Gone Home is not a game you can be good or bad at. It’s not a game that will test your twitch reflexes or resource management strategizing or tactical adaptiveness or even really your puzzle-solving abilities. For a small subset of capital-G-gamers, it’s not even a game – not a “real” game, at least. (And if you’ve ever been to a comments section, you’ve met these people.) Gone Home and other games like it have been dubbed “walking simulators,” a term intended as a pejorative by those who think these aren’t “real” games and embraced by those who enjoy them. But the discussion (such as it is) of how to classify Gone Home misses the point of such games, which is ultimately the point of all games: the experience of playing them, whether or not you want to call it “play” or call them “games.”
By now, two-and-a-half years since the game first appeared on PCs, many people are familiar with the essentials of Gone Home: you play as Katie, a 21-year-old just returning home from a year in Europe to the unfamiliar house her family moved to in her absence, only to discover that, though it’s the middle of the night, everyone – Mom, Dad, and sister Sam – is gone. To figure out what has happened, you wander through the house, picking up objects and reading documents, trying to piece together a year’s worth of family drama. And that’s it.
To some, the “that’s it” is a criticism: what the game is missing is the need to defend yourself from hordes of attacking werewolves using the increasingly sophisticated arsenal of weapons you find around the house, an adventure for which the family drama is context and backdrop. To others, the “that’s it” is grand praise, as in: that’s all developer Fullbright needed to make an engrossing game. I find myself squarely in the latter camp.
Recently, EA announced some of the first specific information about what’s planned for the Star Wars Battlefront DLC campaign. After a few free updates (including two new maps), the first paid expansion will roll out in March, with maps in Tatooine and Sullust, followed by three more expansions over the course of the year that will take the action to Cloud City, the Death Star, and other, as-yet-unknown locations. There’s not much information, but it’s enough to get excited for. And, more importantly, it’s enough to speculate about, which is where the real fun is. So let’s head over to Speculation Corner and see what ideas we can stir up.
We’ve known since the game’s launch that the season pass would give us sixteen maps, four heroes, four new game modes, and “over twenty” weapons, vehicles, and star cards spread over its four expansions. The easiest bit of speculation is to assume that this content stuff will be distributed evenly among the expansions: four maps, one hero, and one mode in each pack, plus, say, one vehicle, two guns, and two or three star cards. Because there’s so much variation in how many maps support each game mode, I could see a scenario where one expansion has three maps and another has five, but for simplicity’s sake let’s assume this isn’t the case. With these safe assumptions and the few clues we have, we can imagine some plausible scenarios for what exactly this DLC is going to look like.
Star Wars Battlefront is not the best first-person shooter out there. Let’s get that out of the way right up front. It’s a relatively stripped-down game that doesn’t do enough to make up for its shortcomings. From a purely mechanical standpoint, any number of other shooters on the market will provide a more satisfying experience. Battlefront’s biggest asset, and one major advantage over other shooters, is its ability to transport you to the Star Wars universe.
And I cannot be objective about anything set in the Star Wars universe. We should get that out of the way up front, too. The Star Wars movies are so ingrained in my psyche, so elemental to my artistic sensibilities, that any book, movie, game, TV show, interpretive dance, etc., set in that universe gets a handful of bonus points and get-out-of-jail-free cards. Just being in the Star Wars universe for a while is an experience I enjoy, regardless of the quality of the work that’s brought me there. I saw The Phantom Menace six times in theaters, for example. So my opinion of Battlefront won’t necessarily be objective, inasmuch as such a thing could actually exist. But mine will be the opinion of a pretty passionate Star Wars fan.
The first thing you notice about Star Wars Battlefront is how beautiful it is. Heading into the third year of this new console generation, with developers starting to leave the last generation of hardware behind, we’re getting used to seeing breathtaking graphics in new releases, but Battlefront seems to vastly exceed our still-nascent expectations of what a current (née “next”) generation game should look like. Not only is the game as close to photorealistic as anything we’ve ever seen on a console, but it captures the specific look of the original films. It doesn’t feel like real life; it feels like a movie. This effect is somewhat owing to the photogrammetry process developer DICE used to capture original props from the movies. Those Stormtroopers look just like their cinematic counterparts because they essentially are wearing the exact same costumes.
