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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Choose Your Weapon

This is kind of a weird post. It’s honestly more stream of consciousness than me making any particular point or argument. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently so I wanted to write about it.

There are so many types of controllers for games these days. When I was a kid, there were very few options for controlling your games. You were pretty much stuck with the controller based on the platform you were playing on. Or a keyboard/mouse when playing on PC. There were a few specialty options like joysticks for flight simulators and racing wheels. And there were some third party controller redesigns, but really these didn’t change the controllers. Just the size and grips on them. For the most part you used a certain controller for a certain type of game or in the case of certain games like fighters, you could play them at home with a controller or at an arcade with the traditional stick and buttons layout. In general though, pretty much everyone moved Mario the same way at any given time.

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Today controllers are no longer platform or even generation specific. Between adapters, third party full redesigns, first party specialty designs, and custom made control mechanisms, people can play games with whatever they want now. And by whatever they want I mean there are people who literally play games with bananas. I remember the first time I used an emulator on my PC. I played a Nintendo game on a PC with a PlayStation controller. The whole thing seemed like blasphemy. Now I can play Crash Bandicoot on the Nintendo Switch with a DualShock 4 designed to look like an XBOX 360 controller, completely blending if not all out destroying the lines between platform, generation, and originally intended gameplay design. It’s a beautiful thing. Yet I can’t help but wonder if this level of customization isn’t ruining the experience of at least some games.

When Cuphead was first announced, I really wanted to play it but it was an XB1 exclusive so I was fairly certain that I was never going to get to play it. Then later they ported it to PC. Now you can even get it on Switch. I got it on PC, but I probably would have gone for the Switch version if I had known that was going to be a thing. As a person who doesn’t own an XB1, I opted to try out Cuphead with a PS4 DS4 controller. This was easy for me to do because I have an adapter that allows me to connect my DS4 or Wii U Pro controller to my PC or Switch to use with any game I want. I don’t have any particular rationale for why I chose the DS4 over the Wii U Pro Controller for Cuphead. It was just the controller that was hooked up when I started the game. And I was absolutely not going to play a fast paced run and gun platformer with a keyboard and mouse. Some people can do that. Sadly I am not one of those people.

Cuphead

I connected with Cuphead fairly quickly. It’s a beautiful game with fairly accessible mechanics and difficult but seemingly balanced challenges. I easily cleared the tutorial and even managed to do the jump dash on the first try. I liked it and wanted to beat it. But I struggled so much while playing it. I started with The Root Pack as my first boss. This was very difficult for me. More difficult than a first boss in a game should be. But one of the most widely talked about aspects of the game was its difficulty. So I, like any seasoned Dark Souls player who can’t find any summoning symbols, decided that it was my lacking skills and that I just had to get gud. It took me several tries but I did finally manage to defeat The Root Pack. Then I faced Ribby and Croaks. I couldn’t beat them. I tried and I tried and I tried but I could not bring them down. I continued to blame my own lacking skills, but as an experienced gamer I eventually felt like maybe it just wasn’t balanced properly. Sadly my pride got the best of me and I stopped playing rather than allowing myself to play on easy mode. I said I’d return to the game eventually but never really did.

Recently I received a free XB1 controller. I had wanted one for PC gaming for a long time, because many games on Steam, and PC in general, are optimized for XB1 controllers rather than PS4 or Nintendo ones. But seeing as how I had multiple controllers that I could use with PC games, it seemed like a waste of money to go buy an XB1 controller I didn’t actually need. Ironically I ended up having to spend $40 to get a charge pack and wireless dongle to properly use the XB1 controller the way I wanted to, so really I didn’t save any money. But that’s beside the point. In order to test my new controller, I started up Cuphead. This wasn’t because I had a desire to return to the game, but really just because it’s one of the only games on my PC that doesn’t require me to login to a launcher to use, since I bought it from the Microsoft Store and keep it saved in my start menu to motivate me to play it.

Current Gen

I loaded up the game and challenged Ribby and Croaks again. I lost a few rounds but I quickly became aware of how close I was to defeating them. Was it this new controller or had my skills improved with no practice over the last several months? Ultimately I defeated them and went on to quickly defeat a number of other levels before getting stuck again. But now I knew for certain that I was good enough to play Cuphead. Why had my skills improved so much so unexpectedly? It had to be the controller. But why would/should that be the case?

