There I was, sat sipping a cup of steaming hot tea (milk, four sugars) and stroking my cat on a warm August morning. I was in my pyjamas, perusing Facebook and trying to keep up to date with who was posting thinly veiled shade about who. I had ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie rocking through the surround sound, and I could smell the jalapeño grilled cheese sandwiches that were browning off in the George Foreman. All in all, it was one of my better Wednesday mornings.
As I thumbed the screen of my phone to scroll through Facebook I saw that there was a trailer for a new Metal Gear game. “A new Metal Gear game?” I thought to myself. “But I love Metal Gear!” And so I watched the trailer for Metal Gear Survive. Suddenly, David Bowie sounded like David Essex, I spilled my boiling hot tea on my crotch, and my cat coiled out a stinking, semi-liquid shite on my brand spanking new rug.
There’s no point mincing words here: Metal Gear Survive looks like absolute arse.
But since someone asked me to write something about this, and presumably they wanted more than an account of my Wednesday morning and a one sentence deconstruction of a couple of minutes of trailer footage, let’s pad this out with some actual thoughts about why Metal Gear Survive is an idea so asinine that only Konami could have come up with it.
Konami wants to earn back your trust
Less than one month previous, a Konami representative named Ben went on Reddit to try and calm down some of the most venomous detractors of his company on the Internet. You see, just in case you didn’t know, people hate Konami because they’ve run beloved franchises like Castlevania and Silent Hill into the ground, and then they had a much publicized falling out with Metal Gear Solid creator and all round cool dude, Hideo Kojima.
Konami’s treatment of Kojima in 2015 was nothing short of jaw-droppingly insulting. After a twenty-plus year career making games for Konami that ranged from pretty good to all time classics, and despite the fact that he was the creative force behind the only Konami franchise that actually mattered in 2015, Hideo Kojima was publicly ostracized by his own company. His studio was shut down. He was removed from pressers for the then-upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. And in what is surely the biggest dick move the gaming industry has seen in recent memory, he wasn’t even allowed to attend the Video Game Awards to collect a gong for his work on Metal Gear Solid V under threat of lawyer intervention.
Ben, if that’s even his real name, attempted to allay the fears (and hatred) of gamers on the Internet thanks to the very public mistakes that Konami had made in the previous year, by doing a Q&A session and trying his best to put a positive spin on things. You’ve got to feel for poor Ben. Being the PR guy for Konami is second only to being in charge of the public relations for Donald Trump when it comes to thankless jobs within that industry. Still, he tried his best to let gamers know that Konami wasn’t the most evil company in the world, and that they cared very much about winning their fans over. “We’ll earn back your trust,” he said.
Either Ben didn’t know what Konami was planning, or he was laughing hysterically while he typed, “We’ll earn back your trust.” Metal Gear Survive isn’t the first step towards winning disenfranchised fans back; it’s like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.
‘Metal Gear Survive’ seems like an incredibly misguided idea
Metal Gear Solid was a series that was crafted with an incredible amount of care and attention to detail, and with a story-line that spanned decades both in the fictional world and in ours. Sure, the story was more confusing than the Kardashian family tree, but gamers ate that up – if you’re a Metal Gear fan then you’re a Metal Gear fan.
Upsetting the legions of fans that the franchise has via shocking treatment of their hero is a bad start. Announcing that you’re going to continue the Metal Gear series without that man at the helm didn’t make things any better. But then announcing that the first post-Kojima game in the Metal Gear series would be an online multiplayer survival game in which you have to fight zombies with triangles for heads is basically like waving a red flag in front of a bull. It’s like Megadeth releasing an album of nursery rhymes, or making an Indiana Jones movie like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You shouldn’t attempt things like that with an established franchise, and you especially shouldn’t do it while every eye in the industry is watching you and waiting for you to cock everything up.
The story goes that during the events of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, a wormhole to another dimension inexplicably opens and sucks in some of the soldiers from Mother Base. Trapped in this alternate reality and hunted by zombie things, the soldiers must band together to something something something. I’ve always enjoyed the bonkers story of the Metal Gear series, but at no point did Hideo Kojima ever open a doorway to a parallel universe in which triangle headed monsters are on the top of the food chain. A fat, wine glugging terrorist on roller skates I can live with. This, I fear, is too much.
What makes it worse is that if they’re going to go with a cheap and nasty multiplayer game to try and make some quick bucks out of Metal Gear, why didn’t they just go a more sensible route and make this a VR Training game or something? Why attach it to the established canon? All that’s going to do is annoy fans of the series and make them less likely to buy the wares you’re peddling. Think, Konami. Think.
