Saturday, 23 May 2020

Catch-Up 1: the Not-GotYs

Since last we spoke I've been in somewhat of a holding pattern, expecting to find another meaty topic about next gen to dig into but instead being satiated by micro-blogging about game dev stuff and the state of politics. I suspect that during the not-E3 events next month I'll find something that won't fit into a few 500 char posts on Mastodon. But until then, I was reminded of the tail on my recent GotY posts of the games that get left off those lists (because I didn't manage to play them in their launch year). As many of those games are things I've played by now, I wanted to just quickly give some thoughts on a few I never got back to talking about, however briefly (and which didn't get included in the recent rule changes made to allow ongoing games to be properly given their dues).

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

A good capstone on the series, this expandalone contains strong levels (something Dishonored has continually refined with iteration) but the environment reuse does make it somewhat limited (but then you'd maybe expect that from a DLC that this clearly was before sales of Dishonored 2 left Bethesda unwilling to require people own that to buy this).

I find it hard to believe that this story alone would be satisfying (selling it separately did allow me to buy it on a different platform to the base game so I can't fault them for that but after replaying Dishonored 2 & immediately jumping into this, it felt like bundling the two is a smart move). Taken as the final piece in a series, there's a lot to enjoy from how they conclude the threads & flesh out bits of lore. Mechanically, I'm not sure the selection of new abilities is my favourite but that's been a long-standing issue I've felt: the need to keep things somewhat novel & not just replicate the original formula creates a weird space which demands evolving strategies that worked in previous games (which is good) but also makes you pine for the flow you'd achieved by the end of a full game exploring your abilities (which can feel bad but maybe ensures the systems never feel stale).

As an Unseen stealth player, I've never felt like this series compromises those roots for action (although giving plenty of extra space for non-lethal surprise moves). That remains true here but the Contracts (optional mission objectives) do suggest that those wanting to be a ghost can't also engage with that new system completely (as contracts demand murder, something previous games have worked to ensure there is always an alternative to). The removal of an achievement for never killing (it exists only for not killing during any one level) while retaining the one for never being seen indicates developer intent for players to be somewhat more bloody during this campaign. I respect avoiding becoming formulaic even if it's not what I go to in a Thief-like.


What Remains of Edith Finch

I don't think this is as emotive as it thinks it is and that can really hold it back unless you choose to go with it. When it worked for me, it worked extremely well and the section everyone talks about as tying mechanics & narrative perfectly was so anxiety-inducing for me (as someone irrationally paranoid about settings where losing concentration can quickly lead to losing body parts).

It's also a pretty visually lush in the way that several of these Sony-incubated (Santa Monica Studio) developers have been able to achieve (see also Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture). The pushing of well-funded indie into adopting very AAA aesthetics. The Unfinished Swan may have been a visually more interesting experiment but this game works incredibly well. The density & detail of the assets fleshing out the different scenes here provide a lavish presentation that puts you inside the place. When you're playing a game to find the details & understand the story, having that crafted density rather than a rough approximation that is only meant to invoke it matters - I know plenty of indies who dislike that but I don't think it's untrue even if it does somewhat tie budget to what you can do with virtual spaces. Finding affordable ways of doing this stuff (ie doing it fast but well, possibly leveraging a huge database of material info & mesh detailing or assembly tools) is something that'll continue to push the industry forward.

Inside

Did I never mention Inside on here after noting I failed to play it in 2016? Well that's an oversight.

The continuation of the ideas covered in Limbo manages to expand on every facet of the '2.5D platforming with mood and some mechanics' design. It's also a very solid evolution of the visuals and the best dithering you've seen in a game. Seriously, the final result is very appealing and I suspect it'll convert at least some who have previously accepted banding as a limitation into reading up on how to stop it.

Titanfall 2

Just an incredibly solid campaign that provides something new in each level to play with while driving forward a basic story with just enough to hook you into finding out what happens. You and your big robot friend try to save the world. It's a real shame this never got the space to really breathe and so is now stuck in the cult-mainstream area where a lot of people have played it but not quite enough to make a sequel obvious for a hit-driven publisher like EA. Also it feels real good to pop AI heads off using the mouse, all contained within more narrative trappings than the multiplayer-first original game - for those of us who have really moved away from competitive online shooters, the campaign makes for a value that churning through Apex Legends simply doesn't (even at the entry price of free).

Watch Dogs 2

Another game that I found the energy to complete on PC rather than console. Considering the (narrative) slog that the first game was, the radical changes to the tone and subject here refreshed what could have been just another attempted GTA-lite by someone other than Rockstar.

The result is something that feels like it has an identity. Something Saints Row took three games to really nail down and then almost as quickly imploded into itself. Hopefully Watch Dogs: Legion avoids that and I can have some more fun taking selfies & completely avoiding the combat that feels so out of place for an average hacker in over their head. Oh dear, I feel that's not what they're going for with Legion and no fancy procedural story system will save a mediocre shooter that could have been a stealth hacker game with charm.

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