This attention to detail extends beyond the graphics to the sound design, animations, music, and visual effects. Ewoks scatter when you run through the Endor treetops; Tusken Raiders shout from atop Tatooine ridges; Stormtroopers are animated to move not like hyper-athletic videogame characters, but actors wearing plastic costumes; the Wilhelm Scream is everywhere. Every effort has been made to create as authentic and immersive a Star Wars experience as possible. And those efforts have largely succeeded. It is still a videogame, of course. You will still get shot in the head by a Stormtrooper named something like DeezNutz69xxx69, which kind of breaks the illusion a bit, and you will eventually settle into a familiar headspace of worrying about spawn points, power-ups, K/D ratios, and everything else that comes with playing an online shooter. But it will also feel more like Star Wars than just about any game you’ve ever played. Continue reading Star Wars Battlefront Review→
The Sisyphean task of working through a backlog of yet-to-be-played videogames requires a certain amount of strategy. There is, of course, the matter of playing all the games, but you also have to stop the backlog from growing. Getting through Skyrim won’t do much for my backlog if I end up buying five other games in the interim. So I have, for the most part, conditioned myself to ignore all those great deals on the dozens or hundreds of games that I’ve missed over the years, and to try to buy games one at a time, right before I play them. Getting past – if not necessarily through – the backlog is going to require letting some of these games die on the vine, and that’s a lot easier when you don’t own the games in the first place.
One of the big exceptions, though, is indie games. The market is overflowing right now with fun, quirky, unique indie games that can often be had pretty cheaply. A lot of these games only take a few hours to get through, so it seems pretty harmless to stockpile a handful of them for a rainy day. Or so I tell myself. Taking advantage of a few deals on little indie games isn’t the same as grabbing a cheap copy of Mass Effect Trilogy is what I’m saying. So when Badland: Game of the Year Edition (normally $11.99) went on sale for six bucks during an ID@Xbox Spotlight sale, I grabbed it and threw it on the pile.
Badland was first released in 2013 for iOS and Android (and then a year later for Windows Phone, as is tradition) and won Apple’s iPad Game of the Year award. A GotY edition was then released in 2015 for various consoles and other platforms. It only takes a quick look to understand the game’s appeal as an impulse purchase. It has the kind of look that feels unique in a very familiar way, a cross between In Limbo and Ori and the Blind Forest, casting a silhouetted foreground against a colorful, painterly forested background. It’s of a type that jumps out from a screenshot and promises a dose of adorable fun. It references a lot of other games and styles that seem to pop up in every other indie game, but, on the other hand, its appeal is irresistible. It is a puppy, basically. It looks like all the other puppies, but it is a puppy, right in front of you!Continue reading Backlog Adventures: Badland→
Games. Games games games games games. Lots of games. All of the games. That was the message of Microsoft’s press conference yesterday. Microsoft has been calling this the best games lineup in Xbox history, and while I haven’t gone through year-by-year and compared them, yesterday’s conference certainly made a strong argument.
The show of course featured all of Microsoft’s heavy hitters: Halo, Tomb Raider, Gears of War, Fable, and Forza. The show opened with a montage of characters (and cars) from these franchises, and each franchise popped up at some point during the conference. But in addition to these big, predictable titles, Microsoft dropped a number of surprises. Let’s take a look at the blow-by-blow.
The show kicked off with a trailer for Halo 5: Guardians. I’ve never been much of a Halo fan – I’ve only played Halo 3 – but the game looks impressive. With a couple of people onstage holding controllers, we were treated to a (presumably) live demo – the first of many throughout the night – of co-op Halo 5 gameplay, which we’re told is “seamless drop-ion, drop-out co-op.” Microsoft also showed off the multiplayer, announcing a new Warzone mode with huge arenas and 24-player battles. Without really knowing what I’m talking about, I would say that Halo 5 looks like a pretty good bit of fan service.
