I’m Going to Buy Jedi: Fallen Order and I Hate Myself for It

I hate monopolies. I think they’re one of the worst things about modern capitalism. I also hate the current framework for copyright laws as it allows bad decisions to be made in entertainment for the protection of corporate greed/profit. We are currently seeing this affect a number of IPs and a number of forms of entertainment. A really big current example is Spider-Man’s place in the MCU. Because Sony and Marvel/Disney can’t play nice, we the fans are robbed of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in the MCU after he’s already been in several films and made a huge impact. This is monopolism of creative ideas and capitalism gone wrong.

In the same vein of thinking, I love Star Wars. More specifically I really love Star Wars games. But currently Star Wars games are being monopolized by EA. They have the sole license to produce/publish Star Wars games. Which means that as a consumer I’m forced to decide between playing Star Wars games from EA, a company I don’t trust or really want to support anymore, or not playing Star Wars games at all. This is not really a choice. This is a lose-lose situation that corporate shills and crony capitalists pretend is a choice in order to make bad arguments in defense of a system gone off the rails. Having to choose between something you love and nothing isn’t a choice at all. The choice only exists when you can get that something you love from multiple sources and can decide which source to go with. Star Wars games don’t have that.

Star Wars MonopolyAt the end of last month, a new trailer for Jedi: Fallen Order released. In true EA style, it’s a magnificent trailer. It’s the kind of trailer that made people excited for Anthem. If anything that’s the real magic of EA. They’re top tier marketers that have mastered the art of selling garbage at exorbitant prices and then throwing in microstransactions for good measure. EA has failed me, and other gamers like me, many times. EA has failed Star Wars more than enough times already. In general, I try to steer clear of their games now. I do support some of their indie projects, like when I bought Unravel Two, on sale of course, but when it comes to AAA titles from EA I haven’t bought one since Mass Effect: Andromeda, which I admittedly didn’t hate. But the fact that they screwed up so hard that even I didn’t buy a game produced by what was once my favorite developer and dream company to work for, Bioware, shows just how much damage EA has done over the years. Overall, I buy less than one game from them a year. And even that feels like too much a lot of the time. But where else can I get my Star Wars game fix?

I didn’t buy Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017). I supported the boycott and stuck to my guns. But where does that leave Star Wars game fans? I love Star Wars games and I love single player games. EA has a monopoly on Star War games at the moment. So logic concludes that I’m ultimately going to buy Jedi: Fallen Order against my better judgement. And if the comments section on this newest trailer is any indication, I’m not the only one.

Jedi Fallen Order Stand OffThis is an annoying place to be in that gamers have always been in since the advent of the console exclusive. We always end up getting coerced into buying things and thereby supporting companies that we don’t agree with or want to support. It doesn’t matter how much you hate Konami. If you want to play Castlevania then you are going to support them. And this is the situation that I once again find myself in with EA. Because the truth is that no matter how many times EA has screwed me. No matter how little faith and interest I have in a single player, non-shooter from Respawn Entertainment. The truth is that I am going to buy Jedi: Fallen Order. I am going to go against my own wishes and support EA, yet again. And honestly I hate myself for it.

The Jedi: Fallen Order trailer looks so good. But it’s EA so that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. In fact, history shows us that this will most likely be an ultimately disappointing and problematic game. But I’m still gonna buy it. A single player focused Star Wars game set before the sequels with a focus on narrative. How could I not buy it? But that’s a garbage place to be in. It’s essentially putting steak in front of a starving vegan and then telling them they have a choice in whether or not they want to eat meat. If there are no other options, they’ll eat the damn steak. And then they’ll feel really bad about themselves. They might even get sick from eating the steak because they’re haven’t eaten it in so long. There are so many reasons they shouldn’t eat the steak in that scenario. But they will. Because what choice do they have?

Jedi Fallen Order WallpaperThe last Star Wars game I played was Star Wars: Battlefront I (2015). It was a big pile of meh with some decent foundational gameplay mechanics. The last one I played that had good single player was The Force Unleashed II (2010). It’s about damn time for another steak! My fear is that like so many EA games in the past decade, the steak will look good when served and ultimately be disappointing. So I certainly won’t be buying Jedi: Fallen Order at launch. The silver lining of EA is that their games tend to tank in price fairly quickly because they ultimately do end up disappointing. But fingers crossed that this won’t be the case with their latest attempt at not totally wasting their exclusive access to the Star Wars IP.

What do you think of Jedi: Fallen Order? Does it look as good as I think it does or do I just have Star Wars tinted glasses? Let me know in the comments.

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State of Play Episode 3

Last week, we saw the third episode of PlayStation’s State of Play series. I thought I’d review it since it’s become a bit of a habit to do so. While not the most exciting gaming presentation we’ve seen this month, it certainly had its moments. So let’s get right into it.

The interesting thing about State of Play, is that Sony does time better than Nintendo. Nintendo’s most recent Direct was just under 40 minutes. They showed a lot but in a lot of ways the presentation sort of dragged on. I feel this way about most Directs. They cover a lot but there’s also a lot of fat that makes the presentation feel longer than it needs to be. I’m fine with this and actually love the way Nintendo does Directs for the most part, but it is something to acknowledge. The best way I can describe it is that when I get to the end of a Nintendo Direct I’m usually ready for it to be over. I wouldn’t say that about State of Play.

nintendo direct 9-4The third State of Play was about 20 minutes. By the end of it I was shocked that it was already over. It’s so streamlined with almost no fat to trim at all. And it gets right to the point. There’s no speaker introduction or speech about the happenings on at Sony. It’s just right into the games, which I personally really appreciate since I’m always busy when trying to watch them. The presentation opened with a new game. It was indie but it was effective. You instantly know why you’re there and what to expect. And in that 20 minutes they showed quite a bit.

My one peeve, which both Sony and Nintendo have become guilty of, is that they keep using these presentations to plug merch and hardware. They brought up Death Stranding, but in true Death Stranding style, didn’t actually say anything about the game. They just used the time to announce and advertise a Death Stranding themed PS4 Pro bundle. That’s not the kind of content that should be featured in these sorts of presentations. Just stick to games and gameplay content focused announcements and showings. But again, the presentation was so short that it didn’t really detract too much with that wasted time anyway.

death strandingNow let’s talk about the specific announcements that were made during State of Play Episode 3, in no particular order.

The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II got another trailer with more story details and a huge reveal of Joel making his way back into the game. This was definitely expected but it’s important that this news was finally confirmed. Also we were given a hard release date of February 21st, 2020. That’s not far off at all. I really need to take the time to play The Last of Us Part I DLC. The game looks great and it’s certainly going to be a GOTY contender for next year.

PlayStation Plus Free Games for October: The Last of Us Remastered & MLB The Show 19 

The free games for October were announced during the presentation. I don’t necessarily like time being wasted for that, unless it was the day the games were going live, but they clearly did it this way because it tied into The Last of Us Part II news. Honestly I get why they did The Last of Us Remastered but I don’t like the decision. Because it’s not even the first time they’ve given The Last of Us on PS Plus. We definitely got it before. Not for a long time, but I’m sure it was a freebie previously. I don’t have a problem with MLB The Show 19 being given, but it’s kind of cheesy to give out a sports game when we know the annual sequel is about to drop soon anyway. Both games are extremely low effort freebies hidden behind AAA veneer. I won’t be playing either of them because I already beat one of them and have no interest in the other.

ps plus 10-2019The Story of Modern Warfare

I don’t buy COD. I’ve never bought COD. I never will buy COD. But I do appreciate that since Advanced Warfare back in 2014, the franchise has made it a point of trying to make single player campaigns that matter. They’ve taken the time to invest in quality actors like Kevin Spacey and Kit Harrington over the last several years and they really do care about not being seen as the PVP shooter with garbage writing now. And I will say that the story trailer they showed during the State of Play was quite intriguing. And that’s not the first time I’ve said that since Advanced Warfare. So while I won’t be buying this latest Modern Warfare, I do commend Activision for finally taking single player seriously.

Humanity

The State of Play started with this crazy looking indie puzzle game that reminded me of games like The Last Guy. It looks weird and very Japanese and I’m totally interested. For an indie price and a good demo, I’ll definitely be picking this one up. And the fact that Sony decided to start the presentation with that instead of one of the heavy hitters shown in this State of Play is really cool.

Introducing the Limited Edition Death Stranding PS4 Pro Bundle

As I said, this sort of thing really annoys me and it’s not even the first time Sony has done it in only three State of Play episodes. Taking time just to plug yet another PS4 bundle rather than talk about the actual game is annoying. And honestly the PS4 doesn’t even look that good. It’s the controller that comes with the bundle that’s much more interesting. If they’d sell that separately they’d probably sell a lot more units than bundling a PS4 Pro this late in the gen.

death stranding ps4 bundleMediEvil PS4 Demo

I’ve been excited about this MediEvil remake since the first announcement. In Nintendo style, they dropped the demo during the State of Play and included a special bonus item for playing it. Conceptually, that’s really cool. But honestly that demo is trash. It was so short and uneventful that they might as well have just given me the special helmet just for downloading it. I completed the demo in just 26 minutes and more than half of that was reading books and watching cutscenes. There wasn’t even a boss fight in the game. I tried it before the demo at Gamescom and was already sold and I do appreciate getting the special item for playing the demo, but from a gameplay standpoint it was pretty much a complete waste of time.

Civilization VI Comes to PS4 November 22

Taking another page from Nintendo, they’ve ported Civilization VI to the PS4. I don’t really care since I don’t play Civ and the game came out three years ago, but I guess I appreciate the fact that games are getting ported to more platforms. I guess the port looked fine for Civ.

Arise: A Simple Story

This indie game looks beautiful. It’s seems to be a fantasy journey with a foundation of dark themes and puzzle based gameplay. The art style is beautiful yet subtle. And the protagonist is an older guy that’s past his prime, which is something I always like in storytelling.

Wattam

I love Katamari Damacy. I still remember when I got the first one for PS2 from a GameStop near my childhood home. And I only discovered it because Toonami did a review of it back when they used to do game features. So when I heard that a new game was coming from the creator of Katamari I was excited. But Wattam looks really weird. It wasn’t as clear as Katamari is at a glance. I didn’t really understand the gameplay after watching the trailer. But Katamari is weird so there’s no reason I shouldn’t give Wattam a chance. I hope they release a demo so I can make an informed buying decision.

