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Game Review: Detroit — Become Human

Posted in video game, video game design by commorancy on May 27, 2018

Chloe from Detroit Becoming HumanI’m usually a big fan of Quantic Dream video games. However, this one tries a little too hard and fails in many ways. Let’s explore.

SPOILER ALERT

If you’re interested in playing this game, this review may contain spoilers. You should stop reading now and play first. I encourage you to come back to this review once you have played it.

Story

This is a story of android emancipation. The world has androids as servants which are being sold in retail stores. They are used as personal assistants, house maids and so on. However, something has happened and androids have awoken from their blissful subservience into thinking and feeling entities. Herein lies the opening of this story and the game.

Stories vs Gameplay

Let’s take a step back just a little from this game and analyze its broader genre within the game industry. The story versus gameplay war has been waged in earnest for the last 10 years, particularly when Quantic Dream released Heavy Rain on the PS3 in 2010. Note that there have been a semblance of these kinds of cinematic games going all the way back to the Amiga days with Rocket Ranger and Defender of the Crown. But, these full blown episodic TV games arrived with Heavy Rain. With the release of Heavy Rain came a game where you effectively watched a TV show unfold with periodic button choices thrown in to change the flow of the narrative.

Well, that’s exactly Detroit: Become Human. In fact, the story that’s being told in Detroit seems like a failed TV series turned into a video game. In reality, that’s what it is. That’s not to say there’s not actual button-press game play in this game, but these segments are so infrequent as to feel less like a game and more like watching a TV show with an interactive narrative component.

Note that there have been a number of episodic style games released very similar to Detroit. In addition to Heavy Rain, these include The Last Of Us, Quantum Break, L.A. Noire, Beyond Two Souls and the Alan Wake series. Note that Quantum Break took this whole idea one step further by including 20 minute (or longer) live actor-filmed episodic TV segments as part of your reward for finishing a game segment. That game was truly like watching episodic TV. Detroit doesn’t make this leap, but does the next best thing by trying to make its rendering as photo realistic as possible on the PS4.

Choices

As with all Quantic Dream games, the game is reasonably chock full of gamer choices. That is, choices that you make that affect whether a character lives or dies or whether you uncover an important detail or not. Though, even Quantic Dream’s stories are not unlimited and must follow a certain limited path to the end. Yes, there may be two or three outcomes, but ultimately the outcomes don’t drastically affect the next segment or, indeed, the entire plot. In fact, the choices may not affect much at all.

Chapters

The game breaks each ‘episode’ into chapters. Each chapter focuses on a specific character and their role in that particular story segment. Occasionally, the chapter switches between two or three different characters… and even less frequently, sometimes the characters meet.

What is the story?

The story is much like I, Robot. It’s about androids that become self-aware and, instead of simply being a utilitarian “thing” now wish all of the equality that humans have. Effectively, it’s a modern day slave story… where humans enslave androids for utilitarian purposes, yet they wake up and become aware that they no longer want this and wish to live free.

As a result, Markus (an android hero of this story) rises up to revolt against humans and bring the android freedom cause front and center. How you make that cause unfold is up to the gamer. You can effectively go pacifist or violent. If you go violent, the story unfolds a certain way. If you go the pacifist way, then the story takes a different turn. It’s left up to the gamer to choose the path.

Story Inconsistencies and Contrivances

Unfortunately, Quantic Dream’s writers failed in a number of important ways. For one, the story establishes that androids have direct contact memory probe capabilities. One android can probe another android’s “mind” simply through touch. Yet in one segment of the game, there’s a 1.5 minute timer that counts down after an android is revived and before it expires again. In this segment, you’re playing as Connor (an android enlisted to work with the cops to solve ‘Deviant’ murders). A deviant is an android that is no longer obeying its central programming and has become self-aware and can make choices for itself.

In this 1.5 minute countdown timer, an android needs to impart crucial information for Connor’s and Hank’s investigation. It would have been simple for Connor to touch and extract that data he needed in less than a second without saying a word to the android. This would have made the countdown timer pointless, yes. Instead, the game forces you to waste time using speech to try to talk to the android via interrogation. If it had been Hank (Connor’s human partner) forced to do perform this investigation segment, this section would have made sense. But, since it was Connor performing this interrogation, it made no sense at all. It’s these stupid little story details that are a pet peeve and that get in the way of telling the story. It doesn’t matter whether the story is in a game or in a novel, logic must be followed in full. If the story’s details aren’t logically presented, then the story fails.

A second one of these writer failures was after Connor is shot and dies in a previous segment. I won’t say exactly how, when or by whom, but it happens. Yet, in the next chapter, Connor is very much alive, undamaged, dressed in his normal Connor android garb. He looks the same and meets up with Amanda in the garden yet again. Is it the same Connor? *shrug* A tombstone in Amanda’s garden says not, but who erects tombstones for androids and when and why would it have been erected? How would Amanda have even known? There was no story detail to state that Amanda had even known of Connor’s demise. However, the title to the upper right of this segment says ‘Betrayed’ with a down red pointer. Amanda completely ignores this betrayal. Without any explanation, Amanda talks with Connor and inexplicably gives him yet one more chance to quash the android rebellion. If this were a replaced Connor as the tombstone suggests, this replacement would have some significant drawbacks… particularly the rapport that he had built with Hank along with all of the knowledge Connor had built up about the deviants’ hide out. Though, later, another story contrivance shows that androids can somehow transfer their entire memory consciousness in the 2 seconds it takes to fall off of a several story building. If this is the case, then why would Connor be afraid of dying in one section of the game?

A third contrivance is the rA9 moniker that’s found written all over walls and posters during the beginning of the game. In fact, Connor makes a point of stating that rA9 had been written on a wall over 1000 times. Yet, halfway through this game, the thread is dropped never to be heard from again. What the hell, guys? If you’re going to bring it up as an important discussion point, at least close it out at the end of the story! Was Markus the rA9 or not? And, what is an rA9? This one deserves an eye roll.

Unfortunately, much of this game is chock full of such story contrivances… this is why I call this premise a failed TV series. Perhaps it’s time for video game studios to actually hire some seasoned TV writers to write these video game stories, particularly when they are so cinematic in nature. These video game stories need to hold up to logical scrutiny in just the same way as any story arc does. Quantic Dream, you need to hire better writers and you need your games to follow through with every story detail.

Gameplay

Combat is where the game really fails the hardest. For some die-hard Mortal Kombat fans, the combat part of the game might be considered fun. For us casual gamers, where random button presses don’t make sense, this section of the game is not only no fun, it entirely detracts from the game and story being told.

This game intentionally plays mostly like one very long cinematic with only small and brief interruptions for you to control a specific character to accomplish a task, get from point A to B or to make a decision. These small interruptions in the narrative only serve to force the gamer to lead the story down a specific path. However, the majority of the game is like watching episodic TV. Unfortunately, Quantic Dream made the entirely wrong control choice for the combat portions.

Much of the game choices are a casual X press or a motion of the controller or some simple untimed action. These casual selections are perfectly acceptable. However, when it gets into full on combat, this is where the Mortal Kombat style combos take over. A style, I might add, that is entirely no fun and detracts heavily from the story at hand. Not only is the gamer presented with sometimes 15-20 different button presses, six-axis motion, multi-button presses, shoulder button presses or any number of other combo choices, they’re presented with such randomness and in such quick timed succession that unless you have the reflexes of an android, you’re not likely to succeed pressing most of them on time. Frustrating.

In these combat sections, the timers are incredibly short, sometimes less than half a second. The button or movement choice also doesn’t make sense with the action requested. You could press the left arrow joystick to kick then press R1 the next action to kick then press X the third time to kick. There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to why an action ends up on a specific button.

The only saving grace is that these actions are the same in each play through. If you want, you can map them out and then follow them like a script. However, the easier method is to keep pressing pause. This gives you enough time to decipher which button it is, prepare, take it out of pause, press it, then pause again. Whether or not you use pause, this combat system heavily detracts from the story action, so much so you can’t even keep up with what’s going on.

It’s entirely one thing for a developer to assign a specific combat action to a specific button. For example, many games assign X to a sword press or some other melee attack. The left shoulder button button might be block or parry. The triangle button might be kick or jump. When they’re hard mapped, you know what they do. It’s entirely another thing to free form map actions with random abandon. In this game, there is no mapping. The buttons being pressed or the actions being performed have no logical sense to whatever the character is doing. The button or action appears randomly and the gamer is expected to decipher that, process it and press that button all in less than a second. Some gamers are very good at this, many are not. This means that, by choice, Quantic Dream has automatically alienated a lot of gamers who are not good with this style of combat. A style of combat, I might add, that is perfectly placed in Mortal Kombat, but makes zero sense in a narrative driven story like Detroit: Become Human. Who at Quantic Dream thought this was a good idea? The question then is… Do you want your game accessible to all types of gamers or just those who are good at this style of combat? This is QD’s biggest fail in this game.

As gamers, we want predictability in our combat button mapping. We want to know that X is mapped to melee attack. It’s simple to understand why. When we get into combat, we press X naturally. It then becomes second nature pressing X. Most of us don’t want to second guess what’s about to appear on the screen, then try to reach for the button in time. It works fine with Guitar Hero, but it sucks hard in a game like Detroit.

Additionally, the failure with this random combat style is that you don’t know when the next press will appear on the screen. It could come immediately after a previous press or it could be 5 to 10 seconds later. Sometimes you need to wait 1 minute for a bunch of screen action to play out before the next is presented. Sometimes they appear in rapid succession. It’s the combination of this full randomness that is what I consider not only a horrible combat system, but one of the worst I’ve ever encountered in any game. It is also entirely out of place here.

For the gamer who’s trying to remain focused on the story, this gameplay style completely detracts from watching the unfolding story. Not only can you not focus on the story action at hand, you’re so focused on that next button press that that’s all you’re looking for. There’s also no warning when combat starts. It starts without warning and ends without warning. Most recent games have begun adding musical queues to know when you’re going into combat and when you’ve left it. Not here. Worse, there’s no way to succeed in this gameplay section without tunnel vision focus on the button presses. Even then, you’re likely to miss a few. The game doesn’t even let you know if you’ve ‘won’ or ‘lost’ this action scene after missing one or more than one of these moves. In fact, ‘won’ or ‘loss’ is randomly part of the story whether or not you succeed in hitting every move. In this game, these actions are, in fact, entirely pointless.

This, Quantic Dream, is your greatest failure in this narrative. Not only does this combat style entirely detract from the cinematic / TV episodic nature of the story, it forces the gamer to become so tunnel vision focused to avoid missing a button press, the story is lost. You simply cannot watch what the characters are doing AND play the combo button game. Even more than this, when the combat is all over, the character may die anyway because, you know, story. When designing a combat segment, make that combat actually mean something… especially when the gamer has to jump through hoops to get there. Else, just let the combat play out based on previous dialog choices.

To me, this style of combat is on par with fetch quests. They’re a means to an end, yes, but the techniques are forced, contrived and unnecessary… particularly in a game that relies on this level of cinematic storytelling.

Characters battling other Characters — Confusion

Latching onto the previous combat issue presented, this issue extends that problem even further. There are at least two times in the game when two of your characters end up fighting each other. The already convoluted combat system becomes even more convoluted and confusing. I didn’t think that was possible. Yet, on top of the random button presses and actions, now you can’t even decipher to which character the action is attached. Was that last move for Connor or Hank? *shrug* Sometimes you can tell when they’re far enough apart. Most times, they’re struggling with each other, when the button or action appears, you don’t know to which character the action applies. This system is completely detestable.

Seriously, how did this game even get out of beta testing with this level of combat confusion?

Unexpected Choices and Restarting

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to predict the story outcomes from choices you make. The dialog choices which seem the most innocent and the least problematic can turn out the most deadly for your characters. This is frustrating on so many levels. Because of this unpredictability of story, it’s almost impossible to read into a specific dialog choice and assume you know what it might accomplish. This is particularly problematic when dialog choices are strung together one right after the other, but then the outcome playback isn’t seen until after all choices have been made. This is an incredibly poor design choice. Instead, the dialog choices should unfold one at a time immediately after each choice.

Many actions I would have deemed to be the ‘safe’ choice end up getting a character killed or taking the story in the wrong direction. This unpredictability, while good in one way, is a horrible idea in the long run. You do want some character predictability. Characters should act in specific ways, or more specifically, show a certain type of moral bent. If I want to keep that character on that same moral path, that shouldn’t lead to death for other characters. I shouldn’t have to compromise my character’s morals to keep some other character alive. The AI should understand this ideal and uphold it for each character. Should you decide to take a character down a path that’s nefarious intentionally, then the consequences should be problematic.

I find the storytelling problems disturbing on so many levels with Detroit. If taking a specific action leads to certain death for a character, or at least a high probability for danger, that choice should be called out in the dialog by flagging it with a red color. At least let me know that the choice that I’m about to make won’t necessarily end well. In reality, the game should offer at least some level of foreshadowing in the choices. For example, if you drink too much then choose to drive, the dangers of this outcome are quite apparent. Let’s offer at least this level of forewarning in game choices.

This also leads to a broader problem with this game. If you make a choice during a long episodic segment, there is no way way to save your game, reload and remake that choice a different way. Instead, you have to cancel out of the entire segment back to the title screen and start the whole segment over. Or, alternatively, you need to wait for the chapter to play out in full, then exit to the title screen and redo whatever checkpoint is available forward to the end. The game makes you jump through unnecessary hoops to start levels over. This is a horrible design choice.

This game mechanic is also quite stupid. If you’re designing your game to enforce an unpredictable choice mechanism, then damn well give me an easy way to restart and remake those choices. Don’t force me to wait up to 15 minutes through an unexpected choice only to spend even more minutes and play through again. This is my time you are wasting. It’s a game, give me the option to abort where I am and start over at some recent checkpoint. I know that the game designers intended you to play it through in one long stretch, but that’s not how I want spend loads of my time (backtracking and starting over)… especially when the obviously ‘safest’ choice isn’t. If you can’t offer reasonable dialog choices that offer some semblance of sane outcome, then you need to offer a compensating control to allow restarting the segment quick and painless. Without one or the other game mechanism, it actually turns this game into a chore to play.

And no, I’m not going to listen to the title screen character telling me to give it a play through in some random way the first time. I’m going to play this game in the way I approach all games… I play it in the way that gives me the most satisfaction. If the game intentionally gets in my way of doing that, then the design is crap.

Making Development Choices

Quantic Dream needs to take a drastic change to its play style choice in its next game title. You have a decision to make. Is this to be a TV show or a game? Trying to marry both concepts into a single whole doesn’t work in many ways. You need to rethink the current combat button play style. In this game, you’d already added the computational component to the game. This component, like VATS, allows the player to pre-calculate the odds of success to a particular string of movements. This play style allows the player to play the scenario out to see the success or failure outcome before commencing the real movements.

