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Xbox E3 2019: The Good, the Bad, and the etc.

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Microsoft went into this year’s E3 with a veritable open goal. Sony’s absence from proceedings left them as the only console manufacturer to be putting on a press conference. Surely it wouldn’t be a wholly underwhelming waste of everyone’s time, right? Let’s get into the good, the bad, and the rest.

The Good

The Xbox show got to unveil (provided you hadn’t seen the leaks) a new FromSoftware game, and in collaboration with George R. R. Martin, no less! The man who didn’t screw up the end of the Game of Thrones TV show — unless you find him guilty through the absence of his book material to keep things in order — looks like he’s reined Miyazaki and the lads back into the dragony, swordy, magicy, fantasy stuff with Elden Ring. There wasn’t any gameplay to look at, but there was a bloke with a spear who looked like he did a Dark Souls-esque thrust attack, so let’s hope that it’s sticking with what FromSoftware do best. The addition of Martin surely means a more story-focused approach akin to Sekiro, and an amalgamation of Souls and Sekiro could be very interesting indeed.

The Almost Good

Probably the biggest surprise of the whole presentation was the culmination of the seven-year teaser from Sonic Team that Phantasy Star Online 2 would get an English release. It will arrive in spring 2020 in the US for Xbox One and PC, and will have cross play, which is a legitimate near-miracle after this long, and even more so on such a Western-oriented platform. What sucks (for me and my European brethren) is that it’s not slated to come to Europe yet, if at all. Sega have since tweeted, “There’s nothing to confirm right now. We understand it’s frustrating, but when we have more news to share, we will.” Do you understand, Sega? Do you?! With the region-free capabilities of the Xbox One, this won’t be that much of an issue, but still.

Mech yeah! Y’know. Like heck yeah. But Mechs.

The Not Good Enough

Microsoft knows that PS5 is probably going to be unveiled later this year when Sony decides the time is right, so they could have smashed E3 out of the park with a dazzling showcase of their new console. While it did get announced, it was a really vague and half-baked announcement. I’m nervous about the fact that Phil Spencer said “next new console” a couple times instead of “next generation console,” so I won’t be a true believer until I see that it’s not a streaming machine or another Xbox One iteration.

We got lots of impressive statements — 4x more powerful than One X, capable of 120fps, able to output in 8K, raytracing technology, an SSD, a 40x performance increase over current gen, and a release date of holiday 2020 — but what we didn’t get is a picture of the thing, or even a proper name outside of its Project Scarlett codename. The next generation of consoles certainly sounds capable of providing beautiful, smooth, loading-free gaming, but at the moment it’s just words. Sexy-yet-empty words.

Ah, dammit. I got Master Chief all over my windshield.

Scarlett’s launch title, Halo Infinite, got a trailer that may have looked like an Xbox One game because I was watching footage of it on my measly Xbox One X, but I wasn’t overly impressed (or even convinced) that it was indicative of what a Scarlett game will look like. Obviously there’s so much more to come, but just saying specs at people and having a big circle jerk over some numbers is not what the E3 stage should be used for.

The Bad

Well, Gears POP is obviously just the worst, but Gears of War 5 didn’t exactly do anything mind-blowing here either. First, Rod Ferguson’s garish fluorescent green shoes are a disgrace. He came out in his snot green sock-protectors to show us a wholly underwhelming trailer that tried to make us care about one of the crappy new generation Gears characters, and had absolutely no gameplay. Much like Halo Infinite, you could probably close your eyes and imagine all the gameplay that Gears 5 will have in it, but it would have been nice to see something more than a modern version of the Mario 64 menu screen.

It’s-a-me, Kate Diaz!

What made the Gears 5 segment even worse were the tone deaf attempts to make gamers still care about pre-orders. To be fair, they realized that a game releasing on Game Pass is likely to attract pre-orders from absolutely nobody, so they decided to lock the ‘Ultimate Edition’ behind Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions. Of course, if you get this version you can play it early, and of course you get more stuff in game. Don’t be fooled, kids. Stop pre-ordering games. Especially if that pre-order gets you a bloody in-game Terminator skin.

