Tag Archives: Watch Dogs

Open Formula

Open Formula

Tokenism. You’re familiar, right? It’s generally used to talk about the superficial inclusion of a minority or marginalized group of people, often regarding the integration as perfunctory. It is the opposite of an ancillary melding.

It’s a concept that is beginning to run rampant in open world video game design, and for some reason, it can be blamed largely on Ubisoft. They have the Assassin’s Creed franchise, the Far Cry games, Watch Dogs, The Crew, and more. And that’s just from last year. (Assassin’s Creed actually squeezed in two of ’em in 2014.)

And what’s more is that they all seemingly abide by some template for interactive structure. To some extent that can’t be avoided—”open world” is a genre after all, and genres have staples for a reason—but some of it is reaching peak levels of absurdity.

Assassins Creed Unity

Obligatory map discovery? Yep. Point-to-point interest activation? Absolutely. It’s starting to feel like a rubber stamp of game with just different characters: assassins, rebels, cars. Of course it’s not all bad. Certainly there is virtue to each of these implements of gameplay and design. Like curiosity propels discovery and vice versa. It’s nicely symbiotic like that.

It’s why those bits and pieces have remained and been refined over the course of many years and many games. But at some point you have to wonder where has the innovation gone. Or rather, where has the impetus for such inclusion gone? Why did we go from ancillary to perfunctory? From necessity to tokenism?

Dying Light came out this week. It’s also an open world game, but this one features a bunch of zombies and parkour. It’s a pretty fun game that improves on a lot of things from Techland’s previous first person undead outing Dead Island, though it also sadly removes the analog combat from its spiritual predecessor.

The thing is that there are many portions of Dying Light that still strongly abide the steps laid out by Ubisoft, and this is a Warner Bros. publication. (This isn’t entirely unprecedented for them, though, as Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor aped large portions of Assassin’s Creed design.) You can, in fact, still climb towers.

This brings about an interesting notion that Ubisoft has unearthed and fully realized the whole body of open world clichés, and now when we see them trickle down to other open world games, we are reminded of their popular genesis. And then, of course, we are forced to analyze the merit of their inclusion.

It was a praiseworthy situation in Shadow of Mordor, where it had largely improved and successfully integrated those platitudes into some bigger and more interesting. It’s even arguable that their familiarity enhanced the overall experience by contrasting the impressive Nemesis system.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

But then it was a source of derision for the Fury, a film that seemed to only want to complete a checklist of war movie clichés just for the sake of seeing a bunch of boxes get ticked off at the end of production. It was a series of token scenes, moving a tank from one place to its final place.

These staple components of genres can’t be tossed into a bucket and be assumed a success. They need to be laid into the foundation and built up into something grander. The reason needs to be there. A game like Miasmata is shaped around the idea of exploration and discovery, earning its foggy map and hidden locations. What benefit is there to doing so in Assassin’s Creed?

There really isn’t one, other than finding a reason for you to climb towers, which was the biggest draw of the original game and arguably still the biggest draw of the series. The designers needed a way to force you to utilize this sizable mechanical system, and the missions rarely forced you to sneak around like that. The solution was to hide the map and show it to you as you used the system.

Dying Light

Dying Light would have a more interesting validation for hiding or restricting terrain knowledge. With unknown and mindless threats, it’s much more engaging to hide layout and structure from you. The surprise of navigating over and under and around things like fences, buildings, and the like forces you to dive into things confidently and boldly, persuading you to play a certain style and engage in specific experiences.

It’s a subtle difference between the two outcomes. Either way, you are being pushed into doing something. One, however, has a careless result, like a detour shoving your route onto a congested highway. The other puts a brick on the gas and hands you the wheel. You can still get somewhere how you want and even hit the brakes, but it wants to propel you forward. The other way kind of yanks you around just because.

There’s nothing wrong with clichés so long as they have a reason, some validation for being there. Otherwise it’s just perfunctory, and nobody likes that.

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Open Order

Open Order

When you go to a restaurant, it’s generally assumed that you aren’t there to engage in Greco-Roman wrestling. But imagine that you walk through the door, starving and hoping to satiate your growling tummy, only to have the staff constantly trying to get you on the mat. They give you the menu, ask you what you’d like to eat, and then try to get you into a headlock. Sounds pretty frustrating, right?

A friend of mine just finished Watch Dogs, which is mostly a decent game. It certainly isn’t the runaway success that Ubisoft was hoping for, but it also isn’t an abysmal showing for a franchise’s maiden voyage. It doesn’t necessarily do anything terribly wrong. In fact, nearly every major component of the game is remarkably mature, though perhaps unremarkably so if this was any later iteration.

