Tag Archives: Xbox One

Destiny’s Optimism Is Desperately Needed

If the majority of science-fiction is to be believed, the future isn’t all that great. While the circumstances are always different — evil mega corporations, alien invasions, depressing dystopias, war and pollution — science fiction has a history of making the future out to be mighty bleak. Authors, filmmakers, and game developers always count on humans to never learn from their mistakes. We will continue to kill our planet. We will continue to wage war against our fellow man. We will continue to fail.

Destiny, then, is a breathe of fresh air, but not necessarily from a gameplay perspective. It’s a shooter with RPG elements, a fun and addictive combination of gameplay that will no doubt keep players hooked for a long time. But that isn’t what has me excited for the game. What makes me excited and what I find so refreshing about Destiny can be described in one word — optimism.

It can be found everywhere in Destiny: from the game’s fictional past to the purpose of the Guardians, to the sun filled environments and the NPC dialogue. Humanity once lived in a golden age, where they expanded to the cosmos and unlocked the secrets of the universe thanks to help from the Traveler. Human life span tripled.  It was a time of miracles. This was a future where humanity lived up to it’s utmost potential and shined.

When players start their journey in Destiny that future is no longer the case. Humanity has been pinned down into one city, protected by the power of the traveler, and their cosmic civilization has crumbled. Darkness encroaches on all sides and it is unclear for how much longer the Traveler will be able to protect humanity.

Rather than wallow in the bleakness of the situation, Bungie takes a different approach to their new universe. The darkness can be fought back they say. Hope is not yet lost, and humanity can once again reach their potential and reclaim the civilization that was at once lost. Fight back the darkness. Unite.

That optimism is a far cry from the majority of other sci-fi shooters. The future presented by popular third person shooter Gears of War is about as bleak a future as you can get, with humans waging endless wars over limited resources only to be decimated by the monster like Locusts from deep beneath the earth. The world of Gears of War is brown and gray, filled with despair, hardship and a never ending sense of doom and pointlessness. None of the characters feel like there is much reason to continue fighting, other than to simply survive and keep their friends alive. Bungie’s own Halo series is a constant uphill struggle, with humanity at the brink and the Master Chief really being the only force strong enough to fight back against the seemingly unstoppable Covenant and the horrific Flood.

All three franchises — Halo, Gears of War, and Destiny — have a similar core theme of humanity being on the edge of destruction, but the way they go about presenting them are wildly different. Destiny is bright, vibrant, and filled with the hope that Earth’s heroes, the Guardians, can fight back the darkness and lift up humanity once again. That isn’t present in Halo, Gears of War, or most science fiction for that matter.

That’s because Destiny embraces an older idea of science fiction, one that isn’t about predicting one of humanity’s potential dark futures but about capturing that special kind of wonder that can only come from gazing up at the stars and wondering “What’s up there?” This kind of sci-fi is about exploring colorful alien worlds and discovering the mysteries of the universe. It’s about a humanity that isn’t grounded on Earth where it is destined to stagnate, but about a humanity finding it’s place in a wide universe filled with mystery, danger, and adventure.

It’s refreshing. In an industry where dark, gritty and hyper violent Mature rated games are far too often the norm, Destiny is a Teen rated game that can be played and enjoyed by nearly anybody. Destiny embraces optimism, the idea that humanity’s best days are not behind them but ahead, the idea that maybe we can overcome our faults and our challenges and rise to the occasion. Maybe, just maybe, we can take to the stars and carve out a new destiny for the human race rather than suffer the bleak one that so often is presented as our future. I don’t know about you, but I think the game industry could use a little more optimism.

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Battlefield Hardline Is A Nice Chance Of Pace

I have never enjoyed Battlefield as much as other shooters like Call of Duty or Halo. Whereas the action in those titles is near constant, Battlefield as a franchise to me features way too much down time running from point to point, only to be sniped by a sniper’s bullet from afar before I start my trek across the map all over again.

Why the heck did I sign up for the Battlefield: Hardline closed beta then, you ask? The game’s E3 showing impressed me, so when they announced a beta going live right that minute, I signed up, got in, and started playing this new take on classic cops and robbers.

Hardline is definitely still a Battlefield title. There are big teams sizes, vehicles galore, weapons, gadgets, and accessories to unlock, and large maps with destructible environments. Any player who played Battlefield 3 or 4 will instantly be at home here. The game map featured in the beta, High Tension, is set in the middle of a downtown city center, complete with skyscrapers, cranes, and overpasses. While the map is big, it isn’t near the size of many Battlefield maps, lending the game a generally quicker pace than some earlier titles.

Rather than the tanks and machines of war seen in Battlefield 4, Hardline features more civilian grade vehicles, though occasionally supped up to meet the needs of the would be bandits. Armored sedans and muscle cars can be used by the gangsters, while police have access to armored SWAT vans, squad cars, and helicopters.