The Ballsy

We Happy Few in the montage that opened the show? My, my — look at the big balls on Xbox. Rather than Men in Black that game from our collective memories, there it was, representing the platform like it wasn’t a glorious symbol of suck fuckery. I almost admired it.

Why was this in the opening segment? Who wants to see this game again?

The Shouty

I know they’re all outside already, but do any of the characters in Dragon Ball Kakarot have an inside voice? Quiet down, you damn kids.

Xbooooooooooooox!

The Slightly Better

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order had a slightly better showing here than it did during EA Play, chiefly because Xbox decided to cut a trailer full of bombastic music and action-packed moments rather than show some gameplay of a dude walking down corridors, squeezing through small gaps, and getting a robot to open doors. It’s still up in the air whether this will be up to the standards of the classic Jedi games Academy and Outcast, let alone an improvement on the Star Wars game EA cancelled last year, but Xbox did it as much of a solid as it could.

Ah, dammit. I got Forest Whitaker all over my windshield.

The Beautiful

The trailer for Ori and the Will of Wisps is so damn sexy it could probably impregnate people. The release date still seems miles off (Feb 2020), but nobody can claim that serious work isn’t being put into it, as it looks absolutely astounding.

What is a wisp anyway?

The Ugly  

My word, State of Decay 2 is ugly. Not only did the expansion look really low-budget, but that game has clearly fallen off a cliff so much that it didn’t even get a single clap — even from the obvious plants in the audience who basically burst into rapturous applause every time Phil Spencer paused for breath.

The realest hair I’ve ever seen.

The Familiar

And here comes Obsidian with the latest Fallout game! Oh, hang on…that’s not a Fallout game. Wait, that’s not a Fallout game? Well, I’ll reserve judgement until I play it, because until I do I’m not convinced, as it really looks like a Fallout game. Obsidian have got a lot of retrospective praise for Fallout: New Vegas — a game everyone seems to forget ran about as well as an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping — and Bethesda are clearly incapable of making anything decent anymore, so if Obsidian want to rip off Fallout and make The Outer Worlds the new big name in futuristic Western RPGs, then they can go right ahead.

50’s American aesthetic? Bad guys in robot suits? Nah, not Fallout at all…

The Not Minecraft

Minecraft: Dungeons is Minecraft without the mines or the crafting. Sounds like a good Minecraft game to me.

The Bait and Switch

Am I the only person who thought that the first minute of the Blair Witch trailer was a Silent Hill 2 remake? I’m convinced it was deliberate, and I’m also convinced that Blair Witch is a terrible movie that should only be translated to a game if it doesn’t feature a map at any point because Heather lost it.

As if Konami would actually make something Silent Hill related that isn’t in a Pachinko parlor.

The Booty

There’s a man named Matt Booty.

Cool.

The Lego

As a Brit, I love the fact that Forza Horizon 4 is set in a mock version of the UK. The road signs, the roundabouts, the driving on the left, the cottages, the Edinburgh — I love it. Granted, Legoland is also in the UK, but that doesn’t mean I want to go there, and I certainly don’t want to go there and trade in a Lamborghini for a car made of plastic bricks. Is there some kind of underground Car Enthusiast Lego Club I don’t know about? Because, seriously, what was that Lego DLC all about?

Everything is not awesome. Nothing will ever be awesome again.

The Jerky

If it was just my stream messing up, then I apologize, but the frame rate in the 12 Minutes trailer looked on the same level as a CCTV camera. An interesting idea took my attention and jerked it right into apathy.

This trailer was jerking for 12 minutes. Think about it. Gross.

The Censored

What was with all the bleeping and censoring? When I saw the M rating right after the conference countdown ended, I thought we were in for some raucous good times, and instead we actually got bleeped swear words in the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer, and even a blacked-out middle finger in the Borderlands 3 trailer. We did get tons of violence and gore, however, sometimes immediately following a bleeped-out word. Because it’s OK to violently murder someone, just as long as we don’t say big bad naughty words.