Its shooting mechanics are perfectly acceptable and even sometimes fun. The driving can be oddly stiff but never gets in the way. And the hacking actually adds to the world, all of which is on top of a story that surprisingly eschews more than a handful of clichés. It’s a game that deserves a smattering of applause but not much else.

However, there is a pitfall that the game lands in so deftly that you’d think it was trying to hit the bottom. It was actually the first thing that my friend wanted to talk about upon completion. If you didn’t know, Watch Dogs actually has a reservoir of minigames for you to dive into when you aren’t trying to solve the game’s overarching narrative mystery. This involves chess, poker, and the classic street hustle shell game.

Unfortunately, the story requires you to embark upon playing a few of these minigames. And this is exactly what my friend and I discussed, half in a fair light and the other half in a hateful dark. About two-thirds of the way through the game, you begin searching for a man to help you decrypt a piece of data. There’s actually only one man who can help you, but lucky for you, he happens to be in the same town as you.

To convince him to help, though, you have to take part of the drinking minigame, institutionalized to be the crux of this particular mission. The minigame itself is a fun distraction, trying to guide a semi-uncontrollable cursor over button prompts that can move, change buttons, and hide all before the timer runs out. But in the context of the narrative curve, it brings everything to a grinding halt.

Watch Dogs

It definitely doesn’t help that the previous mission capping off Act II involved a gunfight, a car chase, and a few explosions. And then things slow down with this starter to Act III with some environmental puzzles involving finding how to unlock doors, and whammy. Drinking game.

You came to this game to drive, hack, shoot, and hack some more. The game put a menu down, asked what you’d like to do in this open world, and then said, “But real quick, do you mind playing this minigame that has nothing to do with the rest of me?” (That’s not to mention it’s a terrible message. Aiden gets blasted and then gets behind the wheel of a car with little to no repercussions aside from slightly blurry vision.)

Of course, that’s part of the charm of open world games, having a bevy of side activities. And Watch Dogs certainly is not the only sandbox to force its minigames on the player during its campaign. Grand Theft Auto IV made you bowl, and my god was that bowling a painful excursion. Red Dead Redemption had you play liar’s dice to goddamn completion, giving your free time a giant middle finger. But that’s precisely why they should stay side activities and remain off the beaten path.

Red Dead Redemption

I’m sure somewhere along the milestone planning of development, any of these could be excised quite easily, and there’s a reason for that: they’re nonessential. More than that, they are not integral to the game, which means their design was not top priority. Chances are, they are not as fully fleshed out as they need to be to hold your attention beyond the initial five minutes of curiosity. But through hubris or foolishness, open world games have a terrible tendency to shoehorn them into a mission or two.

The most frustrating part is that Watch Dogs was aware enough of this awful habit of the genre and bit a thumb or two at it. In an earlier mission, you have show up at an underground poker game with the hopes of finding a black market peddler. There are a few other dudes at the table by the time Aiden gets dealt in, and it seemed my worst fear was realized: a poker video game slapping me in the face when I’d rather be shooting bad guys.

But imagine my surprise when after the first bid (I raised), Aiden straight-up calls out the man you’re looking for and shit gets going again. It was a delicious stiff-arm to the open world staple. I loved that moment so much as I had just moments prior resigned myself to trying to guess how this poker AI was programmed. I chuckled at both the situation and the meta jollies I derived from it.

Watch Dogs

That’s why it’s so frustrating. Clearly Ubisoft knows better as it did better just a dozen or so missions earlier. They knew why we sat down at the table: to eat. And they knew better than to bother you when you’re so hungry for a fat juicy cheeseburger. But less than two hours later, they came back around and slapped it out of your hands and stuffed a pace-killing minigame into your mouth.

It’s a problem with many open world games even though there’s an obvious solution. That is to say, just don’t fucking do it. Maybe it’s the developers showing off or maybe it’s them not understanding the appeal of their own game, but it’s pervasive enough to be a checkbox on the list of What Makes An Open World Game. Really, just let the player eat in peace. This is a restaurant, after all.

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Intentions and Results

Intentions and Results

Playing Watch Dogs or even seeing any bit of the onslaught of marketing behind the game invites a quick and easy comparison to Grand Theft Auto V. Even with nary a hint of video game savvy, the similarities are striking. Massive open worlds, stealing and driving cars, shooting dudes and cars alike, and acceptable digital analogs for real world locales. You’d be a fool to not see it.

Quite frankly, it makes you wonder what would have happened if Watch Dogs had come out anywhere close to its original release date of November 19th of last year. In the most obvious and superficial comparison (albeit such surface level differences add up to be a big deal), the first of Ubisoft’s next great hopeful franchise pales when placed next to the enormously successful and enviable Rockstar opus.