L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files for PS VR

I don’t really care about L.A. Noire, which is funny because I’m from LA and I’ve often complained about the lack of games set there outside of GTA, if you count Los Santos. But L.A. Noire has never seemed interesting to me. Making it a VR game with special cases is a good idea, but I’m certainly not buying it. And I do take issue with the fact that it’s already on PS4 so people are being asked to repurchase it for a VR version.

la noire psvrAfter The Fall on PS VR 

Another VR FPS game. But this one has four player co-op so that’s nice. The game doesn’t look bad. I just don’t care about it because I’m not a fan of the genre and I don’t have a VR headset.

After-The-FallGorn on PS VR

Gorn is an interesting look battle game. It seems a bit more the type of game I’d want to play in VR. I think a lot more can be done with PSVR and I’m glad we’re finally seeing some more innovative stuff like Iron Man and this.

Stardust Odyssey Announced for PS VR

It’s hard to say at this point what I think of Stardust Odyssey. It looks like a space VR game in the style of No Man’s Sky leaning a little towards Starlink: Battle for Atlas. But the trailer showed during the State of Play, like the NMS pre-release trailers, makes the game look more impressive than it probably is.

Stardust-Odyssey-psvrUltimately I didn’t find this State of Play that impressive but I once again will commend Sony for using these presentations to show indie games that most of the public otherwise wouldn’t be aware of. And doing the release demos during the presentation thing was a great way to directly connect the audience with the content. And not just the content shown. By announcing the MediEvil trailer, I ended up going into the demos section of the PSN store and discovered a number of other demos I didn’t know even existed. Like Code Vein and Contra Rogue Corps. So this State of Play was even able to connect me with other games on PSN that weren’t shown. That’s the absolute best a company could hope for with these sorts of endeavors. There was some blatant fat that could be trimmed from what was already a short presentation. But if they did these more often then I’d be less irritated by the unnecessary hardware plugs and junk announcements. I do hope we continue to see this concept grow for Sony.

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Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Closed Beta Review

This is a little late, but as my schedule has been hectic with my wedding and moving in the last few weeks, it’s a wonder I have been able to do any gaming and/or writing at all. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to try the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint closed beta. While I was only able to play for about 10 hours, I still wanted to take the time to write about my experience since the game will be launching next week.

I really need to commend Ubisoft for creating a shooter franchise that I actually like playing. I don’t like shooters or gun focused games in general. I have played a number of them over the years, but they are never my go to genre. I’ll take a third person shooter over a first person shooter any day of the week but in general I try to avoid shooting games altogether. I do find myself playing them more often in recent years though and mostly from Ubisoft. I played The Division 1 & 2 and I’m currently playing Ghost Recon: Wildlands as I gear up for Breakpoint. Other than that, Mass Effect: Andromeda is the last shooter I can remember playing that wasn’t completely cartoony, a la Ratchet & Clank. There’s probably another one I missed in there somewhere but in general I don’t play them often. I’ve completed a single Halo title (Halo 2), no iteration of COD or Battlefield, and when someone says GOW I automatically think God of War. To Ubisoft’s credit, they produced three of the four shooters I remember playing most recently as well as the next one I’ll be playing. And if you want to count Watch Dogs, then put that on the list for Ubisoft as well, making them 4/4 once Breakpoint drops.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-6-23-12-50I think what I like about Ubisoft shooters is that they don’t feel like traditional shooting games. They’re always in third person, which is my definite preference, but have effective first person sniping, which is always my weapon of choice in shooting games. They lean much more heavily on story and dialog than gameplay and contain RPG elements which differentiate the experience of playing them from traditional shooters. They also don’t require me to have any interactions with other players, outside of raids in The Division, unless I absolutely want to have them, for me to have a fulfilling experience. One of the things that worried me about Wildlands was the four person team. The Division has no AI teammates so I assumed that the AI in Wildlands would either be non-existent or lousy. Even though I’ve owned the game for years, it wasn’t until seeing Breakpoint that I finally decided to actually play Wildlands. I’m happy to say that while it’s by no means a perfect game it’s much more enjoyable for me than I expected it to be.

While this is a review of the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint beta, I think it’s useful to compare it directly to Wildlands, and since I’m playing it right now and started it before the beta, I’m well equipped to do that.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-6-23-30-47While Wildlands is all about the team effort, Breakpoint is about the solo hero. Both games allow you to play solo or as part of a group, but the way the games are constructed for these differences in play are very dissimilar. Wildlands was made to be played as part of a four man squad. It’s the reason they hand you three fairly decent AI teammates from the start of the game. Sure you can abandon them and go it alone but the game isn’t balanced properly for solo play so only very advanced or extremely patient players can play solo effectively. This is why the multiplayer aspect works so well. Playing with others is a smooth experience because it’s how the game was meant to be played. Breakpoint is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Though it has the functions needed to play with a four man squad, it’s not intended to be played that way. The game does not hand you AI teammates and it’s incredibly well balanced for solo play. You can play with other human players, which I did try once, but it doesn’t improve the gameplay experience in the way it does in Wildlands.

Breakpoint was constructed for the solo player and it is really fulfilling to play solo. It’s perfectly balanced to make you feel like a badass without feeling easy. No squad required. The first thing I did once I finished the tutorial and the game opened up for me was buy a sniper rifle from the shop and storm a base. Storming a base in Wildlands is hard even with a squad. You get discovered too quickly even when sniping from afar. Reinforcements show up too quickly and too often. Stealth infiltration is possible but far from practical in many if not most non-mandatory scenarios. All this makes sense given the setting that is a Bolivian narco state crawling with Santa Blanca gang members, working internet connections, and cell phones. The countless enemies, quick communication between them, and overwhelming odds are a feature not a flaw. But that sort of scenario is unruly and unenjoyable for the one man wolf pack player like me. I rely on the AI when playing Wildlands. In Breakpoint, not only do I not need the assistance, I don’t even want it.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-8-0-16-7The setting of Breakpoint is an isolated island with limited connectivity, limited resources for everyone involved, and mostly isolated settlements and facilities scattered around a cluster of islands. It’s the perfect Rambo scenario. You can snipe your way through an entire base without having to worry about reinforcements showing up. You can track entry points from settlement to settlement because of the limited roads on the island that enemies will inevitably take because of their reliance on vehicles. Your drone gets plenty of range for the size and scale of the facilities being infiltrated. You still have to be smart and patient, but you don’t have to be an above average player to bring down a facility without help. And it’s not necessarily that there are fewer enemies. It’s just that the enemies are trained military personnel that aren’t standing around in giant clusters, making them lethal at close range but very manageable at a distance.

Breakpoint’s combat also has a number of quality of life improvements. Sniping, for instance, has a focused breathing function that allows the player to concentrate for a temporarily less shaky scope. Customizing weapons and gear plays a much bigger role in this game. You actually have a gear score which delivers noticeable changes to your ability to succeed. And yet the game is still a straight shooter. Enemy gear scores denote their lethality and armor level, but not your ability to kill them. Whether you’re weaker, evenly matched, or stronger than the human enemies, you can still take them down in one hit with a well-placed shot to the head. But you are not only fighting humans in this game. Drones are the bigger problem in Breakpoint and require a lot better performance and strength to bring down than humans in some cases.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-8-0-15-23I never felt stuck when playing the beta. I never felt lucky. I surveyed the area, made plans, and executed them with little to no surprise. And that’s a good thing. I don’t like it when I take the time to form a plan and it just falls apart for some stupid reason. I enjoy the methodical, calculated approach that allows me as the player to feel like a spec ops agent rather than a thug. The gameplay is clean and reliable. The character development system works, though it could have slightly clearer explanations. I often found myself wondering what certain stats represented because just about everything in the game is represented with non-text symbols and the occasional abbreviation rather than clearly written out explanations. This was true for a number of weapons related things. The game makes a lot of assumptions about your previous experience playing shooters. For instance, I like to use a sniper rifle in most shooting games. But I don’t know much about guns in general and don’t play many shooting games. So while I knew right away that SNR meant sniper rifle in the weapons list, I had no idea what DMR meant. Looking at it I thought it was a sniper rifle, but officially it’s classified as a “designated marksman rifle” in the game. I had to Google it to learn that. This should be written out in the game somewhere. Even a digital manual in game would be fine. The same goes for those weapons stat symbols. Without a legend, I was making assumptions about what I thought they meant. This was one of my only complaints about the entire beta.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-7-23-55-37While the game wasn’t built for playing with others, the multiplayer system works fine. I wasn’t able to try the PVP mode because it wouldn’t load for quite some time until I gave up. But I did try the campaign with a single additional player. Though many will not agree, I feel like playing with another player detracted from my overall experience. During this co-op session, we used the text chat instead of mics. The text chat is way more accessible from a menu navigation standpoint than in other Ubisoft multiplayer games I’ve played on PC. Playing with even just one other player makes a huge difference combat wise. The two of us stormed a facility and easily dominated it by using natural strategy. I found a high point and sniped while he played the ground and drew everyone into my killzone. It was beautiful. It was artistic. It was organized. It was fun. It was a bit too easy. Whereas in Wildlands I have died multiple times while playing with a four man squad (me plus three AI). In Breakpoint, the two of us had no problem storming that base, or anything else. The only two times we died during our session was when I was completely out of ammo and couldn’t find a refill, and when we went up against two ridiculously over powered tank drones. They were so over powered that we managed to die even though we rolled up in a literal tank. While I’m fine with feeling OP in games, I do feel like groups of players will feel the game is too easy.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-8-1-34-46One of the worst aspects of playing with another random player was how this affected the map and navigation aspects of the gameplay. One of the coolest mechanics in Breakpoint is the maps system. In Wildlands, you are handed points of interest on a map. You go to those points and then they reveal other points with missions or special objectives/items. It’s textbook open world Ubisoft and it works fine. But it’s super unrealistic in the fact that the map means absolutely nothing. It’s just a platform to tell you which way to travel and where to fast travel to. In Breakpoint, you have to actually read the map. You aren’t given specific locations from finding intel. Instead you use intel to gather information about the whereabouts of locations based on map landmarks which you then have to find on the map and explore in game to ultimately find your target locations. This was so cool for me. The clues are clear but subtle in nature. They use landmarks and directions like “north of snake river”. Then you mark a point on your map north of the river manually and have to go there. But that doesn’t mean you’ve found your objective. You’re just in the vicinity of it.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-7-15-16-51The game makes you actually explore the area and locate what you’re looking for like you would in real life. That’s actually how I found the first base I stormed accidentally. My objective was near there and when I was exploring I found a base. I thought that was the objective and cleared it out only to discover that it wasn’t my objective at all. While that would probably annoy some players, I thought it was extremely realistic and made the game way more interesting. But unless you’re playing with people who aren’t ahead of you in the game, this aspect of the gameplay is lost. The guy I played with was way ahead of me. I don’t even know why he was playing with me at all. My gear score was at like 19 while his was at 45. He had already cleared pretty much everything in the beta. This meant that every time I initiated a new objective, he already knew where it was. He would just mark it on the map for us and fly a helicopter there. That’s really realistic in a shared intel sort of way. And it’s very efficient when you aren’t in the mood to explore. But the fact that I was losing out on the exploration aspect of the game by playing with him made me want to play the entire game solo.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-7-23-52-25The graphics are quite good. I tried it on both PC and PS4 and was happy with both. PC definitely looked slightly better, but I’m also running a fairly beefy rig. The landscapes are beautiful and the character models, though not Uncharted 4, are quite a bit improved over Wildlands, which was already pretty good. I was also really happy with the sound. Specifically the enemy dialog. You can use it to help pin point enemies and plan strategy around their locations in close quarters. It’s definitely a AAA quality game.

