotten, but it does show you how many other outcomes were available with each decision/occurrence along the plot of each individual chapter. It also shows you how decisions and outcomes from previous chapters affected the chapter you just played as well as that they might possibly affect future chapters. A good example of this was early on when you are given the choice of whether or not to allow an android to join your resistance. It’s early on in the game and you don’t know who you can trust yet. You can choose to take him with you or leave him. If you chose to take him with you, several chapters later that same android sacrifices his life to save yours. Characters can permanently die in the story and without that android’s sacrifice one of my characters would have died at that moment, ruining my perfect survival first playthrough. I think this transparency of outcomes really makes the game better because then you really do feel like your decisions matter where most games make you feel like the outcomes are fixed even if the road to them has a few branches. Detroit doesn’t do that at all because it proves it to you every step of the way.

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Without a doubt, as with most games in this genre, it’s the writing that makes Detroit amazing. Much like Beyond, this story is grounded in science fiction, but what it does right is use science fiction that’s actually believable and grounded at least part in actual science. It may be about sentient robots, but it gives you a story that you can actually believe and connect with on a personal level, more akin to Heavy Rain. Not to mention we already have tons of other fiction about sentient machines trying to obtain their freedom. Detroit plays mostly the same bits from the singularity playbook, but it puts you, the player, into the role of the android instead of the humans fighting against them. This makes the experience so much more personal and in many ways introspective. You empathize with the androids and start thinking about what you would do in a world where people had to choose whether or not to recognize them as living, intelligent beings.

For me, through Markus, the story was very personal because of the racial undertones Cage was clearly drawing upon. The fact that I’m a lighter skinned African American, especially living in the current political climate, made me identify a lot with Markus who, at least in my playthrough, leads the android revolution. The game draws direct comparisons between the struggle of the androids and racial minorities in the real world. There is even a scene where an African American human character helps the androids and when asked why says it’s because her people experienced similar challenges in the past and were only able to achieve the position they had because of help from members of the ruling class/race.

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The game lets you make key decisions about the type of revolution you want to have and it affects the story greatly. It was an interesting experience to be able to choose what type of revolutionary you wanted to be. You can be completely peaceful. You can be violent. You can be a bit of both. And the game makes you take public opinion into account. I took advantage of this and got the outcome I wanted, but that often meant intentionally making decisions that I didn’t personally want to make, for the good of the android cause. In a way, that’s the most realistic gameplay scenario ever because politics, especially when it comes to civil rights, actually does work that way. It’s not whether or not the cause is right or wrong, but how the people in power perceive the cause that matters. The writing, and more specifically multiple possibilities within the writing, in pretty much every chapter is why I’ll be replaying this game from start to finish with different choices. I want to see everything this game has to offer.

I think I’ve already made it clear that Detroit has a decent amount of replay value. It’s certainly worth two complete playthroughs and possibly even more after that to experience every possible outcome. I will probably just rerun specific sequences to fill in the holes after my second playthrough rather than doing a full third. But the game is certainly good for 14+ hours of play. I wouldn’t have dropped $60 for it but at $20, the price I paid for Beyond, I would have been very happy with my purchase if I hadn’t of gotten to borrow a copy.

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I hope I’ve made it clear that you should definitely play Detroit: Become Human. It’s certainly worthy of being a PlayStation exclusive. I’m just sad that so many people won’t get to play it because for some reason they still don’t own a PS4. It’s well written, well executed, beautiful, and an emotional roller coaster that I haven’t been on in a game in quite some time. Even God of War (PS4) didn’t personally speak to me as much as this game did. Granted I don’t have a son or a great relationship with my father so much of the narrative impact was certainly lost on me with that one. But at the end of the day, you should definitely give Detroit a playthrough. You can clear the game once in less than eight hours.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.