Oooooh, matron!

The Lore

That’s right, Spartans — 343 Industries cares about your Halo lore! Don’t believe them? Did you not see the Halo Mythos on that dev’s desk? How dare you besmirch their reverence!

The Expensive

If that Elite 2 controller doesn’t cost over $100, then I’ll give you over $100.

The Baba Yaga

Keanu Reeves is cool, ain’t he? Sad Keanu seemed a million miles away during his cameo in the Cyberpunk 2077 segment — probably because a room full of nerds were losing their collective minds over him. The way he was struggling to keep his concentration amongst all the audience’s fanboy hysteria was adorable.

He’s right, I am breathtaking.

The Verdict

Xbox had the chance to have its most memorable E3 ever, and it severely missed the mark. While they didn’t do anything egregiously wrong, they didn’t really wow anybody either. Project Scarlett sounds impressive, but this felt like the most underwhelming console announcement since the Wii U.

Aside from a few interesting new games, there wasn’t much razzmatazz here, and the whole thing should rightly call into question whether we really need to bother with this E3 thing anymore. Microsoft is making all the right moves at the moment — acquiring studios, developing new hardware, focusing on backwards compatibility, having excellent subscription models, and keeping things about the games — but it was all so thoroughly low key. I almost have to keep reminding myself they announced a next gen console is coming out in 18 months. That should be huge! Instead, it’s just decidedly medium-sized. Still, that dude had a really good beard.

His beard scared away his mustache. Awesome.

7/10 would Keanu again

Crotchety Englishman who spends hundreds of pounds on video game tattoos and Amiibo in equally wallet-crippling measure. Likes grammar a lot, but not as much as he likes ranting about the latest gaming news in his weekly column.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. OxaI

    June 16, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    Fuck Microsoft…. I’m done with Phil Spencer and the shittY xbone. I never even felt like a gamer these pass five years of xbone one and thier buggy and problemacric hardware. If the next play station isn’t out when project scarlet gets pooped I’ll get me a ps4 pro and sit there

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PAX South 2020 Hands On: ‘The Artful Escape,’ ‘Foregone,’ and ‘Tunic’

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PAX South

This past weekend, PAX South 2020 brought a huge variety of promising indie games to the show floor in San Antonio. Here are just a few of the most remarkable games I got to try, including a hardcore action game, a classic adventure, and an experience that can only be described as dreamlike.

Tunic

Simply put, Tunic is a Zelda game, but foxier. Tunic takes significant inspiration from the classic Zelda formula, complete with an overworld to explore, puzzles to solve, enemies to fight, and a protagonist clad in green. My demo even began by leaving me weaponless and forcing me to venture into a nearby cave in order to discover my first weapon.

Yet there’s nothing wrong with following such a traditional formula. At a time when Nintendo has largely stopped creating new games in the style of its classic Zeldas, it’s left up to other developers to rediscover the magic of the original gameplay style. Based on my time with the game, Tunic achieves exactly that, reimagining the charm of A Link to the Past for the current generation with gorgeous visuals and modern design sensibilities. The biggest difference from its predecessors is its green-clad hero is a fox, and not a Kokiri.

All, that is to say, is that if you’ve ever played a 2D Zelda, then you’ll know exactly what to expect from Tunic. It starts by dropping the foxy little player character into a vibrant, sunny overworld, and true to form, your inventory is completely empty and the environment is full of roadblocks to progress. Simple enemies abound, and although its greatest Zelda inspirations lie with those from the 2D era, it also includes an element from the 3D games due to its inclusion of a targeting system in order to lock onto specific opponents. What followed next was a linear, straightforward dungeon that focused on teaching the basics of exploration and item usage. It was extremely simple but hinted at plenty of potential for the full game later.