The beta didn’t go too far into the plot but it did establish the seriousness of the situation, justify your lack of an NPC team, and present a villain fairly well and quite expediently. What it didn’t give me was a why. And really that’s what a beta is supposed to do. Peak your interest but not give you enough to warrant passing on the game. I got my John Bernthal moments, though he never officially made contact with me during the beta and I understood the significance of him, a fellow Ghost, being the villain. It was a bit on the nose that your character has personal ties to his character, but in general the dynamic of Ghost vs Ghost plays really well for dramatic effect. What I didn’t get from the beta was any sort of establishment information about the Wolves, the rogue Ghost organization you’re fighting against. What I like about Wildlands a lot is the background videos that tell you about the structure and organization of the cartel. The beta didn’t give me any of that other than a similar character map of the hierarchy of the enemy organization. But at this point I’m not entirely sure if everyone on the map is an enemy or not, which actually makes for better writing, in my opinion.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-6-23-39-25Overall I really enjoyed the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint beta. It played extremely well and got me excited for the full game. I’m fairly certain that I’ll be playing the bulk of the game solo but I can’t speak to the PVP mode since I wasn’t able to get it to work during the closed beta. I think this game will do really well but I can see a number of people complaining that it’s too easy in co-op mode. Sadly I won’t be able to finish Wildlands before it releases but I haven’t decided if I’ll wait to play it or not. I probably will because it feels quite a deal better as far as gameplay and going backwards mechanically in games never feels good.

Thankfully the open beta for Ghost Recon: Breakpoint starts tomorrow, depending on your time zone, so if you’re interested but still on the fence you can try it for yourself. “Sadly” I won’t be able to play the open beta because I’ll be traveling for my honeymoon.

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Pokemon Masters Review

A few weeks ago, the mobile game Pokemon Masters released. I have been playing the Android version since the day the game launched. As I actually have been playing it a decent amount, I thought it would be informative for others if I took the time to write a review of it. I rarely if ever review mobile games but I play them quite frequently so I feel that I’m experienced enough to judge the game fairly, and hopefully accurately considering the many hidden features the game has.

The first thing that needs to be said about Pokemon Masters is that it’s not a full Pokemon game. Pokemon, as in the original/core series, is an RPG that’s constructed based on two major aspects of play: capturing and battling. The core experience is entertaining because it challenges players to locate and ultimately capture Pokemon to then be trained and used for battle. It’s only by mastering both skills that one can truly master the games. Since the two mechanics are directly linked and both are required to beat the games, the gameplay never really gets old within each individual game. You can jump between exploring to capture and battling to train/improve your Pokemon to your heart’s content. This formula works and has for 20 years across like 10 generations of Pokemon games plus remakes, with a new one coming in just a couple months (Pokemon: Sword & Shield). That’s why the basic mechanics of Pokemon games haven’t really changed that much in all this time.

trainersThe problem with mobile Pokemon games is that they never get both parts right. Pokemon GO, which I’m still playing, gets the capturing portion almost perfectly. But the battles are garbage. They aren’t turn based and have almost no RPG elements to them in practical terms. Pokemon Masters, on the other hand, gets battling down fairly well, with a streamlined but working RPG system to boot, but the capturing aspect is pretty much non-existent. I believe this is intentional on both counts. Because while Nintendo does want you to play their free to play mobile games, they want you to buy their consoles and console games more. So no true Pokemon experience ever gets produced on mobile and I doubt one ever will.

Pokemon Masters is set on the man-made island of Pasio. On this island they hold a special tournament called the Pokemon Masters League (PML). The PML is not a traditional battle of two trainers and up to 12 Pokemon. Instead you battle with Pokemon & Trainer pairs, referred to as “Sync Pairs”, in three on three battles. As such, you do not capture Pokemon. Instead you meet and recruit other trainers and when they join you one of their Pokemon becomes available for you to use in battle as part of that Sync Pair. Trainers from all over the world have come to Pasio to form these Sync Pairs and teams or Sync Pairs in order to win the PML. Your character’s partner Pokemon is a Pikachu. This is the backdrop of the entire game.

pokemon-mastersThe main gameplay works at its core aspects. You battle three on three Pokemon battles with a great many exceptions where your opponents are allowed to have more than three members on their team. In this situation, only three Pokemon appear on the front line of battles and then they’re quickly replaced once you defeat the Pokemon at the front of the line. You are always shown how many Sync Pairs are on the opposing team at the start of a battle. Placement plays a role in this for opponents but not really for you because so far you can only take a maximum of three Pokemon into battle. You can choose their placement order on the field, as in left, right, or middle, but you aren’t able to control the order in which they’re attacked because all three are on the field at the same time. Your opponent can attack whichever of your three they want to at any time. And they often do attacks that hurt all three simultaneously.

Battles are not turn based. Instead they’re real time action point based like in Final Fantasy XIII. You have an AP bar constantly filling at the bottom of the screen based on time. It’s broken into sections. Each attack costs the entire team a certain number of those sections. In this way you must manage your three Pokemon and use their moves effectively in order to knock out all the opposing team’s Pokemon before yours are all knocked out. Battles have no time limit. Each Pokemon & Trainer pair can learn up to four techniques. From what I’ve seen so far, this is always two attacks and two status altering techniques. Status techniques can do different things such as heal, increase attack power, increase speed, refill AP bars, and so on. They can also be used to induce negative effects on opponents such as poison or confusion. Attacks and status techniques for each Pokemon are all predetermined and cannot be changed, to the best of my current knowledge playing the game.

pokemon-masters-battleDuring battle, each team has a sync move counter. Sync moves are special high damage attacks that are specific to each Sync Pair. You initiate them by running the sync move counter down to zero from nine. After using a sync move, the counter refills to nine. Certain Sync pairs seem to be able to affect the sync pair counter’s number and speed, but I have only witnessed this from enemy teams and haven’t been able to create these affects for my own team yet. Both attacks and status techniques run down the counter, but status techniques don’t require any AP to use. This affects strategy because you have to account for both damage and trying to get the sync counter to zero as quickly as possible. Matches are often lost because the enemy team got their sync move out first. Status techniques may not take AP but they still take time to cast so you are delaying your next attack by using them. Both teams have the sync counter showing so it’s important to watch the other team’s counter in order to prepare yourself for an upcoming sync move. Sync moves can be used an unlimited number of times during battle but so far I’ve never used them more than twice in any one battle.

When battling, you must consider time, attack points, and the opposing team’s weaknesses. Attacks must be targeted at a specific Pokemon by a specific Pokemon. You can easily change both attacker and target by pressing the new Pokemon you want to attack with or target. The opposing team will not attack based on who you’re currently using to attack. They will just attack based on the AI’s strategy, which is often quite effective and not just at random. The enemy AI will take into account weaknesses, status techniques, and sync moves as well. So it’s in your best interest to attack with the right Pokemon against the right target as quickly as possible while accounting for status techniques and sync moves during the process. The most common mistake I make in battle is using a sync move on the wrong Pokemon because I forget to change my target based on weakness to the Pokemon type using the sync move. There’s also an auto function where the game will battle for you with the team you selected, but as with most games the AI will not battle intelligently when being used from your side. It’s extremely annoying.

sync pairsWhile battle teams can only include three Sync Pairs and thus Pokemon at a time, your total team can include an unlimited number of Sync Pairs. The way to excel in battle is to pick the right set of three Sync Pairs to construct a team that will best take advantage of the weaknesses of the opposing team. The game always tells you what the most effective Pokemon types are for the upcoming battle based on the type weaknesses of the opposing team. You do not have to include your character, and his/her Pikachu, in your battle team. This is extremely important because electric types are not always the best choice for battle.

Trainers can be added to your team in two ways. They can be acquired as part of the story or unlocked in the store. The plot based trainers cannot be skipped. They are added as you progress through the story and meet them. Store bought trainers are from loot boxes that you can buy with gems. There are two types of gems: paid and non-paid. You can get non-paid gems from completing tasks, battles, and missions. Tasks are basically just story progression moments that require you to talk to people to progress the story forward. This is all on rails and can be easily clicked through if you aren’t interested in the story. Missions are constantly added goals that can be completed at any time. They can be anything from win a certain number of battles to spend a certain amount of coins in the store. The non-paid gems can only be used to purchase certain types of loot boxes. Paid loot boxes on average net better trainers. You can get the same trainer from loot boxes more than once. Each time you get a repeat, it strengthens that trainer’s sync move up to five. I don’t know what happens when you get a repeat trainer a sixth time, or even if you can.

pokemon-masters-screenTrainers/Sync Pairs are given a star rating. I’m not exactly sure what the rating denotes because some higher ranked trainers have worse Pokemon than trainers with lower star ranks. 5 stars is currently the top rank a trainer can have. Trainers can also be upgraded with special items that have to be collected by playing the game or bought in the store with coins. Sync Pairs have a level, like how Pokemon do in the core games. As you battle and use XP items, you can increase the level of your participating trainers and ultimately the stats of their Pokemon in battle. But each trainer has a level cap based on their star rating. The cap for three star trainers, the most common I’ve seen, is only 30, which is really disappointing. But you can use items to increase the level caps. The item cost isn’t terrible for this process. But the cost to increase a Sync Pairs star rating is ridiculous by comparison. You can quickly max out characters to the starting level 30 cap by using the very abundant minimum XP boost items. But once you get to the higher level caps, maxing out Sync Pairs requires way more XP which means lots of spending or lots of grinding. Trainers with a higher star rating can level up higher to start. You must also use items to unlock additional moves for Sync pairs. All of them start out with one attack and one status technique and have to have the other two moves unlocked. The first additional move is really easy to unlock but the second requires way more rare items. I have yet to unlock the final attack/technique for a single Sync Pair.