It’s blindingly apparent that Watch Dogs could never compete on such a level, at least not in this iteration. Rockstar has been working its way up to GTAV, refining its open world craft and saving up enough clout and scratch to finally dump five years and $265 million into one game. Watch Dogs is the first of what is likely to be Ubisoft’s next flagship franchise, bundling up four years, $68 million, and a bunch of exploratory development and design.

Watch Dogs

It never had a chance in that regard. But that’s fairly unremarkable. A new game doesn’t have as big of a budget as the latest one in a historic, massive franchise. What’s more interesting is the contrasting and confusingly inverted alignment of intended design and resulting effect with both games.

Consider that GTAV is almost entirely structured as an interactive satire. It aims to skewer and lampoon the worldly perspective of what American life is like, which, as it turns out, is not all that far from the truth. Rockstar has hewn its stick to the finest point it’s ever had.

And much like its past GTA games, this one also aimed to be funny. It was to have the levity of parody with the bite of a Swift-ian satire. Strangely enough, though, it was perhaps the most serious of them all. The torture scene was egregiously dark, going past shady and so-fucked-it’s-funny and back around to straight up disagreeable, not to mention it coincides with the cold presentation of racial profiling and assassination.

Grand Theft Auto V

Satire makes its turn when it shames some facet of its genesis. This scene wholly lacks that turn and instead is disturbing all the way through. For much of the game, in fact, your time in Los Santos is spent living a downtrodden and dark life while the satire is filtered and distributed out into the world around you rather than the character you play. It leaves the game more serious than funny, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly a contrast to its intended effect.

Watch Dogs, on the other hand, has the inverse of that problem. It certainly does aim for much in the way of either satire or parody and instead merely uses a pop social concern as its central conceit and mechanic. In a world where people fear needless and intrusive surveillance, what if the power was back in the citizen’s hands to take control of the overlord once more? It certainly speaks to current concerns, but it hardly makes commentary. Instead it’s an observation.

This lends a very dry, grave air to the game’s proceedings. It feels like a serious spy thriller, mixing subterfuge and action like the hardboiled films of old. A quiet, gravelly-voiced fellow seeking justice in a world that refuses to dole it out as it should. People die, voices are raised, and no one necessarily is having a good time but my god will it be interesting.

Watch Dogs

While whether or not it actually is engaging is for another time, this opens up the idea that Watch Dogs suffers a similar, inverse fate. It tries to be serious for much of its 20-hour runtime but often—and unintentionally, it seems—comes across as funny.

Avoiding any spoilers in this case can be tricky, though it can be said that the narrative impetus for Aiden doing what he does is moderately unique and thus generally interesting by virtue of being fresh. But there are instances where the grave nature of the tale surrounding his need for vengeance and justice is laughably cheesy. Like, cable television movie cheesy.

It largely centers around his niece, with lingering shots of ostensibly emotion-inducing pieces of memorabilia. And then it starts to involve his sister in the course of Aiden seeking out the truth of what happened, which is a neat twist on the general concept of a lone warrior fighting for his wife and/or child, but it forgets to capitalize on that and instead continues to showcase an inability to distinguish between purposeful and unintentional comedy.

Watch Dogs

None of that renders Watch Dogs a terrible game by any means, but it certainly is noteworthy. On its own, it’s a strange twist that draws out the sensation of ironic production along the lines of a classic B-grade movie. But then, when placed next to the similar but inverse situation of GTAV, it’s a funny string of games unable to reconcile intentions and results.

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Punishing Alternatives

Punishing Alternatives

Incentives are the currency of the world. More than money itself—bills or coins or shekels—the intangible essence of incentives are the lowest and basest urgency we find powering our shambling bones. Rewards very obviously drive you to want more and more, to run faster and faster as the carrot dangles out of your reach upon the tip of a stick.

The other half of that truth is that the stick can just as easily be flipped and now you are compelled to not get hit over the head. It is the incentive to avoid punishment that propels you to run now. The lack of pain is the only reward now, but it is not so much a gift as it is one less vulture picking at your skin than usual.

While drastic examples on rather far ends of the spectrum, this balance of how to push and pull someone along into doing something is largely the basis of game design. How do you—through smiles and shouts of joy alongside screams of anguish and furrowing brows—make someone want to play a game? Not just play but explore the corners and crevices of the world and mechanics around them. How indeed.

