I Experienced Mass Effect: New Earth and Didn’t Even Get a Lousy T-Shirt

Mass Effect: New Earth (PRNewsFoto/3D Live)

You know, I’d actually forgotten that they were making my favorite video game series into an amusement park ride when I suddenly found that Mass Effect: New Earth was opening last month in Santa Clara’s Great America amusement park in my home state of California. My first instinct was to run out my door and drive straight there, forsaking the earthly amenities of job, home, and family for the opportunity to be among the first to experience BioWare’s masterpiece in ride form.

But being the calm, cool, and collected geek I am, I bided my time, let the hype and the crowds die down a bit, and scraped together some cash to do this properly. Hell, I even brought along the wife and kid because why not. The words “Great America” hadn’t really entered my mind since I went as a teenager due largely to the inordinate number of awesome theme parks residing in Cali, but one way or another, I knew I was not getting out of this summer without experiencing firsthand the temple they’d practically built in my backyard paying tribute to my most revered gaming franchise. And last week, experience it I did.

mass effect new earth entrance

Yaaasssss!

In the month I waited since the ride’s opening, I was careful to avoid any and all articles that may have spoiled the experience. I wanted to go in knowing nothing, and I succeeded. Was there any possibility that this thing was going to live up to the hype I was burdening it with? Fuck no. It’s a five minute amusement park ride. It was never going to encompass the insanely epic trilogy spanning dozens of hours and worlds and hundreds of cosmic possibilities. You can’t even adequately sum up the basic concepts of Mass Effect in five minutes.

And then there’s the fact that Disney’s Star Tours had done the same thing with the Star Wars franchise nearly thirty years ago and many have trod that ground since. Hell, the Minions have their own 3D ride at Universal Studios. So maybe a little underwhelming, then? Yeah, a bit. But still, anything worth doing is worth redoing Mass Effect style. New Earth is a fun little romp through a small section of the Mass Effect universe during the events of the third game that revamps the old concept with some added twists borrowed from other Disney attractions.

When you read that this is a “4D holographic journey” you may wonder what kind of mind-bending astrophysics are implemented to bring this fourth dimension into play in a world that consists of a mere three. All it really is an added immersion factor that stimulates you with various well-timed sensations during the ride. Ever wondered what a rachni’s breath smells like? Well, now I know. That and the temperature of their slobber. So basically, I’m a better fan than you now. Thanks, Great America!  

Where Star Tours put you inside of a room that moves in time with the show to give the illusion of movement, New Earth has each individual seat move while blasting you with air and occasionally water as well as some scents, so you see, hear, feel, and smell it all. You can even smell the dust when your ship brushes against a mountain. Along with the live performer acting as your captain and the gigantic screen with 3D effects, it’s a really cool experience.

mass effect new earth spectre armour display

Spectre armour on display in both fem and bro models.

There’s plenty of fanservice on hand (both times I rode it, fangirls screamed when the captain mentioned that a certain Commander Shepard may have once ridden that very ship) including appearances from the Normandy and some of her crew, but the experience is very friendly for non-gamers as well. A pre-boarding video gives you the basics of Mass Relay travel and you don’t need to know much to enjoy a virtual space ship ride with 3D lasers and monsters and stuff.

All in all, New Earth is a great premise whose only downfalls are that it’s already been done and the experience is all too brief. The games are better, but after I shut them off I don’t have an entire amusement park full of badass thrill coasters, water slides, and churros at my disposal either. Great America was more than worth the cost of its admission (assuming you get the online discount) so the addition of a Mass Effect attraction is just geek-flavored icing on the cake. And the lines weren’t even bad on a Sunday.  

Surprisingly, I actually had trouble finding any merchandise for the recently opened ride, unless you count getting my picture taken with a life-size cutout of Urdnot Wrex. I went into most of the shops over the course of the day and found everything from a giant dragon skull replicas to multiple stores dedicated to Peanuts to a t-shirt of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy that was suggestive enough to prompt my wife to photograph it and text it to her lesbian friend, but no Mass Effect gear.

mass effect tali shirt

You shall be mine….

I’ve always wanted a Mass Effect t-shirt, but have only ever run across some pretty bland N7 logos. I was really hoping to go home with a really awesome one, but as we headed for the exit and the park darkened around us, my quest had failed. Ironically, I am irritated when other theme parks dump you from a ride directly into a themed gift shop, but the one time I actually want a whole store dedicated to an attraction, I can’t find anything. But wait! What’s that? The gift shop right at the entrance so you don’t see it coming in, but can’t miss it going out has the shirt I need but never knew I wanted sitting in the window! A killer stylized design of notorious space waifu Tali’Zorah vas Normandy herself stared back at me, beckoning.

If this seems like a fairy tale ending to a quest for merchandise from a man who normally despises souvenirs, it is. That is to say, it didn’t actually work out in real life. The shirt was there on display, but when I ran in to sing “how much is that Tali in the window?” they were sold out. My entire life, in a nutshell, folks.

It was a great day I had prompted by my love of Mass Effect, but I do have to question Great America’s merchandising stratagem. I mean, come on! You just opened this awesome ride based on one of the greatest gaming franchises last month. You knew Biodrones would be coming from near and far to throw their money at you and you drop the ball on stocking t-shirts? Shame!

Still, if you’re in the NorCal neighborhood and looking for a great way to spend your time, you could do a lot worse than stopping by Santa Clara to give Mass Effect: New Earth a go. It’s -as Tali would say- totally worth it. It doesn’t reinvent the Star Tours wheel, but it does give it a nice new video gamey coat of paint (and monster drool). Who’d have thought video game rides would turn out better than video game movies? Admission to the park is about forty dollars a pop if you order online, the crowds were extremely manageable, the roller coasters are top notch, there are carnival games and an in-house water park; there’s literally something for everyone. Just don’t go for the Mass Effect merchandise.

Mighty No. 9 Presents: How to Turn an Entire Industry Against You

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What do you get when you mix the hopes and dreams of millions of old school gamers with a legendary video game artist, a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and more bad choices than Election Day? You get Mighty No. 9, Keiji Inafune’s spiritual successor to his classic beloved Mega Man series.

It was a high profile game with everything going for it. Fantastic-looking characters, recognizable gameplay with a fresh coat of paint just how we like it, a legit pedigree, and an army of backers ready to shell out their money for what was essentially a rebirth of one of gamings’ most famed franchises that has lost its momentum over the years. How exactly does this not spell success? Weeeellllll……

dina karam tweet

Interesting idea, but I would suggest examining the sustainability of that reproductive model before carrying it out…

It started small enough with the game’s online community manager baiting “gaters” on Twitter with ill-advised rants and calling for them to boycott of the game in addition to the occasional call for male genocide (gendercide?) and banning people from the forums. You know, the usual internet stuff. But still, as a general rule a company shouldn’t hire a community manager to represent them that publicly threatens to murder half of their game’s potential user base, calls for people to boycott the game, and generally attracts, agitates, and embodies the exact elements that it’s a community manager’s job to keep under control.

But then again, they only gave her the job because of her personal relationships within the development team. It’s not like that’s a dealbreaker. As fans awaited the game after paying for the entire development process out of pocket, they were treated to multiple delays that saw the game postponed by over an entire year from its original release date. But hey, that’s more quality time to spend with the charming community manager (who was eventually removed) while you wait!

The game had to come out at some point, and come out it did. All of the years of hype and drama and four million dollars in donations and finally gamers were able to purchase this mythical unicorn of a beautiful 2D shooter last week. Surely the pre-launch trailer was going to be epic. Surely. Let’s check it out.

Oh. My. Fucking. God. Did that really happen in 2016? I honestly don’t know where to begin with that train wreck so I’m going to go with my line-by-line thoughts on the single worst advertisement in video game history; one that makes us long for the days of “she kicks high”.

“Hey, you! Looking at the screen!”

How did he know?!

“Let me ask you a question: do you like awesome things that are awesome?”

NO.

“Then you gotta play this game, dude.”

Okay, dude.

“It’s freakin’ COOL. And CRAZY addictive! Like popping BUBBLE WRAP addictive!”

Bubble wrap doesn’t cost four million dollars to make, though…

“See, that’s your dash move. There’s a short dash and a long dash, jump dash, spiral, slide. There’s probably a dash that makes you breakfast, I don’t know!”

Is this the first trailer to list every control in the game and then make one up just to be stupid? SETTLE DOWN, MAN!

“Point is, you’re dashing around like a friggin’ moon man and I love it.”

Do moon men have a reputation for dashing around?

“Oh, and look at this! There’s all these combo moves you can do.”

Go on.

“And you can do combos on combos to rack up your score.”

If you say so.

“And I know you like that combo on combo action.”

Please stop now.

“But I saved the best for last: absorption boosts.”

Breath status: baited.

“You kill an enemy, and you can absorb their power ups!”

What a wild idea for a video game.

“Stuff that’ll make you faster, and stronger, and make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night.”