Pokemon in the game come from all over the world, as do the trainers that partner with them. All regions and types are represented. Some trainers have basic Pokemon and others you recruit will already have them evolved. Pokemon also differ in rarity. The story mode quickly netted me Starmie (Misty), Torkoal (Flannery), and Lucario (Korrina) with Misty (Starmie) and Brock (Onix) being the first two trainers I recruited.

rock training eventSome Pokemon can be evolved. But the process and cost of evolving is very high and will take a very long time for free players. You have to max out a Trainer with a Pokemon capable of evolving. Then you have to unlock the evolve mission for that Pokemon. You do this as soon as you win a battle with the maxed out Sync Pair. Then you have to purchase five evolve shards from the store. These require spending coins, the basic currency in the game. So you need to be smart when choosing which Pokemon to evolve because it will take you a while as a free player. Thankfully, most of the Pokemon currently available in the game are not able to evolve.

Along with the story mode there are also special timed events. These are basically just additional story chapters that don’t affect the main story but net additional items and xp. They can also be great a deal harder than the normal story mode levels. Currently only two of these events has been made available in the game so far; one focused on training and the other story. The story based on has a fairly lengthy completion time limit/window so pretty much everyone will be able to finish it if they started in the opening weeks of the game.

pokemon-masters-teamsVisually speaking, Pokemon Masters is very solid for a mobile game. The art style looks a lot like the anime, which all the main characters come from. It’s 2D but mimics 3D in certain elements. The colors are vibrant and clear and the UI is fairly manageable. The menus are a bit cluttered and lack more detailed descriptions that would be quite helpful, but in general it’s a manageable design. What’s nice is how fluid the battles look. Attacks look like the actual elemental attacks they should be. And you can tell how effective attacks were with visual and written cues on the life bars floating above each Pokemon. I would say the Pokemon models look better in Pokemon GO, but Pokemon Masters has a lot more detail overall. Especially in the people and settings.

The writing is actually a very complete story, thus far. I’m only on the 10th introductory chapter as I write this and I’ve already met quite a few characters and learned a lot about them and the island of Pasio. The motivation for the characters is all to win the PML but their personal reasons are each specific and developed. Each trainer also has their own optional side missions to help develop them as a character. There are villains, rivals, bullies, and impressive trainers for the characters to look up to. It seems like a full-fledged Pokemon story. At the same time though, there is quite a lot of dialog that I simply don’t care about. Because much of it is character development that within this context doesn’t really matter. I care about the island, the villains and their motivations, and what I have to do to find and battle the best trainers. I don’t care about the fact that some random trainer with a Pokemon I don’t want because I already have better ones is fighting to make their grandfather proud but is also learning to not let other people’s expectations define them. The game is written much like the show. Except it’s a game on your phone presented with text based dialog. So it gets rather boring, takes a long time to read, and since it is a mobile game I’m often playing it passively while doing something else.

special eventI think the developers were aware of this writing conundrum for players because the structure of the game is well defined and very convenient. The game is broken up into chapters. Each chapter is broken up into sections. Each section can be entered specifically and intentionally. They can also all be replayed. Sections clearly state what aspect of gameplay they are. Some are labeled story. These are just dialog. Some are labeled battle and tell you how many battles will occur within that section. HP and status techniques reset at the end of each section but not between battles within a single section. So it’s important to manage things like your limited number of heals when playing a section with multiple battles. Some sections are labeled boss. These are single battle sections with a very strong opponent, usually at the end of a chapter. This organization system works because it allows the player to rush through story moments if they don’t care without having to redo them if they lose a battle.

The game also features a training area but it’s not very clear about what it’s supposed to be used for. There are lots of different types of training sections but only the ones marked XP seem to have any value. The other ones don’t improve your trainers in any way that I’ve been able to recognize. They just help you practice different battle scenarios. Or at least that’s how it seems. This is another example of how the game needs clearer text descriptions in the menus. One of the major problems with training battles is that they, like with the main story missions, are Pokemon type specific. Meaning you either have to use the same Pokemon over and over again or be strong enough to win without taking advantage of types and weaknesses. This gets way more difficult to accomplish in the higher difficulty training levels.

 

Pokemon-Masters-Increase-PotentialOne thing I really don’t like in general about Pokemon Masters is all the hidden features. There are things that are required to progress through the game effectively that simply aren’t explained clearly. Level caps is a good example of this. I had no idea that you could raise level caps until I had already reached the initial cap for several Sync Pairs. There are also other hidden features that can be used to make your Sync Pairs stronger, but they’re often hidden. Some can’t even be unlocked until later in the game.

I’m not far enough in yet to be able to speak on the game’s replay value. I can say that I’ve yet to replay anything that I had already beaten except the XP training sections. The game also is already running special additional timed story events so at this point it seems like any other mobile game where the idea is to keep playing and experiencing additional content rather than replay old things you’ve already completed.

Pokemon-Masters-League-BadgeUltimately the battle system is quite good and the main reason I’ve continued playing the game. I enjoy the challenge of the battles and like the fact that I don’t always win but can usually identify what mistakes I made that caused me to lose. But while the battle system is good, the game does have a number of problems. The low starting level cap is terrible when coupled with the fact that the game doesn’t clearly tell you how to raise your level cap. I played several hours thinking I was stuck at level 30 until I finally got pushed up against a difficulty wall and had to Google it to confirm that the caps could be raised and how to do it. I also really hate that there’s a divide between free and paid gems. It should work like most mobile games where the in game currency is standardized and can be used to buy anything but you can get more of it quicker by spending real money, if you want to. They also need to make evolving Pokemon and Sync Pair star levels much less costly and inconvenient.

As I said early in this review, Pokemon Masters really feels like only half the experience of an authentic core Pokemon game. It has the battles and some of the training, but none of the discovering and catching random wild Pokemon. It definitely works as a stepping stone to keep me focused on Pokemon while I wait for Sword and Shield. And there’s still some aspects of the game I haven’t fully tapped into yet, or at least that’s how it seems. If you’re looking for a mobile game that keeps you coming back but doesn’t require the inconvenience of Pokemon GO, where you have to move around to play the game, this isn’t a bad option.

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Finally Dealt with the Devil (Cuphead Completed)

I’ve had a long and colorful relationship with the game Cuphead. I remember when it was first announced at E3 as an XB1 exclusive back in 2014. I was actually the person who started the wiki on IGN for Cuphead when I worked on their E3 wiki creation strike team. I knew from the first announcement that I wanted to play this game but I also feared that I never would because I was absolutely not going to buy an XB1, and I still haven’t. But thankfully Microsoft decided to port all their games to PC. That’s also how I finally got a copy of Sunset Overdrive, which I still need to play.

Before Cuphead was released on PC, people were already talking about it on XB1, and they were not happy. While the game was praised for both the art and gameplay, so many people took issue with both. The art angered people because of the racist history behind the style. And the gameplay angered people because it was considered too hard for many (noobs). Now I don’t actually agree with the idea that people shouldn’t be able to use this art style for non-race related projects, so I won’t get into that. But the gameplay thing was a real worry for me.

Cuphead Screenshot 2018.11.23 - 21.24.56.12I have never shied away from a game because it was too hard, provided it still felt balanced, but it can be quite intimidating to purposely walk into a game that everyone else is calling impossible. I still remember how much everyone was talking about Demon’s Souls when it first released. Even a GameStop clerk told me it was so hard that he had given up playing it. By the time I finally sat down to play it, I was horrified. Soulslike is now one of my favorite game genres. So I still wanted to play Cuphead, but I was really worried that I’d get stuck and not be able to finish it. The game happens to be in one of my worst performing genres, which worried me even more. People found the game so challenging that they petitioned for an easy mode to be added and the developers actually delivered one. It doesn’t allow you to finish the entire game, but it does let you reach the penultimate boss. To me, this entire thing was ludicrous, but it also made me want to play the game even more. The demand for an easy mode always motivates me to take an interest in a game. Not because I want to play on easy mode but because I want to prove that I don’t need to.

After several months of actively waiting for a price drop, having already waited years for the game release and then finally the PC port, I finally bought Cuphead. This was before the Switch version was announced or else I probably would have gotten it on that. When I first started the game, I was using a DualShock 4 controller. That and a Wii U Pro controller were my only viable options for playing on PC. I was not going to use a keyboard to play this type of game and at that point did not own an XB1 controller. So I went with the DS4 because it’s the controller I had the most experience with between the two options I had.

Cuphead Screenshot 2018.11.23 - 21.35.13.51I struggled so much to beat The Root Pack. This was the first boss I faced when I started Cuphead. It took me literal hours to finally beat that boss. I was shocked at how hard the game was for me. To get stuck on the first encounter in a game was an experience I’d never had before in more than 20 years of gaming.  I felt depressed. Maybe this game really was too hard for me and I actually needed to use the easy mode? But I refused. I would quit the game altogether before I would belittle myself to playing on easy mode.

After many hours of frustration, I finally defeated The Root Pack and went on to fight Ribby & Croaks. I could not beat them. I struggled and struggled for hours but I absolutely could not beat them. Ultimately I stopped playing the game altogether because I simply couldn’t move forward and refused to play the easy mode. I promised myself I would return to the game at some point but honestly I didn’t see the point when it was just too hard for me. I think I probably should have faced Goopy Le Grande instead of Ribby & Croaks second but that’s not what happened. I put the game in my start menu to remind me that I still needed to go back and beat it but I never actually attempted to because I knew I’d not be able to beat Ribby & Croaks.

Cuphead Screenshot 2019.09.05 - 18.49.56.44

It wasn’t until several months later that I finally returned to Cuphead. I had wanted an XB1 controller for PC gaming for some time, because it’s the only controller that consistently works properly with just about every PC game. But I didn’t technically need one because I had the ability to use any of my controllers on PC with an adapter I had purchased more than a year earlier. I just happened to luck into a free one that was being thrown out at my office. Ironically I had to spend more than the cost of a controller to buy a Bluetooth adapter and battery pack but I now had an XB1 controller for PC gaming. I decided to test it out with Cuphead since it’s one of the only games in my PC I could start without logging into Steam or another launcher and I was already familiar with the game so there wouldn’t be any delays to starting the test. I went right back into the Ribby & Croaks fight.