Metal Gear Survive is a game that makes no sense on any conceivable level. Sure, they’re going after multiplayer because it’s an easier way to make money. That’s lame, but fine. But who is it for? If it’s for Metal Gear fans then you’re surely just pissing them off by taking the series they love in a direction like this, and if it’s for other gamers then why cheapen the Metal Gear brand by attaching its name to this in the first place? The whole idea just seems incredibly misguided, and one that seems bound to do more harm than good to the biggest stick that Konami has to wield within the gaming industry.
There are way smarter directions to take the series
The smartest thing to do with Metal Gear Solid at this point is to leave it alone. Fans are already skeptical of anything Konami will release without the involvement of Hideo Kojima. But hey, if you absolutely must release more Metal Gear games then why not take the easy way out and just remake the old ones? That way, the stories are already done, and you’ve already got an engine in which to give those now-ancient looking games a fresh lick of paint. People would buy those games in droves, and if they’re good then maybe Konami can build up a little good will with fans of the series that are feeling alienated. And then when the time comes to make a new game in the series, maybe people will be a little more receptive to the idea.
Of course, Konami being Konami, they decided to turn a thoughtful, if somewhat ridiculous stealth action series into what looks like Resident Evil Umbrella Corps with slightly shittier zombies.
Who in pluperfect hell thought this was a good idea? How can you even see any sort of correlation between making Metal Gear a zombie survival game, and a good idea? There’s only two possible explanations. Either a) Konami are the utterly tone deaf company that many within the gaming industry believe them to be, and they have absolutely no idea what to do with Metal Gear Solid beyond monetize it via crummy slot machines and presumably micro-transaction laden online shooters, or b) they’re doing it specifically to annoy us.
Konami isn’t doing this just to upset you
While it’s more likely that Konami just don’t know what they’re doing with Metal Gear and think they’re best off bleeding as much money out of the franchise as they can until people completely abandon it like they did with Castlevania, the decision to turn the series into an online survival game is so spectacularly bereft of logic that it would actually make more sense if the company was doing this as a massive middle finger to the fans. People have been giving Konami all kinds of smack-talk over their treatment of Hideo Kojima as well as other perceived offenses, and announcing Metal Gear Survive is an absolutely perfect way of getting one over on them, whether it’s intentional or accidental.
The truth is that they’re almost certainly not just doing this to upset you. Konami are not the pantomime villains that many on the Internet would have you believe. Have they made some mistakes? Sure, they have. But finding a big company that hasn’t made mistakes or left some employees feeling burned is rarer than rocking horse shit.
Konami are a big company, and big companies like money. They see a valuable franchise and they want to make money from it, and after the troubled nature of the development of Metal Gear Solid V, they probably want to go a route that is far removed from the enormous, single player extravaganza that was The Phantom Pain. They’re choosing to make a smaller, cheaper game, and hope that they’ll be able to make some profit in the end. That doesn’t make them SPECTRE.
What’s best for consumers and what’s best for publishers is rarely in sync, which is why instead of EA releasing Madden as a service and simply updating the rosters and offering a few gameplay tweaks as a paid update every year, they release a new, full priced version of the game annually with little to distinguish each iteration knowing that people will still buy it. It’s why Microsoft continue to make Halo and Gears of War games despite both series’ reaching fairly logical conclusions during the last console generation, and why Sony are wheeling Kratos back out for the four-hundredth time in yet another God of War game.
Art and money rarely go hand in hand
The entertainment industry has forever been walking on a perilous tightrope that lies strictly across the border between artistic integrity and money-chasing chunder. Whether it’s bands going pop in the hope of a little more radio air-time, or cash-grab movie sequels that have no reason to exist beyond putting arses in cinema seats, show business is just what its name implies; a business. You don’t win friends with salad, and unfortunately, it’s far easier to trick people into paying for dross than it is to hope they’ll be smart enough to appreciate quality.
A quick glance at the Hollywood box-office will tell you that Suicide Squad, a movie that is being given all the critical acclaim of a freshly filled colostomy bag, is sitting pretty at the top of the highest grossing movies list, while vastly superior cinematic offerings languish and struggle to recoup their investment costs. Should Warner Bros. really be blamed for recognizing that slapping any old superheroes into a movie is a more financially viable option than taking the time to come up with new and interesting ideas? They exist to make money, and the longer people keep going to see these abysmal DC Comics movies then the less imperative WB have to start making good ones. The same can be said for all facets of the entertainment industry, including, yes, video games.