This would have been the ideal combat method for this game. Get rid of the quick succession button presses and let Markus (or whomever) calculate the odds of success in advance with a particular combat strategy. Then, unleash the action and let it play out just as it did in other sections of the game. This way, the gamer gets to watch the entire action unfold with his/her strategy choices without unnecessary constant button press distractions. You already had this system in the game, it simply needed to be added to the combat.

After all, these are androids. Let them do what they do best… calculate. Again, this goes back to narrative logic failure. The writers simply did not impress story logic enough upon the game developers … and enforce the significance of the android in this gaming narrative. This, in fact, would have not only shown more of what the androids are capable (cold calculated combat), it would have decidedly ensured a terrifying outcome of exactly how dangerous the androids are. Quantic Dream entirely missed this incredibly important story point.

Title Screen Taunting

This is an issue that’s been progressing at a rapid pace in the video game industry and this title is no exception. When you reach the title screen, an android’s face appears (Chloe) and begins prompting you to do things and even goes so far as to tell you how you should play the game. To her I say, “shut the hell up”. I don’t want to hear what you have to say. If you want to be there and fidget or blink or do whatever, that’s fine. But, don’t intrude on my game and try to tell me how to play it or that I missed a crucial element or that one of my story’s characters died. I already know this. You don’t need to further “rub it in” by telling me this again. Keep in mind that part of the reason a character may have died was due to a stupid decision by the story designer to turn an innocuous dialog choice into a massacre.

This is my game and it’s my choice how I play it. Give me those tools to play the game in the way that I choose. If I want to quit out of the middle of a segment and restart it, that’s my choice. I don’t want to hear taunts from the title screen character telling me in no uncertain terms just how I eff’d up. I’m there trying to work through the story again to correct that mistake. A mistake, I might add, that had nothing to do with me, but had to do with the story designers who chose to turn a dialog choice or action deadly. To me, that’s both poor story design and poor game design.

Skipping Cinematics

Any game that offers long cinematics (by long, I define that as longer than 1 minute) needs to offer a way to skip them. This game does not offer that. There is no button to skip watching very long and, after you’ve seen them once, unnecessary cinematics. Once is most definitely enough in this game. This is, again, a waste of time.

One of the first things a game designer needs to learn is not to waste the gamer’s time. If we want to skip past a long unnecessary segment, give us the option to do so. Quantic Dream has not yet figured this out. By this game, they should have.

Characters and Guns

Here’s yet another thing that chaps me. A character finds a gun on the ground and we are given the choice to pick it up. Yet, the character is never given the opportunity to use the weapon at all… not via dialog choices, not via actions and not via any other means. Why have a character find a weapon then not be given the choice to use it? I shake my head here because this is one of the weakest designs I’ve yet seen in a game. If it’s important enough to have a character do something, then it’s important enough to bring it back into the game later.

Graphics and Sound

This is the single brightest point of Detroit: Become Human. The rendering engine is probably one of the most realistic I’ve yet seen on a console. The models, unfortunately, are a bit stilted in places (hands and mouths), but that only adds to the androidiness of the whole thing. If they were entirely realistic to the point you couldn’t tell them apart from the humans, that might make for a more compelling story, but at the same time, it’s kind of already been done in various TV series including Westworld.

Detroit: Become Human™_20180527171319

Keeping the game a bit less than real only serves to enhance the android idea and to allow buy-in for this world. That’s not to say that the graphics couldn’t be better. Of course, they can always be better. Where this game falls down is mouth movements for speech. I’ve seen so much better mouth movement in video games, it’s surprising this part is so stilted and poorly done. It’s long past time for a developer to produce a mouth phoneme movement kit for the industry as a whole. With rendering engines that look as realistic as Quantic Dream’s games, you’d think they would have spent the little bit extra time to develop a better mouth movement toolkit? Nope. The mouth movement is particularly bad on the main screen android because her mouth is front-and-center. It’s really the only thing you can look at. In-game mouth movement is allowed to be a little off because most times we’re not seeing it. Quantic Dream, spend a little more time when you’re building title screen animations.

The sound quality is very cinematic, particularly the music which ebbs and flows perfectly with the scenes. Unfortunately, the musical themes don’t end properly at times. The music ends abruptly when the task is done. At least get your composers to write an outro for the segment that seamlessly flows with the music already playing… or, at least fade it out. Do something a little more professional than just abruptly stopping the music in the middle.

Movie Replay

I was expecting that by the time we reached the end of creating our narrative that we would be able to replay the full movie without interruption. Alas, no. Quantic Dream doesn’t offer that level of game foresight. When you get to the end of your narrative, it’s over. There’s nothing else to do but replay parts of it again. Again, I shake my head.

Overall

I give Detroit: Become Human 6 out of 10 stars. It’s not game of the year in my book. But, with a few patches, they could fix up some of the deficiencies. Though, it’s doubtful they can patch the story problems or the failed combat system. Though, they might be able to introduce the playback system as an extra.

My recommendation is to rent this. You can get through the entire narrative in about a day. It’s very, very short and definitely not worth $60. The ending isn’t really an ending. It’s more of a cliffhanger. There are also story elements simply left unclosed. Also, Quantic Dream is not known for offering up sequels. I wouldn’t expect one here.

If you liked Quantic Dream’s other games like Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls, you’ll probably like Detroit: Become Human. But, don’t expect perfection. If you like heavy story driven games (to the point of almost being episodic TV replete with monologues and touching scenes), then you’ll probably like this game. However, don’t set your hopes high for the game play elements.

Graphics: 9 out of 10
Sound: 9 out of 10
Gameplay: 7 out of 10
Combat System: 1.5 out of 10
Story: 8 out of 10
Fun Factor: 6 out of 10
Stability: 9.5 out of 10
Length: 3 out of 10 (main story takes no more than a day to get through)

Overall: 6 out of 10 (It’s way too short, rent it).

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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Posted in reviews, video game by commorancy on May 14, 2018

Assassin’s Creed Origins is an attempt by Ubisoft to milk this tired franchise for more money. With each new iteration, they are making more and more mistakes and the games make less and less sense. This game’s sole purpose to exist seems to be a money grab. Let’s explore.

Bayek and Aya

In Assassin’s Creed Origins, you play as the Medjay (pronounced madge-eye) hero Bayek. He’s a nobody really, but the game makes you think he’s somebody. Unlike Altair and Ezio, who were at least well respected for who they were in their respective communities, Bayek is a small-town-kid… kind of like Connor in Assassin’s Creed 3. Unfortunately, this plot device has already worn thin by this franchise. At least come up with something different.

Bayek’s wife is Aya. She only appears in the game in tiny sections and you do get to play as her (sort of) during a boat mission and a handful of other smaller end missions. In fact, Aya takes on a crucial role in one of the final assassinations taking away that pleasure from Bayek unnecessarily. However, you don’t get to do something truly unique and switch between (or choose to play as) either of the characters. Come on Ubisoft, get with the program.
Bayek-ACO

Bayek is conflicted all throughout the game because his kid was killed by who really knows for whatever unnecessary reason. This is intended to give Bayek motivation to become an assassin and kill for revenge (among other reasons).

Storylines

This is as good a time as any to talk about the stories presented. Bayek must find and kill 8 (or so) different individuals along the main quest. Most of them are temple priests who’ve done wrong… or at least, so the game tells us. Aya kills one of the primary baddies as well.

The side quests consist of fetch quests as well as a few side assassination quests, occasionally taking the time out to do racing or fighting. Unlike the original Assassin’s Creed, there is no run-climb racing. The stories are average and uninspired for an Assassin’s Creed title. The ending is forced and really explains nothing. The stories can be fun the first few times doing a task, but ultimately it’s the same things over and over… especially if you’ve already played the Desmond versions. It would be great if Ubisoft could figure out a way to make the stories more dynamic, fresh, less fetch-questy or fighty and do something different. Yes, it does have assassin in the name of the game, but that doesn’t mean everything in the game needs to be a fight. The majority of the stories have nothing to do with assassinations or being stealthy. The ones that do are so weakly written, they might as well just tell you who to kill and put a map pointer. Why bother with the crap setup? Let’s just get to the activity and be done with it.

Taking it to the Next Level

To revitalize this Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft needs to take this franchise to the next level by extending Assassin’s Creed into a full blown RPG. It’s nearly there, but it needs so much more. First, it needs to abandon the idea of a specific character’s look. Instead, let us choose our character’s look through various presets (head, body, body shape, height, facial features, etc). Second, let the player choose a class and focus on it (fighter, seer, magic user, etc).

While the main quest can be primarily about assassinations and then seeing the bad guys one last time in the Duat (the place between life and death) to give them their final send off, the second part of the primary quest should be about present day and the importance of the animus experience to the present day (something lost in this version). The rest of the time the stories should focus on assassinations. It can be side quests or it can be quests that are required to give you an item that let you finish the main quest. There are so many ways to improve the game into a full blown RPG.

After this, they will need to add auto-generating / regenerating dungeons to dive into with random loot. This gives the possibility of finding some really great weapons and armor during the game.

The game would need functional armor, not just costumes that look pretty when worn. In Origins, you can effectively wear nothing or steel armor and it doesn’t reduce your ability to take damage. Armor needs to protect the player character from damage in increasing amounts when worn.

Armor needs to be broken into pieces (chest, legs, arms, head, feet, etc). You should also be able to find or forge armor for your steed. This not only lets you increase your armor in levels, you can mix and match armor to create your own unique costumes. Right now, it’s a look-pretty situation. The costumes look great, but they’re not functional in the game. Also, whatever happened to dying the costumes? Where did that feature go? There is a dye shop in the game, but it can’t be used.

Weapons do have individual strength, but are leveled. That’s fine for the first pass. This method can be carried over. But, I’d like to see a way to craft and improve weapons from in-game materials (brass, copper, etc). The raw materials are in the game, but you can’t really do anything with them. Crafting is only in ACO in a tiny little way. It needs to be fully expanded. Also, having weapons break and wear out allows you to overpower an enemy and wear their weapons, shields and armor out, thus disarming them and gaining the advantage.

The side quests are fine, but lose the fetch quest idea as much as possible. I really tire of having to “go get” something for an NPC. They have legs and can get access to a horse, let them go get it. If it’s a fetch quest type that ends as the item in payment for my service, then I’m okay with that.. particularly if the item is a worthy weapon or piece of armor. But, I don’t want to have to carry it all the way back only to get a piece of food or some silly trinket. Let me keep the stuff I find or let me get it back in some way.

Co-op and group dungeons should be added. Let’s get back to the idea of multiplayer in an RPG. This means I can find and assemble a team to go into a group dungeon to take on a swarm of enemies that can’t be taken alone. This encourages team play.

Item and building interactions must be more complete. Instead of these facades that sit on the ground and do nothing (other than as obstacles to climb), the buildings need to allow for entry into new dungeons to master. Items on the ground should offer much more interactivity. There are so many containers that can’t be opened or checked. Instead, let the game choose which container types to fill with random loot.

This is by no means to be taken as an exhaustive list of ideas for turning Assassin’s Creed into an RPG. It’s nearly there already, it just needs to take the next step. This is exactly what the AC series needs take it to the next level and let it rival that of Bethesda RPG games. However, it’s going to need an entirely new exact game save system by abandoning the current checkpoint save system in Origins.

Random NPC Banter

This just needs to go away. The NPCs have, at most, 3-5 phrases they can say when you pass by them and using the same voices over and over. Don’t do this. Unless you plan to spend the time to create hundreds of different audio clips that can be randomly said by NPCs, just leave them silent. Hearing the same phrases over and over is just plain annoying and unnecessary.

Fighting

Unfortunately, this is probably the worst part of the game. While Assassin’s Creed 2 practically got the fighting aspect 100% right, Assassin’s Creed Origin gets it almost 100% wrong. The fights are not in any way fun. Let me just make this clear. Fighting should be extremely fun in a game like this, but no. There are two tactics the enemies use that just drive me absolutely crazy. It doesn’t matter if it’s an animal or an NPC, they both use this tactic.

Backing Up as an AI combat strategy

While I realize walking backward could be used occasionally by an enemy, it is entirely overused in this game. This tactic always has the enemy moving just out of reach of even your longest weapon. There’s absolutely no point in this AI tactic. It wasn’t in any other AC game, why is it here? It just wastes time and serves to frustrate. This crap tactic is at the top of my least favorite AI fighting tactics in a video game. I’ve never played any other game where this tactic is used by enemy AI. I don’t even know how to rant enough on this particular tactic, but it drives me bat shit crazy.

Note, I’ve seen this tactic employed with human NPCs, lions, tigers, hyenas and practically any other ground combat. Ubisoft, get rid of this tactic. It doesn’t make the game fun, it only makes the combat incredible shite.

Shields

While I realize some NPC’s have shields, the only tactic to get around the bigger shields is try and flank the enemy (almost impossible because they turn around instantaneously) or try to press and hold with a large sword (power attack). The problem I have with these two suggested combat tactics is that they rarely ever work. Yes, the game gives them to you, but by the time you attempt a power attack, the enemy has either stabbed you repeatedly several times or knocked you on the ground and stabbed you. Press and hold attacks are worthless.

Worse, it’s almost impossible to break through a shield on an enemy. The strategy I end up using is climbing and performing a top down assassination over trying to do a break on a shield. Again, Ubisoft got this part totally wrong. Let me at least pull that stupid shield out of their hands and disarm them. Nope, no such feature in the game. Disarming an NPC is just a basic maneuver in any fighting simulator, why is it not here Ubisoft? How about letting me me break their shield in half? Nope, not here either. Shields don’t take damage.

Worse, when I try to use a shield, it’s not nearly as strong as when an NPC uses it. This is the dreaded one-sided fighting behavior that I absolutely abhor in games. If you’re going to make a fighting game, at least have the decency to make it a fair fight. When you tilt the fighting towards the NPC and away from the player, that’s just a shit tactic, Ubisoft.

Finally, shields should eventually break. If I keep hammering on it with my sword, the NPC shield should eventually disintegrate. Nope, these NPC shields are entirely invincible. I shake my head at this crap design.

Combat Mode

In this game, it’s way too easy to trigger combat mode and almost impossible to shut it down short of running far, far away… and even then that doesn’t work if the enemy is on a horse or in a chariot. For whatever reason, an enemy’s horse is always about 25% faster than yours. This is yet another unfair cheat tactic on the part of the game. Horses should either be of equal speed or … what the hell Ubisoft? … let us upgrade our horses to be faster than theirs. Yet another craptacular design failure.

Can’t break out of animations

This should be self-explanatory, but I’ll go ahead and explain it anyway. When you’re in the middle of combat, if you attempt to do certain moves, you can’t do anything else until the animation plays out in full. I’ve had enemies desync the game because I inadvertently triggered a long combat animation sequence that you cannot stop. Because there is no way to break out of an animation sequence, you always have to let it play out in full, enemies can come in and stab or hammer or poke you.