I’m not sure you’re understanding who your target audience is here, friend.

“So what’d’you think? Are you ready to play?”

I was up until the exact second you started talking…

Just…. How? Why? Condescending and insulting while giving off that desperate vibe of a middle-aged grandparent trying to sound hip and cool hanging out with teenagers without any knowledge whatsoever of current popular culture. Far out, brah! Totally tubular! Raise the roof! I can see some imbecile writing or even recording something like this in an awkward “that sounded better in my head” situation, but I can literally not imagine anybody in any corner of the gaming community trying to sell people a game giving that a pass. I wonder how many people were instantly unsold with that one fell swoop of stupidity.

But really, if the game is amazing, who cares? A little half-assed marketing here, a possible homicidal maniac on the internet managing the forums there, it’s not like these things will make an awesome thing that is awesome not awesome, right?

mighty no 9 sonic tweet

As far as commercial slogans go, “better than nothing” may beat “cry like an anime fan on prom night”, but it still needs work.

But what if the game is just kind of meh and filled with technical issues? You may have a problem on your hands. And when the creator’s apparent response to gamers’ lukewarm reception is that it’s “better than nothing”, it may be time to worry. Or perhaps when the most popular meme generated by your game is based on how the explosions look like cheap pizza, it may be a bad sign. But when Sonic the goddamn Hedgehog (who hasn’t had a decent game in how long?) starts looking down on you, you are officially in trouble.

It’s one thing when a company hypes a game to the gills and it comes out less than great. Gamers still swarm upon them like a plague of entitled mosquitoes to publicly shame them and attempt to drive them from the industry, but when the game is a Kickstarter project promising a return to the good old days if only you, the gamers, will pay for it to be made it tends to make things more personal and nasty.

So fair warning to game developers both aspiring and legendary: here is a list of things to keep in mind if you don’t want everybody to hate you. A) if you take fans’ money, make damn sure you can deliver on quality. B) Don’t hire a community manager who expresses a desire to massacre your player base or suggest boycotts of your product. C) Don’t speak to gamers like you are the people who bullied them in junior high in your advertisements. And D) maybe consider that fans of old school Japanese video games with anime-style art may also be anime fans.

Instead of a glorious statement about the power of crowdfunding to put the Capcoms of the world on notice, Mighty No. 9 has become a cautionary tale about mismanaging assets, overreaching, and general cluelessness about your target audience. It’s kind of sad that I still want to play it. And maybe I will some day, but the thing about the current gaming industry is that we are being served up an absolute glut of quality titles at all price ranges at all times. We just don’t have time for games that don’t deliver or developers that don’t respect their audience anymore .

When you put the wrong foot forward as epically as this game has, there may be no way to recapture the attention ormighty no 9 hype train comic regain the trust of your audience. Crowdfunding is a great way for artists to cut out the corporate middleman and let gamers choose what they want to play. But the double edge of that is that the artist assumes all responsibility for the product and the funders are gambling on the dev’s ability to deliver.

A high profile flop like this one casts shade on the potentially bright future of crowdfunded indie games. While I personally don’t care for the idea of major game developers putting development costs entirely on their customers, I am all for choice and an alternative to corporate gaming so it hurts to see something like this happen. I can only imagine how the backers must be feeling. Inafune appears to not only have burned bridges in the industry, but he’s now lost the trust and respect of his audience as well. Let’s hope that this can somehow be salvaged.

Positive Contact: OPUS is a Universe of Emotion in a Tiny Game

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“Drift by a star, absorb it, and leave tourists porous.

My galaxy’s gorgeous.

Quantum jump, I’m right at your doorstep…”

 -Deltron Zero

There’s a lot of discussion in the game community about value and content. As gamers we have only a finite amount of time in this meager life to absorb all of the sights, sounds, and sensations that this universe holds for us while trapped in hopeless relative immobility on this cosmically insignificant ball of rock, water, and atmosphere.

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Happier times.

Video games are one way we have of vicariously experiencing things digitally that we will just never get to do in real life. But with so much to choose from, how do we decide what to play? That brings us back to the question of value. With only so much time and money, do we measure a game’s worth by it’s depth, width, and length or by its quality? And when we say “quality”, what are we even talking about? Fun factor? Artistry? Emotional impact? The answer varies from person to person.

While playing through the extremely brief and largely bereft of gameplay indie game OPUS: The Day We Found Earth, I found myself seriously considering this once again. You can clear this game in the time it takes you to watch an episode of Game of Thrones, and it’s not one of those games you play through again and again to get different endings. But it’s not quite a precedent setter in that regard either.

In the past, amazing works of fiction like The Killing Joke and Voices of a Distant Star (do yourself a massive favor and watch that on Crunchyroll) have proven themselves to be brief experiences well worth their cost in spite of their premium price tags, and OPUS carries that obscure tradition into gaming like Journey and many indie titles before it. As with all works of art, the experience of the journey far outweighs the destination and I’ve seldom seen so much packed into so little.

opus galaxy

Prettyyyyy…..

In OPUS, you play as Emeth, a lone chibi robot awakened after an indeterminate amount of time offline on the titular space station with one mission: find planet Earth. After traveling across the galaxy, mankind has lost track of their homeworld as their gene pool has degraded, putting their future in doubt. A single scientist, Lisa, and her gruff partner, Makoto, were the only people who volunteered for this insane dream of locating the planetary needle in a cosmic haystack and perhaps recovering a sample of our original DNA.

As Emeth, you can explore the station and the cosmos (using a telescope) along with the onboard AI (a digital duplicate of Lisa). Each newly discovered star system is one infinitesimal step closer to Earth, but OPUS is on the verge of shutdown and the scientists are nowhere to be found. Still, the universe awaits…

Gameplaywise, most of your time is spent following directions to locate potential Earth candidates. It’s quite simple and not particularly challenging, but the main purpose it serves is to advance the story, as each valuable discovery is accompanied by a furthering of the plot back on OPUS. Emeth’s child-like single-minded determination to locate “Doctor” and the AI Lisa’s existential crisis make up the bulk of the characterization, but by unlocking rooms and exploring the station in classic point-and-click fashion, a truly tragic narrative builds towards a climax that can make even a machine cry.   

opus distort emeth alone

So say we all, little guy.

The mood is intensified by a truly stellar (pun intended) soundtrack and, of course, the awe-inspiring beauty that is our universe. I also found some fun in naming each heavenly body I discovered, doing my best to further expand mankind’s mythological roots from all religious pantheons across the galaxy. Maybe a little too late in the game as my knowledge of ancient deities waned I figured I should have named them after video game characters to spread geekology throughout the stars, but them’s the breaks.

The well-paced story picks up a surprisingly urgent velocity as you approach the end with the system on shutdown and the monitor (YOUR monitor) distorting as the station loses power. It’s a very nice touch. The implications of what you learn from exploring the various leaving of the scientists leave as many questions as answers and forces you to look stark reality in the eye and question whether your mission has any worth whatsoever. But like Emeth himself, you’ve been given a task as a gamer and you must see it through at all costs, even if only to honor the memory of a loved one or to remind yourself that even out in the infinite, indifferent void of space with nobody else there to see it, there is still beauty to be experienced.   

Under an hour’s worth of gameplay -most of it spent stargazing- and yet I feel as though OPUS: The Day We Found Earth is an experience I will carry with me for a long time, even with the minimalist graphics and lack of voice acting or meaningful gameplay. This game is exactly what I mean when I talk about the power and potential of interactive fiction. No other medium could have provided this experience.

opus emeth lisa

Hark! What light from yonder galaxy breaks? ‘Tis the solar system and Lisa is the Earth.

A story well told molds itself to any format and this one was made with care to successfully convey a breadth of emotions from melancholy loneliness to humor to despair and hope. It’s in the music, it’s in the character designs and cutscenes, it’s in the text notes and files left around the station and in the original Lisa’s comments that accompany her past discoveries.

It may be tiny by video game standards, but OPUS: The Day We Found Earth manages to encompass not only the vast wonder of exploring the infinite universe, but the trials, tribulations, and fortitude of the human spirit (even with no humans around) in an hour’s time. That’s an amazing accomplishment no matter how you look at it and it’s one I’m happy to have experienced.    

  

Five Signs that Overwatch Came Out too Soon

overwatchsoon

Now that we’ve had a little while to live with Overwatch and ponder the latest gaming sensation that has taken over the internet it’s about time to assess it without the hype of Blizzard’s marketing machine, its game of the year-tier metascores, and fifteen-foot tall action figures. And I think a lot of gamers may be thinking the same thing at this point: is that it?

Overwatch, if nothing else, may represent the best pure PvP multiplayer experience of the year so far, but even that fantastic gameplay comes with a lot of flaws; too many to justify the scores, at the very least, when compared to its more complete competitor, Battleborn. In fact, in a lot of ways, it seems like half a game, even when sitting next to a title that even the developers admit was incomplete upon release. Street Fighter V, I’m looking at you. When that one came out, I questioned whether this was going to be the new industry standard, and with Overwatch‘s massive success to prove you don’t need to put a lot in to make a blockbuster, we’re sure to be seeing more of this.