I did not defeat Ribby & Croaks immediately when trying the XB1 controller, but I did immediately realize that I was performing well enough to where beating them would be possible. After a few more tries and shaking the rust off, I defeated Ribby & Croaks and then went on to quickly defeat Goopy Le Grande, Cagney Carnation, and Hilda Berg. Suddenly I wasn’t just OK at Cuphead. I was good at it. I realized that the whole time it wasn’t my lack of skill that had made the game so hard. It was my lack of proper hardware. The game was literally made to be played on an XB1 controller and as soon as I corrected this issue I was zooming through the bosses. That’s not to imply that the game has to be played on an XB1 controller. My friend beat the whole thing with a keyboard, which I still think is ridiculous. But now I too was progressing through Cuphead at an appropriate rate, without using the easy mode.

Cuphead Screenshot 2019.09.03 - 08.51.31.50Though there were some bosses that were tough for a short while, in general I flew through the rest of the game. I played it sparingly over the course of several weeks, but basically no regular boss took me more than two hours to beat and most of them I cleared in under 30 minutes. I even managed to defeat Baroness Von Bon Bon on the first try. I got held up a bit at Carla Maria, which I think might be the hardest boss in the game other than maybe King Dice, but ultimately I reached the Devil.

It took me about three hours to defeat the Devil. He wasn’t hard to figure out. Just hard to fight without taking stray hits. But eventually I defeated him. It was so satisfying to finally beat Cuphead. And it made me feel great to not have had to use the easy mode. It almost feels like a chapter of my life has closed. I’ve spent five years wanting to beat that game.

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Cuphead was fun. It was challenging, but not in a stupid way. Really the boss fights were just as much about thought as they were reflexes. Each one was a bit of a puzzle. Choosing the correct approach with the right weapons, special ability, and charm made the difference between winning and losing. Yes you did have to be able to jump and move dynamically and quickly, but this was only a part of the boss fights as a whole.  And of course, the art was beautiful. I would absolutely play a sequel. Now that I’ve completed Cuphead, I’ve removed it from my start menu. The delight in not being reminded that I might be a noob in disguise is a great feeling. Now to find a new game to casually torture myself over. I’m thinking Dead Cells next.

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What Makes A Male Character? (Cyberpunk 2077)

Last week it was announced that CD Projekt RED’s next game, Cyberpunk 2077, was doing away with gender options in its character creator. To no one’s surprise, the gaming community spent a preposterous amount of time arguing about it. Half the internet was happy about it and the other half was angry. The same tired, usually illogical, and almost always irrelevant and nonsensical arguments were made by both sides. You already know what they are so I don’t need to take the time to go into them. Suffice it to say that many people still seem to care what other people do in the privacy of their own homes when playing single player games.

Now I actually don’t like character creators in story driven games. Not because I have any issue with people designing their own characters in games. And not because I particularly care what types of characters people design. My issue with character creators is that they almost always lead to hollow, sub-par writing devoid of real impact and personality for the character being created. It’s very hard to write a story that carries the same amount of context, realism, believability, and personality for an ambiguous character as that of a narrowly defined one. For instance, Lara Croft is a young, British, heterosexual female that comes from a wealthy Caucasian family. Her experiences are specific and meaningful in her development as a character. The way she would realistically respond to things would be completely different from the way an older, American, homosexual male that comes from a poor African-American family would. And this is true for many if not most situations. There would for sure be some overlap in their responses to things, depending on the situation and setting. But when it came to character building and interactions with other characters they would have completely different responses in most cases.

tomb raider 2013 victimLet’s take a scene from Tomb Raider (2013) as a specific example. There’s a moment in the game where it’s implied that Lara may be sexually assaulted by one of her much older male captors. Now for starters, that wouldn’t even happen to the other character I described in most cases. Not all, but most. And if it did happen, the character wouldn’t even necessarily have the same reaction, or even possibly aversion, to the situation as Lara Croft does in the game. And that is not to imply that older gay men are OK with being raped by other older gay men. It’s just to state the very true point that a young inexperienced rich girl and an older, presumably much more experienced man simply wouldn’t respond to the situation the same way. That’s exactly why specified characters and the context of those characters matter. But when you can create your own character in a game, many of the scenarios that specified characters can experience simply don’t happen and shouldn’t happen because they just wouldn’t make sense in many if not most cases.

Say I created a character in a game that was intentionally unattractive, horrifyingly strong, and gigantic in stature. That character simply isn’t going to be sexually assaulted. It’s not going to happen in any realistic scenario. And if it did happen in a game, any person would rightfully think “that doesn’t make any sense”. So game writers, knowing that, wouldn’t include a scene in the game that includes a possible sexual assault because there’s no way to guarantee that it would make sense to all player created characters at all times.

fallout 4 ugly characterThe closest way to making a character creator make sense without watering down the content is to write multiple story lines that mostly overlap but have some key differing plot points based on certain parameters entered into the character creator, such as gender. You might force the player to choose male or female and then depending on the gender they chose the game would decide whether or not the assault scene would be included. You could take this a step further by adding sexuality to the character creator. This wouldn’t address the intentionally ugly problem, but you’d get closer to the plot making sense for all players regardless of the character they built. At the same time though, this would require multiple story lines to be created which would mean more development time translating to higher development costs. So it makes more sense just to water down the story and not include anything specific to a certain type of character, which is my entire point about character creator games leading to watered down plots.

Some games over the years have managed to do a pretty decent job at storytelling even with the presence of a character creator. The Mass Effect trilogy comes to mind. Yet I played the games with the default male character and so did many other players. That’s why even though the game allowed for character creation, Commander Shepard’s face is so iconic. In your head right now you’re thinking of a white man in his 30’s with short hair, light stubble, and blue eyes. Even though the game had a default female version, and many people played the game as a female, most people don’t picture the female Commander Shepard when they think about Mass Effect. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single Mass Effect meme featuring the female version of Commander Shepard save for maybe a meme that showed both default gender options. So it’s very possible that while I think the game was written extremely well for a game with a character creator, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe if I had played it as a character that was a homosexual female of Latino origin I wouldn’t have felt like the character driven aspects of the game were that well written. I can’t say for sure. But I can say that a lot of games, including those that are praised highly, actually aren’t that great as far as developing the player’s created character. Dark Souls is a great example of this.

commander_shepardYou can create anyone you want in the Dark Souls games. You can make a person with blue skin, orange hair, and enough wrinkles to make Emperor Palpatine look youthful. But the games won’t give two shits about the way your character looks. The NPC’s won’t comment on it. The enemies won’t react differently to it. Your appearance and identity mean absolutely nothing in those games. And that doesn’t make them bad games. But I wouldn’t call the Dark Souls franchise an example of good character driven writing. The difference is that Cyberpunk 2077 seems to be selling itself as a character driven game where you can create any character you want. That’s a tall order and we’ve not seen CD Projekt RED even deliver a character creator game before. We know they can write because The Witcher series is one of the most compelling, best written franchises ever made. But they’re all focused on one heterosexual white guy who’s a social outcast and the closest thing to a hermit you can be without actually living alone in a cave. Meaning the character and thus the character driven writing has a defined and consistent context. And that’s exactly why it’s good writing.

All this is not to say that I have any problem with the fact that Cyberpunk 2077 has a character creator, or that gender options have been pulled from the character creator. All this is to say that I don’t believe that Cyberpunk 2077 will be even close to as well written from a character development standpoint as The Witcher 3. But let’s actually talk about the character creator nontroversy in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.

dragon's dogma-creationIf you’re not writing a character driven plot focused game, your character doesn’t really matter. Especially if you’re not applying conventional human norms to your character(s) to begin with, which would be the case in a Cyberpunk themed game most of the time. To be honest there’s almost no reason a character creator even needs gender in it unless, like in my previous examples, the story is actually affected by the gender of the character. Dragon’s Dogma is a perfect example of this. It’s a game with a story, but calling it a character driven story game is wildly inaccurate. You can create anyone in that game and it will change nothing about the gameplay experience. The only reason the character creator even has gender options in it is simply to speed up the character creation process. And that’s the case for most games with character creators if we’re honest.

It’s just much faster to ask people if their character is male or female so the limited number of default character models can be separated between having pronounced breasts and not having pronounced breasts. That’s pretty much the only thing of value the character creator in Dragon’s Dogma, among many other games, does. It just limits certain physical options based on a set of conventional appearance standards without having any actual effect on the gameplay. Body types, hairstyles, face renders, and voices are separated into two groups in order to speed up the character creation process. But really there’s no actual reason why a player shouldn’t be able to create a character that looks like Dwayne Johnson with pigtails and the voice of a Japanese schoolgirl while wearing a metal bikini. It would be uncomfortable to see for some spectators, but there’s no actual reason why anyone shouldn’t be able to create that character in a game where your appearance doesn’t actually matter. And thus removing gender limitations from a game with a story neutral character creator is and should be considered absolutely fine. Especially when you get into some of the more nuanced ways that people can actually look, act, and sound.

Saints_Row_the_Third_character creatorI once had a friend who was a five foot tall white female with long brown hair, a perfectly tight gym body, and the voice of a 30 year male smoker. That’s how she looked and that’s how she sounded, even though she was only 18 when I met her. Presumably, up until Cyberpunk 2077 it would have been extremely difficult for her to find a game where she could actually create herself in the game. She would have had little problem creating herself physically. And as she was a heterosexual, it would have been very easy to mirror her interactions with NPCs, where possible, fairly accurately. But getting her voice right would have been pretty much impossible. Now that’s not really fair. She wasn’t trans. She wasn’t homosexual. She wasn’t a smoker. She just had that preposterously deep and scratchy voice. In no way was that her fault, her choice, or a repercussion of any of her past decisions. Yet she was arguably a victim of game creator discrimination for all these years. Whereas I as a tall, heterosexual, African-American male with a stereotypically deep voice have pretty much never had a problem creating a character that looks and sounds close enough to myself, if that’s what I wanted to do, in a Western game.