Tunic’s gameplay may hearken back to the games of old, but its visual presentation is cutting edge. It features gorgeous polygonal 3D visuals, loaded with striking graphical and lighting effects, making its quaint isometric world truly pop to life. My demo didn’t last very long, but the little bit I played left me excited for Tunic’s eventual release on Xbox One and PC. It could be the brand-new classic Zelda experience that fans like myself have long waited for.

Foregone

Foregone

These days, nearly every other indie game is either a roguelike or a Metroivdvania. Just by looking at Foregone, I immediately assumed that it must be one of the two based on appearances alone. Yet when I shared those assumptions with the developers, Big Blue Bubble, the response in both cases was a resounding, “No.”

Foregone may look like it could be procedurally generated or feature a sprawling interconnected world, but that simply isn’t the case. The developers insisted that every aspect of the game world was intentionally crafted by hand, and it will remain that way in each playthrough. Likewise, although there is some optional backtracking at certain points in the game, Foregone is a largely linear experience, all about going from one point to another and adapting your strategy along the way. In a generation where nonlinearity reigns supreme, such straightforward design is refreshing to see.

If there’s any game that seems like an accurate comparison to Foregone, it would have to be Dark Souls. From the very start of the demo, the world of Foregone is inhabited with fearsome enemies that don’t hold back. If you don’t watch what you’re doing, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and fall under the pressure. Thankfully, there’s a broad assortment of abilities at your disposal, such as a wide area of effect move that can stun enemies within a wide radius, and a powerful shield that can block many attacks. I fell many times during my time with the game, but it never felt unfair. Rather, it merely felt like I wasn’t being smart enough with my own ability usage, and I was encouraged to keep jumping back into the world for just one more run, this time armed with better knowledge of my own abilities and potential strategies.

And it’s a beautiful game too. Rather than featuring the typical pixelated aesthetics often associated with platformers, the world is actually built-in 3D with a pixelated filter applied on top of it. This allows for a uniquely detailed environment and distinctly fluid animations. Foregone looks to be a worthwhile action game that should be worth checking out when it hits early access via the Epic Games Store in February, with a full release on console and PC to follow later this year.

The Artful Escape

Bursting with visual and auditory splendor, The Artful Escape is easily the most surreal game I played at PAX South. The demo may have only lasted about ten minutes, yet those ten minutes were dreamlike, transportation from the crowded convention to a world of color, music, and spirit.

As its name would suggest, The Artful Escape is an otherworldly escape from reality. Its luscious 3D environments are populated with 2D paper cutout characters, its dialogue leans heavily into the mystical (the player character describes his surroundings with phrases like “a Tchaikovsky cannonade” and “a rapid glittering of the eyes”), and its music often neglects strong melodies in favor of broad, ambient background themes. This all combines to create a mystical, almost meditative atmosphere.

It only helps that the platforming gameplay itself is understated, not requiring very much of you but to run forward, leap over a few chasms, or occasionally play your guitar to complete basic rhythm games. This gameplay style may not be the most involved or exciting, but it allows you to focus primarily on the overwhelming aesthetic majesty, marching forward through the world while shredding on your guitar all the while.

This Zenlike feel to the game is punctuated with occasional spectacular moments. At one point, a gargantuan, crystalline krill called the Wonderkrill burst onto the screen and regaled me with mystic dialogue, while at another point, I silently wandered into a herd of strange oxen-like creatures grazing in a barren field as the music began to swell. The demo was filled with such memorable moments, constantly leaving my jaw dropped.

For those who think that games should be entertaining above all else, The Artful Escape might not be so enthralling. Its platforming is extremely basic and its rhythm minigames are shallow at best. For players who think that games can be more than fun, however, The Artful Escape is set to provide an emotional, unforgettable experience, an escape that I can’t wait to endeavor.

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PAX South Hands On: ‘Boyfriend Dungeon’ Wields Weapons of Love

A weapon is an adventurer’s best friend, and Boyfriend Dungeon is focused on deepening that relationship.