I love the DS4 controller. I prefer it to the XB1 controller any day of the week. I like symmetrical joysticks. I like symbols instead of letters on the main buttons. And though I almost never use it for the games I play, I appreciate having the touchpad. I also liked the DS3 over the XBOX 360 controller. I don’t think it’s a better controller. I just think it feels better to me. I also really like the Wii U Pro controller. It’s the main reason I bought my adapter in the first place. So I can use it on my Switch instead of paying $70 for a Switch Pro controller.

8bitdo

My preference for the DS4 and Wii U Pro is why I invested in adapters instead of just buying an XB1 controller originally. I knew the XB1 controller would be easier from a technology standpoint to use for PC gaming. But I don’t prefer the controller. Yet I have to admit that based on my limited amount of data, I’m noticeably better at Cuphead with an XB1 controller over a DS4. I’ve had similar experiences before. Last year I got The Crew 2 for PC. I first tried to play it with a Wii U Pro controller and it was absolute garbage. Absolutely horrendous experience even though that same controller is great for Mario Kart. Then I tried it with a DS4 and it was great. I also remember trying Hyper Light Drifter for the first time with a keyboard and mouse. It was so bad that I quit the game before even reaching the first boss and never wanted to play it again. This was before I had my adapter for PC. Later I got the game for PS4 through PS Plus and decided to try it again, now with a DS4. That game is amazing with a DS4.

It’s odd to me that the controller matters so much for some games. Especially in 2019 where there are so many varying controller options. You can even get a PS4 controller that’s built to the shape of an XB1 controller. So the fact that games seem to feel wrong when using certain controllers should be considered problematic within the current trend of customized controller options for literally any game. There are definitely some limiting factors to consider. Latency caused by adapters can be an issue. It’s not something I often feel like I’m experiencing but there are definitely times where I do. Button customization is also still not widespread enough within software itself. I often still find games that either don’t have button customization, or the PC version of the game’s button customization isn’t functioning properly with a controller. It could also be the adapter causing the game to not to properly allow the button customization to work I guess. But in my experience, the controller you play a game with can make a huge difference in how that game feels and plays.

Onyx Hori

If the specific controller used matters when playing a game is it intentional or just a coincidence? I now genuinely believe that Cuphead was made to be played with an XB1 controller. And this makes sense because it was originally released as an XB1 exclusive. But now you can play it on PC or Switch. Is this OK? Is it acceptable for developers to create games to be played with a specific controller and then release those games to other platforms where that controller isn’t a viable option? Of course it’s legal. And obviously publishers will do it because it’s more profitable than a single platform release. But if a studio makes a game to be played with a specific controller, are we not as gamers lowering the caliber of our gameplay experience by using the “incorrect” controller?

Like I said, I don’t really have a conclusive final thought or argument with this post. Just some ideas I was thinking about controllers and the controller ecosystem we have today. I know that I will almost exclusively use my XB1 controller for PC gaming, when not using a keyboard/mouse, from here on out. But at the same time I still favor the DS4 and will continue to do the bulk of my gaming on PS4. What are your thoughts on controllers? Have you had an experience where you tried out two different controllers for the same game and noticed that one seemed superior for that particular game?

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas Editions Matter

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

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

Episode - Screenshot 2018-11-28 20-27-23

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

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

Episode - Screenshot 2018-11-28 20-29-12

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

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

Episode - Screenshot 2018-11-27 21-24-24

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

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

StarFox Starter Pack

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

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

Physical DLC

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

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

Episode - Screenshot 2018-11-28 20-28-56

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

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

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

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Sea of Thieving Devs

Last week I wrote a blog post about people incorrectly defending games and I lightly touched on gaming apologists, a group/practice I can’t stand. Now in that post I stated that we were almost assuredly going to see apologists defending Sea of Thieves. To hopefully no one’s surprise, considering both my track record with gaming predictions and the beta reviews, this is of course what is now happening. Sea of Thieves was released last week for the XBOX ONE and Windows PC. I was very interested in it, but reluctant based on what I saw and read of the betas. Now that the game and initial reviews are out, I can say with certainty that I will not be purchasing this game. If I’m honest, I knew this was going to be the case. When I first heard about it and watched the alpha footage I could quickly see that this was going to be another pointless, endless shared world experience devoid of any actual substance. Sadly, it’s not even as fulfilling as Destiny as far as content is concerned and that’s saying a lot, or more to the point, a little.