Destiny-2-Character-Customization-1024x582I will admit that a lot of Asian produced games haven’t given me the ability to create myself, but I’m not their target audience to begin with so I don’t blame them for not taking the time to design assets for the handful of players that look like me that both will play their games and actually care about the fact that they can’t place themselves into the game. But for a Western developer that would be a huge problem if African-American men couldn’t create characters that resembled themselves in character creator games. And the truth is that many homosexual African-American male gamers can’t create themselves as far as voice and clothing options are concerned in Western developed games, and obviously Asian developed games but for an entirely different reason I’ve already gone over. So removing the gender limitations in a game’s character creator options isn’t a bad thing at all. And honestly, other than possibly making the process of creating your character take longer due to a lack of easily defined sorting practices, it doesn’t affect anyone’s gameplay experience in a negative way. It simply makes the experience for some players more positive by giving them the option to make characters they identify with on a more personal level. Again, if we’re not talking about a game where the context of the character’s experiences is driven by their gender, sexuality, or appearance, then it doesn’t really matter what limitations are or are not placed on the character creation tools from a gameplay standpoint. And for the bulk of games with character creators, it won’t. So I find it extremely ridiculous and illogical to be against this decision by CD Projekt RED. What I am against is the fact that they announced this development decision in the way they did.

Cyberpunk 2077 Mix It UpI have no issue with games being more inclusive. I have no problem with the gaming industry both on the screen and in the studios being more diverse. I still want character driven stories that are specific while making sense and having a clearly defined context, but in general diversity in games isn’t a bad thing to me. What is a bad thing, and I have written about this may times before, is using diversity as a selling point in order to pander to a specific audience. Especially when we consider the size of that audience within the gaming market. The way the removal of gender options from Cyberpunk 2077’s character creator was announced was via an interview. You can read an excerpt from the interview on this specific topic here. It’s very clear that this decision was made in response to the backlash of that supposed trans ad debacle. This character creation option is being used as an olive branch to the trans/entire LGBQT+ community so that people will stop calling CD Projekt RED transphobic and a “problematic developer”. That’s not diversity in game design. That’s not authentically trying to make things more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. That’s pandering for profits.

I get that game development is a business. I get that every decision, big and small, is profit driven. And most of the time I’m fine with all that. But I hate hypocrisy. I’m not one of those “keep politics out of games” people. I’m a writer. I play story driven games almost exclusively. I know games, and really all story driven entertainment, is political by nature. And anyone who thinks it isn’t is an idiot. Metal Gear Solid is political. Final Fantasy is political. Bayonetta is political. It’s all political. But I take issue with companies pretending their politics come from a place of support, love, and authentic concern. Because if it was authentic they wouldn’t have mentioned it at all. They would have just released the game with no gender options in the character creator and then people would have either noticed it and talked about it on their own or not talked about it at all. And LGBTQ+ players would have just played the game, thought it was cool that they could make the characters they wanted, and moved on with their lives. That would be authentic, non-pandering diversity in game design. If a company is doing something for recognition, it’s not authentic. And if they’re not being authentic then I don’t want them to pretend to be authentic.

mgs 3 patriotIf they had to say anything, I would rather have had a representative from CD Projekt RED just come out and say “Hey LGBTQ+ people, here’s a bone. We only did this to make you stop complaining about us. You never buy our games anyway, but hopefully now you’ll consider it.” That would be some real shit. I would respect them more for just coming out and saying it. Because right now they look like the good guys to one team and like they folded to the SJWs to the other team. But they know they can get away with it because all those people saying “I’m now not going to buy this game over this gender character creator thing” are clearly lying. There’s not a single actual gamer out there who was planning on buying Cyberpunk 2077 and now isn’t going to because the game won’t outright let them enter into the character creator that they’re a male. Not a single one. And CD Projekt RED knows that. So they can play both sides with impunity. And that is dishonest. Not to mention it strong arms LGBTQ+ gamers into buying the game. Because now that they’ve done this and got it reported all over the place, the only way to get other game studios to do it is to support the game and show that it has an actual effect on sales and popularity. It’s the female protagonist conundrum all over again.

remember meFemale gamers say “we want more female protagonists in games”, a company makes a game with a female protagonist, and it doesn’t sell. Then all the other companies get to say “well female protagonists don’t sell and we’re in the business of making money not political movements”. So every time a shitty game with a female protagonist gets released, women have to buy it or risk losing any chance of another AAA game with a female protagonist being made for a long time. The LGBTQ+ community is in the same boat. If they don’t support every game that offers LGBTQ+ options in it, they risk destroying any chance of another game with such options being made for literally years in the current market. I am 100% in support of CD Projekt RED’s decision to remove gender from their character creator, but I’m also 100% disgusted with the fact that they announced it this way. Don’t keep politics out of my games. Keep political posturing out of my games marketing.

I will be playing Cyberpunk 2077 and I will almost certainly be playing as a conventional looking, heterosexual, African-American male. I am 100% unaffected by the studio’s choice to remove gender from the character creator, but so many people aren’t. And instead of just letting them choose whether or not they want to buy the game based on the actual merits of the game, they’ve forced an entire group of people to give into their bullshit pandering tactics for the good of their group’s future representation in the video games industry by making a big thing out a fairly easily development change. It’s selfish, disgusting, and wrong. And the worst part is that because of how things work, people are and will continue to champion the studio for this PR move because it’s more than most studios deliver most of the time.

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Gamescom 2019

This year was my first time ever attending Gamescom. I would like to thank Ubisoft for inviting me to attend the event as a contestant in the Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Grand Championship. While I was extremely depressed to have lost in the first round, and even more so to have lost because of a single error in an otherwise flawlessly executed match, I am still happy to have been given the opportunity to participate and attending Gamescom was amazing. I also want to acknowledge that the main reason my experience at Gamescom was so good was that Ubisoft was gracious enough to provide me with an exhibitor’s ticket. This allowed me special access and privileges that normal attendees just didn’t have, which in turn allowed me to try out way more games than probably anyone else.

Over the course of the show I was able to try/experience 22 different unreleased games that are mainstream and some additional indies which I won’t take the time to talk about in this post for the sake of time. I truly believe that other than press I played more mainstream games at Gamescom than anyone else. An exhibitor ticket gave me early access every day which meant I could skip at least one to two lines a day. For example, the lines for FFVII Remake and Marvel’s Avengers were right next to each other in the Square Enix booth. Both consistently had lines of at least 2.5 hours every day of the show. But I was able to enter the show floor an hour early every day. So one of those days I talked one of the Square Enix team members into letting me try Marvel’s Avengers before the official opening time. This allowed me to then be one of the first in line for FFVII Remake right after, allowing me to try two of the biggest games being demoed at Gamescom this year in under 30 minutes of actual show time. That was literally record breaking. And because there was no line at the Square Enix demo for Trials of Mana remake, because everyone was trying it at the Nintendo booth, I was able to try that game right after FFVII Remake. So I managed to try three mainstream titles within the first official hour of one of the days at Gamescom. I used similar tactics throughout the week in order to try literally every game at the show I wanted to try. The only two games of note that I didn’t try were Borderlands 3 and Control. I honestly didn’t want to try either, but after having read the reviews for Control, I do wish I had tried that game and could have if I had wanted to take the time during the show.

 

Gamescom Entrance

This was my first time visiting Germany and I really enjoyed it. Cologne is a great city and I could definitely live there. It’s a beautiful and large but still kind of quaint place with culture and character. And German people are so nice. That being said, German gamers suck. I’m sorry, and I know that’s a wide brush to paint with, but I have to say that of all the gaming and tech related events I’ve been to in three different regions (Asia, NA, EU) of the world, the Gamescom attendees, most of which were native Germans, were the worst, most selfish, and unprofessional people I’ve ever interacted with in a setting like this. And that’s saying a lot. I’m not talking about the staff. Save for a few exceptions, they were great. I’m talking about the people attending the event. So many selfish assholes. They can’t wait in lines like adults. They have little to no concept of what’s appropriate in a crowded public setting. And worst of all they defend each other’s bad behavior even when they aren’t actually guilty of said behavior themselves. I won’t go into specific details of the various ridiculous occurrences I experienced and witnessed, but for such a large event with literally thousands of visitors, I expected better from the attendees. The behavior I saw at Gamescom does not happen at Taipei Game Show. It does not happen at CES. I haven’t been to every gaming event in the world so I can’t say for sure if this was an isolated occurrence or not, but in my experience, German gamers need to grow up. And I’m speaking as a 30 year old man who waited four hours to try Iron Man VR.

This was a gaming event so of course we need to talk about swag. You know me. I’m all about that free stuff at events. I have to say that for quantity, Gamescom was not the best swag event I’ve been to. I make much better hauls at Computex each year. But I’ll also say that with so many more people and much longer lines in a way it’s possible that I just wasn’t able to access as much swag as there actually was. I’ll also say that the giveaways at Gamescom were top notch, but giveaways don’t really count as swag because not everyone can get them just from waiting in line. For example, I got four shirts (Watch Dogs Legion, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Everspace 2, and Biomutant). But of those four only one of them was given out for waiting in line to try a game (Biomutant). The other three were special privilege acquisitions. The Everspace 2 one I got for work related reasons and the two Ubisoft ones I happened to catch when they were thrown out into the crowd during presentations. That means really only one shirt was available as actual swag in my whole haul. I got 11 pins, which is awesome because I actually collect them. But two of them I paid for and one was another instance of a work related acquisition. So really I got only eight pins as swag, three of which were from Nintendo (Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Pokémon: Sword & Shield). The three Nintendo ones weren’t even available until later in the week so if you tried those games earlier then you couldn’t get those pins. In my case I went back to the Link’s Awakening booth, because I tried that on the first day, and begged them for a pin later in the week. I managed to get two hats and a visor as actual swag. But the visor was a disappointment because it was for Cyberpunk 2077 and I really just expected better swag from CD Projekt Red for that game. I wanted a Cyberpunk 2077 shirt so badly. So all in all the swag was average at best for both quantity and quality.

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Now I want to take the time to give single paragraph reviews of each of the noteworthy games I tried at Gamescom. So pretty much the rest of this post will be games coverage. It is a lot to read, but like I said, I played a lot of games. I have listed the titles in bold so you can skip over the ones you aren’t interested in. Games are not listed in any particular order.

Trials of Mana HD Remake (Nintendo Switch)

This was awesome. I never played the original Mana series but I was considering buying Collection of Mana for Nintendo Switch. Now I’m definitely going to wait for them to remake the other two games in this style and then just buy a collection of the remade versions. Trials of Mana looks beautiful and plays so smoothly. For a remake of a classic game, it does not feel super retro. It’s nearly a normal action RPG. The combat was good, the real time party system worked well, and the boss fight at the end of the demo was exciting, challenging, and yet still well balanced. Highly recommend picking it up if you’re interested in this classic series and I hope we see the whole collection soon.