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Boyfriend Dungeon

In most games, weapons are straightforward objects. Sometimes they can be upgraded or personalized, but at the end of the day, they function as little more than tools for a single purpose: to cut down enemies and make progress in the game. Boyfriend Dungeon, however, proposes a different relationship with your weapons. They’re more than just objects. Instead, they’re eligible bachelors and bachelorettes that are ready to mingle.

Boyfriend Dungeon is a dungeon crawler and dating sim hybrid all about forging an intimate bond with your weapons and, after demoing it at PAX South, this unique mix seems to be paying off.

There are two main activities in Boyfriend Dungeon: exploring the loot-filled dungeons (referred to as “The Dunj”) and romancing the human forms of your weapons. There’s been plenty of great dungeon crawlers in recent years, but Boyfriend Dungeon sets itself apart by humanizing its weaponry. This concept may sound strange on paper, but Kitfox games director and lead designer Tanya X. Short is confident that players have long been ready for a game just like this.

“A weapon is an adventurer’s best friend,” and Boyfriend Dungeon is focused on deepening that relationship.

“I think the fans of Boyfriend Dungeon have been out there for years, waiting. I remember when I was in university ages ago, I was sure someone would have made a game like this already… but I guess I needed to make it myself!” She adds that “A weapon is an adventurer’s best friend,” and Boyfriend Dungeon is focused on deepening that relationship.

Boyfriend Dungeon

My demo with Boyfriend Dungeon began simply enough. After a brief character creation phase where I chose my appearance and my pronouns (he/him, she/her, or they/them), I was dropped into the stylish, top-down hub world of Verona Beach. Here I could explore the town and choose where to date my chosen weapon. I decided to head to the public park to meet Valeria, a swift and slender dagger.

“Today I’m writing dates with a scythe, and that’s beautiful.”

Upon reaching the park, I discovered Valeria in her dagger form. When I picked up the weapon, a beautiful anime-style animation commenced in which she transformed into her human form. What followed was a visual novel-style date sequence complete with detailed character art and plenty of dialogue options to help romance your date.

The dialogue is full of witty, self-aware humor and charm – there were more than a few jokes about axe murderers along with other weapon-related puns, for example. Short herself put plenty of love into the writing. “Writing dates with weapons is a joy I never knew could be part of my job, but here we are. Today I’m writing dates with a scythe, and that’s beautiful.”

Boyfriend Dungeon

I loved my date with Valeria, but she’s not the only potential mate in Boyfriend Dungeon. Rather, there’s a cast of five potential partners in the game, each of them hailing from distinct backgrounds and identities. “When I was coming up with the cast for Boyfriend Dungeon, I tried to imagine as many kinds of people and personalities that I could be attracted to as possible.”

Short drew from her own personal experiences in creating the cast. “I was very lucky to meet my partner many years ago, so I haven’t actually dated many people in my life, but I become fascinated with people I meet very easily, and they can provide inspiration. Whether they’re upbeat and reckless, or brooding and poetic, or gentle and refined…there’re so many kinds of intriguing people out there. And in Boyfriend Dungeon, I hope.”

After building up this bond during dialogue, it was time to put it to the test by exploring the Dunj. Of course, this isn’t the typically dreary dungeon found in most other dungeon crawlers. Instead, it’s an abandoned shopping mall overrun with monsters to slay and loot to discover with your partner weapon.  

Boyfriend Dungeon

Combat is easy to grasp, focusing on alternating between light and heavy attacks and creating simple combos out of them. Just like how the dating content aims to be inclusive for people of different backgrounds, Short hopes for the combat to be accessible for players of different levels of experience as well. “Hopefully the dungeon combat can be approachable enough for less experienced action RPG players, but still have enough challenge for the people that want to find it.”

Based off the demo, Boyfriend Dungeon seems to achieve this goal. I loved learning simpler moves and discovering new combos with them. Movement is fast, fluid, and intuitive, making it a pleasure to explore the Dunj. Succeeding in dungeons will also result in a stronger relationship with your weapons, so it’s in your best interest to perform well during combat. Of course, your weapons don’t simply level up – instead, their love power increases.