It’s a known fact that Overwatch was cobbled together partially from elements of Blizzard’s scrapped MMO project, Titan -which spent seven years in development before being cancelled just prior to the announcement of Overwatch– in order to recoup the cost of Titan’s failure. And it shows. As much fun as it is, there are a lot of very unusual elements and mistakes in this game that make me feel like it wasn’t given the proper time and attention to be all it can be. Here are five examples.

Lack of Game Modesoverwatch menu

Basically, Overwatch has only two game modes: Escort and King of the Hill. These two objectives are mixed up a bit, but basically, you capture and/or hold a given area or you escort or stall a payload vehicle. That’s it. And no, I don’t count the Weekly Brawl (which seems to serve no purpose other than diminishing the number of selectable heroes) as another mode so much as a bad idea that eliminates the game’s greatest strengths. Compare this to…..oh, every AAA shooter ever. Imagine a Halo or Call of Duty game launching with only two game types. Even Street Fighter V has it handily beat on this front.  

I was actually shocked when I bought the game and it was literally the exact thing I played during the beta test. There may be an extra map or two, but the entire game was pretty much the beta.. And Blizzard is currently working on a ranked mode as well. The fact that they couldn’t manage this before release is probably the most blatant possible evidence that this game was released unfinished. I’ve played massive single player RPGs that launched with ranked multiplayer.

It’s not super hard to come up with fun stuff for gamers to do. The cast of Overwatch is awesome. We’d do anything with these characters and call it fun. But two basic modes of play is weak sauce to justify a full retail price tag. How lazy do you have to be to limit your games to “stand by this vehicle” or “stand in this square”? Capture the Flag could be really fun and strategic with this lot. Just saying. Say what you want about Battleborn, but each of its multiplayer modes are deeper by miles and there are more of them in addition to a serious single-player/co-op campaign.  

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Gee, thanks for the info…

Presentation/Features

While adding brilliant features like highlight videos made Overwatch stand out from the crowd with stylish flair, it alternates between treating its players like they’re firing up babby’s first shooter and pro-tier memorization. Right off the bat, the tutorial insults you by teaching you how to walk and move your reticule and shoot and push buttons and stuff. If you need to be told how to do these things in a hardcore online-only PvP shooter, you’re going to have a bad time.

And once you’re in the game, it doesn’t bother telling you about little things like, oh, the game types. I actually didn’t understand how the Payload objective worked for a good long while; I just busied myself shooting folk and eventually found out that the vehicle moves when you stand next to it. Seems like that may have been good information to mention while they were teaching me how to walk. And maybe some brief character tutorials for intimidated beginners?

You pretty much have to memorize which game type goes with which map if you want to choose your hero accordingly. Some characters excel on certain maps/objectives more than others, but Overwatch only tells you where you’re going, not what your objective will be once you get there so to choose accordingly, you either have to memorize the objective of each map or hurry up and rechoose your hero while you’re still in the spawn point. Either way is an unnecessary pain in the ass. Also, the inability to mute your audio-griefer teammates on the fly is crazy in this day and age.

And then there’s the lack of anything beyond hero loot. There’s a meh intro cinematic (Youtube has already done better) and almost no in-game lore or reason to keep playing aside from maybe someday earning a really cool skin or highlight intro by luck of the draw. But instead uses the scarcity of in-game currency to fleece players with microtransactions, as if we didn’t already pay full price for half a game. Come on, man; give us something. Even some unlockable fan art a la Blazblue would have been nice, but once again, Overwatch leaves gamers are left with nothing but the barest of bare bones.

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Overwatch: official sponsors of in-game lag.

Lag

I noticed this in the beta and didn’t solve it until a few days after I bought it, but this game gave me the nastiest lag I’ve seen since Call of Duty 2. As in the second Call of Duty. Ever. Over ten years ago. Blizzard was quite unhelpful, suggesting that maybe people need better internet service or to check their RAM, but I have overpriced broadband that can typically have Netflix and/or Hulu running while I game online with no issues and am playing on a console. This was an Overwatch thing.

After scanning several message boards and articles filled with an equal measure of complaints and non-help, I found one gracious soul who suggested that the game was too demanding for wi-fi and to try a wired connection. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me so I’ll just blame it on the fact that EVERY OTHER GAME I OWN PLAYS FINE OVER WI-FI.

But yes, the correct answer to fix the insane lag occasionally rendering my game borderline unplayable was to stretch an ethernet cable across the room and plug it into the router like we’re back in the nineties. Remember the nineties? Cool times, man. Crappy internet, but cool times. To any aspiring game developers out there, do us a solid: please optimize your games properly before you release them so we don’t have to use ancient technology to play modern day multiplayer.   

overwatch widowmaker tracer

Who needs a narrative when you’ve got ship-bait?

Story

What story? Something, something super team of super heroes doing super things, world needs us, blah blah. Why are they all killing each other over cars and small colored squares and how is it saving the world? And since when are video game stories told in cutscenes on Youtube instead of, you know, in the game?  

No, Overwatch does not have a story, and that’s okay because it only needs to kick ass and chew bubblegum. Then run out of bubblegum. Maybe that’s three things.  Still, it would be fine if it didn’t pretend to have a story that is clearly being made up as it goes along and relates not at all to anything that happens in the actual game. Ideally, you make a story first and then design a game around the story, not try to come up with a story after the game is finished.

Battleborn barely has a story either, but the characters -which are even more numerous and diverse- are all so much more well developed with a lot of their backstories becoming apparent from their in-game chatter, including opponent-specific trash talk. I max leveled characters and was still hearing new lines of dialogue after ten hours or more of playtime with them. They also have unlockable audio and text lore to flesh them out.

These are inexpensive and simple things to put in a game if you’re willing to put in the effort. How many times have you heard “it’s high noon” or “our world is worth fighting for” by the end of your first week playing Overwatch? I don’t even want to know. Come on, man, flesh these characters out a little! The little pre-round mini conversations are a nice start, but that’s all they are: a start.

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It’s not like bugs are a new thing in video games, but I’ve seldom run across so many in such a small first person shooter. And some are so glaring that I wonder if they weren’t deliberate choices. Overwatch may look like a million bucks, but it’s just plain janky at times. And I won’t even mention the massive hitboxes that allow you to be head-shotted from around a corner without even being visible to your enemies. Whoops, I just did.

The biggest thing that sticks in my craw is having to select my character twice. Often when you select your hero, the game will drop you onto the map with the message “waiting for players” for a few seconds or so and then bring you back to reselect your character. Or sometimes the screen just blinks before forcing you to reselect. It’s not like it’s game breaking, but it does make the game feel cheap and glitchy.  

Speaking of glitches, the fact that the text from your last match stays on your screen until your next match is pretty awful, particularly for a game that warrants screen shot and vid sharing as much as this one does. When you go to save your highlights after a particularly nice session, every character change and other in-match message displayed at the end of your last game will be immortalized along with them because they never go away until you shut the game down or start another match. Removing text from the screen is so utterly basic it makes me think this was a deliberate choice, but if it is I can’t think of a single function it serves.

And then there’s the interaction wheel. It’s a cool idea; letting players exchange greetings and slogans and emotes, if only to pass the time in the pre-game lobby. Unfortunately, it’s occasionally a crapshoot as to whether it will actually do what you want it to do. You can select your emote and end up thanking somebody or announcing that your ultimate is charging (isn’t is always?) or try to say a line after killing somebody and end up performing a lengthy emote while the enemy team casually wanders over to you and blows you away. And a decent portion of the time the command just fails to register so nothing happens at all.

It’s a bit crazy that the positive reaction to Overwatch has been so over-the-top when so many games that have launched with more content and smoother experiences have been derided for much lesser offenses of the same nature. For an afterthought of a scrapped MMO project it’s an amazing game, but with all of the unnecessary little annoyances, rough edges, and the astounding difficulty of obtaining in-game currency, it’s hard for me to be as positive on the whole as the rest of the gaming community seems to be. Fun game? Absolutely. Addicting as crack? Slightly more so. Game of the Year? Only if it’s a really slow year. Sorry. Maybe the sequel will deliver a more finished product, but for the time being: hype denied.

Why Aren’t We Getting More X-Men Games?

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Did everyone run out and see X-Men: Apocalypse last week like dutiful little geek girls and boys? Yeah, I’m sorry you had to see that. Even if brain bleach was a thing, there wouldn‘t be enough in the world. But it did get me thinking that maybe Hollywood just isn’t the medium we should be using to explore the complex and (let’s just say it) insane universe of Marvel’s outcast mutant heroes. The budget would be too big for a television series, and at this point I’m a bit tired of established actors halfassing these roles, anyways. Only video games are up to this task, and yet the industry remains strangely reluctant to give us what we want.