Watch Dogs

Two recent games (and a third somewhat recent one that further supports an argument or two in this treatise) go about it by way of the punitive camp but through wholly different schemes. The first is Watch Dogs, and yes, a review is forthcoming. In it, you play as Aiden Pearce, a vigilante hacker in a near-future Chicago out for justice. It’s an open world game that has drawn a lot of both fair and unfair comparisons to last year’s Grand Theft Auto V what with a lot of driving, shooting, and running in a digitized version of a real world locale.

In Watch Dogs, you have a consistent metered tracking of your reputation in the city. With good deeds, your reputation goes up and you can get away with some slightly less extreme indiscretions. For instance, you can steal a car and witnesses might not call the cops on you. It’s a pretty nice bonus to being a nice guy.

On the other hand, if you start killing cops and running over pedestrians, then you are going to be known as a bad dude, with both the media and the city’s populace badmouthing you, distrusting you, and generally making your day a lot worse. It is, without a doubt, kind of a buzzkill.

Watch Dogs

And that’s just the problem. This overarching system of being known as a good or bad guy in Watch Dogs greatly affects how you play the game in an adverse way because both negligence and untoward behavior both punish you. Unfortunately, as proven by GTAV, both of those things greatly facilitate exploring a world and generally having fun.

We are dropped into an open world of a real place. Our curiosity is naturally piqued at this point. We want to poke around and we want to make this faux Chicago our playground. But when the lifeguard is always telling you to not run around the pool even when you’re just sitting by the steps, it really lets the wind out of your sails. It’s deflating. The punishment of getting a wanted level in GTAV is playing more of the game. The punishment for being wanted in Watch Dogs is having a bad time.

What it really harkens back to is The Amazing Spider-Man 2 video game. You almost constantly have to stop swinging about the city (one of the few bright spots of that game) to go beat up the same four thugs over and over again. Otherwise your reputation in the city goes down as well. Then, as you get closer to being labeled a full-on menace, you are harassed by trigger-happy gunmen and super annoying robots. It’s an awful incentive to keep playing.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Then there’s Transistor, the latest from Supergiant Games. It is quite the lovely game, what with its unbelievable art and—quite frankly—surprisingly deep and complex combat mechanics, but the most interesting bit about Transistor is how it urges you to experiment with the game.

While you have a traditional health meter in this isometric strategy action game, its depletion does not mean the end for you and our hero Red, a singer who lost her voice but gained some powers as the Transistor came to her after a plague of trouble hits her world. You have slots you can equip Functions (read: abilities), some of which operate as attacks and others as passive boosts depending on the slot. When you run out of health, your equipped Functions overload one by one and remain unusable for a time.

It is, undoubtedly, a punishment. It is taking away something that once made you powerful, but more importantly it takes away your comfort. It’s kind of the same for many strategy or role-playing games where you find your thing and you stick with it. You have an opening gambit and then a set of responses for each enemy action while you fill in cracks in the dam as they arise.

Transistor

That’s just how those games go. You discover the base foundation of strategies for succeeding with your prized configuration and then you find the limits of it as you go up against harder and harder enemies. It’s a self-produced inclination to explore. The game does really demand it but you certainly want to find out just how smart you are as you test your mettle and your wits.

But this wrinkle in how Transistor handles intermediate “deaths” is quite literally a game-changer. Entire portions of the game are now missing from your repertoire, your armory. You go-to combination is no longer in existence and therefore your go-to plan for success is now far beyond invalid. It’s a punishment if there ever was one.

However, with other Functions available at the next Access Point and empty slots and free memory on the rise, it also invites you to replace your lost safety blanket. More than that, it invites you to rethink your entire strategy. Move this Function to this passive slot and then pair these two up instead of these three and you are an entirely different player. Quick and imprecise turns to sneaky and singular.

Transistor

It is one of the grand successes Transistor, compelling you to fully explore and experiment with the entire game rather than just what you stumble upon as the first thing that works. Granted, balance issues eventually renders experimentation moot, but the combat system succeeds as a punitive incentive. It replaces fear and apprehension of replacing success with failure and instead says discover something new or be worse off. It’s a pill far easier to swallow than punishment for punishment’s sake.

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Trailer Roundup: The Walking Dead, Sunset Overdrive, and More

Trailer Roundup: The Walking Dead, Sunset Overdrive, and More

So how was your weekend? I don’t want to get into it, but I ended up putting socks on a dog (for his safety) and also playing beer pong with a bunch of college kids. It was pretty weird. Anyways, I’m thinking about breaking these out into separate posts. Some people have been telling me loading all those YouTube videos at once makes their browsers unhappy. Not sure yet. Time for decisions is later. Now it’s time for trailers!