Sea of Thieves Metascore

I haven’t personally played the game, but I have read and watched quite a bit about it. From my understanding it’s a fairly decent sized world of sand and water with little actual content. There are only three types of let’s call them tasks because the word quest seems a bit too charitable for what they really are. These tasks, which can be done countless times, net you loot. You can also get loot by stealing it from other players while they try to complete these same three tasks. Basically this game is a glorified chat room where you can sail ships around some water, occasionally team up with other groups to fight a giant squid, and fight other people for pretty much useless treasure. All that is to say, this is a pointless game that charges you $60 to make a pirate themed avatar and joke around with your friends. A Reddit user by the name of calibrono summarized it best. His entire post is a bit long and I do encourage you to take the time to read it, but allow me to quote a passage from it.

“Sea of Thieves is an experiment. “How little content can we stuff in a $60 title and hey away with it” kind of experiment. The same kind of experiment EA did try with SWBF2, except not with microtransactions, but with content.”

Paper Mario Color Splash Screenshot 2017-10-08 16-58-04

This is very sad. Once again a developer/publisher has decided that instead of making a proper game they can take advantage of the bored masses and offer them nothing in exchange for a AAA price tag. I’ve actually seen a number of people compare Sea of Thieves to No Man’s Sky, which seems very appropriate. One Twitter account I follow referred to it as “No Man’s Sea”, which is just brilliant.

Microsoft trying to take money out of our pockets for little actual work is nothing new. They’ve been nickel and diming us for Windows, an OS they didn’t originally create to begin with, for more than 30 years. But gamers falling for it, yet again, is the much bigger issue. This game has literally no content. It doesn’t even have a giant map to explore with endless islands of differing environments to discover and explore. There’s literally only one type of land based enemy, skeletons, and they can’t even hurt you if you’re standing on a rock. Yet people happily paid $60 for it and are defending it like it’s a legitimate game. I even read an article today, which you shouldn’t take the time to read, where someone tried to compare it to The Last of Us, which just sounds ridiculous and it is. If anything, this is worse than Star Wars Battlefront II because at least that was/is a playable game with a single player campaign and match based PVP with clear objectives. This is little more than a glorified server test for the pre-alpha stage of an actual pirate game. Why are people putting up with it and even going out of their way to argue it’s a good game? This is exactly why things only seem to be getting worse in the gaming industry. People need to stop actively helping publishers take advantage of them.

Pirates Black Kat

I’m angry because I actually really like the pirate theme. One of my favorite PS2 games was Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (2002), which Ubisoft clearly was inspired by in the making of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which I loved. Nothing would make me happier than to see another great pirate game with solid gameplay and a well written plot. And RARE is/was a studio that I would have trusted to do that. They could have done that. They should have done that. But of course they didn’t do that. So here we are with yet another shitty cash grab game that will make a butt load of money in initial sales compared to what it cost to make, then they’ll add paid DLC and make more money, telling publishers that this is a viable model for game development, ultimately leading to the further detriment of the industry and lowering the general quality of future games. What do we learn? Apparently not a damn thing.

Now I’m sure more content will eventually be added to this game. I hope it’s added for free from an ethical standpoint, but at the same time I’m always in support of people learning their lesson the hard way. But adding content after the fact because people are unhappy doesn’t excuse the fact that in their ideal scenario Microsoft wanted people to happily pay them for nothing and get away with it. So in my book new content as a reaction to user complaints is a step in the right direction but too little too late.

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Crass Effect: What’sWrongWithYa?

Usually I publish posts on here Wednesdays but I had to make sure this went live before Mass Effect: Andromeda dropped. As I write this, we have less than 16 hours till those of us not lucky enough to get advanced copies can take the plunge. In fact, there’s a good chance you will have played the game for several hours before you ever look at this. I wanted to get it published sooner, but I do the best I can with the time I have.