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I don’t remember Samus Aran being in this…

The history of the X-Men in video games is a long and checkered one. Nineties kids swear by the epic SIX PLAYER co-op arcade beat-em-up, and it was a lot of fun for its day, in spite of its ridiculous quarter-devouring boss difficulty spikes. I spent hours struggling against the Battletoads-esque challenge that was Arcade’s Revenge on the SNES -which was actually pretty great in hindsight- and found Mutant Apocalypse to be a solid attempt at bringing the team to the small screen.

The Sega Genesis churned out some winners before the X-Men joined the growing army of Street Fighter clones along with a spattering of forgotten portable titles finally leading up to 2004 and the one game that finally captured them in all their glory. X-Men Legends was the game we’d all wanted and maybe never thought we’d get. A perfect action/RPG combining deep comic lore with a massive roster of playable and upgradable heroes while still capturing the co-op fun of that old arcade game. This thing was so true to the comics in its details that Cyclops and Havok’s powers didn’t even work on each other during that boss fight. That’s commitment to authenticity.

After only one sequel (which featured the first ever playable Deadpool) the X-Men Legends franchised was broadened into the awesome Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which cranked out one disappointing sequel and then vanished, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of Marvel action-RPG fans.

x men destiny emma frost

I’m assuming this is from a nightmare sequence where Emma Frost shows up to work in her underwear.

2006 brought a horrible video game tie-in with the third X-Men movie (you know, the one so bad they needed an entire other movie specifically designed to retcon it out of existence), and 2009 gave us X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a surprisingly great gaming tie-in to a horrible film, but not a true X-Men title. Then there was X-Men: Destiny, which looked to bring back that lovin’ feeling and instead got met with gamer apathy and savage reviews after the budget was cut and the final product came out feeling unfinished. That was nearly five years ago and since then Marvel’s legendary cash cow has been sitting on the shelf while gamers wonder what the hell happened.

My best guess is that Disney has put the kabosh on developing X-Men merchandise until the film franchise is back where it belongs with Marvel. The House of Mouse has a poor history with handling gaming franchises so until they figure out that this new-fangled video game thing that the kids seem to like so much is actually an industry set to rival and potentially surpass Hollywood itself as the entertainment opiate of the masses, we may not want to get our hopes up.

It’s kind of sad since the X-Men defined comics for years, ruled our childhoods with an all-time classic cartoon in the nineties, and have just generally served up some damn fine entertainment while allegorizing important social issues for decades before the internet made meaningful discourse on such topics impossible. And I honestly can’t think of a better medium to relaunch and explore the franchise than video games.

As insane as the comic continuity is, it’s highly unwelcoming to newcomers as a general rule and the X-Men proper have been a bit of a shambles for a good while now, arguably because Disney/Marvel are trying to edge them out and replace them with the Inhumans (good luck with that).

Rebooting them as an ongoing video game franchise could be the best possible way to experience Marvel’s finest creation anew. X-Men Legends was practically a perfect game, but still had room to grow. Give it a Mass Effect level of cinematic character development and choices and more immersive 3D combat rather than the outdated top-down dungeon crawler perspective and you’d have a potential game of the year on your hands.

x men disney princesses

Courtesy of Diego Gomez.

Everybody loves the X-Men, and everybody loves gaming. Win. Win. It seems crazy to treat video games as a mere advertising tie-in when they could be as much of a moneymaking franchise as the films or comics have been. If Disney really is burying Marvel’s most storied superteam just to deny 20th Century Fox’s films exposure, they’re cutting off their own nose to spite their face. The Disney/X-Men fanart alone [see right] proves that.

Gamers, comic nerds, and sci-fi film fans are pretty much one in the same. We aren’t going to play an X-Men video game and then go “hey, this Wolverine dude seems pretty cool, if they make a movie with him in it, I’d totally watch it. Whhhhhaaaa? You say they already did? Hot damn!” As consumers, we know what we want and we know what’s available to us.

And if we are assuming that nobody knows who the X-Men are without Disney’s say-so, it would still work both ways; fans of the movies would be at least as likely to buy the games as fans of the games would be to watch the movies. Plus, now that the movies are officially crap again, offering up a superior alternative to fans of the property seems downright lucrative.

Film was never the best option to explore the universe of the X-Men anyways. Video games are able to provide more focused and expansive narratives and better-developed fictional worlds to boot. Add in the interactivity and customization allowing gamers to fully immerse themselves and affect the story and characters with their own actions and there you have it.

There they are!

A video game wouldn’t build an advertising campaign around Psylocke and Storm and then just have them stand around like lame background decorations. And as bad a rap as video game writing has, the last time they had lines as corny as “you’ve got a warplane….let’s go to war” delivered without tongue firmly in cheek, Jill Valentine was the master of unlocking. And they don’t write stories designed explicitly to shove flavor of the month celebrities down our throats either. That’s right, I’m calling it: Jennifer Lawrence is the female Keanu Reeves. Now where did I put my “deal with it” sunglasses?

It’s obvious that the X-Men still have a lot to offer gamers, and that the ever-evolving and mutating industry and art form gaming has become has even more to offer them in return. I really hope that things change and Marvel’s merry band of mutants has another chance to be represented at their best in virtual entertainment because in current comics and films, that simply isn’t happening anymore. This generation deserves a fresh look at what has made this property so iconic and gaming may be the only way to bring it back in the near future.   

 

Is the Single-Player First Person Shooter an Endangered Species?

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There was a time when all you really needed to make a truly great shooter was a killer campaign. Half Life, Duke Nukem, Wolfenstein, and Doom were gaming royalty. The original Halo: Combat Evolved defined an entire console generation based mostly on a fantastic campaign. But it really seems like the focus has changed to multiplayer in recent years and most developers just can’t be bothered with quality stories, opting to tack on a few shooting gallery levels with dialogue to games clearly geared towards PvP.

Last gen we had BioShock and the sleeper hit Bulletstorm, but we also saw series like Halo and Call of Duty devolve into single player mediocrity with only multiplayer to justify the purchase. And now Overwatch has perhaps become the first true blockbuster to charge a full AAA price tag for a game with literally no in-game story at all; just an ongoing series of Youtube videos for those who actually want to get to know the characters a little. It was tried before with Titanfall and Evolve, but neither of those titles became the hits they were hoped to be and the lack of single player content was usually the reason given for players’ relative apathy. Sixty dollars for half a game just wasn’t what people were looking for.

duke nukem forever poop

Pictured: how Duke Nukem Forever turned out.

With video games emerging as a fantastic and ever-growing medium for telling all sorts of stories, it’s kind of disappointing to see a genre that lends itself so well to immersion apparently running in the opposite direction. Reboots of classics Doom and Wolfenstein seem to have failed to capture that early ‘90s magic (although the latter was a major hit in Europe and with many gaming publications), and we all know how Duke Nukem Forever turned out.

What’s going on here? Are developers out of ideas or are players just so focused competitive online play now that the single player experience has become an afterthought at most? Also: HALF LIFE 3, WHERE ARE YOU?!

While blasting my way through the various facets of Gearbox’s recent multiplayer-centric team-based shooter Battleborn, I noticed something different about myself: I didn’t want to play it alone. Historically, I’ve always been a solitary gamer who enjoys the occasional bouts of PvP and co-op, but single player experiences have always been my bread and butter. I never really got the hype for the lauded co-op in Gearbox’s flagship series, Borderlands, finding it kind of rushy and grabby whereas I prefer to take my time and explore at my own pace.

battleborn multiplayer

…or I could just do it all alone. I guess.

Aside from the relatively small amount of missions, Battleborn is a perfectly fine single player shooter with funny writing, tons of characters to choose from, and dialogue that is a little different each time you play it. But after playing through the chaotic battles that result from the difficulty spike that comes with adding extra players and more/tougher enemies to the mix, these full-blown epic throwdowns made the single player experience seem tame and joyless in comparison. I don’t know if it’s just decades of geeky isolation catching up to me and making me yearn for the comradery of my fellow gamers or just the game’s multiplayer-centric design, but I don’t really enjoy playing Battleborn by myself all that much.

And maybe this is becoming true of the gaming community at large. We’re so used to everything being connected to the internet -and the rest of the world- that some kinds of games just feel empty without sharing the experience with other players and now we’re ready to shell out the big bucks for games exclusively built for that.

This might be the way the mainstream industry is going, but I doubt we’re going to be terribly short on great single player FPS experiences for long. We may just have to look a little harder. The Shadow Warrior reboot is getting a promising-looking sequel, Dishonored and Alien: Isolation (while stretching the definition of what constitutes a shooter) have turned heads with their stealth approach, and Deus Ex is present and accounted for as well. And there’s still Far Cry.

deus ex mankind divided adam jensen stealth

Deus Ex: Gamerdom Divided

So to answer my own question: no. First person shooter campaigns may no longer be the industry-leading belles of the gaming ball that they once were, but if you take a good hard look, there are are still a lot of options out there for gamers looking to shoot up the joint without dealing with the added intensity of contesting with other players who run the gamut from gaming gods with inhuman skills to incompetent children to griefers who only show up to ruin your fun.