The Walking Dead

I’m still pretty much hooked on Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. I don’t think Season 2 is as good as Season 1, but much of that has to do with the novelty—the fact that I hadn’t experienced such abject resignation to a fate worse than I could have previously imagined—of that initial round of episodes.

Here, you can see that shit just keeps getting worse. Clem is in deep, possibly over her head, and it’s looking pretty dire. It’s a masochistic sort of thing, I guess, playing this game. I love the idea of a good decision only being good by virtue of being the one you had to choose. No regrets here. Episode 3 comes out this Friday on May 16, 2014.

Sunset Overdrive

I guess I can’t really explain why, but I’m pretty excited for Sunset Overdrive. Oh wait, yes I can. It’s Insomniac Games doing what they do so well. It’s what they did that made the Ratchet & Clank games so fun. I mean, look at that gun with the bowling balls. That looks pretty spectacular. (Nothing will ever beat the RYNO V from Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time.)

While I do have reservations (mutating energy drink? Come on. They’re basically zombies, not to mention that tap was hit in DmC: Devil May Cry), I think Insomniac has it in them to pull it off. With a bunch of other Ratchet games flying perfectly under the radar and Fuse and Resistance performing, well, subpar, that studio definitely has the capacity to do far better than they’ve been doing. It comes out sometime this year.

Watch Dogs

I’m still into it. I don’t know if Watch Dogs is actually going to be any good, but at least the marketing is still doing well. The characters in this trailer fit a bit too well into the “Let’s Diversify” mandate of after school specials and the idea of a master hacker makes my eyes roll (besides, it seems like Aiden can already hack anything), but the villains seem pretty interesting. Iraq looks original enough and Lucky comes across as appropriately menacing. Releases May 27, 2014.

Hohokum

Richard Hogg, co-director and art director of Hohokum, comes out with a biting and totally true statement at the opening of this trailer: video games are visually conservative. Absolutely accurate for the most part (there are exceptions, of course). And watching Hohokum in motion makes me so happy because I feel like it comes from somewhere very free and open. Also it looks totally bonkers. Comes out sometime this summer.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

I love the idea of a historic war game that’s not a shooter. In this case, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a puzzle-adventure game that puts you in the shoes of four different soldiers during World War I. Granted, we’ve already seen the multi-faceted story thing with Medal of Honor and Call of Duty in the world’s biggest wars, but I’m interested to see how it fairs in the light of pointing and clicking that doesn’t result in shooting. Look for it June 25, 2014.

The Stomping Land

Historically and scientifically inaccurate and I don’t give a fuck. YOU’RE RIDING A GOD DAMN DINOSAUR. I mean, there’s no guarantee The Stomping Land will be any good, but if there was ever a concept distilled into a single sentence that can make almost anybody excited, it’s the idea that you can ride a dinosaur. Hits Steam Early Access May 30, 2014.

DreadOut

This trailer makes DreadOut look exactly like the kind of game my pounding heart tells me not to play but my brain tells me too late, dummy, you already paid for and installed it. Comes out this Thursday on May 15, 2014. (You can play the demo now, if you so desire.)

EVE: Valkyrie

Finally, here’s a reminder that this thing exists. While your chances to play it are high, the chances of you playing it right are far lower. EVE: Valkyrie was made with the Oculus Rift in mind. Imagine zipping through the already mind-boggling, free form battlefields of space with an HD 3D headset strapped to your dome. I can tell you firsthand that it is disorienting, horrifying, and incredibly exciting. Look for it sometime this year.

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Trailer Roundup: Nintendo, Call of Duty, H1Z1, and More

Trailer Roundup: Nintendo, Call of Duty, H1Z1, and More

Yeah, I moved Trailer Roundup from Fridays to Mondays. It just seemed to make sense considering Fridays are actually quite the popular day for new trailers to come out. Also, I’d much rather waste away the beginning of a week watching videos on the Internet than the end. (But honestly I like to spend both and everything in between doing just that.) Anyways, here we go!

Fearless Fantasy

Umm…so I guess there’s, uh. Well, if you look at it this way, it could be—oh who am I kidding. This trailer is a solid 60 seconds of nonsense.

Self-described as “the weirdest RPG you’ll play this year” by the same guys that made the fantastic SpeedRunners, Fearless Fantasy is a turn-based game where combat is determined by gestures with the mouse. From its press kit, the game’s features include “a full-on story” and “RPG stuff.” Count me in. I think.

Nintendo’s E3 Plans

Sometimes I wonder just how much free time Reggie Fils-Aime has. It seems like either he’s got a lot of that or he’s just super self-aware how much people like watching him do things. It’s a toss-up, really. Produced by Mega64, this video actually coincides with one of the bigger pieces of news from last week, albeit not one of the bigger surprises.