I’m not gonna critique the game right now. I don’t have a right to do that because I haven’t played it yet, because it isn’t out yet. Yet recently a lot of people, who also haven’t played the game, have taken it upon themselves to not only negatively critique the game but to also harass members of the Bioware staff because of it. Now this is absolutely ridiculous for so many reasons, but I’m not actually interested in discussing harassment in this post either, so I’ll just sum up my views on the subject as quickly as possible.

You Can't Judge a Game

Harassment is wrong in any form. But let’s be clear about what harassment actually is. Criticizing a business because of issues you have with their products in a mature and respectable manner for legitimate, well thought out, and justified reasons is not harassment. Whether it’s by email, tweet, Facebook post, forum reply, blog post, YouTube comment, or any other means of communication is completely acceptable behavior. But let’s make sure we’re clear about what “mature and respectable manner for legitimate, well thought out, and justified reasons” means. Voicing a formal complaint about being unhappy with the quality of facial animations in a game with the entire focus of the post/comment being about facial animations with no curse words one time is not harassment. Voicing that same complaint with slurs, curse words, and threats of violence is harassment whether it’s once or a hundred times. Directing your complaints about a game, no matter how respectful and well thought out, at a private citizen, even if they are an employee of the development studio, is harassment. Even if you’re directing positive comments at them, it’s still harassment. It’s just harassment that they most likely aren’t going to be unhappy about.

Bioware is not made up of or represented by one person. It’s a large corporation that has official accounts that the public can easily send messages to in many forms via many platforms. There is no excuse to bother private citizens who work at a company about issues you have with the company and/or their performance. You wouldn’t send a message to the guy who flips your burgers at McDonalds if you saw a commercial from them you didn’t like. Private citizens deserve to be left alone regardless of where they work and what they do at work.

Respect is the Key

So just to be clear, it’s completely acceptable, but pretty stupid, to send messages to Bioware saying you’re unhappy about the facial animations, even though you haven’t yet played the game yourself yet, in Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s not acceptable to send messages to Bioware saying you’re unhappy with the facial animations in Mass Effect: Andromeda and that it’s the fault of a specific employee because they happen to be a woman. It’s not ok, but won’t be frowned upon to send positive messages about Mass Effect: Andromeda to an employee of Bioware via their private accounts. It’s completely, 100% unacceptable, disgusting, and outright offensive to send negative messages to a private citizen who happens to work for Bioware and blame them for something you’re unhappy with about Mass Effect: Andromeda, whether you played it already or not, especially to tell them it’s their fault because of something out of their control such as their gender, skin color, class, or literally any other personal identifier protected by the Constitution of the United States of America. Even if you’re not an American, these same rules still apply to you if you consider yourself a human being. Now that I’ve taken more time than I should have to in 2017 to talk about this issue, let me get to what I actually wanted to discuss in this post.

If you have an issue with the facial animations of humans in Mass Effect: Andromeda that is completely acceptable. If you think bad human facial animations is enough of a reason to say Mass Effect: Andromeda is a bad game and/or that’s the reason you’re not going to buy the game, you’re an idiot. And let’s be clear about something. This has nothing to do with Mass Effect: Andromeda. This has to do with people incorrectly judging games. A video game, especially an open world, plot based, AAA, is made up of more than just facial animations. In fact, as surprising as it may sound, it’s made up of more than just graphics. A game is made up of multiple parts, created by masses of people, over several months to years in the case of Mass Effect: Andromeda. We aren’t talking about some small one man indie game where you can legitimately blame a problem on a specific person. And in the same vein of thinking, we aren’t talking about a game small enough to be judged solely on any one problem. Not to mention it’s probably the least important problem anyone could ever complain about.