This is even more commonly frustrating because sometimes if you’ve got two or three enemies, they can gang up on you and prevent you from getting out of their fighting tactics. If they hit you in just the right order, even dodging is impossible because the taking wounds animations have to completely play out and cannot be broken out of.

This is crap game design. The player character should always be able to regain control over the situation without waiting for a long-ish animation to complete. All animations need to be broken out of and stopped.

Leveled Characters

So I get that Ubisoft finally added numbers and character levels to the NPC’s in the game. It’s been a long time coming. But, the way this is implemented is entirely and complete garbage… especially for an assassin.

Some enemies are, for all intents and purposes, invincible. These appear with a skull in a red shield above their head. I shake my head at this crap. To simulate real people, the hero should be able to assassinate anyone at any level. Knives don’t discriminate based on level. Assassination is assassination. Level doesn’t matter to a knife. Levels should only matter for melee combat where skill is involved. A stealth assassination from behind or above should always kill the enemy regardless of level. I should rain down from above, knock them down then assassinate any NPC in the game regardless of level. This is how a knife works, Ubisoft. Unfortunately, Ubisoft sets it up so that whenever an enemy is ‘too strong’ (or too high a level), they are invincible from either weapon’s attacks or knife assassination. In fact, a sword that might kill someone at your same level, an invincible enemy might take at most 90 damage.

Again, this crap drives me absolutely bat shit crazy. It’s such a crap design. Ubisoft, stop, learn and listen… and STOP playing these stupid games with your franchises. If you can’t do leveled characters right, then don’t do them at all.

Worse, there’s a preference that allows you to set NPCs to fight at or around your level. Yet, when you turn this setting on, it does absolutely nothing. Characters who were weaker are always weaker. Characters who are leveled way above you stay leveled way above you. If you’re going to add this setting to the menu, Ubisoft can you at least make it work?

Can’t Kill Citizens

In past games, you could kill civilians, but if you killed more than 5, the game would desync. In this game, you can rarely do this. They are simply unkillable in many cases. He’s an assassin. Blades should work equally well on enemies and on civilians alike. Go back to desyncing if you don’t want us doing it. Don’t just prevent the blades from working at all. Though I have found places in the game where civilians can be killed, I’ve also found places where they cannot. This was an unnecessary addition to the game engine.

Horrible combat button placement

For whatever reason, Ubisoft has decided to muck with all of the previous combat button placement. In past games, attack was always on the ABXY or X⃝△▢ buttons in some manner. In Origins, Ubisoft decided to move them to the trigger buttons by default. Wait… what crap is this? Who ever designs games with attack on shoulder or trigger buttons? Thankfully, they offer an alternative mapping that at least puts them on X and Y. No, it’s not optimal placement, but it’s at least it’s on these buttons. Why would you put combat on X and Y over A and B? These combat moves should always be on A and B buttons (Xbox) or X and O buttons (PS4)… like every other game on the planet.

This is always called messing with a good thing and Ubisoft is now firmly guilty of screwing with this game just to screw with it and for no other reason. Bad design.

Smoke Bombs

In past games, you had the ability to get and drop smoke bombs at will. In this game, smoke bombs are tied to combat. To drop a smoke bomb in this game, you now have to perform some kind of combat maneuver, then following that maneuver, press the A button quickly to drop a smoke bomb. No No No NO NO! Dropping a smoke bomb should be a button on its own. Never tie it to a combat move. If I just want to drop a smoke bomb for no reason, that’s my choice. Stupid design.

Perfect Aim

This is one of those complaints I’ve had for a very long time and it keeps coming back time and time again. Every enemy has perfect aim and infinite line of sight. No one ever misses hitting you unless you’re overly good at dodging. Even then, arrows still seem to make their target even after dodging. Yes, you can use your shield to protect yourself, but if that works 50% of the time, you’re lucky. Some enemy is always knocking you back and typically enemies swarm making it impossible to use the shield effectively.

Swarming and moving out of range

Enemies in this game always want to come in swarms. When you climb to avoid the swarms, the NPCs (animals or humans) move just out of range of your ranged weapons if they can’t reach you. This means you can’t shoot arrows at them. This is plain out cheating by the developers. Don’t move NPCs just out of range because they can’t get to you. I’ve seen this tactic in other games and it is entirely unnecessary. Once again, stupid design.

Boat Battles

This is easily the weakest and most unnecessary parts of this game. Several times you’re on board a ship with Aya and random NPC schmoes who don’t make a difference to the story (other than Cleopatra in one battle). You’re tasked to sink ever increasing sized warships. These activities are stupid, unnecessary and overly hard to control. I didn’t find this part of the game at all fun. In fact, I would have preferred skipping this entire section of the game and have the game take me to the final destination. In fact, I almost abandoned the game entirely at this point. I managed to get through this lame, unskippable section of the game through some unnecessary tactics. If you can’t do boat battles right, don’t do them at all… or, at least let us skip the entire activity.

Seriously, what does a boat battle have to do with being an assassin?

Climbing Activities

As with other Assassin’s Creed games, climbing was the gimmick that made Assassin’s Creed work. It’s still in this game as well, but not explained as to how this character does it. He just does. As with other AC titles, climbing sometimes works, but sometimes doesn’t. It depends on what you’re trying to do.

In most cases, the camera gets in the way. Because climbing direction is heavily dependent on which way the camera is facing, when the camera randomly moves, you’ll end up careening off in the wrong direction and setting off a bunch of guards in the process. This is, in fact, one of THE most frustrating aspects of this game (and really, any AC game).

For utilitarian purposes, climbing works fine. For stealthy assassinations, I could swear that the game cheats and sends me careening right in the middle of a load of guards simply to alert them. I’ve learned never to use climbing as an assassination strategy unless there’s plenty of room to maneuver. Even then, it can all go horribly wrong.

Ignoring all of the combat problems, this is one of the games top problems. Though, I’ve had this complaint with just about every Assassin’s Creed game ever made. Though, this game seems to be worse about it than others.

Senu

In lieu of the previous semi-magical “Eagle Vision” that simply just existed, they replaced it with, you know, a pun. They give you “Senu”, a flying Eagle with ‘Vision’. It circles overhead like a vulture. When you activate Senu, you can control him to fly around and over various encampments to identify enemies, loot chests and various other identifiers.

Senu was an unnecessary addition to the game and does nothing to explain the other version of “Eagle Vision”. Instead, they should have simply used the tried-and-true Eagle Vision that had been long established in every prior game. It needed no explaining. Adding this eagle served no purpose other than to make a pun, which wasn’t funny. Senu could have been a great help if it could have not only stunned enemies, but actually damaged them by dive bombing them and/or pecking / scratching them. If you’re going to give us a companion (and since you’re already making this world completely unrealistic anyway), then while you’re at it, let us use Senu as a weapon against enemies right from the start. Such a waste.

Leveling Up

Yes, there is the ability to level up, but it’s so limited as to really not be helpful. You get enough experience points to level up timely enough, but it really doesn’t help make you stronger or better or faster most of the time. The majority of the perks are worthless. There are a few that help (poison darts, smoke bombs), but most don’t do anything to help make Bayek stronger, better or faster. In other words, the majority of the perks do nothing, with only a few having any real purpose. The few that do have purpose are so buried behind the ones that do nothing, you waste a ton perk points just to get to them.

Photo Mode

The photo mode in this game is nice enough, but doesn’t have near enough filters to make it worthwhile with depth of field being the best of the effects. Overall, it’s a nice enough feature, but it’s not worth playing this game just to use it.

Frame Rates, Audio Problems, Crashing, Lost Quests

Frame Rate Problems

One of the things I’ll say about the Xbox 360 versions of this game is that the frame rates were always consistent, particularly with climbing a synchronization point. When you get to the top, the camera circles the player character. This has always been a particularly smooth animation. Not in Assassin’s Creed Origins. Every single synchronization point animation is herky jerky and choppy… and this is at 1080p. I’m not even trying to run this game at 4K. I can’t even imagine what this animation looks like in 4K.

I only recently started playing this game because of a backlog of games I wanted to play first. I also thought that waiting would give Ubisoft enough time to patch stupid bugs. Well, they haven’t. This game is chock full of bugs and problems.

Lost Quests

This is a problem that also drives me insane. I’m playing along, select a quest and I’m on the way there to pick it up or finish it. There are two ways quests are lost here. The first way is I’m traveling a road and an invincible enemy appears and immediately spots me. Invincible enemies are an entirely stupid concept (see above), but they are also on horses that run far faster than mine does… which doesn’t make sense. So, they inevitably catch Bayek and desync. BTW, a single arrow shot or sword swing from an invincible enemy is nearly enough to desync. A second swing or shot and the game always desyncs. Upon respawning, the quest is gone. No where to be found. You can’t find it and you don’t know where it went.

The second place where quests get lost is when the game locks up and/or crashes. Upon restarting the game, the quest is gone. This one is just insanely stupid. It’s not like the game doesn’t have autosaves turned on all throughout. Even if the game just saved seconds before, the quest is gone. Worse, when you respawn, you can end up a long ways away from where you were.

I don’t know how many quests I’ve lost as a result of either of these two problems. Probably 15 to 20. This problem stems from the way this game chooses to save games (see below).

Audio Problems

This is a known problem. Ubisoft has had many reports of this problem going to late 2017. Yet, Ubisoft still hasn’t fixed this issue. I’ve run into it several times. After I’m done playing the game, I then sleep the Xbox One for a period of time. When I wake up the console, there’s no sound at all. When I attempt to change any audio settings in the game to bring it back, I only get an audio chirp about every 5 seconds. Note, the console itself has no problems producing sound as I get that from the Home screen and Cortana and other apps. This problem is entirely a bug in Assassin’s Creed Origins.

Crashing

Most games today crash occasionally. However, this game is well more buggy, crashing way more frequently than average. I’ve had hangs that turn into crashes. I’ve had hangs that recover. I’ve had random crashes with no hang. Since I’ve started playing, I’ve had at least one crash every 1-2 days. This game is not at all stable. Thankfully, the game saves frequently enough that you don’t lose what you’ve already collected. But, you may lose your active quest.

Game Saves

This game chooses to checkpoint save randomly. It makes a noise whenever it saves. I could really do without that noise. If you want to save a game, leave the noises off. Just save the game and put a visual notification. That’s all that’s needed.

You’d think that the game saves would do you a favor. In fact, they don’t. If you desync for any reason, you have to start whatever it was you are doing over from the beginning. The only thing that seems to be saved is chests you may have looted. These seem to remain looted after a desync. Other than that, your character respawns usually far away from the location where you were. This is annoyingly frustrating.

What is the point in a game save if not to recover exactly where you left off? Ubisoft, checkpoint saves are stupid. Get rid of them. Let us save exactly where we are and let us save at will. Let us start right back where we left off… in the middle of battle if necessary. Don’t throw us a long distance away and make us start that activity completely over. Stupid design

Graphics and Sound

While the cities and NPCs are ironically unrealistic in their actions, the visual world itself, particularly the sand dunes, the deserts and the oases are look reasonably realistic. Bayek’s character model is particularly well done. The same for the anime character seen in “Gift from the Gods” quest. I’m not even sure what that quest was about, but the character was straight out of a game like Final Fantasy. For less than 5 minutes on the screen, someone spent an inordinate amount of time modeling that character for the game.

The underwater action is well done and the water movement is better than most games of this type. As with most games today, these hyper-realistic game engines fall down in many small ways… specifically, low res models. While the lighting is well done, the statues and other models are just too low poly. Worse, the flags at the top of the temples are downright horrid. They fly and flap fine, but the edges of the flags look like something out of an 8-bit SuperMario game.

There is one sound thing that drives me insane in this game. It’s when Bayek has to constantly prompt the gamer to go do whatever urgent task is at hand. I don’t need or want that prompting. At least let me turn it off from the settings menu. Additionally, the enemies constantly taunt that the player’s imminent demise. I don’t want to hear this either. Let me shut off those taunting remarks from the enemies. These audio comments are entirely worthless. Either that or turnabout is fair play. If they NPCs can taunt, then let me taunt back with Bayek. Either that, or shut that stupid and repetitive taunting off.

DLC and Season Passes

As if I haven’t railed enough on this game already. Well, let me rail just a little bit more. The season pass costs $40, in addition to the $60 you’ve already paid. Yes, the Season Pass offers the following:

  • The Hidden Ones (Land add-on)
  • The Curse of the Pharaohs (Land add-on)
  • The worthless Calamity blade
  • The Horus Pack (outfit)
  • The Roman Centurion Pack (outfit)
  • 500 Helix credits

Questionably, Ubisoft has excluded certain DLC from this season pass (see below). This is where I begin my rant. What the hell, Ubisoft? First, you add critical game features (levels 41-45) as add-on content instead of actually, you know, patching the game where we already paid $60. I argue features such as increasing character level caps of the original game a critical game patch… not a DLC add-on. At least raise the level cap for everyone in any game version as prep for DLC add-ons. Tying this patch to a DLC is just asinine.

Second, you exclude certain DLC (e.g., the Deluxe Pack) from the season pass entirely? Why is this? All DLC world add-ons should be part of the season pass eventually, including whatever is in release day Deluxe Packs. Excluding these is just an unnecessary money grab. Sure, you can make a deluxe pack be exclusive for a month or two, but they should eventually make their way into season pass holder content. Shit, that’s an extra $10 on top of the $30 we’re expected to spend? Season passes are already questionable enough investments considering it’s possible that no further content will release for that $40 season pass price. Season passes are already a gamble for the gamer as there’s no guarantee of content quality, availability or indeed anything purchasing a season pass on game release day.

Present Day

As with most Assassin’s Creed games, Ubisoft throws in the animus portion as an afterthought. In fact, the story line almost identically follows the Lucy story line in the Desmond stories. Can you guys not think up anything original? The first time through it was fine, but a second time is pointless.

Perhaps it’s finally time to switch the roles around? Make the in-animus games as the afterthought and the out-of-animus present day the actual assassination area. I’d like to see an assassin scale a 50 story building and jump off into a dumpster below or use a parachute. I’d like to see then use the present day as a means to an end. It is fun to see these time period pieces, but let’s not lose sight of the story goal here. If you’re trying to tell a story about Abstergo, then let’s do that.

The in-game ancient temples were almost entirely worthless quest lines in the game as they never come full circle back to the present with Layla. Ubisoft, you guys have a lot of work ahead to actually turn Origins into something better than it currently is.

Overall

The game play mechanics are average. When the mechanics work, they work okay, but occasionally the collision detection is intensely bad. I can see the weapon connect with the enemy, yet nothing. This means extra work just to kill an enemy because the game didn’t detect it. Sometimes it means desync and forced restarting. The enemies who use the back up tactic just drive me absolutely insane. This tactic needs to be removed from the NPC combat AI. It doesn’t serve any purpose other than to frustrate. It doesn’t make the combat harder, it’s just plain stupid.