FFVII Remake (PS4)

My gosh this game plays well. I have been avidly opposed to this remake ever since they announced that they were changing the gameplay and making it episodic. But I will give credit where credit is due and admit that this gameplay is otherworldly. It is so revolutionary for the franchise and extremely well made. Even playing it in German felt great. I hate that I’m going to buy this game, but I am going to buy this game. The gameplay alone made sure of that. It’s a real time action RPG with the ATB system from FFXIII being used to implement the turn based feel from the original FFVII without slowing the gameplay down to the point of breaking your groove. It’s hard to even explain because I’ve never seen anything like it before. And the graphics are just phenomenal but that should surprise no one at this point. One thing I will say though is that the gameplay shown was used for multiple characters (Cloud and Barret), which leads me even more to ask what the point of episodes is because the original sell was that the episodes would essentially be different games telling one coherent story. That’s not what I was getting from this gameplay. This system can and will almost certainly be used across all characters so there’s really no justification to break this into episodes because the story aspect can easily shift between cutscenes. Changing your walking avatar from Cloud to another character is not a justification to sell a separate game if they’re going to be part of the same party anyway. In any case, based on what I played this is a must play.

 Marvel’s Avengers (PS4)

This game got a lot of flak after the E3 announcement and I really don’t know why. Visually, the demo I played did have some issues. It was mostly hair that I had problems with. Everything else was fine for an alpha build. It played smoothly, the controls didn’t lag, and I didn’t get any dropped frames. It’s a pretty standard brawler done in the spirit of the Arkham games. But each of the playable characters has a slightly different move set and feel. Personally I liked Hulk and Thor the most because they felt the most appropriate for the gameplay with Captain America in a close third. Black Widow was only featured in a boss fight so while she did work appropriately, I can’t speak to how she wields in normal combat scenarios. The demo was very linear with each character merging into the next one to tell a whole story, but I don’t have a problem with linear games. If the gameplay is good and the story is coherent while having enough length to justify $60+, I’m absolutely fine with a linear story. But the attendant informed me that the final product will be way less linear than the demo I played. I liked it and I’ll definitely pick it up.

Monkey King: Hero is Back (PC)

This game is trash. Which really depressed me because I love the Monkey King character and stories and was super excited to try this game. I didn’t even know about it until I saw the banner at Gamescom. I had high hopes because the character and settling are great for a game, but this was executed poorly. The gameplay isn’t necessarily stiff, but it definitely isn’t smooth either. The graphics are tolerable for the sake of the animated film it’s based on, but they aren’t good. The thing that angered me most was ladder transitions. To climb from one floor to another, even when it’s all part of the same interactive area, you have to wait for an animation clip rather than just climb the damn ladders. This is not acceptable in 2019. Especially not from the company that helped produce games like The Wonderful 101 and Final Fantasy XV. This demo was just unacceptably bad and I’m really, really depressed about it.

Asterix & Obelix XXL 3 – The Crystal Menhir (PC)

I actually only just found out about XXL 3 about two weeks before Gamescom. And honestly I only found out about XXL 2 a couple months before that. I used to watch this cartoon as a kid and play some of the games so I was really happy that they’re still making them and that I could try the newest one at Gamescom. This is by no means a AAA title, but it’s quite fun. I played it solo but you can play it with two player co-op. It’s a well-made top down brawler. A bit repetitive but not bad. Some of the puzzles, if they can be called that, are more annoying jump challenges than actual puzzles but nothing game breaking. It’s really more something you play because you’re a fan of the franchise than because it’s a great game. But if you liked the previous games then this one definitely won’t disappoint.

Link’s Awakening HD Remake (Nintendo Switch)

This was phenomenal. I waited three hours to play it and I don’t regret it. It’s beautiful, the gameplay is smooth, and it’s fun. I never finished the original Link’s Awakening but I will definitely be buying and beating this. Even playing it in German, which I don’t read, in no way turned me off the game. It’s just good. It’s not worth $60. That I will say. For $30, this would be a no brainer purchase. But at full AAA price, I’m gonna wait for a Black Friday deal. But it’s definitely a must play for me.

Doom Eternal (Google Stadia)

There are two main reasons that I wanted to play Doom Eternal on Stadia. The first was that I didn’t want to wait three hours to try Doom Eternal and the second was that I really wanted to try Stadia but the only other game they had available to try was Mortal Kombat 11, which I’ve already played on PS4, so it seemed like a waste of time to try that one. I will admit however that playing a game I had already played and comparing it to Stadia probably would have given me a more legitimate ability to judge the platform in a single 15 minute demo.

Stadia runs fine. What I mean by that is I was able to play Doom Eternal comfortably with no lag, frame rate drops, or any legitimate gameplay issues. The game ran adequately. Now I’m not 100% sure on the setup they actually had because they had a controller and other cables running into a table and then a laptop with nothing on the screen except the Stadia logo sitting next to a monitor, which the game was running on. So the implication was that you were dual monitoring a laptop and running Doom Eternal via Stadia on the monitor while playing with a wired controller, but I have no actual proof of that because they didn’t present the setup to me. They just sat me down, handed me a controller and declared it was Doom Eternal on Stadia. So I believe that’s what I was experiencing, but take this with a grain of salt because there’s no evidence to suggest that this was actually the case. The one negative I will say about Stadia is that the graphics don’t hold up. Playing Doom on my regular PS4 looks better than Doom Eternal on Stadia. The game looked acceptable but not beautiful. If you’re used to high spec PC gaming with a 1080 or more card, which I am, Stadia doesn’t hold up. It runs fine, but it’s not the perfectly crisp HD picture hard core PC Master Race gamers are used to. It’s more like playing games on a PS3. Looks and runs fine, but doesn’t hold up to current high graphics standards. So if you are a minimum spec gamer, it’s probably fine for you. But if you are a 120 FPS, 2080ti, 4K gamer, then you will absolutely not be able to play games on Stadia in its current form.

Doom Eternal was great. And that should surprise no one. It’s the same formula as Doom, and that’s a good thing, because the formula works. Even on the lacking graphics of Stadia, I was having a blast playing it. If you liked Doom, you’re going to like Doom Eternal. Enough said.

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (PC)

I don’t think I’ve played a game since Destiny that required team work as much as Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. This was a demo where you were forced to play on a squad of four and it was tough. Granted the other players were native German speakers and I speak maybe four words of German, but we were all experienced gamers and we struggled. We failed (all four dead at once) multiple times. The game is hard but fair. We had to learn how to work together and be more conservative, but once we did that, we got through it. A big part of the game is fighting drones and robot type enemies. This is where the game gets really difficult because they don’t go down like people. But they mow you down easy. The game works well and looks great. My only real complaint about the gameplay is that you still can’t button to cover like in The Division. Like with Ghost Recon: Wildlands, you just sort of naturally flow in and out of cover as you move. I think intentional cover would improve the gameplay but many would probably argue that it would make it too easy. But in my opinion if being able to cover in a shooter makes the game too easy or less enjoyable, then it’s probably not a good game to begin with. I think Breakpoint would play just fine with button press cover and cover to cover movement. But in general it’s a great game that I’ll definitely be playing, so I can take on the Punisher.

Cyberpunk 2077 (Non-playable Gameplay Presentation)

Sadly I did not get to play Cyberpunk 2077, but the experience of seeing a narrated presentation was extremely informative and valuable. This presentation featured a person playing the game live while a presenter narrated the action. The focus of this presentation was to show how the character development system affects gameplay with what they refer to as a “fluid class system”. Essentially you don’t have classes. You just have skills which you level up with points gained through xp. The two builds they showed were one focused on hacking and the other focused on strength. The way they presented this was very effective because they showed the same mission twice done with these two different builds. The hacker build was much more about stealth and using your skills to clear obstacles and take out enemies strategically, with little direct combat. The strength build just ran in and destroyed everything directly. The best example of comparison between these two builds was during a fight sequence with several enemies and a turret near the middle of the room. The hacker hacked the turret and let it do the work for him, while the strength build used a human shield to get close to the turret and then ripped it out of its stand and used it as a mini-gun. Both approaches were amazing and I’m honestly not sure which one I would prefer to play. They said you could build however you wanted and potentially have features from both builds but they did not answer how much available xp there was in the game in order to reach both these builds simultaneously.

While I still would prefer the game in third person, watching this presentation convinced me that I could probably enjoy playing it in first person as well. The driving did go to third person though so I really hope a patch or mod is coming.

The Surge 2 (PC)

I was really excited to play this. I have The Surge but haven’t actually finished it yet. I do plan on getting it done though. I really like this IP because it plays like a stripped down Dark Souls set in the future instead of the past. I was really depressed that I didn’t get into The Surge 2 closed beta but finding out I could try it at Gamescom made me really happy. Now let me say that the Deep Silver booth sucked. The line for The Surge 2 was never long, but took forever. I waited 45 minutes and didn’t move an inch. I asked multiple employees why it was taking so long and no one could give me an answer other than “I don’t know.” I finally stepped out of line and was considering giving up on getting to try it at all. The only reason I got to play it was that a friend found a fast pass and gave it to me because he didn’t know the studio. While the booth was badly managed, the game is awesome. It plays really well. I especially liked that at the start of this game you don’t have a rig so you have to work your way through learning the combat without power and then once you’ve started to really get it you find a rig and get a real boost of power. It’s a great storytelling mechanic. That being said, it’s kind of a turn off if you don’t will your way through that opening phase of the game. Before you get your rig, you can’t even dodge. And you feel those limitations. But once you get a hang of the combat and then get a rig, it’s so gratifying. I also liked that you start off the game with a sort of boxing gloves type weapon. You get these metal fist covers that allow you to fight against opponents in rigs. I actually hope that in the later game you get supped up fist weapons and can fight boxing style because it works really well. But if you’re not getting weapons grade damage, it’s just not worth it once you get a rig. In general, the game plays great and looks decent enough. There’s also a more human focused story with real conversations and dialog options. The first game put you in a world of mostly robots. This game seems to put you in a world of mostly people after the robots revolted and were finally beaten back. I can’t wait to play the final version.