And maybe separating the two experiences somewhat is a good thing. What makes a great single player shooter doesn’t always make for a great multiplayer game and vice versa. Although I personally want a game that delivers both, I can see why the industry might start focusing more on titles like Bioshock Infinite and Overwatch that do one or the other exceptionally well. It leaves developers free to do what they do best and lowers budgets while catering to specific markets.

Hyper-competitive bros and art nerds are two very different gamer crowds that have mixed in this genre for a long time. The bros historically dive straight into the PvP while the nerds take their time soaking up the campaign and often find the multiplayer excessively hostile and unwelcoming. Maybe instead of promising epic Halo campaigns and disappointing the fans in that aspect when the multiplayer turns out to the obvious focus, splitting the series into two different campaign and multiplayer-focused titles would be better, with different studios each focusing on what they do best?      

I’m a sucker for value. I need bang for my buck. Naturally, we’d assume this means that a great FPS needs both single and multiplayer components.  But I sometimes wonder if I’m getting the best value when I buy a game with a weak campaign but good multiplayer or mediocre multiplayer and a solid campaign. Like maybe they could have taken the resources they used to tack on some half-ass single or multiplayer mode to make the best parts even better instead.

Sure the best of the best shooters have delivered both in the past, but the gaming community and the industry it supports are both evolving. Single player FPS’s may not be going away, but we may still be looking at the beginnings of a shift that may change the genre as we know it. And if devs can crystallize what it is that gamers really want from the experience, it may even be for the better.

Five Must-Play Characters for Overwatch Beginners

overwatch

In keeping with my emergent pattern of playing the new team-based multiplayer beta, writing an article about how awesome it was, and then doing a list of characters to watch out for right before launch (as established by Battleborn), today I’m prepping for the release of Overwatch.

According to Blizzard, nearly ten million players (lifts pinky to corner of mouth) partook of the Overwatch Open Beta, practically guaranteeing the game will be a smash hit and that this list will be unnecessary since everybody and their grandmother probably already has strong opinions on victory pose bootyshots and transforming salt-powered turret bots.  

But this is video games on the internet. There is no dead horse we shall hesitate to beat, and besides, there may be some poor soul somewhere who was in a coma for the beta or sat it out  because the SJW’s had won but whose resolve is crumbling amidst friends’ tales of online glory. Overwatch is coming in hot and unlike Battleborn, every character is available from the get-go, making that first character select screen a little bit intimidating for newcomers.

But fear not, theoretical noobs; I’m here for you. This is my list of five characters that future pros are going to want to familiarize themselves with if they want to be the coolest of the cool. Overwatch has a fabulously charming and balanced cast to choose from, and I chose this motley crew based on style, usability, and general in-game effectiveness. With a little finesse, any kind of gamer should be able to wreak online havoc with one or all of these characters in any situation. These are five of the best Overwatch has to offer.   

D. Vaoverwatch d va

Let’s kick this thing off with the giant girly mech in the room, shall we? D. Va is just awesome. Tracer may have grabbed headlines as the face (and butt) of Overwatch prior to the beta, but it seems like most sites are leading with the pro gamer-turned celebrity mech pilot these days. And why wouldn’t they? She’s cute as a button and lethal as all hell. And did I mention the giant robot?

D. Va’s mech is equipped with dual scatterguns with infinite ammo. That makes her perfect for laying down suppressing fire. At a chokepoint, she can keep an entire team at bay if none of them has a shield. Also, she has a shield. Activating the Defense Matrix gives her a few seconds of anterior invincibility. It’s not much, but she doesn’t need much because D. VA CAN FREAKIN’ FLY! Jet boosters can be used to roadkill weakened enemies, attain better vantage points, or just close ranks with the opposition really quickly to cause some havoc.

And even if the other team whittles down the mech’s massive health bar, she’s not done. She’ll eject and become a nimble footsoldier. She may not be as effective as Tracer at this point, but her laser pistol can do serious damage so with a little hit-and-run, D. Va can still be a beast all by herself. And when you build up her Ultimate meter, she can call down another war machine and carry on as she was. When she builds it up while she’s in the mech, she can self destruct it and take out an entire team in one fell swoop and get an immediate replacement. Use while boosting to turn her mech into a room-clearing missile or even drop it on them from above. “Nerf this” indeed.

 D. Va’s personality makes her the star of every show. Her combination of geekspeak commentary and J-pop styled cuteness is as entertaining as her deathbot is awesome. Expect to see her around. A lot.

overwatch reaper poseReaper

Reaper is good at one thing and one thing only: killing every last motherfucker in the room. And boy does he have the tools for it. His backstory as a former military officer turned vengeful mercenary is somewhat mysterious, but his appeal as a playable character is not. I picked him in my very first game based on dat mask alone. He looks badass. He plays badass. He is badass.

Reaper is armed with twin shotgun pistols that are absolutely murderous in mid-to-close range. Three to four well placed shots and on to the next victim. Making it even worse for the opposition is the fact that he can teleport damn near anywhere he can see -regardless of elevation- with only a slight charging delay. He also has the ability to turn into an invulnerable wraith form, which is equally perfect for getting in close to attack or retreating when the odds turn against him. Nobody is ever safe from this guy.

Reaper can consume the souls of his victims after they go down, restoring his own health in the process. And expect to see a lot of Play of the Game highlights featuring his Ultimate attack, where he goes full John Woo and holds his weapons at arms length while twirling and spraying lead in all directions while chanting “Die! Die! Diiiiieee!” (the other team usually complies).   

Reaper’s personality as a no-nonsense evil assassin will make him a favorite among edgy teens and hardcore player killers alike. He’s a great pick-up-and-play character to rack up kills with and his teleportation skill makes him palatable to your inner strategist as well. He’s a no-lose choice.

Torbjörnoverwatch torbjorn turret pose

Because the world will never have enough cyberpunk dwarves. This Shadowrun throwback is the perfect man to defend any objective. He’s an old-school (by Overwatch standards) engineer with a distrust of AI and a knack for advanced engineering. He is among the last heroes I tried and I immediately felt like I’d been missing out. I did better with him than with any character previous.

Torbjörn is great for any situation and a major asset to any team. He can throw up a turret in seconds and given a few more, he can hammer it into killing shape. This alone wildy changes the balance of power in any area because his upgraded turrets track extremely quickly and deal out damage by the boatload. If any non-sniper character takes it on alone, I’m betting on the turret. But that’s just the beginning. His gun has both long-range and short range firing options and both are plenty deadly.

The dwarf can also salvage scrap from fallen enemies and convert it to armour packs that he can leave as power ups for himself and his team. Lastly, his Molten Core Ultimate skill upgrades both himself and his nearby turret into super mode to make them both killing machines for a short while. Neato.

Torbjörn’s personality is what one might expect from a crusty old mechanic; charmingly grumblesome and lacking in the humor department. But that’s okay because no matter how much he complains, the other team will complain much more about his goddamn omnipresent turret. Keep it up and running and watch the kills rain down like mana.

overwatch mei droneMei

Hey look, a fully clothed woman in a video game! And she’s not even wearing full body yoga pants. In a game where cute, sexy, and sassy ladies are at the forefront of the marketing blitz, Mei’s personality stands out. At first, the bespectacled Chinese eco-warrior’s ice attacks made her seem like a gimmick character because she plays very differently from most playable video game heroes, but with a little strategy, she can be one of the most fun and functional choices for any fight.  

Mei’s weapon of choice is her Wall-E-esque cryo-drone, which contains her life’s work in climatology. It may have been intended to save the world from global warming, but that makes for weak sauce in a PvP shooter, so you get to freeze people to death with it. Her gun has two methods of firing, a long-range deadly icicle projectile and a short-range immobilizing freeze spray. You can literally run circles around D. Va all day with that thing. In a pinch, she can also entomb herself in ice to recover health and get a few seconds’ reprieve from enemy attacks.

What turns out to be her best ability is surprisingly her ice wall. A match in Overwatch is largely about capturing and defending objectives, and whether you are approaching a group of entrenched enemies or buying a few seconds of cover for allies scrambling to hold onto territory, a wall of ice blocking enemies off can be a real life-saver. It can also be used to divide enemy teams and if you aim at your own feet, you can use it as an on-demand elevator to reach higher vantage points as well. Mei’s Ultimate ability sends out her drone to create a localized blizzard and freeze all enemies caught within it for a few seconds. A stationary enemy is easy pickens for any player on their worst day, and Mei has multiple ways of making that happen.  

As far as personality goes, Mei’s is as unusual for a woman in a video game as her attire is. Shy and introverted are not qualities one associates with first person shooters very often, and her demeanor makes her stand out in this game as much as her unusual abilities do. Judging from the amount of inappropriate fanart of Mei that’s been surfacing, I’d say her charms have struck a chord with the fanbase as well, for better or worse.   