An arcade environment

“Our approach has been that the point isn’t the destination — it’s the journey you take, and who you choose to take it with.”

Fighting and dating may seem like two disparate concepts, but in practice, they manage to mesh surprisingly well. “The game is mostly about switching from one [gameplay style] to the other,” Short says, “and it’s nice for pacing, since you often want a breather from the action or get restless if there’s too much reading.”

The overarching story and general experience remain relatively firm throughout the whole game regardless of your decisions, but Short encourages players to enjoy the ride they take with the weapon they choose. “Our approach has been that the point isn’t the destination — it’s the journey you take, and who you choose to take it with.”

In Boyfriend Dungeon, your weapons can wage more than just war. Rather, they can spread love and lead to deeply fulfilling relationships. Boyfriend Dungeon is one of the most refreshing games I played at PAX thanks to its engaging dungeon exploration and combat and its surprisingly positive view of weaponry. That’s the mission of peace that Short had in mind with the game: “It feels like a difficult time in the world right now, but that’s when we most need to find love and compassion. Let’s try our hardest to be kind.”

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‘Sayonara Wild Hearts’ is the Rhythm Game of a Lifetime

Few Rhythm games can boast the sheer strength and variety of gameplay and stellar soundtrack that Sayonara Wild Hearts offers the player.

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Sayonara Wild Hearts

Rhythm games can sometimes be a dicy prospect. As well populated as the genre is, the possible variety in musical style, required skill set and game length can make it hard to parse whether a rhythm game will be a good fit for an individual player. With that in mind, few rhythm games nail all of these attributes as perfectly as Sayonara Wild Hearts does.

A neon-drenched fever dream of a game, Sayonara Wild Hearts tasks the player with driving, flying and sailing through an increasingly elaborate world of giant robots, sword battles and laser fights. In this ethereal plain you battle other wild hearts as you seek solace from a broken heart and navigate around the obstacles of each course.

Though this may already sound very gnarly, or even radical, if you will, what really makes Sayonara Wild Hearts work so well is the diversity of of its levels. Some stages will see you weaving in and out of traffic while dodging oncoming street cars and the like, while others will see you navigating a ship across storm drenched waters or working your way through a retro inspired shooter. There’s even a first person level that calls to mind old school PC classics like Descent

Sayonara Wild Hearts

It’s really something to see so much variety packed into a game that it nearly defies classification as a result. Few games can offer the depth and breadth of gameplay that Sayonara Wild Hearts does, and that’s part of its enduring charm.

Of course, a rhythm game is only as good as its soundtrack. Luckily Sayonara Wild Hearts soars in this regard as well. The soundtrack contains pulse-pounding beats by Daniel Olsén and Jonathan Eng, with dreamy pop vocals by Linnea Olsson. Inspired by the likes of Sia and Chvrches, the killer soundscape of the game will keep you powering through time and again in hopes of attaining the ever elusive perfect run. A rank system and collectibles keep things interesting as well.

The unique look of the game is another feather in its cap. Pulsing neon lights pump to the beat while pinks, purples and blues color the world around you in a unique 1980’s dance club aesthetic. All of the elements coalesce together to make a game that looks and feels like nothing else you’ve ever played.

Sayonara Wild Hearts

As mentioned at the top, sometimes rhythm games live or die based on their difficulty and accessibility. Fortunately Sayonara Wild Hearts manages to nail this aspect of gaming too. All you need to do to pass a level is get a Bronze ranking, which is attainable even for those of low skill sets. My 5 and 6 year old daughters were able to beat several of the levels, even some of the harder ones. Better still, less skilled players can skip the more challenging areas of the later levels with a prompt that comes up automatically when a player fails three times in a row.

With a stellar attention to all of the aspects that make for a successful rhythm game, Sayonara Wild Hearts is the rhythm game of a lifetime. Destined to be listed among the best games of 2019, and in the company of the best rhythm games of all time, Sayonara Wild Hearts is revolutionary entry into the genre and one of the best indies to come along in years.

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