A Question to Ponder: Part Two – Bad Games to Live In

Call of Duty: Modern WarfareYesterday I brought up a hypothetical question that I’ve been thinking on this week. If you had the ability, what game universes would be the best ones to hop into and live in for a while. We set a couple ground rules – you would be the main character, the game rules all still apply, and should you game over, you are banned from that world for some period of time. Yesterday I picked out a couple universes that I thought would be good ones to live in. Today, let’s hit the other side of the spectrum – the bad games to hop into.

CALL OF DUTY
Really this could just say any FPS game here, but I singled out Call of Duty mainly because of one reason. Any Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare has featured massive set pieces. Buildings exploding, tumbling down on top of you; helicopters crashing down right in front of you; or massive oil rigs on fire. Add in the end-game moments, pulling a knife from your chest comes to mind; and I think you have a formula for a world that would be pretty rough to experience. And really you could say the same about Halo, Battlefield or even Medal of Honor.

Grand Theft Auto V

GRAND THEFT AUTO
I mentioned it a little yesterday that I didn’t pick Grand Theft Auto, instead going with Saints Row. My reasoning for going this way was that in GTA, the odds are you will be in constant danger of dieing. Whether it’s from the jobs you’re doing, the diversions you undertake, or just driving throughout the city, with no regard for rules at all. It really doesn’t matter which game you pick either – each one has the same basic problem. The freedom that the games provide all result in all kinds of dangerous situations. Add in the different gangs and mobs and other nefarious folk that want you dead and you have a recipe for a very dangerous time.

Dead Space Cover

DEAD SPACE
I think that this is one of those games that speaks for itself. If you’ve played Dead Space I think it’s pretty evident why it would be a horrifying experience. For those that haven’t played the game, the short version is that it’s basically Resident Evil in space. Now, there’s a lot more going on than that – but the basics are there. Evil group bent on controlling the primary enemy type for their own end? Check. Unbelievably tense environments that hid enemies around every corner? Check. Massive boss enemies that put the normal baddies to shame? Check. Add in the somewhat more visceral nature of the Necromorphs and I don’t think it’s too far of a leap to say Dead Space would be horrible to be in. Great games, terrible life.

BioShock Cover

BIOSHOCK AND POKEMON
This is where I make my picks that aren’t actually bad picks. In fact, both series could actually be kinda fun to be in. Exploring Rapture would be both unnerving, but also really pretty cool. Living in a world with Pokemon would also have some super awesome possibilities, especially since with our rules saying you’re the main character. But those same Pokemon could very well create all kinds of havoc. If we’re looking exclusively at the plots of the games, I could maybe put them in the good list. But since this is all about experiencing the worlds beyond the framework of the games, I can very easily see them both being dangerous.

Now, just because I don’t think these particular games would be bad to actually be a part of, doesn’t mean I think they’re bad games. In fact I really love each game on this list. I’ve said BioShock is one of the best games ever, let alone the last ten years. And putting them on this list doesn’t make them any less immersive either. Again, BioShock has one of the most engaging settings ever – Rapture truly feels alive, which is a hell of an accomplishment for an FPS. This whole question was more about physically entering the worlds, and being a part of them – this particular list is more about the worlds that just might be more trouble than they’re worth. I’m not by any means saying I’m right or wrong with either set of games – far from it. I just think it’s a fun little thing to think about, especially with so many great games out there these days.

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Let’s Talk About Length

The Order: 1886There’s been a lot of talk this week about the length of The Order: 1886. The early reports are saying that the game is only five hours long. Now, if it really is that long, and half of that is cutscenes (which I’ve also seen) that’s an issue, mainly from a value perspective. Spending $60 on a game that’s only a few hours long, and doesn’t really seem to have a ton of replayability to it, well that’s a ripoff. Price that lower, and I don’t see a problem with a game that short. But it has gotten me thinking this week about game length. It’s always a variable that’s tossed around in reviews, but I honestly don’t see a huge reason to. Short games can be great, and long games can drag on – I’ve seen some writers recently talking about Dying Light being one of those games with just so much in it, that the story gets a little lost (although I think the lack of fast travel is what’s padding the length myself).