The stories are twice told tales that don’t really lead anywhere of any specific nature. The only story that ties it all in is when you exit the animus with Layla… Layla being a cheap knockoff of Lucy from Assassin’s Creed. However, what is she really doing there in the first place? We’ve already established the animus as a commercial thing that people can buy and use at home. Why are we going back to these coffin shaped devices? The only storyline that seems to tie it all in are the too few and far between temples were Bayek enables a pedestal which talks of Desmond and the imminent world destruction… not that Bayek will understand any of that… nor does he ever make any comments under his breath afterwards.

Worse, all of that modern day gibberish was inserted into the genetic code replay by the animus as a bug/feature rather than being an actual genetic memory from Bayek’s original story. Yet, Ubisoft completely ignored this leaving the gamer to assume that Bayek actually encountered that information. Sure, I believe he may have visited those temples, but I don’t believe he actually encountered that information during the reign of the Pharaohs. Why should I believe this? The story gives me more reason to believe the animus added that story element than Bayek actually having encountered it for real.

As for multiplayer, what multiplayer? Past AC games have had multiplayer elements, but this game has no direct multiplayer aspects. The only hint of multiplayer are the revenge quests which have you examine a body of a multiplayer in your world. Then, take on a revenge against the in-game enemies who killed that other player in their game. This is of very little consolation for the lack of multiplayer. It’s not like Ubisoft hasn’t offered multiplayer in past AC games. So, I’m befuddled why it was not in Origins.

This game could have been much, much better.

Graphics: 8.9 out of 10
Sound: 6 out of 10
Game Saves: 1 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Controls: 4 out of 10
Combat: 3 out of 10
Stories: 5 out of 10
Multiplayer: 0 out of 10 (there is no direct multiplayer or co-op).
Stability: 2 out of 10

Final Rating: 4.5 stars out of 10
Buy this game at $20 or less from the bargain bin or, if possible, rent it.

Movie Review — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Posted in entertainment, movies by commorancy on January 7, 2018

the-last-jedi-theatrical[Alert: This review may contain spoilers. Though, I have done my best to not to reveal critical plot points and only discuss the technical merits of the film as a whole, you should decide for yourself what is a spoiler. If you are interested in seeing this movie, you should stop reading now, bookmark this review and read it after.]

The Last Jedi is a very long film. Clocking in at 152 minutes, it seems like a marathon. After trailers, your time spent can easily exceed 3 hours sitting inside of a theater. Giving up 3 hours of your life for a mediocre Disney romp is a very tough indeed. Movies with run times close to 3 hours also need an intermission. Let’s explore.

The Force Awakens

I want to like The Last Jedi. I really do. This film begins pretty much where The Force Awakens leaves off. If you’re interested, please check out both my The Force Awakens review and my The Force Awakens Analysis from 2015. If you haven’t seen The Force Awakens recently or at all, see it first. I will also state that my review of The Force Awakens is generally positive touting the look and feel. That look and feel is still retained in The Last Jedi, but I also expected The Last Jedi to have grown and matured this story. Unfortunately, it hasn’t matured nearly enough. With that said, The Last Jedi features lots of battles both in ship and out of ship with blasters and with lightsabers, but no battles of consequence. This film typifies what’s wrong with Hollywood writers. They have no vision. This problem is no more evident than in the many stories that unfold in this romp. There are certainly lots of plot contrivances and save-the-day tropes, but nothing new or notable to see (or say) here. It doesn’t expand on the Star Wars universe in any new or compelling way. It just uses the universe and abuses all of its existing George Lucas tropes, but never feels fresh, new or exciting. It doesn’t even feel like the writers truly understand or ‘get’ this universe or its inhabitants. It almost feels like professionally made fan fiction.

Middle Film Dilemma

Of course, this is a middle film. So, it can’t exactly resolve what was started, but it does its level best to make a dent in what will close out this trilogy. Unfortunately, this film is far too ambitious, trying to interweave too many side stories and not telling any one of them particularly well. There’s the Poe-as-a-rebelious-officer thread. There’s the Finn vs Nobody-Mechanic love interest thread that appears out of nowhere. There’s the Luke vs Rey thread. There’s the Leia vs Poe thread. There’s the Snoke vs Kylo vs Rey thread. There’s the topsy-turvy Rey and Kylo force connection thread. There’s the Millenium Falcon thread. There’s the useless Moz Kanata thread. There’s the new general who appears out of nowhere and gets killed thread. There’s the Phasma vs Finn thread. There’s the Luke vs Kylo thread. There are even more threads than that. There are far, far too many different story threads all competing for precious screen time.

For a middle film, the primary story arc should have been front and center. The rest of the story arcs should have been side stories for character development purposes. You know, stories to flesh out a character’s backstory, likes and dislikes, ruthlessness, charisma, scoundrelness, etc. These are why there are side stories. We need to get to know the characters while the main story is unfolding. And this is the problem with this new trilogy.

We still don’t know anything about Rey or Poe or Finn. Yes, we know Rey was a scavenger based on The Force Awakens, but there is no information immediately before that? Was she a scavenger her whole life? Clearly, she knows how to handle herself with that staff. So, that means she’s seen combat before. What other adventures has she had? What about Poe? He’s been in the Resistance for quite some time. He’s got stories. Where are those? And Finn, he was in the First Order. He’s definitely got stories. His field trip to Jakku in The Force Awakens can’t have been his first time out with The First Order. Yet, it’s like these characters began their existence at the start of The Force Awakens. We still don’t know anything about them even after The Last Jedi ends. Come on writers, give us stories that develop the characters.

Hack Writers

This story needs to be simplified, reduced, rewritten and refocused. The Last Jedi is all over the place and, at the same time forces the writers to cut too many story corners to make ends meet. It also sacrifices character development for unnecessary action scenes and CGI. It’s the typical Hollywood blockbuster writing team that cares less about making sense and more about writing too many threads and then cheating to close those threads because they’ve simply run out of time. It is, for example, killing off much loved characters like Luke, not in glorious battle, but alone on a remote planet using some extraordinary force power he has never once exhibited before. It is tying Kylo to Rey with some kind of force sensitive connection that allows them to communicate over vast distances, which isn’t explained and wasn’t even hinted at in The Force Awakens (the hallmark of bad writers). It’s Poe and Rey and Finn all running off on their own missions, not working together. It’s Finn and Nobody-Mechanic off on a mission to save the fleet with no backing and who are destined to fail (and they do) because of a cheap mole trope. And, to top off the cheesiest of the cheesy plot devices, Leia being blown into the vacuum of space and then exhibiting a force power she has never once even hinted at to inexplicably pull herself from space (with no oxygen) back into the ship, flying like Superman. What… what? Am I watching a Marvel movie?

I’m torn. I want new original story ideas, but not like this. On the other hand, I’m almost now wanting to see copycat stories from the original trilogy because at least copying those formulas might actually work better than this disjointed romp of a movie. Let’s hope that whomever they get to write the last installment can get their head out of their ass and actually produce a cohesive focused ending that makes more sense than these too many unnecessary and unfocused dead end threads in The Last Jedi.

Cliché Story

The story starts off with a rag tag fleet of rebels on the run in space trying to find a new base. Unfortunately, the long of the short of it is, the fleet can’t get a break. Every time they think they are ahead of the game with the First Order, somehow they are found. In the opening of the film, the First Order fleet begins beating the crap out of the Resistance fleet and destroying their ships one at a time. Poe in an extraordinarily brave and stupid move, decides to order the last few bombers of the Resistance to attack a Dreadnought (a glorified battle cruiser). After that ship is destroyed and everyone celebrates for an instant, Leia looks at the amount of ships that were destroyed to make that sacrifice and figuratively face palms. Then they hyperspace jump.

Suffice it to say, this face palm sets the tone of the entire film to come. The scene switches to the planet Luke is on and we continue the story just as The Force Awakens left it. Rey does a whole bunch of nothing with Luke. At this point we’re back with the fleet. We continue with more yelling, screaming, blowing up ships and posturing from both the First Order and from the Resistance. This cat and mouse game continues throughout the entire run of the film until the Resistance thinks they’ve gotten a break on an old fortified rebel base planet. But, that’s just a pipe dream because the First Order, yet again, comes knocking. At this point, the First Order deploys a logic probe (oops, this isn’t Tron)… er, I mean an energy weapon that knocks down the base’s big metal door.

By this time Rey and Kylo are friends and Snoke, well, let’s just say he’s having a divided moment. Back on the new rebel base, Luke chimes in with his new improved ‘magical power’ and begins to taunt Kylo (after Rey runs off) into doing stupid things based on emotion. Rey is nowhere to be found as yet and Finn has decided to ram his speeder into the energy cannon when Nobody-Mechanic knocks him out of the sky for a love-story-then-pass-out trope.

The whole thing comes to a close while Kylo is occupied and the Resistance makes their way to some place safer.

I’m leaving a lot of stuff out.. It’s almost 3 hours. Overall, the contrived storytelling of the rag tag fleet barely making it to the next step each time is an old twice told trope. It’s already been done in Battlestar Galactica, but so much better. There are so many ways this story could have unfolded, but this is not how I would have written it. The fun of Luke, Leia and Han is that they worked together most of the time… only splitting up occasionally. Finn, Rey and Poe are almost never together in a scene. If you’re going to write for a triangle of characters, at least put them together at some point for a together adventure.

The final scene is of a foretelling. It’s of a child holding a broom like a lightsaber. Let’s just hope that by the time this child makes it into the final film that he isn’t still a child. No child actors in the final act, please.

Star Wars Droids in the Story

One thing that has been totally lost on Disney’s Star Wars writers is that the Star Wars story is, more or less, told from the point of view of the droids (R2D2 and C3PO). Meaning, the droids are in almost every scene because they are both helping the heroes and recounting it from their droidy perspective. Since Disney began their version of Star Wars, that idea has been almost completely lost. I say almost because The Force Awakens and to a far lesser extent, The Last Jedi, tried to keep this idea alive with BB-8. However, in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, there are long stretches of story where there were no droids present at all. When BB-8 is included as a main character or even a plot element, the scene works well. When not, the scene is dry and boring. For example, in The Last Jedi, it’s funny when we finally get to see BB-8 driving an AT-ST walker. Unfortunately, it’s just a token gesture from the writers. They don’t keep it going. The reason it’s important to include the droids in the scenes is that they 1) make for excellent comic relief, 2) they help the heroes get things done with computers and 3) they are the perfect storytellers for such a romp. Unfortunately, BB-8 really had no substantial role in The Last Jedi other than being used as a trope to tie up loose ends. The original Star Wars trilogy showed us just how important droids are to the success of not only the missions, but to the film’s success.

Story Misnaming

This is the second film of, I am assuming, a trilogy. The Force Awakens was the first. However, even at the end of The Force Awakens, we still didn’t know who that awakening referred to. Was it Rey? Was it Finn? Was it Poe? Was it someone else?

At the end of The Last Jedi, we exit the theater asking the same exact question of both this title and of The Force Awakens. Who is The Last Jedi? Who really awakened? In fact, the film postulates the question that there is no such concept as a ‘last Jedi’. Luke explains that even if every last Jedi falls, another will rise on their own because the Force so wills it. I would assume this to also mean that there will be at least one Sith because the Force wishes to remain in balance. This means that there can be no last Jedi ever. So, why call this film that? Why call the first film The Force Awakens? If the writers cannot definitively answer the question posed by the title of the film, why produce a film with that title? If the ending of this film is foretelling of the rise of a new Jedi (and/or Sith), then a more apt title for this film should have been The Rise of the New Jedi or The Balance of the Force or The One Jedi.

A New Hope clearly refers to Luke. The Empire Strikes Back is as clear a title for that movie as there ever could be. You clearly understand exactly what the title means by the time you finish the film. Return of the Jedi is, likewise, the perfect title because you know exactly who is returning 15 minutes into the film. There is no question about why these films are named the way they are or what the titles mean. Even the prequel film names worked properly in this way with The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Leaving the theater after the prequels, there is absolutely no question as to why each film was given its respective title.

These Disney Star Wars films, on the other hand, are entirely misnamed. You leave the theater not knowing what the title means or who it refers to. If your writers can’t answer the question that the title poses within that film’s story, then the writers have failed or the title has. This series definitely needs to choose better titles.

Overall

This film is overproduced and the story is clumsily heavy-handed. The film is way too long and unfocused. The Last Jedi is definitely not any better than The Force Awakens. I give this film 2.5 stars out of 5 or in RottenTomatoes grading: 50%. The film is way too long, way too disjointed and it doesn’t congeal into a cohesive whole by the end. I realize this is a middle film and will be somewhat of a cliffhanger, but still, the way that The Empire Strikes Back was handled as a middle film was classic. This film, on the other hand, is entirely mishandled. Though, in some ways it is marginally better than The Force Awakens and in other ways it dearly sucks. The one thing I will say is that the 3D version of The Last Jedi is well done visually, but it doesn’t make the story any more palatable.

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Why I’ve not yet bought a Nintendo Switch

Posted in botch, gaming, nintendo by commorancy on April 13, 2017

I’m usually all over every new Nintendo system by making sure to pre-order it the first moment it’s available. This time was different. Let’s Explore.

Tablet Gaming

Let’s start with the obvious. The primary reason I didn’t purchase a Nintendo Switch is, let’s face it, it’s a tablet. Thanks to Apple’s very aggressive obsolescence of iPads, I now have at least 4 iPad tablets in my house. One that I’m currently using and 3 others that are older models. I also have a Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and an NVIDIA Shield for gaming … along with an Amazon Fire of some sort that I almost never use. I also have a PS Vita which is tablet-like.

So, let’s just say, I already have enough tablets floating in my house, most of which never get turned on. Buying yet another tablet, even if from Nintendo, that tablet must offer something so compelling it’s a no-brainer. So far, the Nintendo Switch tablet doesn’t have anything compelling to offer. When I buy a computer of any variety, I need to know that it will provide a useful benefit. For example, Android and iOS tablets are at least useful for browsing, email and various other apps (including games) in addition to gaming. For being a general purpose device, Apple and Samsung have the tablet market sewn up.

Nintendo, on the other hand, is a newcomer in this area. Since Nintendo is first-and-foremost a gaming company, the Switch will almost assuredly be a dedicated gaming tablet with limited general purpose apps, if any. For example, I’m fairly certain we’ll see Netflix and a handful of other streaming apps, but that doesn’t necessarily make the Switch a compelling buy. All of my other tablets and devices support these same apps… more, in fact. Because of the lack of real general purpose apps (or indeed a general purpose operating system), it’s almost impossible to justify purchasing a Switch for non-gaming reasons.