Just like last year, Nintendo will not be hosting a traditional E3 press conference like Sony and Nintendo. Instead, they’ll be holding a tournament in the Nokia Theater for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. But they will be bringing back the ability for those not at E3 to play their unreleased games at Best Buys all around America. Also, no new console?

H1Z1

It makes sense. People like playing online with their friends and they like playing around in giant open worlds but they don’t like lots of emptiness in between. So what is relatively easy to implement that can fill those large gaps?

Zombies! Simply directed AI and vast expanses of terrifying openness. Hence State of Decay, DayZ, and now H1Z1. It’s free-to-play and there are zombies and, well, you get it, right?

Watch Dogs Season Pass

The trailer itself isn’t doing much for me, but its contents are, like, really weird. It’s boasting an additional single-player campaign with a character named T-Bone, a character we’re not at all familiar with, let alone the game he resides in. And you can dress Aiden like Eliot Ness and also fight techno zombies? This is some super strange stuff, guys.

Outlast Whistleblower DLC

Nooooope. Nope nope nope nope nope.

Nidhogg

If you haven’t played Nidhogg yet on PC, fear not because now it’s coming to the PlayStation 4. It looks simple, but it’s actually quite an impressively deep game of one-on-one sword dueling that, honestly, I can’t get enough of. If I had more friends with commensurate time to waste, I’d be playing it basically nonstop.

Axiom Verge

Looks essentially like a class 2D Metroid game but with entirely modern sensibilities. I don’t just mean that very obviously has side-scrolling trappings that you would see from today in its gameplay, but that its atmosphere feels very present. Axiom Verge‘s trailer’s ability to create a foreboding sense of narrative impetus and its purposefully electronic tunes makes me want to believe that this game is going to be the real deal.

And come on, Sony. “Announce” trailer? I thought we were done with that. Not just as an industry but as a people.

Apotheon

I’m so in love with the art style of this game, not to mention its combat system is all up in my wheelhouse of fighting mechanics: brutal, swift, and deliberate. Not that I’m always particularly good at those types of games, but I appreciate it when their systems are made to be quick and decisive, like it appears to be in Apotheon.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Listen, I’ve played a lot of demos of Wolfenstein: The New Order. I can tell you that the tactile route is totally viable. It’s also totally boring. And when you go in guns blazing, a lot of your time is actually spent trying to find enough ammo to keep the bloodbath raining. Of course, things could have and probably have changed, but that’s just what I know. There’s a reason why it cuts between the “cool” parts.

Call of Duty and VICE

I like a lot of what VICE does. They make some good videos of investigative journalism. This one, no doubt, could be also quite good if it wasn’t a three-minute prologue to another Call of Duty game. But the weird thing about this one is that it’s trying to play that we’ve never gone through this before.

True, Americans and the world at large don’t know much about the actual operations and risks and legality of private military corporations, or PMCs, but gamers are quite familiar with the philosophical intricacies of it all via Metal Gear Solid. And every other modern military FPS, really. A little late to the part, COD.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Granted, I’m pretty much over anything modern military shooters have to offer (I mean, how many times can you be impressed with blowing up a national landmark?), but that doesn’t mean that genre as a whole doesn’t make some damn good trailers. This one especially is worthwhile due to Kevin Spacey being Kevin Spacey and talking politics, filling a void in my life since I finished season 2 of House of Cards.

Super Time Force

In total, I’ve spent about 15 to 20 minutes with Super Time Force, and I love it already. This trailer exemplifies every reason why.

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Trailer Roundup: Watch Dogs, Dragon Age, and More

Trailer Roundup: Watch Dogs, Dragon Age, and More

Boy it’s been a strange week. The only other thing I managed to get posted was that review of Trials Fusion, which turned out to be kind of disappointing, just like my productivity. To be fair, there was a party bus involved and then bowling got weird and—well, you don’t want to hear about all that. You’re here for trailers! And golly do I have some for you. Here we go!

The Forest

Nope. Nope nope nope nope nope.

This game looks to have a structure similar to Epic’s Fortnite, except infinitely more terrifying. In The Forest, you’ve crashed landed on an island full of, uh, things that want to kill you. So you spend your days foraging for food and supplies and the night fending them off. But also your days because everything is awful. Oh, and it’s got Oculus Rift support if you weren’t already scared shitless.