Then, with no fanfare, a trailer for a new Xbox One exclusive game started up. The game is called Recore (or ReCore or recore) and might be my favorite moment from the conference. This is a new IP, and while there isn’t really any information in the trailer, it does look pretty cool. The trailer begins with a woman walking through a vaguely post-apocalyptic desert landscape with her robot dog. The dog’s design is centered on a glowing orb – a “core,” if you will – and our heroes soon encounter a bunch of four-legged, spider-like robots with cores of their own, albeit a villainous red as opposed to the dog’s heroic blue. The heroine collects cores from the slain robots, and when her dog is dies, she takes its core and slots it into a giant, inert robot, bringing it to life. So obviously the game is going to center on these cores and your ability to move them from host to host. I’m hoping for more details later in the conference, but so far I’m excited for this game. I love to see new IP, I love robot companions and blowing up robot enemies, I love seeing female protagonists, and I love the visual style of this game. I can’t wait to learn more about Recore. Continue reading Microsoft E3 Conference Impressions→
[Over the years, I, like many gamers, have accumulated a huge backlog of unplayed games. Sometimes a huge open world RPG takes up hundreds of hours of my time. Sometimes I get preoccupied chasing down every last star in a Super Mario game. Sometimes a game comes out that I want to try, but not until its price drops. Sometimes there are just too many games coming out at once. Whatever the reason, I end up setting certain games aside and not getting to them until months or even years after they were released. As I try to work my way through this backlog, I’ll post my thoughts here, in a periodic column called “Backlog Adventures.”]
Alien: Isolation is one of those games that gets me really excited until days before its release, when reviews begin to pop up and it starts to look like much of the game’s potential was left unrealized. In days gone by, I would go to the local Blockbuster and rent a game like this; depending on how much I liked it, I would either buy it, keep renting it until I beat it, or return it after a few days. But with game rental largely a thing of the past, games like Alien: Isolation get relegated to the ever-growing backlog, waiting until I can grab a used copy for a price that matches my expectations.
Alien: Isolation was released last October, around the time I got my Xbox One, and was on my short list for First Xbox One Game. Reviews scared me off, though, and I opted instead for Shadow of Mordor, which proved to be an excellent choice. When I discovered that my local library had a copy of Alien: Isolation in its meager games collection, I decided to give it a shot. After waiting for some chucklehead to return it five weeks overdue – (come on, buddy, you can buy it for less than you’re going to pay in fines!) – I finally got a chance to play it. Would it be so great that I’d run out and buy it for its current price of $40? Or would I play it for a bit and then return it, unimpressed? Continue reading Backlog Adventures – Alien: Isolation→
After a surprise countdown showed up on Bethesda’s website yesterday and sent the Internet into a tizzy of Fallout 4 anticipation, the game’s official trailer dropped this morning. It hits all the familiar notes, has a next-gen level of polish (kind of), and shows off a post-apocalyptic Boston. There are a lot of fun little nuggets buried in this trailer, and now that I’ve had almost two hours to pore over it, here are my first impressions.
First, here’s the trailer, in case you missed it somehow:
This first thing that struck me is the vibe of the trailer. It reminds me quite a bit of the excellent trailer for The Division that Ubisoft showed at last year’s E3. That trailer had a camera sweeping through an unpeopled New York while a cool time-lapse effect showed the unfolding of some catastrophe through insinuation:
The Fallout 4 trailer achieves a similar effect, albeit with more conventional filmmaking techniques, cutting back and forth between the pre- and post-apocalyptic versions of Boston. You see an empty crib in a dirty, abandoned bedroom, and then you see parents cooing over a newborn in that same crib. I like getting these glimpses of the pre-apocalyptic, retrofuturistic world, and I wonder if we’ll get to visit that world in the game. Continue reading Fallout 4 Trailer Impressions→
I love this game. Let me get that out of the way right up front. We’re in a new golden age for side-scrollers, and Ori and the Blind Forest is up there with the best I’ve ever played. Gorgeous graphics, fluid controls, and satisfying challenges make for one of the best videogame experiences I’ve had in years.