Dedicated Gaming

This leaves dedicated gaming the sole means to justify a Nintendo Switch. Unfortunately, this side also leaves a lot to be desired. Just like the NVIDIA Shield, the battery life of the Nintendo Switch is atrocious (2-3 hours). Worse, like the Shield, you cannot play and charge at the same time. The battery of the Switch still runs down even when playing while plugged into the wall. You’ll get a better gaming experience buying an Xbox or PS4.

On top of the tablet’s design problems, there’s the game round up so far. The only really compelling title is Zelda: Breath of the Wild and even that game is available on the Wii U. This means that if you already have a Wii U, there’s no reason to buy a Switch. This was Nintendo’s primary mistake. The most exclusive and compelling title to force you buy into the Switch… and they make it available on the Wii U.

Wii U, 3DS and Gimmicks

At this point, the Wii U is arguably a dead platform. Nintendo’s newest platform, the Switch, is what I dub a tabsole. It’s not a console, it’s not a tablet. So, tabsole fits. Unfortunately, what should have been the exclusive game was inexplicably made available on the Wii U preventing a compelling reason to buy a Switch. The one and only one compelling reason to buy the Switch is if you truly want a portable faux-HD Zelda gaming experience. Today, 720p is at the very bottom end of an HD gaming experience. In fact, I’d really reclassify 720p as not even HD. HD really starts at 1080p and goes up from there. It’s just a matter of time before 4k gaming becomes the norm and people look back at 480p and 720p as archaic reminders of formats past.

For Nintendo to introduce a 720p gaming experience today shows just how far behind Nintendo is technologically. Nintendo has never been known to push gaming boundaries by including high res display technologies, like on Apple’s tablets. Instead, Nintendo’s boundary pushing has been by adding more-or-less gimmicks to their consoles… like the addition of dual screens to the Nintendo DS, adding no-glasses 3D technology into the Nintendo 3DS, creating the Wiimotes for the Wii or adding the two screens to the Wii U through the combination bulky controller + tablet. Nintendo’s gaming claim-to-fame has never been about pushing technical boundaries, it’s always been pushing gimmicks and fads. While these gimmicks may have worked for some games, most of these gimmicks have limited useful value and end up rarely used.

I find that I rarely ever use the 3D technology built into the 3DS. The added head tracking made the 3D even worse, rather than better. Sadly, most 3DS games being created today rarely ever enable 3D even if the slider has 3D enabled. Even the game developers don’t see the 3D as something useful on the 3DS. Same goes for the gamepad on the Wii U. Few developers ever properly used the two screens on the Wii U. Most times, the screen on the gamepad was relegated to being a map. That’s a perfectly good use for that screen as it’s rarely needed, but when it is needed, it’s right there without having to open up a new screen. On the Wii, the Wiimotes were cumbersome to use and twitchy. Because of their twitchy nature, it made using the Wiimotes for any type of precision almost impossible. For example, Red Steel required using the Wiimote as a sniper and moving the Wiimote in and out as if to zoom. Because of the twitchy and unpredictable nature of the Wiimote technology, it was almost impossible to aim and zoom properly. This forced the game to become a challenge, but not in an intended way.

For each of these technologies that Nintendo has employed, they are not there to advance gaming, but to add a new gimmicky fad that quickly wears off. This gimmicky nature extends yet again into the Switch with its Joy-Cons and the dock.

Tablet Computers and Gaming

A tablet is old-hat at this point and isn’t really a gimmick. I mean, it is kind of a gimmick, but it has at least found a place in societal norms. A tablet offers easy and fast access to search Google or read an email. That’s what’s great about a tablet. It’s good for quick access to information using apps on-the-go. The downside to a tablet is its screen size. It’s bigger than a phone, but still just small enough to cause eye strain. For this reason, a tablet is not really the best for trying to read large amounts of text.

However, for gaming where it’s a visual medium, a tablet sized screen is probably a great size. In fact, I know that it’s a great size for certain types of games. Though, I’d still rather game on a 55″ TV rather than on an 8″ tablet screen. I mean, certain puzzle style games work great on an 8″ tablet when all of the icons and buttons are large and easily readable. It’s only when a game developer is trying to jam a bunch of small indicators and info onto a tablet sized screen does the gaming start to break down. Tablets are good for large touchable buttons with large readable icons. Tablets are not good for 8 point fonts and tiny pixel-sized health bars… design those for 55″ TV displays.

Additionally, games are designed for long duration usage. Tablets are intended for quick bursts of use, limited by small batteries and Eye Strain City. By their very different natures, tablets and games really aren’t a good pairing. That Nintendo thought it would be a good idea to pair the two shows just how out of touch Nintendo is with current technology concepts.

Launch Titles

Unfortunately, the few launch titles released with the Switch is yet another problem. While Zelda: BotW is the most compelling title, it’s not exclusive to the Switch. Meaning, I can play this game on the Wii U without even buying a Switch. That means I need to look to the other Switch games to see if those can justify a Switch purchase. Here’s the list:

  • 1-2-Switch
  • Just Dance 2017
  • Skylanders: Imaginators
  • I am Setsuna
  • Snipperclips
  • Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
  • Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment
  • Fast RMX

Should I buy a Switch for any of the other launch titles?

  • Both Shovel Knights will be released on multiple platforms… No
  • Just Dance 2017 … on a tablet? Really? … No
  • Skylanders: Imaginators is already on multiple platforms … No
  • I am Setsuna is a JRPG available on other platforms … No
  • Snipperclips … ugh, definitely a NO!
  • Fast RMX is yet another vehicle racing game … No
  • 1-2-Switch is a throw-away party game … definitely No

Out of all of the above titles, there is not one single game that is compelling enough to invest in the Switch. In fact, far too many of the games are already available on other platforms. In other words, most of them are has-been ports. Ports are typically games that avid gamers are likely to have already played. You would definitely not buy new hardware just to play a game that you’ve already played.

Problematic Joy-Con Controllers

The general consensus is the Joy-Con controllers are a problem. Apparently, when used wirelessly, they frequently lose connectivity to the Switch making gaming a chore. There’s nothing worse than losing connectivity while playing a game. I would frequently encounter this same problem when using the PS3’s early controllers. I’d been in the middle of a heated battle only for the controller to drop its connection. I eventually had to invest in a Logitech controller with a dongle to solve that problem. I’m pretty sure the Switch has no other options other than attaching the Joy-Cons to the tablet and using them ‘wired’. This design problem is pretty much a show stopper for using the Switch when docked.

Multiplayer Gaming and Nintendo Transfers

Today, multiplayer gaming is a must have option for any new console. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been so far behind the times with this feature, I really have no idea if they can even rectify multiplayer gaming on the Switch. It seems that Nintendo is likely to require a monthly fee to join a ‘new network’ that may or may not offer proper multiplayer options, but we know how well Nintendo typically executes on these features. It will end up has some half-baked thing that barely works, just like Miiverse.

Plus, Nintendo has some really archaic ideas about how to manage portable devices. For example, the 3DS still requires transferring your data from one handheld to another upon replacement. If you happen to lose your device or if it breaks irreparably, you have to make a call to Nintendo support to have them authorize transfer of that data to your new device… an incredibly manual and time consuming step.

I really don’t relish the thought of spending an hour or two transferring data from my Wii U to my Switch. That’s just a ridiculous ask in this day and age. I understand why this may have existed in the past, but with Nintendo’s store, they can simply store your info there and let you download all your stuff to your new device. Having to backup and restore your data from one console to another manually is just insane. As the saying goes, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.

Roping in Developers

Nintendo has had a severe problem enticing big game developers into their most recent platforms. The Wii U is a prime example. When the Wii U was released, a bunch of large developers like Ubisoft and Activision were on board with producing games. However, due to the lackluster launch of the Wii U and the less than stellar numbers sold, this led to these large developers jumping ship. This meant that Nintendo had to rely on using its own franchises to sell (or not sell) the Wii U. While Nintendo does have a few relatively strong franchises like Zelda, Mario, Wario, Luigi, Kirby, Yoshi, Super Smash Bros and Fire Emblem, it’s really hard for a single company to produce enough games in a year to keep people coming back, let alone sell even more consoles.

So, the full capabilities of the Wii U were never fully realized. Nintendo tried, but were unable to fully utilize the potential of the Wii U. On top of all of this, Nintendo really never did raise the bar of the Wii U beyond its introductory operating system. The carousel was a complete waste of screen space. On the 3DS, at least the upper screen was used to show what item you were working on. On the Wii U, it was always that stupid carousel with talk bubbles popping up from random Mii. It’s not like Mii’s were that compelling anyway. In fact, that whole carousel idea was Nintendo’s idea of multiplayer social interaction. I digress.

The point is, with as gun shy as most developers are with Nintendo these days, it’s almost assured that third party support for the Switch will be non-existent for the foreseeable future. This means that we’re not likely to see much in the way of big new titles. Though, some developer has promised to release Skyrim on the Switch by year end. I’m not entirely certain that that conversion is coming from Bethesda / Zenimax. It’s more likely that conversion project has been handed over to smaller studio for release on the Switch. This probably means bug-city, but more than that this game is already 6 years old. To bank on a 6 year old game ported to a console with lesser capabilities than a PS4 is almost insane to consider. If Nintendo thinks that Skyrim is likely to spur a whole lot of new Switch purchases, they might want to think again. Bethesda would have to ensure some brand new and exclusive Switch DLC before gamers would buy not only a brand new console, but also buy into a 6 year old game they’ve likely already played.

Overall

There isn’t one single compelling game (or reason) that justifies purchase of the Switch. In combination with Nintendo’s lack of general functionality that a tablet needs to offer to remain competitive in an already saturated tablet market, the Switch doesn’t even stand up to its competition. When docked, the Joy-Cons do not reliably work wirelessly. How multiplayer games will work is still up in the air. In effect, Nintendo has yet to give us a solid reason to buy into the Nintendo Switch.

Perhaps with a few more exclusive games titles and a solidly built and robust multiplayer gaming network, Nintendo can turn that tide and bring the must-buy factor up. For now, there’s just not enough compelling reasons to bring yet-another-tablet into my house… considering how many tablets I already own. I know I’m not alone in this situation. For all of the above reasons, the Switch is not on my list of must have gaming consoles.

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Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Posted in movies by commorancy on December 23, 2016

I’m so glad J.K. Rowling decided to bring us to the U.S. with the next installment of the Harry Potter universe (I say with some sarcasm). Unfortunately, Fantastic Beasts is also kind of a mess. Let’s explore.

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD. Stop reading now if you want to watch the film.

Timid Characters

One thing I’m never a fan of in storytelling is setting up your main character as both timid and intimidated by nearly everyone around them. However, if there had been just one timid character in Fantastic Beasts, I might have given this trope a pass. Unfortunately, the timid characters extend to practically every role in the film. The timid characters include Newt Scamander (the timid oddball hero from Britain who randomly shows up in New York), Porpetina Goldstein (the demoted Auror who’s as timid as the day is long), Credence (a timid teen with a surprise), Queenie Goldstein (outgoing yes, but timid) and Credence’s witch-hating adopted sister (didn’t even catch her character’s name, but still timid).

I’m fine with a story using a timid trope if the character eventually emerges from their timid cocoon to take on the world. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen in Fantastic Beasts.

Unlike Hogwart’s, where you plainly expect the students to be timid and intimidated by the teachers (who are clearly years ahead in magical learning), this trope fails to work in Fantastic Beasts where these magical folk should all be pretty much on even footing. Because these are adults and not children (with the exception of Credence and his adoptive sister), this trope fails so badly as to drag down the entire first half of the film.

No. When I see a movie, I expect the leading characters to eventually emerge as take charge individuals. Not only do they need to express conviction in what they are doing, they need to stand up for it and take charge of their actions and of those around them. This is especially true of the hero. In Fantastic Beasts, that never really happens. Which leads to…

Character Development

Because this story is so light on character development, we are lost with character names, what most of them do and why they are even there. While the place has been established pretty much up front (i.e., New York City), the film can’t help but break one of the cardinal wizarding rules, made so abundantly clear in the Harry Potter films, within the first 10 minutes of Fantastic Beasts… exposing the wizarding world to muggles and letting them go without ‘fixing’ it.

Worse, they start off by discussing nomenclature (“muggle” versus “non-mag”) as though we should run into all sorts of these Americanisms. Yet, later in the film, Percival Graves (the on-again, off-again villain) clearly uses the word ‘squib’ without thought. One could argue it wasn’t Percival Graves during any part of the film. However, if the US folk are calling muggles “non-mag”, then clearly they should be calling “squibs” some other word.

Story

Let’s just say that the first half of the film was a mess. It was all over the place. First, it was about Grindelwald terrorizing London. Then it transitions to be about finding and catching Fantastic Beasts that Newt accidentally lets loose in New York… after he bumps into a non-mag named Jacob who he exposes to magic, first by wand, then by disapparating. And, that’s not even the half of it. Because one of his beasts bites Jacob, he befriends Jacob and takes him ‘home’ (to heal him) and then into his suitcase (which is one of those spaces that’s larger inside than out).

Again later, it transitions to be about an Obscurial (a witch or wizard who doesn’t know it, usually a child). The repressed magic becomes a dark force that can damage or kill.

We’re exposed to many different concepts all at once, but that keep being thrown at us without any full understanding of why any of it’s happening. On top of that, we have all of the timid characters who refuse to take charge of their own situation. They just sit back and watch from the sidelines only occasionally becoming a participant in the action around them when it’s absolutely necessary. Otherwise, they stand there with head hung low like they’re waiting for a scolding.

Halfway Point

At about the halfway point, the pace starts to pick up as some of the pieces finally start falling into place, not just for the characters, but also for the audience. Yet, even though we have a rousing pace that’s pretty much relentless until the end, you still feel more like you’re watching something from the Marvel universe than something in the Harry Potter universe. It just felt too disconnected and too distant from what we came to know of Hogwarts. Is the American wizarding world that much different?

Overall

I liked the second half of the film, but the neat and tidy ending combined with the timid characters left me flat on the characters, the character development and ultimately the hodge-podge story. If it was all just a setup to expose Grindelwald, then that could have been accomplished in so many better ways. For this franchise, I’ll reserve my judgement and hope that a second film might turn out better. For a franchise opener, I guess it’s alright. I was just hoping for a lot more. I certainly got a lot more out of the first Harry Potter film than I got out of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Your mileage may vary.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Game Review: Resident Evil 7 Demo

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on June 20, 2016

While I realize this is a only demo and may not resemble the real game all that much, what I will say about it is, I’m not terribly fond of it overall. I’m hoping the game is far different from this. Let’s explore.

Story

Your character ends up stuck in a creepy old farmhouse and must figure out a way to get out of it. Along the way you find things that may or may not help your character. Can you actually get your character out of the house alive?

Game Mechanics

Whether or not you can actually get out of the house is not really the question. The question is, are the game mechanics good? First, it is a preliminary game demo. So, in that aspect, it’s a little dumbed down.