Spaceteam Admiral’s Club

Those crazy Canadians. I met Henry Smith, developer of Spaceteam, last year at one of the PAXes. (He was wearing that captain’s hat then, too.) I believe him when he says he can get this Kickstarter‘s goals achieved. Blabyrinth and Shipshape, based on their descriptions and what he achieved with Spaceteam, sound like winners to me. Back him if you want. Or not. I just laughed pretty hard at the trailer when he was holding all those awards.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

I wasn’t really into Dragon Age II, but Dragon Age: Inquisition has me eager to get back into the franchise. It’s a fantastic-looking game based on the trailer, but hearing about the changes made to the combat gets my spirits up. The trope-ish amnesia-ridden hero is unfortunate, but the rest of the story sounds rife with excitement. Look for it October 7th.

Watch Dogs

This trailer is perhaps most interesting simply because we’re hearing in clear, concrete terms how multiplayer works in Watch Dogs. You wouldn’t believe the hassle I encountered and the runaround given when I tried to ask PR and devs specific questions the last time I was face-to-face with them. But now here’s nine minutes of what you’ll be encountering online in Watch Dogs and a mild middle finger to press regarding the past two years.

Also, “inconspicuous” is not the word I would use to describe that taco van. Also, wtf is a taco van? Also, the fact that you rarely see NPCs move in the same jagged patterns as players seems to really set off the That’s a Real Dude alarm quite easily, or at least in the first phase. But we’ll see. That mobile versus console thing seems super cool. Releases May 27th.

Evolve

“Trailer” seems like a severe understatement. This puppy is 52 minutes long! But gosh does this game seem rife with potential. Four versus one asymmetric gameplay where four hunter players are hunting one monster player. It seems cool, or it might just be the eSports-esque commentary going on over the video. Evolve launches in fall of this year.

Skylanders Trap Team

wut

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What to Expect from E3 2013

What to Expect from E3 2013

I’m filled with dread. And excitement. I’m anxious and paranoid. I’m filled with a glut of emotions that I reserve for times when I’m under prolonged duress, and in this case, it’s because I’ll be in Los Angeles for a week for E3. I feel like a hot little turnip of feelings because for six solid days, I’ll be surrounded by tens of thousands of other people in downtown LA (probably more due to the Kings playoff series once again looks to ravage the bustling, hotel-filled area) and set to meet dozens and dozens of them as I talk about and play almost as many games. And for some reason I do this voluntarily.

And that’s because there will be just so much to see. Outside of the tremendous networking opportunities, there’s just a lot of games to get my hands on and share with all of you. If there’s something in particular you want me to investigate or check out, just let me know in the comments or tweet at me and I’ll do my best. Last year, I tracked down Tokyo Jungle for some folks, an adventure that led me to faking a British accent and landed me square in a room full of European press I didn’t recognize. This year, well, who knows.

But here is what I’m looking forward to most.

Xbox One/PlayStation 4 Drama

PlayStation 4 vs. Xbox One

Word on the street is that the Microsoft press event is going to be…aggressive, which makes sense; they were the last next-gen console to be revealed and now they’re going to be the first out of the gate at E3. By all counts, the initial announcement seemed more aimed to appease partners and shareholders, so let’s so what happens when they have the opportunity to set the tone for an entire week of video game coverage. I’m expecting more games (probably some actual gameplay from Call of Duty: Ghosts this time) and “surprises,” as Geoff Keighley put it. Microsoft did, however, cancel the post-conference press Q&A, so who knows what that means.

As for Sony, well, a lot has happened since the Xbox One announcement. They’ve since been able to cultivate a strategic response to the kerfuffle surrounding used games, always-online requirements, and all that goodness, but they will also have to follow Microsoft (and everyone else seeing as how they’re the last presser to take place) next week. How well will they be able to execute a proper PR message turnaround if something unexpected happens? We’ll probably even see the actual hardware this time, too. This will, undoubtedly, be the most exciting pre-E3 press conferences in recent memory.

Saints Row IV

Deep Silver will be there repping Volition’s Saints Row IV and I have two hours set aside to bask in its glory. I don’t know if I need to say anymore. Just look at that trailer!

Nintendo’s Unusual Tact

Nintendo E3 2012 press conference

Nintendo won’t have their usual press event and is instead opting for a Nintendo Direct streaming thing. This isn’t unusual (big news dropped last year in the following online videos while their event skimped on the goods), but it does beg a lot of questions. Has Nintendo given up on mainstream marketing for the Wii U? Do they have latent plans for taking up the E3 news cycle that no one knows about? Last year they had one of the biggest booths with an entire second floor dedicated to appointments and private demos. The Nintendo Direct is also at the same time as a Square Enix Final Fantasy thing, so, um, yeah.