What really sets Hardline apart from the rest of the Battlefield franchise are the two game modes featured in the beta, Heist and Blood Money. In Heist, robbers attempt to break into a vault and make out with the cash, with the police of course doing everything in their power to stop them. Blood Money puts a stash of cash in the center of the map and tasks each team with collecting as much as possible and bringing it back to their teams respective vaults. Classic Battlefield capture point wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but I would be surprised if it didn’t make it’s way into the final Hardline product.

Of the two modes, I found I preferred Blood Money, despite Heist being the game type that is clearly trying to be Hardline’s main attraction. The pace of Blood Money is frantic. You can be killed while carrying your wad of cash, allowing the enemy to pick up your hard earned money off your corpse. Your team’s vault can also be raided by the enemy if not defended diligently, requiring some members of your team to play defense while others make cash runs.

New equipable gadgets like the zipline and grappling hook shine in these modes. Because of the verticality of the maps, the grappling hook makes reaching sniping positions much easier, while the zipline is invaluable as a tool to quickly escape to your teams vault with a money stuffed dufflebag. Other gadgets like trip mines and the taser are fun additions as well, but the utility of the zipline and grappling hook work well with the fast paced nature of the game types.

Cops and robbers seems like a strange idea to fit into the Battlefield mold, and it is. If you actually think about it, why are the police causing billions of dollars in collateral damage by blowing up buildings, cars, and overpasses just to catch some thieves who are making away with a few million bucks? While the concept isn’t perfect, the game manages to breathe creative life into a franchise that has more or less been the same since Battlefield 1942. Will the full game be worth playing? Who knows, but after spending some time with the beta I can safely say this is the first time I’ve been interested in a Battlefield game since Battlefield 1943.

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Lara Croft’s Therapy Session Isn’t A Sign Of Weakness, It’s A Sign Of Strength

When I saw the teaser trailer during Microsoft’s E3 press conference for Rise of the Tomb Raider, I was excited. I thought it was one of the better game trailers I’ve seen in a long time. It had a great sense of momentum, a wonderful aura of suspense, and a fantastic musical score that had me excited for the future of the franchise. It helped that it was also a complete surprise.

If you haven’t seen the trailer, it shows a hooded woman, later revealed to be Lara Croft, in a therapy session with an older white man. As her therapist speaks to Lara about the trauma she sustained after the events of the previous game and her mental condition, Lara can be seen visibly shaking. Her therapist worries she’s fallen into a “mental trap” that she may never escape from. But there is another possibility — Lara could become who she was meant to be.

I was impressed and excited to see Lara’s return. So when I went online later that day, I was a little confused by some of the reactions I saw. Some shouted “How dare the developers make Lara Croft seek help from a man!” or highlighted the idea that Lara receiving therapy somehow made her weak. They claimed developers were once again stripping a powerful female protagonist of her strength, similar to how Metroid: Other M transformed Samus into a character completely dependent on her male supporting cast.

For me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Lara Croft is a gaming icon, though probably for all the wrong reasons. She’s starred in her fair share of great action titles and a few poor ones as well, but she isn’t recognized the world over because of her brains, skills, or the quality of her games. She is remembered because she is a female protagonist sporting tight shorts, a small waist, and huge breasts at a time when most gamers were still teenage boys. If you don’t believe me, look no further than the above promotional image. The fact that she is a strong, independent woman is secondary to her sex appeal, at least where the old games are concerned.

I can’t say I was ever a fan of the old franchise for basically that reason. So with no history with the franchise I went into the recent Tomb Raider reboot with an open mind, and what I found impressed me.Tomb Raider is by no means a perfect game, but it does plenty right. Unique puzzles, solid shooting, good platforming, beautiful scenery, great voice acting and good writing. The story left a little to be desired, but after finishing the game and putting down the controller I can safely say that my favorite part of Tomb Raider is, well, the Tomb Raider herself.

It’s brilliant really. Crystal Dynamics managed to transform a character that existed first and foremost as a sex icon into a strong, smart, and believable heroine. She doesn’t begin as a hardened killer or expert explorer. She starts as a very intelligent woman in a deadly situation, who is forced to rely on herself to see that she and her friends make it to safety.The Lara of the the rebooted Tomb Raider has a powerful will to endure, and a desire to protect those she cares about that allows her to do the impossible.

The trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider looks to build upon this idea by looking at Lara and the events she survived with a level of attention rarely seen in games. On that island Lara killed for the first time, lost loved ones, suffered unimaginable pain and survived near unbearable conditions. But she survived, though surviving in the world of the new Tomb Raider, just as in the real world, doesn’t mean emerging unscathed.