On the one hand, it is somewhat better than Resident Evil 5 and 6… meaning, there aren’t zombies running and jumping at your character at every step. On the other hand, there are no zombies at all. In fact, the entire house is devoid of enemies entirely (other than when you answer the phone or find the back door key and try to leave). And then, the enemy is a cut scene that you can’t fight. So, in effect, this is more or less a puzzle questing game… and not a very good one at that.

Second, the only redeeming factor is the video tape. Because watching the video tape is also player interactive, you can do things with the characters on the tape (in the past) that open things up for the player in the future. This is the one and only one cool gimmick about this demo, but it is so underused as a game gimmick that it’s almost hardly not worth mentioning.

Graphics

Plainly and of what you can see of them, the textures, wood, roaches, character models and environments are supremely well done. Unfortunately, you’re hindered by having to roam the house using a flashlight. This means you can only see what you can illuminate with the flashlight. Otherwise, it all ends up dark. It reminds me a little of the way that Bioshock was lit in terms of the dark undersea lighting that gets brighter as you approach walls and items. Not so much the textures, but the lighting concept. In some ways this works, but it gets old and tiring after about an hour of play. I was hoping the fuse box would have actually let me flip the lights on in the house. But no, the only thing the fuse box does is let you drop down the attic stairs. And, that’s just a little weird. In such a decrepit old farm house, why would the owners have installed a drop down electric set of stairs that lead to the attic? Doesn’t really make any sense.

Puzzles

Unfortunately, other than the video tape gimmick mentioned above, the puzzles are mostly weak. Worse, the puzzles are tied to successfully completing events. Meaning, unless you do a very specific thing in the house, you can’t progress to and find the next puzzle piece (i.e., it simply won’t appear). If you cannot figure out what the game wants you to do, you’re stuck. Too many games offer puzzles like this. Some puzzles are glaringly obvious what you need to do. Though in this game, many of the puzzles are so obscure that you can run around for hours and never figure it out. That doesn’t make a game fun, it makes it tedious.

Game Development / Demo / Beta Testing

The game devs have a whole lot of work ahead of them to get this game right. I’m assuming this demo was released to test the waters with gamers. RE4 was a spectacular achievement for the Resident Evil series. But, as much as RE4 was an achievement, RE5 and RE6 were not.

I’m one of those people who firmly believes, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”. In fact, I’ve been bitten one too many times with this series… both with RE5 and RE6. Shame on me. I won’t be bitten again. This is the reason I’m playing this demo. I was, in fact, hoping that this would have been another Leon game like RE4. After all, it’s been well long enough to finally get another Leon game.

Commentary

While Capcom seems to be on the right track with Resident Evil 7, assuming it can expand on this puzzle questing and video tape idea, I’m still very skeptical. This game has all of the hallmarks of tricking gamers into a decent opening puzzle level only to convert the game into yet another dual player zombie shooter (like RE5 and RE6 turned into) once you exit the house. If Capcom can keep this puzzle questing survival horror idea on-track throughout the entire game (throwing in some zombie apocalypse battles here and there), it might turn out to be a decent game. Unfortunately, it has a little too much of the telltale signs of converting into a completely different game once you leave the house. For this reason, I will wait until the game is fully released into the stores before I plop down $60 for this title. I simply don’t trust Capcom.

Though, I absolutely love the video tape idea of going back in time and opening doors, finding hidden secrets, leaving things behind, etc, for future characters to find and use. This is probably one of the freshest ideas in this game. Unfortunately, it’s way underused in this demo and I’m not certain exactly how much it could be used unless the main character carries around a camcorder and finds tapes along the way.

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted in movies, reviews by commorancy on December 19, 2015

[Alert: This review may contain spoilers. Though, I have done my best not to reveal critical plot points and only discuss the technical merits of the film as a whole. If you are interested in seeing this movie, you should stop reading now. I have also written a deeper dive critical plot analysis article separately from this review.]

starwarsposterLet’s just start by saying that I’m usually very critical towards films, just as I am towards any other technology, device or game. I also don’t review every film I see. I only review those films that I feel deserve a review and Star Wars: The Force Awakens does deserve a review. Since The Last Jedi is out, please check out my new review. Let’s explore.

Disney and Lucasfilm and Star Wars

This is the first in a series of films to be produced by Disney in their newly purchased Star Wars franchise. How many total films that will be in this series is as yet unknown. However, I’d expect the current storyline to run at least 3 total films with The Force Awakens being the first in this trilogy. Why is this important? It’s important to understand the place of this film not only in relation to the past 6 films, but to future films that have yet been created. In other words, this film is only a small part in a larger story. So, even after seeing the film, there are still many questions unanswered… and this is as it should be for a first part in a larger set of films.

Star Wars Redefined

Star Wars is a much beloved series. Episodes 4, 5 and 6 set the tone for this series with iconic likable characters that have become a huge part of pop culture. Though, cracks did begin to appear as early as Return of the Jedi with George introducing the saccharine cuteness of the Ewoks in Episode 6. However, we could forgive George this one blemish in an otherwise amazing universe. Unfortunately, by episodes 1, 2 and 3, those beloved icons were no where to be found and the films ended up disappointing on so many levels. With unnecessary characters like Jar Jar Binks, wooden acting, badly cast child actors, horrible screen chemistry and the inclusion of a storyline about political satire that could bore your dog, we were less than enchanted with the prequel series by the end of episode 3. Though, I will admit that episode 3 was much better than episode 1 by a long stretch. In other words, the prequels set the bar pretty low for Star Wars films. That’s all in the past, thankfully.

With this newest episode, JJ Abrams has brought a film to the screen that is at once both fresh, new and exciting and looks and feels like that old pair of amazing fitting gloves that just never seem to wear out. In other words, Disney, Lucasfilm and J.J. should be commended on the restraint used in producing The Force Awakens and in keeping the universe look and feel fully intact. Also, it seems that someone kept JJ’s wild fantasies in-check and out of the film such as lens flare city and odd story changes that really wouldn’t have enhanced this franchise. Disney also managed to keep their disneyfication to a minimum. Keeping JJ’s fanciful, but unnecessary additions at bay and limiting disneyfication to a bare minimum has helped to solidify this film as easily one of the best for 2015. Though, BB-8 might have been a disneyfication.

This newest Star Wars installment has firmly set the tone for the things to come. Yet, the film is far from perfect.

The Opening

The film opens identically to all other Star Wars films with the exception of the missing THX deep note (which was getting tired anyway) and the missing 20th Century Fox fanfare (this is Disney now, remember?). Though, it was also oddly missing the familiar Disney castle logo. There is little fanfare in the opening. More or less, it was just the same as all other Star Wars films. The film segues nicely into its first scene, but this is where the pacing is off. Instead of opening to a rousing battle scene or some other rush of action, blaster fire and lots of people or ships shooting one another, we are treated to a much slower paced opening. In fact, it’s so slow of a pace, for a short time I was beginning to wonder if it would ever pick up. No need to worry, it does.

The Characters

Other than saying that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill are all in the film along with Chewbacca, this film is about the new guard taking over the reigns from the old guard.. and that’s exactly what this film does. This is a transitional film. The cast is unknowns who do a decent job with their parts, but nothing spectacular. Though, I will say the on-screen chemistry between the new characters has yet to congeal. Not so much because there is no chemistry, but because there are few scenes were they are all actively together for more than a few minutes at a stretch. So, it’s difficult for me to judge the full chemistry between these actors as yet. They always seem to get separated within moments of coming together.

Stormtrooper Gone Bad

This is an interesting concept introduced into this film that has not been in previous installments. In previous Star Wars, whatever process the Empire had used to indoctrinate Stormtroopers seemed entirely solid and without question of loyalty after the process was complete. In The Force Awakens, the whole thread of indoctrination (and failure of said indoctrination) is explored and discussed explicitly and somewhat in-depth. I hope this concept makes a resurgence in later installments as a wider story arc. In fact, I would love to see it used as a linchpin in the entire destruction of the First Order and the Supreme Leader.

Questions and Answers

The Force Awakens both asks and answers old and new questions. One of them is the Stormtrooper Gone Bad motif. This is a new question that has yet to have a full answer. I’m anxious to see where that thread goes or if it’s just dropped. However, just as we have new questions, we have many old questions answered. Questions like “Did Leia and Han have a kid?”, “Where is Luke Skywalker?” and “What happened to Han Solo?”. There are many other questions answered in this film as well. Just as many questions were answered, there were just as many questions asked that have no clear answer. With The Force Awakens, JJ has perfectly straddled the line of balance between the answers to old questions with asking new questions. Questions we won’t get answers to until future installments. Because this is the first of many installments, it was inevitable that there would be cliffhangers and unanswered questions.

Death Star on Steroids

Yes, there is a Death Star story in The Force Awakens. In fact, like A New Hope and like Return of the Jedi, the Death Star makes a reappearance and on a much more grand scale. You’ll have to watch to find out what happens. Suffice it to say that this Death Star is far more destructive than anything ever built by the Empire. But, this isn’t the Empire. This is the New Order.. and likely if the New Order built one of these massive death machines, they likely built two or more of them. So, I’d expect to see another one or possibly a fleet of them in the next installments.

WYSIWYG story

While I realize this applies to computers, it also applies here. JJ didn’t put anything behind a veil. It is what you see. Yes, there might be subterfuge at work that we won’t realize until later installments, but in this film people take off their masks so we get to see them. There is little to be hidden behind masks for a 3 film story arc to reveal. It’s all revealed right here, right now, which is immensely satisfying. Who really wants to wait 3 films to finally see someone peel off their mask or find out who is really behind it all? In this film, it’s all put right out there immediately. No hiding. Limited use of masks. No hidden identities. No cloak and veils. What you see is truly what you get.

Though, we’ll have to wait and see in the next installments exactly what ‘points of view’ changes have yet to reveal themselves… and yes, there are questions that have yet to be answered.

Pacing

If there is anything here to fault of this film is its pacing. It starts out almost unbearably slow. Lots of scavenging scenes. Lots of random shots of conflicted moments of this failed Stormtrooper. An opening scene with the stormtroopers that while intended to garner some sympathy from the audience is mostly extraneous to the plot. We get that the New Order is to be feared. There is no need to beat us over the head with it. There were some scenes that even failed to advance the plot of the story and also failed to offer much in character development. In short, the opening is slow. After we finally leave Jakku, the pacing picks up and boy does it ever pick up. Once Han Solo is here, it’s a rollercoaster ride that lasts almost until the very end.

And then later… in the middle of the Death Star starship battle, we get interrupted by a longish lightsaber battle that leaves the Death Star scene hanging. Meaning, The Resistance (Rebels) trying to deal with how to bring down the death star and for the next 10-15 minutes, the pacing is killed with an awkward lightsaber battle that ends weirdly and doesn’t really conclude much. So, what were those X-wings up to the whole time the lightsaber battle was going on? Were they like on pause or something?

I would have expected to have more intercutting between the X-Wing battle and the lightsaber battle (like the lightsaber scene between Luke and Darth in Return of the Jedi and the space battle). The pacing between the space battle and the light saber battle in Return of the Jedi was amazing to behold. George didn’t always do everything right, but his editing skills were amazing. Unfortunately, JJ didn’t really seem to get the pacing or the tension here correct. So, the tension is almost completely killed while we watch this lightsaber battle unfold. I was hoping that these scenes would have been intercut better to keep the tension between both events high.

Overall

I enjoyed the The Force Awakens and want to see it again in 3D. I wouldn’t necessarily rate it a 93% that Rotten Tomato viewers have given or the 95% the critics have given it. I’d rate it more like 85%. It’s a good film and worth seeing. It especially ties up loose ends from what happened after Return of the Jedi nicely, but the pacing problems left me feeling less than impressed. Because TFA had nothing to do with the prequels, we can forget all about those films entirely and focus on what happened in episodes 4, 5, 6 and now 7. Well done Disney, JJ, Lucasfilm and George. Now, let’s see if we can keep this up and improve it for 8, 9 and beyond.

 

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Game Review: Defiance MMO on Xbox

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 29, 2013

Defiance While I really want to like Trion’s Defiance on the Xbox 360 and in some ways I do like it, it also has some highly annoying design ideas, features, levels and quirks. Before I begin, you need to know that Defiance is an online multiplayer game only and requires a subscription to Xbox Live Gold. Don’t buy this game unless you plan to buy or already have a subscription to Xbox Live (which, of course, requires broadband Internet access). Additionally, this game is completely dependent on Trion’s servers being continually available. If Trion’s servers go down (and they do regularly), you cannot play the game AT ALL. Anyway, grab a cup of coffee and let’s get going.

Disclaimer: Be careful buying used copies of Defiance. If Trion folds or they shut down the Defiance servers, the game disk will become a coaster. The game disk has no standalone content. The Defiance game relies 100% on Trion to operate the servers and stay in business. The business of gaming is fickle. If this game doesn’t last longer than a year in operation or the TV series is cancelled, don’t be surprised if you can’t play the game. If you are reading this review a year (or later) since it has been written, do some research before investing in a used copy of the game. 

What is an MMO?

MMO stands for massive mutiplayer online. Basically, it’s a multiplayer game. It isn’t really a single player campaign game. Basically, what Defiance is to 3D gaming, a MUSH is to text-based gaming. Basically, it’s a large map environment with a load of players from all over all playing the game together.

What’s good about Defiance?

Defiance is not your standard third-person 3D Campaign based shooter or even a standard 3D death match style multiplayer game. Defiance mixes both single player campaign with multiplayer coop seemlessly.  In fact, it’s really the first game I’ve played to do so. Granted, I have not played World of Warcraft, so this game may offer that level of play, also. Basically, you and your friends can join in and all defeat an enemy or boss together… at least, sometimes. Yes, there are missions where coop is not possible. It really is a pretty cool idea. The trouble is, the idea of it is pretty much where the coolness ends.  The way it’s designed could be way better.

What’s bad about Defiance?

It’s highly repetitive.  

As you’re driving around, you see a whole bunch of different missions on the roads.  But, you’ll see the same drive-by road side missions time and time again. These drive-by missions are distinctly different from those that appear on your map as an exclamation point in a diamond. Once you’ve played several of those drive by missions, you don’t really want to do it again… and again.. and again. It’s not cool. Also, it’s the same enemies over and over. So, even though it’s a new mission, it’s the same enemies with all of the same tactics.  Tactics, I might add, which can be highly boring after defeating them several times. It’s okay when you’re doing it for the first time. But, after you’ve played the same enemies and tactics about 5 times or more, it gets old really fast.

Leveling up is very s l o w.

As you level up, you get more and bigger weapons and perks. So, at least you do get stronger weapons as time progresses. But, expect that progression to go very s l o w l y. Don’t expect to get the biggest weapons really quick unless you play the game non-stop. However, even getting to Level 650 doesn’t seem much different than being at level 200 or even level 0 in terms of health or shield. You character still becomes incapacitated just easily. So, effectively all you are really getting out of leveling up is somewhat stronger weapons, maybe.