Ori and the Blind Forest has been out for a while, but if you’re not familiar with it, here are the basics: it is a metroidvania game in which you play Ori, some kind of flying-monkey-looking thing, and you flit around the titular forest, which has become sick and is in need of saving. The story, such as it is, is straight-up videogame boilerplate. There’s a Spirit Tree, there are three main objectives centered on three elements, there’s the restoring of light. But somehow, developer Moon Studios has made this paint-by-numbers story seem vital. This can be credited mainly to two things: the game’s beautiful art design, and its poignant opening scene. Continue reading Ori and the Blind Forest Review→
Everyone’s favorite kerfuffle generator, the Internet, is at it again, making kerfuffles out of kerfufflets. The source this time is a pair of blogposts from Noah Horowitz at the NRDC drawing attention to the fact that the Xbox One consumes a remarkably high amount of energy, especially when in standby mode – or, as you or I might say, “turned off.” Predictably, this news has induced a case of what you might call Gamer Persecution Syndrome among a certain subset of gamers who show a strong aversion to any critical or negative commentary about our hobby (see: feminism). To be fair, this type of thinking is not unique to gamers; hyperbolic, vitriolic reactions can be found in just about any comment thread on the Internet, and usually represent a tiny slice of the community. Also, this is not a huge issue. The reaction has been pretty muted, and I doubt anyone will be talking about this a month or two from now. Still, it seems worth writing about, because there are a number of misconceptions in the coverage of and reaction to this story.
First, some background. While a lot of the coverage has referred to “a recent report” or something along those lines, what they’re really referring to is a blog post. (The word “blogs” in the URL and “Noah Horowitz’s Blog” at the top of the post should’ve been clues.) The report in question is actually almost a year old, and is linked to in the third paragraph of Horowitz’s blog post, a paragraph that begins with the words “last year.” The report outlines the results of an NRDC study of energy consumption by the three current-gen consoles and makes recommendations for improving their efficiency. One of the big takeaways is that current-gen consoles use a lot of energy – enough to power all the homes in Houston by the end of this generation – and a lot of this energy is consumed in standby mode.
The March 26 blog post criticizes Microsoft for not only making the energy-gobbling “instant-on” mode the default mode, but for also burying the energy-saving mode in the less-than-intuitive settings menus rather than as an option during initial setup. Someone buying and setting up a new Xbox One could easily have no idea that the energy-saving mode even exists, let alone how to activate it. Microsoft responded to the post (and media coverage) by announcing plans to add a screen to the setup process that will prompt users to choose between these two modes “in the coming months.” Horowitz responded with a second post that praised Microsoft for addressing the issue, but expressed skepticism that the changes would be as effective as they could be. He pointed out that the new setup process would still default to the “instant-on” mode, and uses language that seems biased against the energy-saving mode; he also pointed out a few other areas where Microsoft could make energy-saving changes. Continue reading Now You’re Playing with Less Power→
The Star Wars Battlefront trailer dropped today at the Star Wars Celebration event. I don’t really have anything insightful to say about this, and keeping you updated on breaking news isn’t really the point of this blog, but I’m too excited for this game to not post something about it. With the new Zelda game delayed into 2016, Battlefront is officially my most-anticipated game of 2015. I’m trying to go full embargo on Episode VII – a task that’s proving a lot harder than it was in 2005 for Episode III – so, after an excruciating day yesterday of seeing everyone on Facebook super jazzed about the footage that I won’t see (Internet willing) until December, it’s nice to have a Star Wars trailer I can watch. Over and over. And what a trailer!
They’re emphasizing Endor here (or the Sanctuary Moon, if you prefer) because, I’d assume, it shows off the Frostbite engine a bit better than the frozen expanse of Hoth does, and the speederbike chase in Return of the Jedi is one of the best action scenes ever put to film. The trailer advertises this as in-engine footage and, according to Gamespot, the video is from a PS4. While that isn’t the same thing as gameplay footage, it still should be pretty representative of what the final game looks like. Right? There are supposed to be 40-person battles in this thing, and I didn’t see anywhere in that trailer where the system was rendering anything close to 40 people at once, so I expect a bit of a fidelity drop, but I still think this will be pretty close to what gameplay looks like. E3 is in two months, and I’d imagine that Battlefront will be playable there, or that there will at least be a much more in-depth look with extended gameplay footage. When studios release crazy, pie-in-the-sky pre-rendered videos of what they hope a game might possibly but definitely won’t actually look like, it’s usually a few years out, not a few months before playable demos are due. Continue reading Star Wars Battlefront Changes Lives→