Dragon Age: Inquisition

There is something to length for sure – but it’s not a number set in stone. Shooters don’t all need to be 15 hours long, while RPGs don’t all need to be 60+. Instead, length should depend on the strength of the actual game – if the writing and action are strong, I’m much more likely to stay with a game for a longer time. It’s a big part of why I love the BioWare games so much. They’re loaded with content – both actual gameplay, and lore-building codex entries – that reward playing thoroughly, but don’t actually feel super long. For example, I recently started playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, even though I still am also working through the first game. I’m about 25 hours into the game already, and still haven’t picked which side, Mages or Templars, I’m going to try to gain the support of. I’ve done technically three or four main Inquisitor’s Path quests, while doing tons of the sidequest stuff. I’ve hit level 11 already, and barely scratched the surface of it. And I love that. Mass Effect was very similar, I went as slowly as I could so I could really get everything. I think that Bethesda’s RPGs are also really similar – I’ve talked a bit about my experiences with Oblivion already before.

Advanced Warfare Cover

On the other side, FPS games have trended the opposite direction in the last ten years or so. The campaign has definitely taken on a bit of a secondary role to the competitive multiplayer side. Now we get a nice 12-15 hour, on the long side, action movie ride that doesn’t really let up. It’s a really easy trope to complain about the story in Shooters these days, but I do think there’s something to it. They are all very similar – which is why new approaches like Destiny and Titanfall are great; while new settings like Battlefield: Hardline and Advanced Warfare help out too. In my experience, Shooters are just trying to make sure you get through the story – there’s plenty of hand-holding, and not a lot of room for deviation – and then they get you prepped for the multiplayer and off you go. The problem really lies with games that are built around the story – games like The Order. If there’s nothing beyond that, and your game is that short, that’s a major problem. Shooters that focus on story do still have a role-model too: the BioShock games. There’s not really anything beyond the story content, and they are closer to the 20 hour mark, but there’s plenty of both lore-building material in there, as well as action to keep you entertained the whole time. Now I know that BioShock isn’t exactly a pure FPS, but it’s primarily a Shooter more than RPG.

There are always exceptions of course – for me those are the sandbox style action games. Grand Theft Auto, for all the great writing and action, just seems to lose my attention after a certain time. Even Saints Row, a series that I really love, had a wall that I would hit. Sometimes it’s the mechanics – that’s my issue with Halo: The Master Chief Collection still – that keeps me from wanting to play. I have a feeling that game length is going to be in the news and social media a lot the next few days, especially since The Order comes out tomorrow. Just try to keep in mind that a game’s worth and value is never really dependent on one sole factor.

Weekly News Recap – November 17, 2014

It’s an interesting week for news this week. I mentioned yesterday there’s a big patch for Halo: The Master Chief Collection that hit and fixed a big chunk of the online issues. That’s not the only bit of pretty cool Xbox One news this week.

Sunset Overdrive Xbox Bundle

XBOX ONE TURNS ONE
Tomorrow marks the One Year Anniversary for the Xbox One, and as such, Microsoft is celebrating with some pretty cool things this weekend. Today, they’re sending out emails giving personal summaries of our playing with the Xbox One – for example, I’ve been with Xbox Live since 2004 (thanks to Halo 2), and my Xbox One gamerscore is 11,404 across 499 achievements, both of which are in the top 1% on Xbox One. Microsoft is sending out plenty of emails like this this weekend – including unique player emblems that show off Year One, and a special background for players that also were there on Day One.

Sunset Overdrive Cover

SUNSET OVERDRIVE FREE SATURDAY
To go along with the Xbox One celebration this weekend, Insomniac and Microsoft are making Sunset Overdrive available for Gold members for free this Saturday. The game is free for that 24 hour period – and what I think is really cool, it’s actually the full game. Achievements will unlock, progress is saved and can be picked right up should you pick up the game later on – and the 8-player co-op mode is also available. It’s available right at midnight tonight, so queue up that download right away and play it a ton tomorrow.

Grand Theft Auto V

GTA V DRAWS CONTROVERSY – AGAIN
In what should be no surprise to anyone, traditional media has once again picked up on Rockstar’s long running franchise, this time the Current-Gen version’s ability to play in First Person. Because of the switch in perspective, the game does have a lot more impact to it – that’s hard to really deny. But as it has been for really the last 20 years or so, mainstream media continually likes to look for connections to real world violence that just aren’t there. Rockstar has never been shy about courting that controversy, and I think that this is no different.