Boss Levels have no checkpoints

Single player boss levels have no save points during battle. If your character becomes incapacitated, you start the entire boss over from scratch just outside of the room.  In other words, you could lose up to 30 minutes of play time whittling the boss’ health down only for one missile to incapacitate you and you have to completely redo the whole thing again and again and again. This is entirely frustrating and time wasting. Basically, you are forced to play the boss level on the game designer’s terms, not yours. If you decide that you want to use stealth and sniper tactics, you can’t. The only strategy given is the one forced upon you by the designers… which usually entails running away from the enemy in hopes you can strike them with enough to kill them before they incapacitate you. It’s all trial and error and timing. There’s no strategy involved.

No way to change weapon load out quickly

Due to the frustrating menu system, you cannot change your weapon load out while in the middle of any battle, let alone a boss battle. Otherwise, you will be incapacitated. If you don’t load out correctly before going in, expect your character to die early and often.

Scrip and other currency types

Scrip is one type money in this game.  There are vendors that sell cars, weapons, weapon mods, shields and lock boxes.  Unfortunately, there are other forms of currency in this game which include bits, resources, reputation and keys.

  • Scrip is obtained by completing any mission or selling goods at vendors
  • Bits are obtained by buying them with Microsoft points (i.e., real money).
  • Resources are obtained by completing missions or by breaking down objects into resources
  • Keys are obtained by completing arkfalls and other missions
    • Unfortunately, there is a severe limit on how many keys you can hold (my limit is 75)
  • Reputation is obtained by completing multiplayer co-op missions (requires 4 players to participate)

Some items for purchase require a mixture of the above currencies to obtain that item from a vendor. So, some specialized weapons may require 200 reputation plus some Scrip to get that item. Getting that many reputation points requires participating in many 4 player coop missions.

Main Missions

The main missions consist of a story that seems to be leading someplace, but I’ve not yet figured out exactly where. Sure, your character is being ‘groomed’ for something big, but who knows really what. At a point early in the game, you meet a character that looks very similar to a Borg (and sounds like one, actually) named Nim Shondu. Later on, you have to kill him. Believe me, this boss level is nearly impossible to beat unless you come into it with the correct weapons dealing a high amount of damage combined with overcharge.  Even then, expect to spend loads of time with this room. There’s no hiding place in the room, so you can’t get away from his sword and special attacks or his EGO moves. He moves so fast that you can’t block his attacks. So, the best you can do is try to stay away from his attacks just long enough to kill him. Worse, you have to kill him 3 times. Good luck with that unless you are equipped correctly. Worse, you won’t know his tactics until you enter the room.  And, by then it’s too late to go find the right weapon let alone equip it. Even worse than all of this, the game still charges you an extraction fee each time you die and can’t self-revive. Truly, a poorly designed level

So far, this story has been about rag tag missions that seem to just open up more missions and more side missions. I don’t really see where the story is going at this point.  So, let’s hope the writers have a cohesive story arc in mind.

Weapons and Shields, but no Armor

Unlike other military games which allow you to level up and find weapons, armor, shields and clothing modifiers, Defiance only offers shields and weapons, which isn’t really enough for this type of game.  Of the shields you can find, they are all weak. Basically, there are two types of shields you can find:

  1. A shield with a low threshold for damage (1000 points or less) and recovers fast (1-3 seconds)
  2. A shield with a high threshold for damage (1500 points or higher) and recovers very slowly (delay 7-9 seconds)

Some shields are augmented with other traits (like better protection from fire damage, your own weapon damage, biodamage, etc).  I’ve yet to find a shield that has offers a high threshold for damage and recovers quickly. There might be one in the game somewhere, but I’ve yet to see it or find it.  Even still, it only takes about two Dark Matter troops firing their weapons at you to completely wipe out your shield with about 5 shots and another 5 will wipe out your health and incapacitate you. Worse, you cannot augment shields with any mods at all, even though the game lets you mod weapons.

Arkfalls and Side Missions

There are basically three types of side missions. Random encounters, marked side missions and Arkfalls.

Random Encounters

Random encounters are basically roadside missions.  That is, you drive by and see something blocking the road.  It might be Raiders, 99ers, Dark Matter, Scrappers or Hellbugs.  That’s basically the list of enemies in the game.  So, it will be one of these enemies that pops out of a road side mission. In fact, it’s the only type of enemies that will pop out of any of the missions including Arkfalls.

Side Missions

These mission types are marked on your map with an exclamation point in a diamond shape. These give small amounts of scrip (money) and small amounts of experience points.  They usually ask you to locate and obtain something and sometimes drop it off.  It might ask you to plant explosives.  It might ask you to clear out a Hellbug nest or kill all of the Raiders in a camp.

Arkfalls

Other than multiplayer coop maps, these are the truly massively multiplayer exeperiences in this game. When an ‘ark’ falls and hits the ground, ark hunters swoop in and scour it for parts to be sold.  In the game, when an ark falls, it’s just a mechanism to create a huge Hellbug or Scrapper to kill.  Each Arkfall starts off small (destroying crystals in two or three waves) or killing the enemies in an area.  As the smaller arkfall crystals are destroyed, this leads up to the big boss arkfall. You might have to do two or three small arkfalls before the big boss appears. Once the boss appears, all of the online players congregate and use whatever weapons they have to whittle the health down of the boss until it’s destroyed.  At the end of the arkfall, a panel appears showing who did the most damage in an ordered list.

These usually give about 6500XP experience. So, if you want to gain experience and scrip fast, join arkfalls regularly. Also, do the main missions. These gain you a lot of scrip.

Incapacitation

This is one of the sore spots in this game and is poorly designed.  I understand what they were trying to achieve with this part of the game, but it just doesn’t really work. So, you’ve lost all your shield and your health is now drained.  Once this happens, you fall to the ground and become incapacitated. Sometimes you get two options (self-revive or extraction).  Self-revive is as it states, you revive in place and pick up right where you left off.  Extraction means you start over at the extraction point. Self-revive only becomes available after 5 minutes or so of playtime after the last self-revive was used.  So, if you fall quickly after a self-revive, you have to pay scrip to get extracted.

When you’re in the world, extraction is generally cool (other than you lose a percentage of your ‘Scrip’ for being extracted).. except when your closest extraction point happens to be halfway across the map.  I’ll discuss extraction points next. However, when you’re at the boss level in a dungeon, it’s not fine. In fact, it’s damn right annoying and frustrating.  Worse, when you’re on a boss level, the game doesn’t even give you the option of using self-revive. You are forced to defeat the boss in one complete perfectly executed go or you fail and start over. There’s no help, no reviving, no one there to help you revive.  In the case of the Borg, you’re have to completely kill him in one single go with the weapons you have in hand or you start the boss level over again.  Worse, if you abandon the mission, you have to completely replay the entire intro of the level over again to get back to the boss level inside the dungeon. That may involve 20 minutes of lead-up to get into the dungeon again.

But, if you didn’t enter the level equipped with the correct shield or weapon load out, don’t bother trying to do that in combat.  We’ll discuss weapon load outs shortly.

Extraction points

This game ‘binds’ your character to an extraction point that are post-like markers with a purple light (and an ammo dispenser near it). Once you get close to one of these markers, your character will become bound to it. If you extract, your character will end up back at one of these markers.  As you drive by the markers, your character will become bound to them.  Note, however, that these markers only appear on major roads. So, if you drive off-road all of the time or fast travel, you could leave yourself vulnerable to an extraction point that is a very long way away from where you presently are. So, if you’re doing an arkfall and you extract, you’re going to end up a very long way away from that arkfall and will have to spend the time to drive all the way back over there.

This is really one of the sore points of this game.  There should be twice as many extraction points as there are.  In fact, when an arkfall goes up, an extraction point should appear for the duration of the arkfall. So, if you have to extract, you end up somewhere close to the arkfall again. Better, if you’re in an arkfall, it should bind you to the arkfall until it’s done. Just extract me into the arkfall location where I previously was.  Why force me to drive a huge distance just to get back to it? Not very well thought out.

Weapon Load Outs from the Menu

The menu system in this game is also poorly designed. In most games like this, you would have a weapon wheel where you can assign your favorite weapons for easy access during active combat. Not in this game. You have to open a menu (which can take 10-20 seconds to completely draw), then you have to select the slot and dig through a scrolling list of weapons to place into the weapon slot (another 5-10 seconds).  The entire screen is completely covered with the menu so you cannot see any live actoin at all. Yet, everything remains live. There is no pause. So, your character is completely vulnerable while you diddle in the menu.

Bad bad BAD. This is one of the worst combat menu systems I’ve seen in a game like this. If you need access to weapons/grenades and shields easily and quickly, you NEED a selection wheel that pops up right inside the game over the top of the live gameplay. Sure, let us fill this wheel with our own weapons of choice, but after that, we can easily choose the weapon we want to use.  Instead, you have a completely cumbersome menu system that completely obscures live combat and that takes 30 seconds (or longer) to walk through. Even then, you can only get easy access to two weapons at a time.

The game offers alternative weapon load outs by pressing Y in the menu and will cycle through 3 different loadout presets, but even that isn’t fast enough to work. This game desperately needs a weapon wheel preset overlay.

Inventory and Menu

Menu System

The menu includes everything to manage your weapons, weapon features, and everything in your inventory. The menu system is really overloaded. Once you get into the menu, you have the base menu which is what appears when you press the start button.  But, there’s even another menu when you press the left trigger.  That pops up a wheel that contains more submenus to get to things like the Defiance Store, Social, Stats, etc.  Then there are the RB and LB sub menus of the main menu which cycles you through weapon modification, EGO powers, and more stats. Why they needed both the wheel menu and the RB menu system, I don’t know. It’s not intuitive and it’s confusing.

One thing, though, is that even with all of these menus, once you have created the look of your character, you’re stuck.  You can’t easily change that look if you don’t like it.  If it’s in the menu system somewhere, it’s well hidden. Suffice it to say that I’ve not found it.

Inventory

Inventory is severely limited.  When you first start out, you get something like 12 slots which you quickly fill. Note, anything you hold takes an inventory slot (shield, weapon or mod). I don’t understand why there’s even a limit in this game. But, it’s here and it severely limits what you can pick up. I’m forever destroying objects to be able to pick up something that’s fallen from an enemy. It’s highly frustrating and highly annoying to constantly have to destroy things to get new things.

Additionally, there is no lock box, locker or any kind of storage system for extra stuff. You constantly have to carry everything with you. You can’t offload your stuff into something you own (a house or a locker or any kind of personal offline storage). The closest you get is the ‘Claim Items’ in the Defiance Store. But, that only holds stuff that won’t fit into your inventory at the time that some quest tries to give it to you. You can’t place anything into the claims item area. It only takes overflow items so you don’t lose it.

No Armor, Only Shields (and they’re limited at that)

This game has no concept of armor.  Only shields.  Once your shields are drained, your health starts draining and then you become incapacitated. With any combat game, armor and armor rating should be a huge part of this game. Even at level 650, your character incapacitates as easily as a level 1 character. The shields you find just really do nothing.  Worse, you cannot modify shields by augmenting their protection levels. This game completely fails for character protection. There’s nothing you can do to help fortify your character’s health or protection. You’re completely at the mercy of the game to provide this protection which it does not do.

Multiplayer and Chat

Don’t bother to try and text chat in this world. The chat window is complete junk. The chat system in this game is never used by anyone because you simply can’t use it. To bring up the chat, you press the D-Pad to the right which opens a small menu, then you have to select the chat window which takes over the whole screen. Then you have to use the Xbox controller chat pad (if you have it) to enter your text. Otherwise, you’re limited to that horrible move-the-cursor-and-press-letters-thing (which is even worse).

If you do decide to chat in the Xbox version, get the controller chat pad. Even that is not enough to make this system work. Instead, grab a headset and plug that in. Voice chat is the only way to do this game. Even still, there aren’t that many people using that. So, what you end up with is most people doing their own things without discussions (except where clans are involved).

TV Show Defiance Tie-In

After the shows air, the game is supposed to change its play in-world to accommodate the changes to the series. So far, I’ve seen none of this. Granted, we’re only 2 episodes in as of this writing, still I see no changes in the world or in any of the missions. So, I’m still waiting for these changes to show. Personally, it looks like hype to me.

Audio and Graphics

The graphics are reasonably decent in most cases but there are a few brilliant places. Mostly, the graphics are average.  The lighting is adequate, but not spectacular. The surface textures are good, but could be better.  The graphics can be glitchy, especially where other online players are concerned.  Players disappear, jump from place to place or just don’t work correctly when other online players are doing their thing. The graphics are mostly smooth when it comes to your player, but it can be glitchy and jumpy at times even then.

The audio soundtrack works quite well. The audio voiceovers are mostly well done, but there are some bugs.  For example, EGO says ‘Shoot it in its hideous Moths’ (you know, those white things that fly around at night) when it specifically means the word Mouth (which is printed on the screen). Trion has not yet corrected this audio track. When dealing with side missions, EGO’s phrases are so generic they sometimes don’t make sense.  EGO also pops in at very inopportune times to say things. Sometimes, I wish she’d just shut up. Also, there are audio drop outs where EGO is supposed to chime in and doesn’t, but the audio volume lowers for up to 5 minutes until something else brings the volume back up. You also get these audio dropouts when entering and leaving buildings.

Overall

Defiance on the Xbox 360 is fun to a point, but is a bit too clumsy and has too many quirks and problems.  After you’ve played it for about a day, it gets old and repetitive really fast. The terrain is small and there’s really very little to do other than arkfalls which also become repetitive and boring. The menu system is cumbersome and annoying. The inventory system is overblown and convoluted, but doesn’t hold nearly enough. There are no long term storage lockers, so you have to destroy items frequently. The lack of a weapon menu wheel severely hampers the combat playability in Defiance. The lack of checkpoints makes playing the game a chore in places, especially boss levels.

I’m giving this game 4.5 stars out of 10.  It needed a whole lot more careful design treatment with playability testing and didn’t get it.

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Bioshock Infinite: Crap game design 101?

Posted in video gaming by commorancy on March 29, 2013

Bioshock Infinite

[Update 10/27/2015: This update note is way overdue. Irrational Games closed their doors in Feb 2014. Ken Levine decided he needed to work on smaller projects and closed Irrational Game Studios. In reality, Bioshock Infinite’s continued development problems and final released result are likely what directly led to Irrational’s closure. This game will ultimately go down in history as the game that sank the Bioshock franchise.]

Seriously, I don’t get big gaming companies like EA and 2K. Do they seriously hire pre-teen game designers to build their games? What makes anyone think that levels like the Prophet’s First Lady Airship level in Bioshock Infinite is in any way fun?

