Thursday 7 February 2019

Shooting into February 2019

There sure are a lot of AAA shooter titles landing this month. Many of them have had a very long and public development process with much of their team's (or even entire studio's) future being weighed on if they find success. Quite a few public betas have been going on, because almost everything (even the solo-able experience) is a multiplayer co-operative game today. And then EA went and made it even more of a month of riches by not only announcing Respawn's Battle Royale entry but also releasing it onto PCs and console the same day they announced it.

I'm actually going to start be rewinding into the final days of last month for the first game getting some quick commentary. Resident Evil 2 was a project that could have fallen apart extremely easily. Remaking a 21 year old title in a genre whose popularity has been up and down, bringing back most of the story beats and even design decisions while completely remaking the visuals and how the game controls (goodbye fixed cameras). And yet, what has arrived is both a great recollection of what has always worked for horror games along with enough new to feel modern and accessible. This should end up in classrooms as an example of how to refresh old games while retaining their identity.

The big title from EA, the one you'd actually expect them to make space for and not throw out an online competitive shooter merely weeks before launch, is Anthem. BioWare have been having a hard time recently, with various teams being given their branding and releasing things of questionable quality (and some extremely short deadlines seemingly responsible for those quality control issues - the way so many PC RPG studios have died before) but this is the big hope: a brand new IP that carves a living world around the upward swing to how shooting felt in the most recent Mass Effect games.

Unfortunately, if the demos are anything to go by, that shooting doesn't feel any more inspired here than it has done in those RPGs (where the narrative was the main point of playing). A light affair, lacking in feedback from the bullet sponge enemies or in terms of interface reactivity; I found almost nothing to keep me engaged in the combat scenarios (which seem to be stock wave-based exercises just as each of the weapons feels like well-worn archetypes). The visuals show off Frostbite but also leave you wondering how much world there is to explore, as does the lack of narrative content on display. It feels like this could easily be forgotten in a month, not even managing to equal something like a Destiny (2) in keeping players engaged through a diverse selection of skyboxes as the campaign story gave a reason to enjoy the excellent feeling shooting. That comparison feels like an area where Anthem could end up coming up short in every way.

And loading up EA's Origin right now, there is a much better feeling shooter they just released. Respawn's Apex Legends is doing just about enough new for Battle Royale games, while keeping it F2P to avoid there being a barrier to entry. It's great timing for anyone falling off Call of Duty's mode but unwilling to jump to the construction combat of the market leader. It's fun, bright, feels good to aim and shoot, and hopefully will slowly expand over time as long as the players continue to engage with it. That Titanfall heritage is clearly there, even without the wall-running mobility.

Jumping forward in time, The Division 2 is not releasing until March but that means the Ubisoft betas are all over this month. One of the things that the move to DC in the summer makes clear is that Manhattan under a ton of snow really made the last game. This has every sign of being more of the same, only with some slightly rearranged progression that better leads into an end-game situation (rather than keeping a treadmill for the campaign and falling off the end outside of PvP in the Dark Zones). I've found myself having a hard time going back three years later and the always-connected stuff will probably keep me away (as a server disconnect wipes out half an hour of progress and dumps my avatar at the entry lobby to a mission rather than saving any of the checkpoints I'd progressed through). There's just so much else I could be doing for putting up with stuff like this in 2019. One final aside: remember when Massive Entertainment were pulled off supporting that first game and put onto a James Cameron's Avatar project? I wonder if that went sideways because it sure feels like it's been a while.

Before The Division 2 comes out, Ubisoft are also throwing out Far Cry: New Dawn. I can't say that reskinning the Far Cry 5 map for a post apocalyptic cash-in is getting me in any way excited for even more Far Cry. Everything about the branding for this makes me think it'll be completely forgotten in a few months when Rage 2 comes out, even if that game doesn't turn out particularly well. I wonder who asked for this, or if it was just a pivot when Far Cry 5 didn't do that well for the team that was planning on making DLC.

Returning to games which have gone through extremely long and public development cycles, Crackdown 3 is coming soon. Yes, "cloud physics" multiplayer and all. My expectations are in the gutter at this point so time to wait for reviews on this one.

Finally for this compilation of thoughts, Metro Exodus is yet another shooter coming this month and everything they've put out about that more open world makes me think this'll be where I find something special this month. It's interesting that it's courted more controversy for the PC digital store it's on (Epic Store, after being pre-sold on Steam for a while - where it will apparently get distributed to those customers) than the contents of the actual game. As a solo game without a constant server connection, I'm not sure where you get it from really matters that much (as long as the CDN server continues to exist to serve the download files at high speed in the future). A more open game world with light survival elements and a lot of nods to HL2-style storytelling? I think I just accidentally described about half of this list of games to various degrees.

What a lot of shooters!

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