Weekly News Recap – Week of October 20, 2014

As is pretty typical this time of year, a lot of the news lately has been based around the many games coming out this fall season. We’re right in the middle of a big chunk of releases – Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel last week, next week is Sunset Overdrive, the next two weeks following that, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Halo: The Master Chief Collection. I do have a couple stories that grabbed my attention though.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

GRAND THEFT AUTO SAN ANDREAS ANNIVERSARY RELEASE
In a somewhat surprise announcement, Rockstar dropped the news that next week on last-gen consoles, they’ll release an anniversary version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to celebrate the 10 year mark. I can remember when they did the same with Grand Theft Auto 3, but I don’t think they ever did a similar release with Vice City, which is a shame, since I think that is the best of that trilogy of games. Still, San Andreas was a huge stepping stone in the series, showing that the formula would work with a much larger setting. There was a downloadable version on the Marketplace that mysteriously disappeared this week, and will be replaced on October 26 with an updated version, complete with achievements. As of now, this is only on the Xbox 360, not the One.

Sunset Overdrive Xbox Bundle

XBOX ONE SELLS WELL IN SEPTEMBER
I mentioned recently that the PlayStation 4 was the best selling console in September, but that was before we had the Xbox One numbers. What we see is that since we’re starting to really see big name titles coming out, both consoles are starting to really move units. The Xbox One’s sales increased in September by just over 100%, not quite matching the PS4, but still showing that the “next-gen” has finally truly started. I think we’ll see the sales figures continue to be strong, especially over the next few months, as the install base grows and more big titles come out. Now is really the best time to jump in, if you haven’t already.

Super Smash Bros for Wii U

SUPER SMASH BROS. Wii U DETAILS BLOW MINDS
Last night Nintendo had their usual Nintendo Direct, this week detailing the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Wii U, and boy did they bring out the big guns. There was a ton of info to digest, including the announcement that fan favorite Mewtwo is coming back as a DLC character, to both the Wii U and 3DS versions. Other big points include the new 8-man melee option, new story modes, and interactive environments. They showed a bit where fighting particularly well would make Ridley (from Metroid) fight alongside you. The hype for the Wii U version was already pretty high, but this Nintendo Direct really pumps it up to a whole new level. As a person who is a huge fan of the series, this flood of info really makes me want to go get a Wii U just for this game.

Wrapping Up the Xbox 360: The Best Games on the Console

Xbox 360 LogoOver the last couple weeks, I saw Game Informer put out a series of columns talking about the editors picks for the best ____ game of the last generation. They hit topics like best racing game, action game, PS3 game, overall game and 360 game. As the transition to the Xbox One and PS4 continues and the 360 and PS3 begin to truly become “last-gen,” I thought I would also look back at the console that I probably spent more time playing than any other before it. While I could narrow it down to just ten, I feel like that discounts a lot of very good games that I am a big fan of, so instead of just doing the same thing everyone else does, I’m just going to toss a whole bunch of games out there in no real order (save for the last two.)

ASSASSIN’S CREED II, BROTHERHOOD, and REVELATION
While there are three more Assassin’s Creed games that appeared on the 360, the Ezio trilogy is really where I think the series shines. The gameplay is much more refined and streamlined, the story is a very compelling one, told over the course of three different games, and this was really the point where the Desmond sections also started to actually mean something, and not just feel like they were arbitrarily breaking up the action. Plus Assassin’s Creed II was the first full game I every got every achievement in once I decided to start actively hunting them.

BioShock Cover

BIOSHOCK (SERIES)
A series that is both highly critically successful as well as commercially, and for good reason, the BioShock games were really important games that showed that shooters could still tell incredible stories, while still having solid action. The original BioShock still stands as one of my all time favorite games – the Plasmids adding in strategy and RPG elements to a shooter that already worked well, the enemies were unique, Big Daddies were terrifying and it still has one of the coolest settings in games in Rapture. The second game gets a bum rap as being a step backward, but I think that’s unfair – it’s more that it wasn’t as big a step forward as people expected. The single player is still really solid, but the multiplayer I think detracts from it a little. BioShock: Infinite on the other hand was a true return to form – incredibly heady story, engaging characters, action that played out perfectly and a new setting that still captured the same feeling as Rapture in Columbia.

BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM and ARKHAM CITY
Despite being an incredibly successful franchise in film and tv, Batman hadn’t ever translated well to games for whatever reason. Older gamers will remember an NES sidescroller that for whatever reason had the Batman wearing a bright purple suit. Rocksteady Games changed all that with Arkham Asylum though, hitting all of the important parts of the Batman mythos. The cast of characters all had the same feel that they did in the Emmy award winning cartoon series, there was a real sense of darkness about the Asylum, and Batman felt truly like a superhero. The corridors of the Asylum are tight, creating a really tense experience, requiring Batman to use his most important weapon – stealth. Arkham City took that same idea and bumped everything up to ten and beyond in some cases. Rocksteady has some guts to kill off the most important comic villain around – we’ll have to see how the Arkham arc will end next year in Arkham Knight.