First Lady Airship

So, here’s a major game design faux pas. Even above the fact that Bioshock Infinite is clearly a 4.5 out of 10 star game, the levels are so trite, cliche and predictable that they’re not really even a challenge. Oh, they’re challenging from the point that you have limited ammo, limited health, your character dies at the drop of a hat and they keep throwing wave after wave of enemies at you. The enemies are just so lame. The trouble is, when you get to the Prophet’s airship, the whole game completely unravels into an unmitigated disaster.

The Airship level is stupid long and seemingly unending. Here is one of those levels where you are ‘traveling’ (or basically just waiting) to get some place and wave after wave after seemingly infinite wave of enemies just continue to bombard your ship’s health and you. I mean, who thinks this crap up? Worse, what person in their right mind would even think that this type of level is the remotest bit fun? It’s not like this type of level hasn’t been done before and done better in older games. Essentially, all you’re doing is continually running out of ammo, running out of health and being revived and the level is practically impossible (even on easy). There’s absolutely no strategy here and, for whatever reason, your character keeps falling off of the deck. Worse, you’ve got annoying Elizabeth constantly and inexplicably interrupting the game play to throw you salts and ammo (which forces the camera to turn away from the action making it impossible to keep your focus on completing the level). And, her interruptions usually happen at the most inopportune times, but not when you really need it.

Then, trying to use the Song Bird to complete the level only seems to make the game spawn even more enemies at once. And it’s not like the Song Bird is that much of a help with that stupid slow timer. What’s the point in the timer anyway? Just let me use that blessed bird any time I want!

Silly Stupid Levels

On some levels, there’s a vending machine about every 2 steps. On other levels, there is not a vending machine to be found. The game designers have no concept of how to place things around the levels. It’s all hapazard and randomly placed. They might as well just let you spawn them at your own choosing.

Unexpected from 2k / Irrational Games

This type of crap gaming is not something I’d expect at all from 2k Games. But, here we are. I’m willing to forgive some stupidity in a game, but this just so trite, cliche and asinine that this is it for my involvement in this franchise. I will not be buying any more Bioshock games. The last few Bioshock games taxed my patience, but I never felt like I do with Infinite. This game is just intentionally stupidly designed. Did the designers rip a page from the ‘Video game book of crappy design’ or something?

Gone are the familiars

Looking for Big Daddy?  Gone.  Looking for Splicers?  Gone.  Looking for Little or Big Sisters?  Gone.  Nothing of the familiar remains from Bioshock. Not even ADAM. This is an all new incarnation, a rewrite or, as some might say, a prequel.  Although, if it is a prequel, it has almost no elements that tie this to the underwater environments of Bioshock.  Unfortunately, the familiar is what made Bioshock into Bioshock.  Removing all of these elements and the dark moody watery environments for a sunny blue sky carnival atmosphere just doesn’t really work. It tries to be creepy, but it fails.  It tries to feel like the old Bioshock, but it tries way too hard and fails. The Rollercoaster rails are just not sufficient to replace the familiars. In fact, the rails just didn’t really even work that well as a travelling method.  You can’t do much with them or on them.

The story is haphazard and fractured throughout the game.  Instead, the designers rely way too much on the gameplay itself to carry this Bioshock wannabe.  Unfortunately, the gameplay is far too generic of a shooter to really hold up to the Bioshock standard. 2k and Irrational should have just left well enough alone and closed out this series with a Bioshock 3 (set in Rapture). This game should have been called something entirely new.  They should have just let Infinite stand as its own name, game and brand.  Tying Infinite to the Bioshock franchise was just a money play in hopes that gamers wouldn’t see through this ploy.  I’m definitely here to say that this ploy didn’t work.  Although, I can definitely understand the need to tie Infinite to the Bioshock brand because this game would have failed on its own.

Overall

The best part of this game is the Steampunk ambience. Unfortunately, that’s where it really ends. The game is so amazingly repetitive and stupidly designed, I just can’t believe that someone at 2K even gave the green light to this turd. Basically, the only resemblance to Bioshock is the name and the Vigors. Everything else is so foreign, it just doesn’t work. Then, when you get to levels like the First Lady airship and the ghost cemetery level, you’ll feel like you’ve played this game already at least 3 times before. Worse, you probably have!

There is no originality in this game and the levels are so bland and uninspired, it’s not even worth playing. While Bioshock 1 and 2 felt unique and had at least some cool features, all of that was tossed completely out the window when they designed Bioshock Infinite. I’m hoping this is the last in this franchise as this game feels like a game designed by a company where this is their first title ever published. It doesn’t feel like a big name company produced this game or spent any real amount of time or care on this title. It really just feels like a quick throw-together to make quick cash.

If you’re a Bioshock fan, this game might be worth renting.  However, if you’re not a fan of this franchise, I’d urge you to steer clear of this disaster. There’s nothing fun here and the story is just not really compelling. In fact, the game feels so much like Fallout New Vegas in style, you’d swear they ripped off most of their ideas from both Obsidian and Bethesda. But, beyond the style of it, that’s where the similarity ends.  Fallout New Vegas is a much much better game than Bioshock Infinite has any hope of being.

[Update: If you haven’t played the game, I’d recommend not playing the following video as it will spoil the game ending].  Since it’s been sometime since I have updated this review, I think it’s time to show the ending of this game (such that it is), of which I personally think is one immense fail on the part of the writers. The ending happens right after the lame airship level is completed. It took the game designers about 15 minutes to explain off the entire plot premise and even then it wasn’t very successful. I’ll leave it up to you to watch and decide, though…  I’ve also written another Randosity article entitled Bioshock Infinite: Or, why circular time paradoxes suck! that explains why this ending (and this game) sucks so hard and rightly deserves the 4.5 star rating.

Recommendation: Rent, don’t buy.  Skip if you’re not a fan.

Stars: 4.5/10 (needs a lot of work)

Game Studio: Irrational Games / 2K

Why Nintendo’s Miiverse is already dead

Posted in video game, video gaming by commorancy on March 17, 2013

Miiverse is Nintendo’s newest gaming social network only available on the Wii U console.  While it has some benefits, it also has many drawbacks. These drawbacks will become Miiverse’s ultimate failing and why it will ultimately fail to gain traction as a lasting social network.

What exactly is Miiverse?

Miiverse is a gaming social twitter-like network available exclusively through the Nintendo Wii U console and only available by using a Nintendo Network ID (which is also created exclusively on the Wii U console). The Nintendo Network ID (NNID) is much like an Xbox Live ID used on the Xbox.  However, unlike Xbox, you cannot access your Nintendo Network ID from the Internet.  It is only and exclusively available strictly through the Wii U console.  This is one of the major failings of this network and only one of the major reasons why this social network will ultimately fail.

No Internet access to content?

[Update: Miiverse is now available on the Internet in a limited fashion. However, at the time of this article’s publish date, it was not yet available. You can now visit the Miiverse Web Site and see your posts. The below paragraph is here for historical reasons.]

Nope.  There is no web access or any other external access to any of the content placed in Miiverse or, indeed, anything else related to your NNID. So, you cannot review anything about your NNID until you have access to your Wii U console again. This is one of Nintendo’s bright ideas that is ultimately a bad idea. Even Microsoft has learned that you have to allow access to at least pieces of your Xbox Live ID content on the Internet so you can at minimum login and get some information about your Xbox Live account. So, while you can’t get access to the exclusive content on the Xbox, you can at least see your gamer points and profile and set up things about your Xbox Live ID.

This exclusive access via the Wii U console will ultimately be the failing of this network. Basically, if you don’t buy a Wii U, you can’t have access to Miiverse content.  If your console breaks, you have to buy another one to gain access again. There is no way to get access to this content from the web or in any other way than through a Nintendo device. Even Apple produced iTunes so you could at least buy things on the iTunes store without owning an iDevice. Nintendo just doesn’t get it.

Miiverse is limited

Instead of Nintendo providing something more useful like game Achievements, they thought that having a half-baked social network would take the place of this.  Well, as a gamer, I’m here to say that this is not an adequate replacement. Being able to post for help and gain access to it quickly is cool, but you can easily get help by using Google and posting to open forums available on the Internet.  I don’t need Miiverse for this.  Yes, the screen shot feature is cool, but it is limited and the Nintendo admins are strictly fascist with reports of content problems.

Worse, you can’t even edit your posts.  So, if you forget to mark something as a ‘spoiler’, then you cannot fix that. You can only delete your post and start over.  Worse, there’s a 5 minute timer on posts, so if you delete a post and want to repost, you have to wait 5 minutes to fix it.  So, even if the admins mark a problem with your post later, you can’t correct the problem as there’s no way to edit it.  Seriously, if you’re going to flag posts as problems, at least have the decency to add editing tools to modify and correct the problem.

Miiverse administration is stupidly designed and poorly operated

If your content is reported, you can expect that you are always in the wrong. It doesn’t matter whether or not you really are, it matters what the admins say.  And clearly, the admins always side with the person who reports the content and not with the person who created the post.  So, be warned that if someone reports your content, you are always marked as being at fault.  Worse, the whole administration piece is stupidly designed.

There is a ‘Messages’ area where if your content is reported, you will receive a canned response from some anonymous moderator stating that you have violated Miiverse ‘terms and conditions’.  If you want to dispute the process, you can’t.  Your options for response are limited to about 6 different canned responses, none of which are at all appropriate to getting a proper response back from the admins.  No, you cannot write an email or send a text response to someone to ask a question or get clarification.  In fact, if you do need to contact someone in person regarding an issue, you have to go to Nintendo.com, submit their general web form case and then wait for them to provide you with a pin number and the phone number to call in.  That phone number being 1-877-803-3676.  But, don’t try to call it blind.  You will need the pin code provided by a Nintendo staffer to call in. Note, they don’t tell you this anywhere in any documentation or even on the Wii U in Miiverse. You have to somehow just ‘know’ this.

Worse, there is little the admins can really do short of removing the post which they should really be doing anyway. If they delete your NNID, you can simply create another one.  Sure, you might lose all your content associated with the old ID, but it’s not like you had achievement points associated with it anyway. You will lose any posts you made, but no big deal there either.  It’d basically be like losing a private twitter feed that no one but Wii U users have access to. It would not be like losing your Twitter account which would be a much bigger deal.  Although, you might lose money you’ve built up in the Nintendo store, but that’s something I’m not sure of yet.

Yeahs vs Spoilers

There is a ‘Spoilers’ flag that can be set on a post.  Unfortunately, you cannot mark something as a spoiler after the fact and it only takes one report by some random schmo for your post to be thrown into question as being a spoiler. This then throws the content into some random admin’s queue who really doesn’t care and will always side with the person who reported.  You can’t dispute this process at all.  So, your only action left is to delete the post which the admins could have done anyway.

Posts can be marked with a ‘Yeah’ (which is akin to Facebook’s Like feature), but these have no bearing on whether or not it’s a spoiler. With spoilers, you have to report it through a form.  Once reported, an anonymous moderator makes the decision whether it violates terms.  But, it doesn’t matter if it does or doesn’t.  You’re already guilty and you will always be in the wrong. Nintendo is not taking any chances, so the poster of the content will always be dinged on the content. So, how exactly does any of this in any way incent any gamer to want to participate in this network knowing they’re going to have run-ins with admins? Nintendo, you’re biting the hand that’s feeding you.

With any game, any still image is considered a spoiler.  If you’re showing game content, that’s a spoiler for someone. So, it doesn’t matter what image you’ve posted, if someone reports it as a spoiler, it is a spoiler (at least according to Nintendo). This is the wrong approach for a social network. Nintendo shouldn’t be making the decisions about spoilers. Social networks need to operate on likes or thumbs down features.  Instead of taking the word of only one person (which is currently what it takes for Miiverse), it should be self-policed by the software based on the consensus of a number of people participating in the social network.  If a number of people tag something as a spoiler, then mark it as a spoiler automatically. Problem solved with no personnel intervention involved.  Don’t flag an account as in ‘violation of terms’ with this silly and stupid canned response system.  Just automatically take action by allowing the users to self-police the content.  Again, if more people mark it as not a spoiler than those who do, it remains visible as not a spoiler.  Social networks should be governed by those participating in the social network, not by Nintendo employees. Nintendo clearly doesn’t understand the concept of a social network or how it should operate.

Deleting Content

If you decide to delete all of your Miiverse posts, you might as well just go delete your entire NNID.  It’s a whole lot faster.  Trying to weed through your old posts on Miiverse is like watching paint dry. This entire process is majorly botched, hugely time consuming and barely works.  I had about 170 posts and it took me nearly 2 hours to delete most of them. Suffice it to say that you have to refresh the entire list of posts each time you want to get to the next post to delete.  And, because they only load a screen at a time, you have to wait when you pull the screen up for it to load more posts in. Worse, you have to basically unfriend and unfollow everyone in your list to limit this list to just your posts so you’re not scrolling through tons of other people’s posts to get to your own.  Worse, there’s no way to see, at a glance, who you’ve friended or followed.  So, you have to just weed through the ‘Activity Feed’ to find the people you’ve friended and followed. Note, I’m not even filling in half of the details here for deleting content, but suffice it to say that Miiverse was not designed to delete your old content.

No opt-out

If you don’t want to participate in Miiverse, there is no way to do this on the Wii U console.  Basically, you have to disconnect your Wii U from the network to not participate in Miiverse. There is no option on the Wii U console to turn it off or in any other way opt-out.  Note that as long as you have an NNID associated with your Wii U, your console will log into the Miiverse service and show you content on the carousel screen even if you don’t want to participate.

Overall, Miiverse seems like a good idea, but it’s badly designed, poorly implemented and poorly operated.  Yes, the one thing that it does is allow for quick access to help, but that one feature is completely overshadowed by how poorly the entire software is conceived and implemented. I personally cannot recommend this social network for any use other than for a quick ‘Help I’m stuck’ kind of question. Even then, I would suggest using Google first as it will likely be faster.

If you are a parent and don’t want your child participating in this social network, you have no option to turn it off from within the Wii U console.  So, if you’re thinking of buying a Wii U console for your child, you should be well aware of this fact before you consider that purchase. If you would prefer your child to not participate in this poorly run social network, then you should probably consider a different console purchase.  Additionally, considering that Nintendo is having major troubles even roping in developers to put their AA titles on the Wii U, I’d say purchasing (or, rather, not purchasing) the Wii U is pretty much a no-brainer.

Done with Miiverse

I’ve given Miiverse a fair shake and have come to conclusion that because of its limited usefulness and Nintendo’s fascist moderators and ‘terms and conditions’ coupled with bad software design, I can’t be part of that community. This is the reason I deleted all of my content on there. I may yet delete my NNID and just be done with it.

Until Nintendo can figure out that this social network design is crap and until they redesign it from the ground up, my suggestion is to avoid using Miiverse as its sole value is extremely limited and may actually cause more harm than good for some people.  Nintendo, you need to figure this out fast.

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