Hanzooverwatch hanzo pose

I had a really tough time picking this fifth entry. I really wanted to go with a support character (Lùcio being particularly cool and unique with a good combination of team buffs and offense), but Hanzo is already such a standard that it’s hard to ignore how valuable he can be to a team. Plus: samurai archer. His mythology-steeped backstory is best explored in this official video but his combat abilities speak for themselves.

He’s got a bow. He’s got arrows. I doubt I have to spell this out for you, but Hanzo works at long range while your teammates get down and dirty at mid and close ranges. Ideally, you’ll be raining death from above and afar, and it’s easy to get a good vantage point because Hanzo can scale about any surface effortlessly. He can also fire an arrow that scatters, potentially damaging a whole group of enemies at once. Pretty basic stuff, really.

But what makes Hanzo especially valuable to any team beyond his sniping skills is his Sonic Arrow, which reveals the location of any enemies within its range to all allies across the map. In an objective based game, this kind of intel can be a game changer, particularly when paired with his Ultimate Dragonstrike attack, which sends out twin spirit dragons that can pass through structures to deliver instant death to unwary bad guys.  

Hanzo is pretty much what you see is what you get. Samurai are cool. Archers are cool. Hanzo is cool. And also really a dragon in human form, so bonus cool points to boot. And giving your entire team a strategic advantage while dealing out death by the quiverfull? Very cool. I guess what I’m trying to say is that his personality is cool, and cool players play as him.

Four Things that Set Overwatch Apart from Battleborn

 overwatchbb

It’s a bit tragic that two games so similar with no real competition besides each other are releasing just weeks apart after massive open betas. Battleborn and Overwatch are both excellent team-based sci-fi/fantasy first person shooters with massive rosters of quirky character capable of filling many hours of your life with joy. But do you have time and money for both right now? I’m guessing maybe not, because I don’t. But whichever game you choose you’re likely to pick a winner.

I’m not exactly the first (or fifteenth) person online to make an article comparing the two highly similar games, but given that the other lists of this nature I’ve read contained such obvious information that I’d assume that they just read the Wikipedia entries, I felt like I should make sure there is at least one from an actual gamer based on actual experiences with the games in question.

In spite of the fact that this is an Overwatch-centric list, I’m going to point out right now that I’m team Battleborn (on consoles, at least), largely because Gearbox Software’s game has a single player/co-op campaign to help justify its AAA price tag whereas Blizzard’s is multiplayer only and twenty dollars more expensive on consoles than on PC for some reason. I also prefer Battleborn’s MOBA-based multiplayer to Overwatch’s more traditional FPS objectives as well as its sense of humor.

That said, Overwatch is still a hell of a game and depending on what you’re looking for (PvP), it may well be your game of choice. I wouldn’t trust any of the Metacritic user reviews on Battleborn that rate that game a 0 while sounding suspiciously like an advertisement for Overwatch if I were you, but if you missed the beta due to some horrible twist of fate, I’ve got you covered. These are four features where Blizzard’s upcoming multiplayer shooter really shines in comparison to its already available competitor.

Visualsoverwatch characters

I’ll go with the most obvious advantage first: Overwatch has got the look of a winner. Not that I don’t love me some cel shading, but it’s not a visual style that appeals to everyone. But if you hear any complaints about the graphics of Overwatch, you are listening to a liar.

The animations are full of vibrancy to really bring each character to life and the overall look is full of charm and details that make the experience feel more visceral and cool. In addition to a massive and visually distinct cast, the maps represent a diverse array of settings that are instantly recognizable. You’ll be murking fools everywhere from Japan in full cherry blossom season to an Egyptian temple, historic Route 66, and even B-movie sets in Hollywood.

There’s just something about the style here that screams “love me”, so hats off to Blizzard for that. It’s not often we see a game with a distinct look that is so instantly and universally engaging, but this is definitely one of those games.

overwatch loot crateLoot

It’s kind of funny that Gearbox Software seems to have botched the loot system with Battleborn when it’s such an integral part of its predecessor series, Borderlands. Battleborn throws a ton of loot at the player, but almost none of it is worth keeping around. And on top of that, you have to individually activate each piece of gear in your loadout of choice during gameplay by spending crystals you collect in each round/level that may be better spent elsewhere. If you’re super lucky you may get a taunt or new colour palette for a random character that you could have unlocked by leveling them up anyway.

Overwatch ditches anything that could give players any advantage, no matter how small, and instead focuses entirely on what Battleborn should have focused on: swag. Each character has a huge number of unlockables ranging from new skins (not necessarily just colour palettes) to victory poses, emote animations, intros for your Play of the Game videos (more on that later), player icons, and even new lines of dialogue they can say at will. And you have to work to earn them, either by gaining currency and purchasing them or luck of the draw.

In addition to these slices of awesome, there’s something else that is really small but I kind of love that Battleborn has no answer for. You have the ability to tag your environment, and these tags make up a large amount of the loot you receive. You get to choose which character-specific tag you want to use for each and can then go about putting your stamp on the scenery. During the beta it was becoming a bit of a tradition for teammates awaiting release in the spawn room at the beginning of the match to tag up the door. It’s a small thing, but I feel like the focus on expressing yourself through unlockables adds a lot of fun to the culture of the Overwatch.

Peer Approval

overwatch mvp vote

I’m not sure if this is the first game ever to do this (probably not, but I don’t recall ever seeing it before), but there is a vote at the end of each match to determine who kicked the most ass for their team. A post-match popularity contest may seem like a bad idea and it definitely needs some tweaks (you shouldn’t be able to vote for yourself, for example), but there’s no feeling I’ve experienced in gaming quite like getting an “epic” vote (over 40% of players) in Overwatch.

I’m normally of the DGAF school of what other players think of me, but I have to admit the first time I scored five votes and was declared “epic”, my immediate reaction was clutching my controller to my chest and declaring “You like me! You really like me!” It’s like being voted homecoming queen of gaming for a match, but instead of being pretty and sociable, you were awesome at a video game.

By comparison, Battleborn has an objective scoring system, which sounds better but has its own set of problems. Some things that may be less important (player killing) are scored way higher than other things (minion destruction) in objective-based gameplay, and sometimes you can get the biggest numbers for almost everything and somehow not get the highest score. No idea how that works.

There are aspects of team-based gameplay that can’t be quantified -such as effectively shielding other players from damage- that the game may not add as a factor, but other players really appreciate. This empowers gamers to use the support classes, even if they don’t get to shred enemy players’ faces as much. In the beta you didn’t get a reward for votes, but Blizzard has hinted that this may change and I think some in-game currency and/or XP would be in order to further push gamers towards helping their teammates with support classes or playing the objective rather than just focusing on killing.

overwatch d va play of gameHighlights

This one is pure vanity, but we humans are vain creatures. Prior to the MVP vote, Overwatch shows you the “Play of the Game”, which is really damn cool. Usually it’s a triple or quadruple kill (although I’ve seen timely feats of multiple player resurrection make the grade), and the game doesn’t really have the ability to take style into account when choosing who gets the nod but it’s really nice to both admire somebody else’s well-executed kill streak or Ultimate attack and have other players see yours as well. Every game is so frenetic that it’s good to take a moment at the end of a match to see a particularly impressive slice of that action.

But wait, there’s more! You don’t have to rush to mash your share button and comb over your recent gameplay to make videos of your greatest hits. The game does it for you. Your last several impressive plays are saved complete with your intro of choice, so after a night or two of gaming you can relive your finest moments and save/share your earth-shattering badassery without all of the searching and editing hassle. Observe:

Ah, the old “throw up an ice wall, toss a cryo drone around the side, and then murder them all with icicles while they’re helplessly frozen” play.  

In spite of the lack of single player/co-op, Blizzard seems to be pushing online gaming in the right direction with Overwatch. Giving players lots of choices and unlockables to express themselves with and dozens of diverse playable characters with distinct roles to fill and not overloading them with useless loot or rewarding more experienced players with even more advantages and instead just focusing on style while offering a well-balanced multiplayer experience is something to be applauded. I may not be buying it on release day since I’m loathe to pay full price for a MP-only title, but Overwatch and I will meet again someday, and I’m betting it will have even more to recommend it by then. Looking forward to it.

 

Five Games that Seriously Triggered My Arachnophobia

spiders

I like to consider myself a fairly fearless person; que sera, sera, nothing to fear but fear itself, and all that. Maybe it’s desensitization due to a lifetime of gorging myself on horror films, shows, novels, and games or objective analysis of realistic risk factors that has left me mostly numb to the crippling anxiety that afflicts people who watch Discovery ID and the news and then go to bed with their covers pulled over their heads and visions of murderers and rapists dancing in their dreams at night.

Where others are terrified of real life due to over-dramatized and hyped up atrocities being portrayed as everyday life on television, I’m actively seeking things to terrify me through fantastic fiction. In real life, fear is the great mind killer that keeps you from doing what you want to do and therefore from being who you should be. In other words, just a challenge to overcome and then realize that there are very few things in general worth fearing. Save the fear for make believe, I say. But you know what does scare me in real life (yeah, I know you read the title so you already know the answer, but humor me)? Motherfucking spiders.