Established franchises, even ones that are running out of steam, are more likely to make money than a brand new idea is, and the new IP that do make huge splashes are just destined to be sequel fodder further down the line anyway. I, like many other people, have no problem with sequels in gaming generally, as unlike in other mediums, video game sequels have a reason to exist beyond following up the story. While “Schindler’s List 2” is obviously a bad idea because Spielberg said everything that needed to be said with the first movie, video game sequels generally improve upon their predecessors because of the nature of an interactive medium.
Video game sequels are generally a good idea
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves didn’t really expand on the story of the first game in any way that mattered, but it was in the other, interactive areas that it made huge strides and promptly has gone down in history as one of the best games money can buy. While movie sequels are almost universally lesser pieces than the originals they spawned from, video game sequels frequently outdo their origins thanks to improving technology and lessons learned by the developer the first time round.
Sequels, inherently, are not a bad thing, but slapping a big name on anything you can to try and make a quick buck rarely works out well. The Metal Gear Solid series was already five games deep by the time Hideo Kojima and Konami parted ways, and that’s without counting the two portable games and a few spin-offs. Not all the games were golden, but the series generally maintained a high-level of quality, and whatever you think of the story in the final entry in the series, The Phantom Pain – it’s absolute tripe, by the way – the fact remains that it was one of the most critically acclaimed games of 2015 and a perfectly acceptable place for the series to end.
Creating any sequel to Metal Gear Solid after The Phantom Pain seems wholly unnecessary (as, to be fair, was making one after Guns of the Patriots) but if you’re going to do it then you need to be careful about how you approach it. With any beloved property, a change in direction will come under a lot of scrutiny, particularly in today’s age of anyone with an Internet connection having a voice that can be heard globally. Just ask Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy, who were faced with an almost unprecedented level of backlash thanks to the female-led Ghostbusters reboot having girls doing man’s work, or being tonally inconsistent with the original movie, depending on who you ask.
That’s why the decision to make Metal Gear Survive seems so completely and utterly bonkers. Here, we’ve got a company that is already under the spotlight for allegedly mistreating employees and for publicly causing trouble for a beloved figure within the video game industry. A company that has previously ruined much loved franchises through repeated misuse of the properties. A company that is well known for their archaic and draconian practices in relation to figures within the media who have ever spoken ill of them.
And to then, despite all that, take an adored single-player, story-focused series like Metal Gear Solid and turn it into an online, multiplayer zombie game that bears no resemblance to the rest of the series… well, it’s exactly what it is. It’s tacking the Metal Gear name onto a game that has no business having any association with the series in order to try and wring the last few drops of profit out of the proverbial wet towel that is Metal Gear Solid.
Metal Gear Survive seems destined to backfire
You can’t blame Konami for wanting to make money out of a franchise that they own the rights to, whether you agree with that decision on an artistic level or not. They pay people’s wages. They exist to turn a profit. What’s mind-boggling is that the manner in which they’ve decided to approach this next entry into the Metal Gear franchise seems spectacularly short-sighted and ill-advised.
Metal Gear is still a series that holds a lot of stock with gamers, and one that a lot of people would still play even if new entries in the series didn’t involve Hideo Kojima. But Survive looks like a throwaway multiplayer cash grab, and given the drastic change in tone compared to previous Metal Gear games, it surely stands to pose more risk to the value of the franchise than potential rewards can justify.
The problem with Metal Gear Survive isn’t that Konami are out to ruin your favourite series, or that they’re run by power-hungry, spiteful supervillains. If you think that then just don’t play the game. It’s not a big deal. The problem is that Konami just don’t appear to know what to do with Metal Gear Solid, and so they appear to be doing what they did with other once-loved franchises. Konami killed Castlevania. They turned Silent Hill into a joke. And now the writing is on the wall for Metal Gear Solid thanks to more misguided use of a valuable IP.
Maybe we’re all wrong, and maybe Metal Gear Survive will be the best game of all time. Perhaps it’ll get perfect tens across the board and Konami will earn back the trust of gamers around the globe. Hey, it could be the beginning of a new spin-off franchise that is one day as beloved as the Solid series is. Maybe it’ll be so good that there’ll be peace in the middle east and U2 will stop making music. Who knows? But from the outside looking in, choosing to do this with the Metal Gear name at a time when confidence in Konami from gamers like you and me is at an all time low, seems like a sure-fire way of killing off the only truly relevant franchise in the dwindling Konami portfolio. And for Konami, that could be a problem that forces them out of the gaming industry, all of their own making.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’
We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.
Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.
Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?
My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.
When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.
My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.
Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.
Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.
Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.
It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.
These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.
It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’
PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.
Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.
You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.
Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.
Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.
However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.
I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.
KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.
KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.
It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.
PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
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PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’
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