Plus they’ll have all those games demoed at 100 Best Buy stores across the country, saying they’re “making an E3 for the people.” That’s a smart ploy to put games in more gamers’ hands that won’t be at E3 (which is to say the vast majority of people), but it also feels like a concession in the console battle at a pivotal point where giving an inch anywhere is costly.

Franchises, Franchises

We’ll see more of Call of Duty: Ghosts, for sure, along with Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. There won’t be any sign of Grand Theft Auto V at the show, but there will be Super Smash Bros. Wii U, which obviously has a lot of people excited. Rumors have hit an all-time high for Mirror’s Edge 2 and Rare has been teasing a revival of a “historic” franchise (I’m hoping Viva Piñata, but I’m expecting Perfect Dark or Killer Instinct). We’ll see how Batman: Arkham Origins is shaping up and if Bayonetta 2 is just as ridiculous as the first.

Fresh-Baked Games

And then there’s the new IPs that we hopefully get to learn more about. Watch Dogs will be Ubisoft’s ace, probably, as it will likely take over its mantle for new annual franchise. Harmonix recently dropped the news that they are working on Fantasia and Double Fine will be talking about its latest Kickstarter endeavor Massive Chalice (and might show off Broken Age). Sony will also be showing off Puppeteer, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in a long time, and we’ll finally see some of Bungie’s Destiny. Of course, there’s much more to E3 than that, but you’ll read about it all next week.

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Eyes-On With Watch Dogs: Watch This, Do That

Watch Dogs

It seemed to me that the longest line at the Ubisoft booth at PAX East this year was the one for Watch Dogs, which I feel like might have left a few people disappointed. A certain amount of detective work was required to mine the gold from the video, pushing through high expectations and a willingness to sit back and soak in what our eyes have already seen. Whichever you take it, the news for Watch Dogs coming out of this video presentation was sparse but interesting if you knew where to look.

In the grand scheme of things, the actual footage shown to us was pretty much the same stuff from the PlayStation 4 announcement. In fact, we got to see it twice: first with developer interviews cut in throughout and then from a city perspective with a pseudo APB police broadcast. You have Aiden Pierce (the first time we get his name), a master hacker “obsessed with surveillance” whose ability to break the city confounds the authorities, trolling for information from people’s wireless devices and then stealing some money from some pro-life lobbyist.

Then you cut to Aiden tracking a woman who has a high probability of becoming a victim of some crime seeing as how she has a restraining order against a presumably shitty ex-husband. She wanders down an alleyway and encounters the aforementioned ex, at which point the probability jumps up from “watch your back” to “oh shit it’s happening.” Aiden intervenes, chases the restrainee down, and tackles him after hack-exploding some electrical conduit.

Watch Dogs

Cops pursue, Aiden flees, and we watch him escape on a hacked train and we see the same Frag Doll PixxelFD tag over a watchful security camera. But now we are told through the video voiceover that this is because Watch Dogs will be able to be played with other people “any platform, anywhere you want, at any time.” It’s very vague, but we’re shown both the train camera and another newspaper stand camera that people can have influence on your game world through these means. Aiden lives in a “hyper-connected” world, and it seems we are joining him in that connectivity.

The next interesting tidbit is that Watch Dogs attempts to totally recreate an alternate history/future Chicago. This isn’t just from a city planning perspective (though that is true, too) but in that the game will simulate the entire city including traffic, emergencies, and infrastructure. The narrative presents it as something called ctOS, which is short for Central Operating System. It is the system within the story that tracks everyone’s comings and goings and finances and, well, pretty much everything. But for the player, it allows you to interact with a living, breathing city.

Watch Dogs

ctOS will simulate how city services react to Aiden based on what you’ve done in the past such as help or hinder citizens or how people wandering the streets will go about in their daily lives. You will gain a reputation through the system and people will come to either fear or revere you as you cause chaos and (fail to) solve problems. It seems super-duper fascinating if it all pans out. It’s as if a subset of SimCity has been planted right into a third-person action game and “you’re going to turn an entire city into a weapon against itself.”

And there you have it. That was the presentation in a nutshell: two repeats of the same footage we saw back in February sliced up in two different ways with two different sets of voiceover. Visually, we didn’t get a lot of new stuff except talking head segments with developers and designers of the game, but if you listened carefully, you could pick up on some fresh details.

Watch Dogs

We have a name, we have some deeper implications of multiplayer across multiple platforms, and we have what seems to a deeply complex, systemic set of simulations that power a dynamic recreation of Chicago. It all sounds incredibly fascinating, but that’s all we have to go on at this point: ambition, a grand-scale story of family drama and city politics, and a dude with a cool jacket.

Look for Watch Dogs in Q4 of 2013.

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