Tag Archives: thoughts

Thoughts: Pentiment

pentiment_murder

Josh Sawyer is the Creative Director at Obsidian, and for about ten years now I’ve been calling him “the most cursed man in the videogames industry”. This is because Josh Sawyer came to Obsidian through Black Isle, and so has his name attached to things like the cancelled Van Buren prototype of Fallout 3 — no, not the soulless Bethesda one from 2008, the one where all we ever saw of it was a main menu mockup — and Icewind Dale 2, which was mostly notable for sinking without a trace thanks to coming out two months after Neverwinter Nights. His bad luck streak continued at Obsidian: designer on Alpha Protocol, one of the most criminally overlooked games of the last twenty years; director and lead designer on Fallout New Vegas, which was most definitely not overlooked but which infamously led to Obsidian getting screwed out of a bonus payment it would have received had it achieved an overall Metacritic score of 85 (it ended up with 84); and then director on Pillars of Eternity and Pillars of Eternity 2, the latter of which is a genuinely great CRPG but if you want to know how it did commercially you just have to look for Pillars of Eternity 3. Or the lack of it, anyway.

This is why Josh Sawyer is cursed: nearly every single game he has been involved with has been an absolute banger of an RPG, and nearly every single one of them has been considered a commercial failure (or got cancelled). After Pillars 2 flopped I think I would have forgiven him for just stepping back into his general Creative Director role for all of Obsidian1 in between posting reviews of shower UX design on Twitter. But Josh Sawyer is made of sterner stuff than I am, and has instead taken the other road: if every game he makes is doomed to be a commercial failure, then he might as well just make the games he wants to make, commercial viability be damned2. And this is how we’ve ended up with Pentiment, a game with extremely limited commercial appeal for something published by Microsoft, but which is one of the most interesting and engaging games I’ve played this year precisely because of that fact.

Continue reading

  1. Although he was quick to disavow having much involvement with The Outer Worlds in that role, which you can charitably view as him not wanting to take the credit for another team’s success, but which I see as his attempt to flee the crime scene.
  2. He still had to get it greenlit, but Game Pass has apparently changed the calculus there for the time being.
Tagged , ,

Thoughts: Return to Monkey Island

return_return

When you look at it a certain way, the opening 10 minutes of Return to Monkey Island are an incredible meta-joke 30 years in the making. I have spoken at length about my hatred for the theme park ending of Monkey Island 2, which was the last time I touched a Monkey Island game made by Ron Gilbert1, and various interviews in the run-up to the release of Return to Monkey Island didn’t do anything to shake my impression that Ron Gilbert has theme parks on the brain. This did not bode at all well for Return, and so my heart sank when the very first screen of Return that you see, 10 seconds after clicking that “New Game” button, is this:

Continue reading

  1. He was also involved in the episodic Telltale series Tales of Monkey Island, but I didn’t play those.
Tagged , , , , ,

Thoughts: Regiments

regiments_assault

I must admit to some skepticism when the Microprose trademark got rudely disinterred a few years back and slapped on top of a brand new publishing house. I think very highly of the Microprose of the early ‘90s — to the point where my In Praise Of columns were just the Microprose Nostalgia Hour for a couple of months — and after watching other zombie trademarks shuffle along for years (Atari is the big one, which is currently trying to go big on cryptocurrency) I wasn’t looking forward to the same thing happening to Microprose. To my considerable surprise, though, the new owners have been somewhat smart about this and have kicked off their revived label by publishing… well, pretty much exactly the kind of game the OG Microprose would have been interested in publishing back in the day: a selection of strategy titles that sit halfway between the accessibility of an RTS and a grognardy war sim, which both supply a hefty digital manual (another fine Microprose tradition) and expect you to actually read through the entirety of it in order to learn the game1. Last year they published Highfleet and Carrier Command 2, which both appeared to be reasonably solid efforts even if they didn’t manage to hook me in for more than a couple of hours. And now this year they’ve published Regiments, which has.

Continue reading

  1. Interestingly the new Microprose aren’t the only ones doing this: they have competition from another relatively new publisher called Hooded Horse who are also publishing a lot of upcoming mid-tier strategy titles (including my current GOTY 2022, Old World). This may be one reason why Microprose’s future slate of games looks to be branching out a bit from pure strategy.
Tagged , , ,

Thoughts: Sniper Elite 5

se5_cover

Okay, so I’ll state up front that I have been goaded into this review a little bit. This goading was not caused by anything Sniper Elite 5 did itself — at least not directly — but prior to playing it I read multiple reviews that favourably compared this iteration of the series to Hitman 2 and Metal Gear Solid V, two of the best sandbox games of the last decade1. Which sounds great, but unfortunately for Rebellion I have also played Sniper Elite 4, so I knew that one of two things had happened here:

  1. That Rebellion had massively, massively upped their game, investing a ton of money into hiring a team of crack designers to shape the emergent gameplay while throwing away the old, dated Sniper Elite engine and starting again from scratch to properly enable all of these modern sandbox features.
  2. That these reviews were talking complete bollocks.

Continue reading

  1. In particular there’s this “Essential” rating from Eurogamer. I know that games journalists are paid next to nothing and have zero long-term career prospects and this sometimes makes me feel bad about ragging on them so frequently, but then one of them gives Sniper Elite 5 an “Essential” rating and I just can’t let that kind of thing go.
Tagged , , ,

Thoughts: PowerWash Simulator

ps_pipe

I wasn’t expecting a great deal from PowerWash Simulator. For starters it’s yet another entrant in the now decidedly-oversubscribed Simulator “genre”, which consists of a series of increasingly desperate attempts to turn mundane everyday jobs into videogames. (I’m particularly baffled by the PC building one.) And the concept behind PowerWash Simulator is one of the most mundane of the lot: inspired by the viral success of powerwashing videos on Youtube, this is a first-person washer game where, instead of a gun, you have a power washer, and you use that power washer to clean a variety of inexplicably-filthy objects ranging from houses to ferris wheels. That is it. That is the entire game.

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

Thoughts: Hardspace Shipbreaker

shipbreaker_cut

Ah, finally, an actually good destruction physics game.

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

Thoughts: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters

daemonhunters_overwatch_trap

Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters (good lord that’s an unwieldy name) is a game I’m convinced I brought into existence by force of will alone. It was announced as part of a big Warhammer videogames event around this time last year, and my friends were having fun guessing what each game trailer was supposed to be before the title card flashed up. But me? I was just guessing “Chaos Gate 2!” on every single one, mostly because the idea was so absurd — who would make a semi-sequel to a shonky 40k XCOM clone from 24 years ago that barely anyone played at the time? — but also secretly because Chaos Gate is one of the two games from the late 90s glut of 40k titles that I do actually want a reboot/sequel to1. And this meant I damn near fell off my chair when the words “CHAOS GATE” appeared at the end of the Daemonhunters teaser, like the universe had finally got tired of my constant complaining and spontaneously reshaped itself into a place where Chaos Gate 2 could exist in a futile attempt to get me to shut up, and in fact it left me questioning the nature of my reality for several days afterwards — after all, if Chaos Gate 2 was actually happening then nothing is impossible.

Continue reading

  1. The other is a Final Liberation reboot complete with weirdly melancholic guitar soundtrack.
Tagged , , , , ,