End Of Year Retrospective 2016

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Congratulations! If you are reading this, then you have (just about) survived 2016, which was a monumentally shitty year in almost every respect except for videogames. I remarked at the end of last year that I thought 2015 contained some games of exceptional quality, and yet 2016 makes it look like it wasn’t even trying; I’ve played so many good games this year that it’s actually difficult to think of any actual bad ones, and while that’s partially a result of the industry saturating the market with new titles (to the point where I suspect we may be headed for a mini-crash sometime in the near future as there’s only so much money to go around and the sheer volume of commercial failures could become unsustainable) it’s also a pleasing indicator that many previously-moribund development houses have rediscovered the internal spark that made their games fun in the first place. And there’s no better way to examine this phenomenon than through the usual medium of the Scientific Gamer Completely Made-Up Awards Ceremony 2016!

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Thoughts: House Of The Dying Sun

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I’ve been following the development of House Of The Dying Sun for a couple of years. Even back then, when it was still called Enemy Starfighter, it had already been in development for quite some time, and the reason for this is that it’s mostly the work of a single ex-Bungie developer. Up until, oh, just over a year ago, House Of The Dying Sun was a pseudo-roguelike arcade space fighter sim where you’d fly around a procedurally generated solar system with your AI-controlled fleet smashing things up and then warping out before powerful reinforcements arrived to smash you up; you’d farm renown through the things-smashing and use this to buy bigger and better ships, and then when you were ready you’d storm the enemy homeworld. However, this iteration of House Of The Dying Sun is a very different game to the House Of The Dying Sun that’s actually been released, which is a very short collection of bitesize scripted missions where you and your space fighter swoop into star systems to assassinate various targets of interest.

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Thoughts: Tyranny

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I feel like Tyranny suffers from a slight marketing problem. Let’s take a quick look at the blurb on the Steam store:

In Tyranny, the grand war between good and evil is over – and the forces of evil, led by Kyros the Overlord, have won. The Overlord’s merciless armies dominate the face of the world, and its denizens must find their new roles within the war-torn realm… even as discord begins to rumble among the ranks of Kyros’ most powerful Archons.

Sounds interesting, right? Tyranny is actively sold as an RPG where you are — or at least, are working for — the bad guy. Having played all the way through Tyranny now, though, I’d say that maybe one third of that summary is accurate; discord is indeed rumbling among the ranks of Kyros’ Archons, to the point where the first act feels more like you’re wrangling a bunch of preschoolers squabbling over who gets to play with the pony next than it does dealing with the immensely powerful leaders of Kyros’ armies. As far as the rest of it goes I have some bad news for Kyros, as the dictionary definition of “dominate” is “to have a commanding position over”, and since Kyros’ forces are afraid to venture outside of their camps in nearly all of the territories that you visit during the course of the game I would say that he’s1 dominating the world in the same way that the USA dominated Vietnam back in the ‘70s. It’s that first sentence I really take issue with, though. There is plenty of scope for an RPG in which you’re on the side of evil for once — genuine evil, not the mwa-ha-ha-ing stereotypes found in Bioware titles. Psychopath playthrough of Alpha Protocol aside, I’ve not seen the genre come up with anything significantly new here since I told Zaalbar to kill Mission back in Knights Of The Old Republic and I was looking forward to an exploration of what being evil would mean and how it would change things both for your character and for the wider game world.

Unfortunately, Tyranny is not that game.

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  1. Or she; one of the nice things about Tyranny is that very little is actually known about Kyros and nobody knows what gender they are, or even if they’re a single person or a group of people.
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Thoughts: Dishonored 2

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I’m a big enough man to admit that my review of the original Dishonored was a little on the harsh side. Indeed, it was deliberately so, since I felt at the time that the universal praise it was receiving from all practically all quarters of the internet was a little bit over the top and wanted to provide some balance. And so I went to town on Dishonored’s structural problems and gave it a thorough kicking, and in the process glossed over far too much of what it did that actually worked, and worked well. Much of that has only really become apparent to me in hindsight as I’ve played other games that have tried similar things only to stuff them up quite badly, but that’s just made me quite excited for the Dishonored 2: the first one was a good game with some serious flaws, but what are sequels for if not fixing what you couldn’t get quite right the first time around?

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Thoughts: Titanfall 2

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Unlike most people I didn’t think the original Titanfall not having a single-player campaign was a particular problem. It tied into the general malaise the game had of not providing anywhere near enough content for players to get their teeth into – the central multiplayer experience, while very finely polished and a lot of fun, was also rather limited — but I don’t feel like Titanfall was crying out for a thrilling narrative-driven tale of conflict between the two generic sides involved in its eternal robot war. What it was crying out for were more game modes, more Titans and more maps, and when these were not forthcoming the game swiftly died out as its playerbase deserted it.  I’m fine with games focusing solely on multiplayer as long as they’re up front about it, especially since the requirements of crafting a single-player campaign are often quite at odds with the requirements of a highly-tuned multiplayer game, not to mention being incredibly resource-intensive, and trying to focus on both often means you end up doing neither particularly well1.

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  1. It’s so difficult to work on both, in fact, that it’s been common practice for some years now to hand either the single-player or the multiplayer off to a completely different developer to be worked on as its own separate thing, which usually ends just about as well as you’d expect.
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Thoughts: Mafia 3

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It would be fair to say that Mafia 3 has received a bit of a mob beating from the gaming press in the weeks since it was released. Not providing review code ahead of the the release date is a bit of a red rag to a bull where reviewers are concerned, and when combined with the raft of bugs and technical issues present in the game Mafia 3’s critical drubbing was something of a foregone conclusion. Much of the criticism is more than justified; it’s certainly very difficult to peer past those rough edges to get a look at the game within, and even if you manage it it doesn’t appear all that impressive at first glance. However, I’m going to put myself somewhat at odds with the critical consensus by suggesting that there’s enough good bits inside Mafia 3 that it might be worth a second one.

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