Borderlands

BORDERLANDS SERIES
Mixing humor, action, RPG, co-op and random loot grabbing, the Borderlands games are a hard bunch to pin down. At their core they’re shooters – but then they really are also RPGs, doing both well. The series is built around four-player co-op, with random loot drops ensuring that players are always finding new weapons, grenades, shields and other goodies to use as they tackle all sorts of enemies. All of that would be well and good, but on top of all that, Gearbox and 2K have always made sure that the games are also really funny, never taking themselves too seriously at all. Both games in the series so far have been supported with awesome DLC and remain standouts on the console – with a third game on the way, during a time when most developers are pushing forward to the Xbox One, Borderlands; The Pre-Sequel should do really well on the 360.

CASTLE CRASHERS
The Xbox Live Arcade had been around really since the Original Xbox as a way for developers to put smaller games out to fans as direct downloads, at a lower price point. Until 2008, there really weren’t any major standouts, aside from Uno and Geometry Wars; but in the summer of 2008 (the first Summer of Arcade) the XBLA got a real shot in the arm. Spearheaded by Braid (a game that I actually never played for whatever reason) and Castle Crashers, the XBLA became a place for not only smaller developers to push games, but for really good games to live. Castle Crashers is still one of the better co-op games on the system – a terrific old-school beat em up with a unique art style, good music, and solid leveling process – but most importantly, it’s just a plain fun game.

Modern Warfare 2

CALL OF DUTY MODERN WARFARE, BLACK OPS SERIES
Activision really hit the lotto with the Call of Duty franchise this generation. I’ve talked a lot in the past about this franchise, both because it’s so popular and because I’m a big fan of the games, generally; so I won’t belabor the point too much here. Modern Warfare changed the shooter landscape, end of story. That group of three game blew sales records away, and changed the way that people played a multiplayer shooter. Black Ops took that new formula and applied a little different spin on it thanks to a different developer. Across the five games in the two series, I had more fun playing Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops 2, than any of the other entries.

DEAD SPACE
Survival Horror games were in a tricky spot going into this generation. At the end of the previous generation, Resident Evil 4 changed the game by giving the player way more control than ever before with the over-the-shoulder camera, but still had the horror present. After that, with the added control to increase the action, how could games truly be scary? Or at least that was the question before Dead Space came out. Even with a solid action system that made it easy to aim and attack the enemies, there was still plenty of terror to be found on the USG Ishimura. Instead of relying on tired and true zombies in space, Visceral came up with something much more horrifying – the necromorphs, and more to the point – the humans bent on turning everyone into them. It was a tense, dark, claustrophobic game that really helped invigorate the genre, and stands out as the best in the series.

Dishonored

DISHONORED
Every once in a while a game should shock you. Dishonored did that for me. I went in with muted expectations, but was totally blown away by the experience. A stealth game that did both stealth and action well? And didn’t punish you for choosing to play loud? Crazy talk, I thought. Of course, playing the game loudly may not have punished you explicitly, but through the “chaos” system in the game, you would make later levels harder or easier depending on how you played through. It’s a game that showed that stealth totally still works in games, and adding in the supernatural just made the game that much more engaging, helping you get to even more different routes to sneak around. Criminally we haven’t gotten a sequel yet, but I’m excited to see what one would entail on the Xbox One.

GRAND THEFT AUTO IV and V
Rockstar has always brought the very best with the series, and that was no different with the latest two offerings. It took me a while to really get into GTAIV, just because of how different it felt from GTAIII and Vice City, my favorites from the previous generation. Once I “got it’ though, IV became much more engaging than before, relying on using Niko as the main storytelling device – his backstory and conflicted morals really set the stage for a wonderfully designed final set of missions. Emotional, but still possessing the GTA trademark humor and freedom, it was a great step forward. With GTAV though, the real strengths come from a more refined control scheme, and the addition of a truly online world with GTA Online. You can play it online or off, either way there’s more to see than ever, but it doesn’t feel that overwhelming. That said, I think it’ll really shine when it launches on the Xbox One and PS4 this fall.

Halo 3

HALO SERIES
Not counting Halo 3: ODST or the Halo: CE Anniversary, Microsoft’s go-to franchise had three winners this generation. Going in, Halo 3 was set up to be a huge game, telling what we thought was the end of Master Chief’s story – we found out it was really just the end of the war with the Covenant. Giving players the ability to play four-player co-op, adding in the scoring meta-game, Forge maps – Halo 3 really was the game that players had been waiting for. Bungie had one hell of a farewell in store for us too with Halo: Reach which might be my pick for the best of the series on the 360. Forgoing relying on Master Chief to tell the story, Reach put the player into a Spartan that was their own – then we were forced to play through his last days thanks to a story that was intense, and really had some weight behind it.