As a bonus, there was a boss in the demo and for defeating it during the 20 minute trial period, I was given a steel-book case for The Surge. This was an awesome surprise that I absolutely was not expecting. And since I own the physical version of the first game that makes it even better.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (PC)

Sadly I did not like this demo. The controls were a bit overwhelming to learn in a 15 minute session. There’s actually a lot going on. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it means there’s depth to the game. It’s an open world with a battle mode which is initialized when you make contact with enemies that are seen on the map. This is all fine. The boss battles are slightly different from regular battles but not by too much. This is also fine. There’s a lot going on in this world. Lots of NPCs to interact with. Sidequests all over the place. Other characters that team up with you and travel the map with you depending on what part of the story you’re in. This is all good stuff. What isn’t good is how much crap is on the screen at one time. There’s so much going on and it’s all on screen at once. Beacons for objectives, a large HUD, NPC dialog boxes in the distance, floating collectibles, and just lots of general clutter. It’s so hard to focus on playing the game with so much on screen information pulling you out of the experience. Like imagine if in Assassin’s Creed the gameplay looked like the map. If all those objectives, side events, mini-games, challenges, treasure chests, and other map icons were all on the screen constantly while trying to play the game. Now imagine that on a screen of less than 27 inches. It would be a nightmare to play. That’s how this game plays. I hope you can turn a lot of that stuff off in menus because if you can’t it’s just too much junk on screen at one time.

Medievil (PS4)

Great remake. Absolutely buying this. It plays well. It looks good. It sounds good. I never played this as a kid, but I was aware of it and I’m so glad they made a good remake. For the most part, it’s challenging yet fair. The controls are accessible and run smoothly. It’s just a really well made remake. My only complaint, which I assume was present in the original game as well, was the resource management mechanics. Like you start off with a sword that I don’t believe can break. But you can pick up other weapons. But when you do you lose your sword. Yet those other weapons can break. So ultimately I got to the boss in the demo and my weapon broke and I was expected to fight the boss with no actual weapon other than my useless bone arm, which also removes the ability to use your shield. Even when I died, I respawned with no weapon. I found this to be a very annoying and unbalanced mechanic. But otherwise it’s a great game that I’ll definitely buy.

Concrete Genie (PS4)

I hate to say it, but this game is not good. The controls are trash. The painting mechanics are not intuitive at all. Making creatures isn’t nearly as accessible or effective as you want it to be. It just does not play well. And I didn’t even get to any of the evil monster sequences. The demo was extremely boring in that all you had to do was find light bulbs hidden around the town and paint them to turn them on. But even this simple task was so tedious with the broken controls. The graphics are OK but not as good as the ads made them seem like they would be. I was originally excited with the initial reveal but now it’s a hard pass for me.

Dreams (PS4)

I’m actually very interested in this. Writing about it is difficult because they didn’t demo the creator mode. What they showed were creations that were already active for you to play. And they were all so different. There was shmup flyer, a puzzle platformer, a soccer type game, a 3D point and click, and other genres. So many different types of games seem to be possible in Dreams. But because I didn’t see the creator mode I don’t know how hard it is to do any of that. If I’m honest, I’m not super interested in playing other people’s creations. I’m interested in creating my own games. The marketing makes it seem like this is totally easy to do. But that sounds improbable. It’s hard enough to make a good level in Super Mario Maker 2 and that’s built on a grid with pre-made assets. I’ll keep an eye out for this but I can’t really say if it’s good or bad at this time. All I can say is that it seems possible for people to create entire games. Now the question becomes will they be compensated for their hard work in the event that someone creates something actually worth talking about. Because the stuff I saw easily bested many indies you can find on Steam.

Biomutant (PC)

I was really excited for this when I first heard about it, and then it got delayed for like over a year. So I was happy to wait in line for about 90 minutes to try it. And it was worth it. The graphics are kind of weird. It’s like an adult cartoon. Not bad, but also not particularly good. Because the level of violence isn’t super cartoony, so it could have been more graphic. But the animal characters also make sense in a less gory tone. So it’s kind of in limbo visually. But the gameplay is superb. It’s fluid, well balanced, easy to pick up, and just really fun. I genuinely enjoyed every fight in the demo from start to finish. It also has different types of physical weapons. I started off with a saw blade, which was great, and then got a rocket punch glove, which was also great. It’s a must play for me.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Nintendo Switch)

I haven’t actually played any of the previous games, but I was very interested in this one after the E3 reveal. The gameplay was much harder than I imagined it would be. But not hard in the sense that the gameplay is hard. More in that the controls are very unruly. Even a friend who had played the previous games said it didn’t feel the same as the older ones. The mechanic for weakening ghosts so you can slam them wasn’t clear to me but I sort of figured it out through playing. The bigger issue though was the rotation. You can’t just turn in the direction you push the stick like in a normal Mario game. You have to actually spin around in a circle going in either direction. So if an enemy appears behind you, you can’t just instantly point towards them and attack them. You have to take the time to spin all the way around and then line up your attack. And aim matters in this game a lot. You can and do miss often. Especially in the boss fight included in the demo where you’re facing a ghost riding a horse. The graphics were great. And the concepts of the gameplay were quite good. But the controls just were not good for me. I’m still interested but I want normal Nintendo platformer directional movement. I do acknowledge though that this isn’t a platformer, but the rotating does not work well.

Darksiders Genesis (PC)

I was not happy about this game going into the demo at all. I like this franchise. I like the 3D action hack-n-slash Darksiders games. So when they announced a top down dungeon crawler in the style of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy instead of a sequel starring the fourth horseman, I was not happy. I only took the time to try the demo because I felt like it was something my readers would care about. While I still am not happy that this is the next game in the franchise, I must admit that Genesis is extremely well made. It plays so well for that genre. Maybe the best in the genre I’ve played. I genuinely enjoyed playing it. I wasn’t super enthusiastic about the text based story, but the gameplay is excellent. It’s smooth. You can swap between horsemen easily when playing in single player. The attacks work effectively and fluidly. It’s fairly well balanced. Even the boss fight in the demo was great. I’m not saying I’m going to buy this, but if some friends wanted to play it, I’d be totally in for it.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics (PC)

I’m an OG The Dark Crystal fan. I watched that movie on VHS so many times I’m surprised the tape didn’t break. So all they really had to say to me was The Dark Crystal game and I was interested. I played an alpha build and I got what they were doing. It was very similar to like a Fire Emblem or Banner Saga type game. But it was buggy. Again, alpha build, so that’s fine. I got the gist of what they were trying to do and I guess it works. I don’t love the graphics, but it is based on a Jim Henson puppet movie, so I don’t necessarily think the graphics are inappropriate. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily need graphics to be era appropriate to adapt a show/movie to a game. Like I get why Stranger Things: The Game looks the way it does but I don’t want it to look the way it does. I would have been much happier with just a higher visual quality game, 80’s themed or otherwise. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics certainly looks better than Stranger Things: The Game though. It’s a game I’ll continue to look into but at this point I’m not sold on the gameplay or the graphics. It does appear to be very story intensive though, which I consider a good thing.

Death Stranding (Non-playable Gameplay Presentation)

*This video is more useful than the waste of time that was the Death Stranding “presentation” I attended at the Gamescom booth.

Screw Kojima. Screw Death Stranding. And screw that garbage presentation. The line was nonsensical and the presentation was trash. I’m not even going to discuss what was presented, because you’ve already seen it. They literally made us wait in a line to sit in a dark room on shitty box stools to watch four trailers that had already been made available online at the start of Gamescom. I could have taken that time to try another game such as Control or Borderlands 3 and would have if I had known this presentation wasn’t going to actually be a presentation. I thought it was going to be like the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation where a person who worked on the game was going to show gameplay or at least footage and talk about it. Maybe even answer some questions. No one was even in the room during the presentation other than viewers. They just marched us in there, pressed play, left, and then kicked us out after the four trailers had finished rolling. Absolutely ridiculous waste of my time.

Iron Man VR (PSVR)

I waited four hours to play this which was much too long. But I do consider this demo proof of concept. It was hard to control and the graphics weren’t as clear as I wanted. But I do think that may have just been the way the headset was put on me because even Astro Bot Rescue Mission was way clearer when I tried that earlier this year. I could barely hear the sound. Again, I consider this a setup issue rather than a software issue. But the gameplay worked, even though it was hard to control. I felt like Iron Man. Like it felt real. The demo started with me flying over water and I genuinely thought I was going to fall into the water at one point at the start of the demo when I was still learning the controls. It’s not so good that I’m going to rush out and buy PSVR. But with some tuning to the flying and combat controls that game could be one of the most satisfying VR games made to date. If you have PSVR, definitely keep an eye on this one.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (Nintendo Switch)

I have Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (Wii U) and haven’t gotten any of the other games in this series. I honestly only got it because it came with a Wiimote for less than the price of buying a Wiimote on its own. This latest installment looks really good, but it’s really hard to play. I’ll admit that the directions being in German were a big factor here, but the point is that a number of the events aren’t intuitive. Some games were. I particularly liked the archery game. But the surfing game was impossibly hard to figure out how to do tricks. I was only able to try a limited number of events in the game, but it was a fair amount of them. What I really liked conceptually was that you could also play Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964. This was a mode where the graphics were all retro and the gameplay was made to simulate old school NES limitations. It’s a fun idea, but a lot of those events are even harder than the 2020 games. This game isn’t really my cup of tea, but if you liked the previous ones then this one seems like it won’t under deliver the same sort of experience.

Pokémon Sword and Shield (Nintendo Switch)

The line for this game was consistently ridiculous every single day of Gamescom. The only reason I got to play it was that on the last day of Gamescom, using my exhibitor ticket access, I went there at 8:20 AM and was first in line. I waited 40 minutes to be the first person to play the game that day. And it was worth it. Now honestly this was a garbage demo. I wanted to explore the world and catch Pokémon. The demo took place solely in a single gym, had me battle a few trainers, solve a puzzle, and almost complete the gym leader battle. I say almost because it cut out before I could deal the killing blow. But it felt so good. It made me feel like a kid again playing Red and Blue. It plays like any other Pokémon game. The formula works and need not change. But I’ll definitely be buying both Sword and Shield. I did get to try out the Dynamax mechanic. It was fun but not nearly as effective as I’d like because ultimately when used against another Dynamax Pokémon it just becomes a normal battle. The one thing about the demo that I both liked and disliked at the same time was that it gave me all three starters in my team. That’s not going to happen in the real game. Because it never does. I loved being able to try them all out and I did. I purposely changed Pokémon unnecessarily just to try all six that were available in the demo. And I want them all. But we all know the only way I’m actually going to get them all is to get both games and borrow a second Switch to trade Pokémon with myself. For sure going to buy both games though.

So that ends my Gamescom 2019 coverage. I know this was a long post, but like I said, I played more games than anyone else at the show outside of press. And I didn’t even include any of the smaller indie titles I tried. If you have any additional questions about Gamescom, the tournament, or specific games I tried, please let me know in the comments.

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