A Game is More Than Graphics

Human facial animations? Who cares? Have we forgotten about Assassin’s Creed Unity? Are we just gonna ignore the many serious glitches in the original release of Skyrim? And who’s playing Mass Effect games for the humans in the first place? If you’re not in it for the aliens then you’re a xenophobic, narcissistic asshat and you should just run along back to your COD. Having not yet played the game yet, my biggest complaint so far is the fact that you have to play as a human . . . again. We did three games of that already. Bioware should have moved on to new playable races for the campaign by now. But whatever. The point is that to make the game breaking issue facial animations of one of many species in a huge, plot focused, open world game without considering any other pieces of the total work is kind of like saying you hate a movie because of the way they drew/wrote the title in the introduction. Most importantly, it shows a lack of ability to properly judge and/or review games.

I’m not saying that I’m the best game reviewer of all time, but I am quite experienced with multiple years of reviews under my belt. While I won’t say that there’s any one correct way to review games, there are a few things that every good reviewer should be doing when judging games. The first and most important is making sure to judge a game in its entirety and not just focus on one specific aspect. This is especially true when picking the score. Personally I hate that reviews are scored. It only detracts from the review because most people take the number as being more important than the words that led to that number. A large part of this comes from the fact that many people no longer take the time to actually read reviews, which is a shame. But in any case, the number should reflect a score for the totality of the product and not just represent a specific aspect of it. The second thing is that the number should accurately reflect what the reviewer wrote about the game. Not what the reviewer felt in his/her own head, but what they took the time to write down. The review should back up the score, not exist independently of it.

Avoid Bias

I haven’t looked at a single review for Mass Effect: Andromeda yet. They are coming out as I write this post. I’ve made the conscious decision not to read any reviews or check any scores because I plan on reviewing it myself and I don’t want my final thoughts and score to be manipulated by anyone else’s review. That’s the third thing that I believe should be standard practice for all reviewers. They should make a conscious effort not to see any scores for a game until they’ve already settled on their score and ideally finished writing their review. I always score games after I’ve finished writing the review. Again, the score should not dictate the review. The review should dictate the score.

While I don’t necessarily believe that everyone should write reviews the way I do, I do believe that every reviewer who takes that responsibility seriously should have a set in stone rationale for how they review games that can be presented upon request. I have shown mine many times and you can see it in practice with every review I write.

The 5 Components of a Game Review
Seen more doesn’t mean more important.

I believe that no aspect of game development is more important or more difficult than any other one when it comes to scoring a game. Many people would disagree, and that’s fine, but again, they should still be able to show a legitimate breakdown of how they score games and be able to justify it. I break a game up into what I believe are the five core aspects of game development: graphics, gameplay, sound, writing, and replay value. The order is irrelevant because all five aspects are weighted evenly for a maximum score of two. Combined they can equal a maximum score of 10. That is how I review games. I look at each aspect of a game in detail, score each one independently of the other four aspects, and add those five scores together for a total score. Now to be completely transparent, the website I write for currently only does integer scores so I always have to round to the nearest integer for my published score, but when it comes to actually choosing a number, I used decimals. I believe that this evenly weighted system is the fairest way to review and score a game, but I would never claim that all reviewers should be forced to use this system. Many people have differing beliefs about what’s important when scoring a game and weight it differently. But all legitimate reviewers should be able to agree that all five of the aspects I mentioned should be considered when reviewing a game and no single aspect can make or break a game unless the game is unplayable because of it. A game with a game breaking glitch with everything else perfect isn’t going to get an eight. But at the same time, a game with great gameplay and terrible to no writing shouldn’t get a 10 either. Neither game has performed to the best of the industry and thus both games should be scored to appropriately reflect a lack of perfection.

Mass Effect Andromeda Parts

So as we move forward into the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, let’s all try to be fair judges of the game and remember that bad human facial animations cannot legitimately make a plot heavy, open world space exploration game with multiple species of characters, the majority of which have totally acceptable facial animations, a “bad game”. Just to clarify, I’m not saying it’s a good game at this point. I haven’t played it yet. What I’m saying is that if your only complaint about it is bad human facial animations and you consider yourself a reviewer or even just a legitimate gamer, then you have a responsibility to judge the game fairly and declare that other than those bad human facial animations it’s a good game. That means you should probably play it before voicing an opinion about it.

I’d love to see how other reviewers weight/score games so please let me know your system in the comments or link me to your own blog post where you explain this rationale in detail. You can get my full thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda once I’ve had a chance to thoroughly play the game and my review is complete.

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