Mass Effect

MASS EFFECT SERIES
BioWare was already a well-respected developer thanks to the Knights of the Old Republic and the Baldur’s Gate games going into the 360’s lifespan. In 2007 they took their already solid RPG elements and mixed them with a solid real-time third person shooter combat system, and together with a really solid story created Mass Effect. Over the course of the three games, we faced down the threat of the Reapers, and depending on who you talk to, tied up the story completely. While Mass Effect 3‘s ending got a lot of ire from the internet, I don’t think that is on BioWare at all – I actually thought the ending was totally fine. The idea that there would be hundreds of endings depending on your choices is just silly. The series still remains a favorite, each game feels different enough to distinguish themselves, and to me the best parts of the games remain the awesome characters that make up Shepards team.

Rock Band Blitz

ROCK BAND SERIES
The rhythm game genre came to a head pretty quickly during the 360’s lifespan, thanks mainly to Activision pushing their Guitar Hero games out far too fast and flooding the market. On the other side was Rock Band a series that Harmonix took a different approach with. Featuring full band gameplay and strong on-disc setlists for each game, Rock Band really brought the genre back to the beginning – party games. Getting people together and playing songs that everyone knows and loves. Instead of releasing new games every year (or in some cases, quicker) Harmonix went with a smarter route – release a few new songs every week. There was weekly DLC for the series from November 20, 2007 straight through to April 2, 2013. That’s over 5 years of uninterrupted DLC – and a whole mess of songs, 1,689 to be exact. The variety in the songs ensure that everyone can find some that they love, and that’s why I still play the games to this day. Plus there’s nothing quite like nailing a tough solo in a great song and getting that 100% completion.

SAINTS ROW SERIES
When the Xbox 360 launched, there really wasn’t anything along the lines of a Grand Theft Auto style sandbox game. Rockstar’s series was seen as almost untouchable at that point, thanks to the success of the PS2 era games. But in 2006 along came Volition with a little game called Saints Row. It wasn’t trying to be GTA – instead it took the basic formula, added in a pretty robust customization system, a story based around rebuilding the Saints respect, and it took off. The first game wasn’t quite as insanely over the top as the later games got, but still featured a strong sense of humor that didn’t take itself too serious. As the series progressed, the gameplay was refined, expanded and the story pushed over-the-top. As much fun as the series is, I worry about the future, just based around my thoughts with Saints Row IV – which I felt wasn’t nearly the game it could have been. I hope that was just because of the mess that the THQ bankruptcy was.

Now for the games that I think are the absolute best on the console:

Oblivion

ELDER SCROLLS and FALLOUT SERIES
Bethesda has really gotten it right this past generation. They were there way back at the start with Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which might just be my favorite game on the 360, and they were there for what a lot of people say is the best with Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In between they put out two more absolutely amazing games with Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. At their core, the four games are very similar – First Person RPGs with a strong emphasis on freedom, it’s in the details that differentiate them (obvious setting differences aside). All the games feature huge game worlds to explore that truly feel lived in – NPC’s follow set routines depending on the day of the week, different factions behave differently when they interact with each other, the world itself is alive (or as alive as the Fallout world allows for). And once you get past the initial starter dungeons, you have 100% free reign on what to do.

Fallout 3 Cover

Want to tackle the main storyline right away? Go for it. Feel like wandering aimlessly around the world, fighting and looting? No problem. One area that that freedom is more standout in the Elder Scrolls games is the amount of sidequest options. In Fallout the sidequests are more limited to single quests scattered about the Wasteland. In Oblivion though for example, you can work your way up through the ranks of the Imperial Arena, or become the Arch Mage of the Mages’ Guild. The sheer volume of different things you can tackle in the Elder Scrolls games really makes them almost unending. I’ve been playing Oblivion – through two characters – since I got in 2006 and am just now going through and finishing the main storylines, after sinking well over 200 hours across them, and that’s on the low end for players. I cannot wait to see what Bethsda has in store for us – Fallout 4 is supposedly in development right now, and I would expect to hear more about it in the next year. As for Elder Scrolls VI – well we just have to keep waiting, it will most likely be after Fallout 4 has it’s run, but knowing Bethsda it will be a huge undertaking.