Other people take rational fears of human evil to irrational extremes. Me? I’m freaked out by something I could effortlessly kill in a thousand ways and could genuinely harm me under almost no circumstances. But it wouldn’t be a phobia if it made sense, yeah? And besides, I’ve got real life stories of personal surprise encounters with black widows that would make anybody believe they really are out to get me. Very few works of fiction have really captured what makes spiders so damn unnerving, but video games have a leg up due to their interactivity and visceral nature.  

A lot of people have made lists of this sort claiming that this game or that game is terrifying to arachnophobes because there’s some giant spider monster or something of the sort in it. But that’s not necessarily scary by itself. I mean, blowing up giant spiders by the thousand with rocket launchers or whatever in Earth Defense Force or encountering and slaying your hundredth cave spider in Skyrim is freakin’ exposure therapy if anything (although there is a PC mod for the latter that replaces spiders with weird bears due to some arachnophobes being unable to deal with it, so maybe that’s just me).

I consider a game to have sufficiently triggered my arachnophobia only if it causes me physical pain, meaning my body tenses up to the point that I get cramps or I clinch my jaw so hard it aches. Not a lot of games have successfully done this, but I can think of at least five, and here they are.

Resident Evilspiders resident evil remake

The original PlayStation was perhap the first console to make genuinely scary games. Cinematic graphics, voice-acting, and three dimensions opened up a whole new world of icky storytelling possibilities and it didn’t take Capcom long to show me the first video game spiders to ever legitimately terrify me. They just seemed so much more lifelike than anything that came before them, and the way they reared up when they attacked looked so realistic it sent shivers down my spine. And I still hear that scritching sound they make when they move about in my nightmares.

When I played the remake, they got me again in spite of the fact that I was prepared. Heck, I was counting on them. Yet when I walked through a rather innocuous door to find the camera fixated on one of the bastards perched right over my head I seriously shouted “NONONONONONONO!!!!” and ran back through the door.

After a minute or so staving off hyperventilation I was ready to unleash some lead into some virtual bugs, and unleash it I did. But there was this one room where one of them was up in a corner where I couldn’t shoot it scritch. scritch, scritching while I was solving a puzzle and it almost gave me a nervous breakdown expecting it to jump down and eat me. Well played, Capcom. Well played.    

uncharted 3 spiders

No, no, no, NONONO!

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Like I said, it’s not necessarily giant spiders that get me. Like the Resident Evil boss spider, for instance. That’s just a bigger, more shootable version of the ones that scared me. What makes spiders scary isn’t how big they are, it’s that they can and will hide anywhere. Give a huge black widow an inch of shadow and it can make itself practically invisible. Case and point: Uncharted 3.

I remember early in the game you come across a disturbingly large specimen of spider resembling a black widow. Not “shoot it with a grenade launcher” big, but “hey, that could happen” big, which is way worse. It made me instantly nervous because of the old Chekhov’s Gun trope. Narrative law states that if you show something cool now, you have to do something with it later, and Naughty Dog is nothing if not a slave to storytelling tradition

Naturally, being Nathan Drake, I found myself in a cave and said cave became lined with spider webs and a small crevice I had to squeeze through to proceed. It was like a nightmare where I knew what was going to happen but was powerless to stop it. Me. Spiders. Tight places. Just no. There’s nothing worse than knowing spiders are totally going to crawl all over me while my inner optimist is holding out hope that maybe they won’t and then they totally do. Somehow that’s even worse then when it’s a complete surprise.

Being Uncharted, and therefore prone to blockbustery spectacle, the next obvious step was being chased by a million billion kajillion spiders, which I’m sure is somebody’s worst nightmare. But for me once you take out the suspense, it becomes just another rollicking good time action sequence and a gameplay challenge to stay in the light that the rampaging arachnids fear (see John 3:20). But I’ll remember that crevice for a loooong time.

Dark Souls 2spiders dark souls 2

FromSoftware are amazing at invoking fear, paranoia, and panic. Okay, maybe not geniuses; all you really have to do is create a hellscape world where every single goddamn thing can kill you and then turn the player loose in it. But nobody does it like they do it. What other developer can claim a basic gameplay feature like having enemies come up behind you pretty much whenever you do anything? Their company motto must be “surprise, motherfuckers!”

But rear attack isn’t exactly how they played the spider thing in Dark Souls 2. Like Uncharted 3 they went for a combination of suspense and shock-and-awe, but they did it much more successfully. They used horrible fantasy-sized spiders as cave wall decorations. Maybe give you a few easy kills. Just enough to creep you out while bolstering your confidence. Then you walk into a large room and like two dozen of the things immediately descend on you from hidey-holes the ceiling. Fuck you, FromSoftware.

As a gamer and a human being, I’m eternally grateful that some kind soul left a message in front of that room in Brightstone Cove Tseldora advising me that I’d need a torch going forward, but as a horror fanatic I’m kind of disappointed because if I’d walked into that mess without a torch to ward off these eight-legged atrocities, I…I don’t know what would have happened (aside from my avatar dying horribly), but it may have included unpleasant bodily functions and neighbors calling the police. Could’ve been fun.

But thanks to that helpful message, that wasn’t the even worst part. The worst was remembering that moment and exploring the cave while giant spiders watched me from their perches. Sometimes one or more would come and try their luck, and sometimes they would not. The not knowing made the whole experience extremely intense. As a general rule, you have to watch your back in Dark Souls, but at this point I could barely progress. I was mostly just spinning in place. Every time I had an eye on a complacent spider, I felt like another was going to descend from the ceiling or crawl out of a hole behind me.

There was another moment a little later on where I entered a house and heard something smashing against wood right before a spider burst from a hole hidden behind a bookshelf just to show me that I wasn’t even safe indoors. Fuck you again, FromSoftware. Fuck you and well done!    

alien isolation facehugger deathAlien: Isolation

Sorry, purists, but I’m putting the hands-down best horror game of the last generation on this list despite its lack of actual spiders. But any way you look at it, the facehuggers are specifically designed to tap into our fear of creepy crawly arachnids. They’ve got eight arms to hold you and a tail to strangle you with to boot. And they don’t just bite you and hope you die from venom, they literally rape your face and impregnate you with an alien horror. Facehuggers are arachnophobia’s final form.

Most of Alien: Isolation, you’re being relentlessly stalked by a terrifying and merciless unstoppable killing machine while trying to avoid feral humans and politely murderous androids. You literally make any noise and the xenophobe is upon you. This game will raise you blood pressure permanently on its tamest day. But is that enough? Nope! Bring on the creepy spider-legged instant death machines!

The scariest scene in Aliens was when Ripley and Newt are trapped in a room with a facehugger and you can hear it skittering around, unseen. You know it’s there, but you don’t know where. Yeah, well, Creative Assembly took notes. Towards the end of the game the little bastards start coming at you -often in tight spaces- and if they get to you it’s game over, man. As in you get a first person view of all eight legs wrapping around your face. It’s a hell of a moneyshot to take after crawling around in the dark being able to hear the things coming for you, but not knowing which direction to look.

Limbospiders limbo web ceiling

Okay, so this one is on all of the spiders in gaming lists, but that’s because it’s mandatory. Limbo quite literally tapped into one of my greatest childhood nightmares like no other game at one point. What’s so scary about spiders, again? Horrifying, inhuman appearance? Check. Utterly silent and capable of amazing feats of stealth? Check. Can produce venom that can potentially do severe harm to a fully grown human in spite of the fact that they eat goddamn bugs? Check. How about they trap their prey in sticky silk, wrap them up with it using their freaky legs and leave them to ponder their horrible fate for a while before slowly dissolving and drinking their bodies bit by bit?  Yeah, screw that.

Remember the original version of The Fly? The ending where the man’s head on a fly’s body is trapped in a web screaming for help? Still one of of the most terrifying horror moments for me, ancient cheesy special effects and all. Just the idea of existing on that level of the food chain and being caught helpless in a spider’s web is unthinkably horrible. The first time those legs are unfurled from behind a tree in the shadow world of Limbo in an attempt to spear you, there’s something elementally triggered, and the fact that it continues stalking you after the initial encounter is even worse.

But the part that made me grind my teeth until I was afraid I’d need dental work was when you are walking in a cave and step into an innocuous-looking piece of landscape that turns out to be spider’s silk. While you struggle fruitlessly, the huge spider slowly crawls into view from the ceiling behind you and gingerly grasps and cocoons you. I hadn’t thought about this in a really long time, but childhood terrors came flooding back to me in those seconds. HELP MEEEEEE!

Five Must-Play Characters for Battleborn Beginners

battleborncharacters

The launch of Battleborn is upon us and I can’t kick the feeling that some poor souls missed out on the open beta last month are going to buy it and be tossed into the fray with pros who have already spent dozens of hours learning the ins and outs of the game’s twenty-five strong army of insanely diverse playable characters. Worry not, forlorn gamers! I’ve got you covered.

