Friday, 13 November 2020

Catch-Up 2: More Not-GotYs

After saying this blog wasn't going anywhere during the unfolding global pandemic, things both accelerated & slowed down to the point where Mastodon posts were about all I had to contribute (about gaming related topics) for a while. Before the year concludes with some 2020 hits (although don't expect anything for new consoles - I'm not getting hardware and, due to movement restrictions, I'm not playing games elsewhere at all right now), it's time to look back at a few more games from the recent past that I've now consumed completely.


Marvel's Spider-Man

So this is now available (with a different face on the post-grad protagonist, which I am not going to find easy to get used to in the almost assured direct narrative sequel in 2-3 years) on PS5 as a remaster (along with the 2020 spin-off Miles Morales game). Which made for the ideal time to go back to the PS4 & also play through all the DLC.

What's there is still absolutely some of the most impressive visuals on the PS4, even without ray-tracing (making some of the buildings into rather unfortunately outdated low res city skyline cubemaps), and a romp of a cape story that keeps the game moving along as you explore the open world activities on offer. It sure has been a while since inFamous First Light gave us something similar (although without the Disney IP to lean on) and the traversal here is just exactly how you want swinging from building to building to feel without trivialising movement (which allows various challenges around racing timers, drones, & other things).

A Plague Tale: Innocence

This just skipped out of contention for being mentioned in my GotY post last year (as I didn't get round to it until the start of 2020). Since then, Asobo Studio have continued to rise in reputation after leading the MS Flight Simulator 2020 project but this 2019 game was a strong announcement of both the state of their internal tech and art teams. Definitely the tier above the indies I mentioned when talking about Observation last year, this verges on AAA without the major publisher (or budget) and is likely to indicate what we'll see outside the big publisher ecosystem in years to come (in genres you may consider to be dormant).

The horror-edged historic setting shows off lush French scenery and mixes the adventuring with a focus on stealth which only occasionally frustrates (something most games find hard to get perfect, especially without resorting to the modern stealth genre option of allowing combat as an entire alternative play style). As you go through the ten hour story campaign, the art never lets off as you move from setting to setting and there's just enough going on in the plot (and between characters) to give it all momentum.

Vampyr

I wanted to put this down somewhere as I'd not said anything about this yet, despite playing bits of it on several platforms since it was released. I really want to like it more than I actually do and it comes down to two issues: I don't think the action holds up very well (something I could look past in Remember Me due to that interesting world and novelty of the memory editing sections) and the character animation tech just isn't where it really needs to be to sell the emotions. The latter being something that Dontnod have been on the edge of for a while now but I'm starting to worry about if they're going to be left behind in this generation change if they're not investing in upgrading their facial animation system, subtle character animation blending, and so on. It's not Mass Effect Andromeda bad but it's not going to hold up well against the expectations driven by the last generation of AAA really refining what's possible. The house art style can only hide so much and here was where I started to find it impossible to ignore (unlike Life is Strange, which managed to totally sell me, despite the rather limited link between character animation & the VO). While Dontnod may be spreading themselves a bit thin and ending up with a bit of a "formulaic subversion" problem (we might talk about more at the end of the year), one thing you can say is none of their games are exactly like most other video games, even when doing a vampire action game.


Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

I've mentioned this in passing on here but haven't actually given it the proper dues of getting a paragraph or two of actual discussion. Spider-Man: Miles Morales has put this back into the conversation because Sony are back with something that seems like it might have started as a significant DLC but turned into a shorter spin-off game. The thing I noticed playing the Lost Legacy recently is its reputation for brevity is more about Uncharted 4 being lengthy. Which means a shorter spin-off is still basically the same length as any of the games in the original trilogy. The difference here being more of a focus on "wide linear" open areas that allow some choice of how things are approached (and environment reuse), while also providing plenty of narrative progression through corridors (showing off the visual splendor of modern AAA assets).

While the Tomb Raider series has slowly been losing me since a high point of the 2013 reboot, the most recent Uncharted is the best the series has ever been for me. I wonder if the switch of protagonists is enough to give the series new life away from the conclusion of the numbered series or if Naughty Dog are going to head in this ludic direction with an entirely new cast and maybe even universe for whatever they're working on right now (beyond Last of Us 2 updates & multiplayer spin-off).

Into the Breach

Since this was so beloved and I'd given it a bit of a go a while back, I thought I'd go back and complete it. Until I realised that the chess puzzle aspect of it (which seems to be influential in a new wave of games in development that use similar deterministic rulesets) is actually something I really need to be in a very specific mindset for. A mood that 2020 has not made forthcoming and without which I just find each mission either infuriating or trivial with nothing in between. Bit of a strange place to be, considering for the last decade my day job has revolved around some of the fiddlier aspects of programming languages. Maybe I need to make more of a division between hobbies and work when dealing with the heightened stress of broader world events.


On my list of things to polish off right now: Divinity: Original Sin II & The Evil Within 2. The latter should be something I just need to put a few evenings into while the former is probably going to be quite a time investment. Not playing the entire Dragon Age saga long but also maybe something that'll end up taking me into 2021. Or maybe the combat will feel too much like a puzzle and I'll drop off it. I feel like there's something to be teased out of how much I didn't enjoy going back to Into the Breach this year but that'll have to wait for another time, once I've collected my thoughts & played through a few more games.

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