The early game of Battleborn is all about acquainting yourself with the various characters, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they are best utilized in any situation en route to finding one or two special characters that suit your own personal gaming style and taste. Preferably one that lets you utterly dominate your fellow players.

I picked the following five characters based on a combination of their strength in story missions and multiplayer battles, novelty and personality, and general fun factor. And although they are among the best characters in the game when used properly, they are among the easiest Battleborn to unlock (although the methods vary so make sure you check the in-game codex), so you don’t have to wait very long before you get to play as them. These are the early game characters beyond the starting seven (who are also fantastic in their own way) you’re going to want to latch onto early to simultaneously maximize both your score and your online success.

battleborn galilea

“Only pain and death for you here.”

Galilea

This dark knight strikes fear into any online player who sees her coming. In the beta, she utterly dominated PvP exchanges and almost invariably carried the high score for any match where somebody chose her. And somebody always chose her. She’ll likely be nerfed to some extent prior to release, but her capabilities are delightfully stackable, so if you level her up right and play smart she’s going to be a threat no matter what.

Galilea’s main weapons are a sword and shield. Her melee capabilities are only rivaled by Rath, but in addition to swinging a nasty broadsword, she can use her shield like Captain America to block almost all incoming damage and throw it to damage and stun opponents. One of her upgrades allows the shield to return to her hand if she hits the target, which is awesome because you won’t have to wait for cooldown to get your defense back. But what really makes Galilea a killer is her demonic powers, which allow her to get stronger as she fights, amplifies damage done to enemies in her vicinity while healing her, and even lets her transform into a pool of pure dark energy to devastate multiple enemies at once.

The Battleborn’s backstories are filled in with unlockable lore earned by in-game achievements. Galilea’s past includes ill-advised covert operations that have led to a catty rivalry/frenemyship with Ambra and to her present terrifying abilities. Neither lady is big on personality, but if you like no-nonsense characters with a serious darkside and nigh-unlimited power or have been quietly nursing fantasies of a playing as a medieval/sci-fi sword-swinging female demonic Captain America, then your time has finally come.  

battleborn toby

“Apologies in advance for your grieving widow! I’ll send flowers!”

Toby

Out of the whole batch of available lunatics Battleborn gives you to choose from, Toby stands out. Maybe it’s his personality, maybe it’s the fact that he’s a mech pilot/mechanic or the way his helmet doesn’t fit, or maybe it’s the fact that he’s an adorable penguin cut from the Rocket Racoon mold. Maybe it’s all these things, but there’s just something really awesome about this guy.

Toby’s death machine has got some beastly combat capabilities. On top of a chargeable/zoomable railgun built into one arm, a mine-launcher on the other, a massive laser, and thrusters for serious mobility, it can project a stationary shield that blocks incoming fire while allowing for outgoing. In fact, the shield can be modified to enhance your outgoing railgun blasts to increase damage, velocity, and even split each projectile into three for some seriously devastating effects. This makes him an ideal pick for crowd control to deal epic damage to the enemy frontlines, but it also makes Toby a major target in PvP where he’s often at a huge one-on-one disadvantage, especially against melee fighters, so most gamers are going to want to stick to story missions with him unless they’ve got friends with solid teamwork.

Toby’s most endearing quality is probably his dual personality. He’s naturally super adorable, but he doesn’t want to be and is prone to flying into rages when people patronize him or treat him the way he looks and acts. But I mean, come on! The dude climbs out of his mech to fly at the bow when he goes through a man cannon like he’s going to shout “I’m king of the world!” and alternates between apologetic anxiety and cackling psychosis on the battlefield. Who wouldn’t want to cuddle him? Plus, I’m pretty sure he flirts with me during the matchmaking screen. If the game takes off, he may single-handedly launch a furry storm the likes of which we haven’t seen since Friendship is Magic debuted.

battleborn benedict

“I see lots of explosions in your future!”

Benedict

One of the most prominent faces of Battleborn, and for good reason. First, he’s a hawkman, man. Second, he’s got a bigass rocket launcher. Third, dude is crazy. And lastly, he’s a ball to play as. One of the great things about this game is the breadth of gameplay styles presented by the characters. Some characters are great at mobile hit-and-run harassment, objective completion, and resource gathering (Thorn), some are great at buffing and healing teammates (Miko), some are absolute player killers (Ghalt), and some are just really cool. Benedict is one of those.

Obviously, sporting a rocket launcher has its advantages; explodey area of effect damage and all that. But in addition, he has a special projectile that tags a target when it hits and allows subsequent rockets to home in, making them much harder to dodge, and an ultimate attack that allows players to manually guide the missile in first person and detonate it manually. But the big advantage to playing this character is exactly what it looks like: he can fly. Or at least glide. One of his skills launches Benedict skyward and by holding the secondary attack button he can remain there for quite a while either slowly floating down while raining death or actively pursuing and dive-bombing the enemy. Being the only character really capable of this give him a huge advantage in evasion and surprise attack capabilities. And, as stated previously, it’s also really fun.

Benedict’s personality is….interesting. His initial taunt is hopping from leg to leg with his hands up next to his head in a “nah nah nah-nah nah” manner, but he can also cough up the occasional spare rocket, owl pellet style. His bio claims he loves three things: himself, rockets, and himself. Personally, I’d add a fourth: more rockets. His trash talk is routinely rocket-centric and besides, who doesn’t love a good explosion?

battleborn shayne aurox

“Shayne and Aurox: Teen Detectives. Tell your friends”

Shayne and Aurox

Definitely a personal favorite of mine due to both cool factor and gameplay. Shayne is a punk kid with a talent for boomerang-slinging, and Aurox is an interdimensional demon-djinn-symbiote thing. Together they are trouble. One of the best attackers from any distance, these two have a combination of skills that make them extremely adaptable and dangerous.

As a general rule, Aurox is a melee attacker, but with Shayne’s rapid fire boomerangs as a secondary attack capable of ricocheting to hit multiple enemies, they’ve got major offensive flexibility. Plus you can send Aurox flying to physically grab a distant enemy and bring them back to your position, which is great for opponents in groups or entrenched positions trying to snipe you and it can be upgraded to steal their shield to boot. In a pinch, you can activate stealth mode, which renders you invisible either for escape or advance and deals explosive area-of-effect damage when it expires. Their Tag Team technique sends Aurox to an area of your choice to unleash hellfire while the player controls Shayne to inflict even more damage with boomerang attacks.

These two make a hell of a duo, but there’s trouble in infernal paradise that goes beyond Aurox’s indignation at being called a teen detective if you dig into the lore. It’s some dark stuff, and all the more reason to love these two. The moment I knew I was really going to love this game was the first time I taunted and Shayne and Aurox both put out their arms, shook their fingers, and shouted “JAZZ HAAAANDS!” in their young girl and monster voices together. Shayne in general is a serious trash talker and like a lot of the Battleborn, her ongoing dialogue is part of what makes the game so fun.

battleborn ambra

“Please stare directly into the flaming orb of death.”

Ambra

The character that proved the best fit for me in PvP and along with Galilea, probably the most essential character to boost your score, gain experience to unlock more Battleborn in multiplayer matches early on, and generally kick ass. Ambra is crazy powerful, easy to use, and possesses healing capabilities, so consider her a must. Praise the sun.  

Ambra’s stackable skills make her almost unbeatable in a pitched match. First off, her staff auto-targets and drains the life out of any target within range, healing her at the same time. She can also create multiple solar balls that simultaneously heal allies (and herself) and drain enemies and can also explode like mines. Now picture fighting an enemy whose attacks heal her while they damage you with no need for aiming and has multiple balls of fire doing the same. You do not want to engage this character on her own terms. Ever. Throw in her insanely powerful solar wind area of effect attack and the ability to make a goddamn meteor fall from the sky on you and you can see why she’s going to need a nerf.

Immortal, all-powerful priestess of the sun or not, Ambra has a bit of an attitude. Then again, I’d say she earned it. The woman just dominates the battlefield. I’m not crazy about her initial “Walk Like an Egyptian” taunt (kind of out of character), but I definitely loved having her make a throat-slitting motion after taking down another player knowing that the camera zooms in on it and forces the defeated to watch. Her powers may harness the heat of the sun, but she’s got ice cold killer’s blood in her veins.  

I know what you’re thinking, fellow beta testers: “where’s [insert favorite Battleborn here]?” And who am I to minimize the elegant-but-deadly charms of Phoebe, the generic space marine appeal of Oscar Mike, the lithe elvish mobility of Thorn, the C3PO-inspired snipery of Marquis and his army of mechanized attack owls, or any of the others? Well, it’s a testament to how great Battleborn is that even if I did a list of my top twenty characters, the five that I left out would probably have an army of advocates demanding to know why they weren’t included. The cast is that good, and that’s the best reason to pick this game up. See you online!