I’ve written about this before. Though by no means the only entertainment medium guilty of this, video games seem to have a knack for completely disregarding the repercussions of a life of violence. Game action heroes kill thousands of people on screen, and then act like completely regular Joes at the end of the game. As a lover of narrative, it’s always been a disconnect that has bothered me.

Which is why I enjoyed the latest Tomb Raider and the new trailer for it’s sequel so much. The developers look to be actually acknowledging that what Lara went through isn’t normal, isn’t something that you can just shrug off. It has to be overcome.

We sadly live in a society where to accept help is viewed as weak. Lara, to some, is showing weakness by seeking help in the new trailer. It is because she is a woman, some say, that the developers are choosing to show her seeking help, reinforcing an absurd idea that women aren’t as strong as men and somehow butchering her character in the process. If Lara was instead a man, they say, he wouldn’t seek counseling. That last bit is correct, and is exactly the problem.

I hear stories every day of veterans coming home from war who are too afraid or too ashamed to seek help for their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Instead they bottle it up and keep it inside, often with dangerous consequences for both themselves and those around them. The truth is this — men and women are equally weak. Nobody goes through traumatic events like seeing friends killed or killing others and is completely, 100 percent okay afterwards.

I would argue the problem is not with how Lara is being portrayed, but rather the problem rests with how our medium instead chooses to portray its stoic, white, male action heroes, men who often kill without hesitation, thought, or remorse. We don’t see the men of countless military shooters struggle with survivors guilt or the loss of loved ones. We don’t see action heroes like Nathan Drake think twice about killing hundreds in a quest for treasure. It’s all swept under the rug, reinforcing the fantasy that men are magically stronger and better equipped to deal with the horrors of war and combat than woman and thus don’t ever have a problem with it.

The fact that we do see Lara, both in the reboot and in this trailer, struggling with what she’s lived through doesn’t make Lara weak. It’s in fact quite the opposite. It makes her stronger, much stronger than the countless, interchangeable male heroes whose developers choose to make them mentally invincible. It gives her obstacles to overcome that aren’t as primitively simple as “shoot the bad man,” or “blow up the base.”

Seeking help isn’t an act of weakness, it’s an act of strength. And this new Lara Croft has it in spades.

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My Top 5 Games of 2013

This year was a pretty huge year for gaming – it’s not every year that two next-generation gaming machines hit store shelves, and few console launch’s have been as heated or as controversial as the debate among gamers about the merits or flaws of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. But even though much of the news centered around Microsoft’s and Sony’s clash of the titans, this year’s best games aren’t to be found on the newest pieces of hardware. No, this year I found the best gaming experiences to be the small, short, and often thought provoking independent game titles that I could pick up for $15 or less and play in an afternoon. Below are my top five video games of the year, with number one being my Game of the Year.

5. Injustice: Gods Among Us

Fighting games have a certain affliction which seems to plague them year after year – lack of single player content. The most recent example of this is the Xbox One launch title Killer Instinct, which features absolutely no arcade or story elements. To me, a primarily single player gamer who still enjoys the skill and complexity of a good fighter, this is a problem.

Thankfully Netherrealm Studios, the makers behind the excellent 2009 Mortal Kombat, know how I feel. When I learned they would be making a fight based in the DC Comics universe, my expectations as both a comic and fighting game fan were sky high. What Netherrealm delivered was Injustice: Gods Among Us, a visually stunning fighter filled to the brim with content, both online and off. While most fighters provide bare bone single player experiences or none at all, Netherrealm delivered a full length story mode, complete with voice acting, cinematics, mini-games, and what I would call the best alternate DC universe storyline in the history of DC Comics. Coupled with the S.T.A.R. Lab challenge missions, tons of unlockables and plenty of online matchmaking options and Injustice is not only the best fighting game of the year but one of my favorite games of last year as well.

4. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed III let me down. It really didn’t fulfill any of it’s promises. The controls were sloppy and unresponsive. The main character Connor showed no emotion or complexity. The storyline, with it’s constant shoehorning of Connor into practically every pivitol event of the American Revolution, is boring at best and cringe worthy at worst. If this was the future of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I wanted no part of it. But among all the crap was one shining beacon of hope, the naval missions. Soon rumors began to surface that an Assassin’s Creed pirate game was in the works, drawing heavily from the naval combat of III and expanding it and perfecting it. I told myself I would come back to the franchise if the rumors were true.

The rumors were true, and I came back to the franchise with arms wide open. I don’t regret it. Black Flag is an improvement on III in just about every regard, with more precise controls, beautiful visuals and a more captivating historical background. I feel a little guilty including this on my top game list. Black Flag’s narrative isn’t very impressive. It is sometimes confusing, and for the most part doesn’t accomplish much or move the storyline of the franchise any further. What is does do however is provide the ultimate escape from reality. It is so easy to get lost in this digital version of the Caribbean, exploring every nook and cranny. Who hasn’t dreamed of sailing the high seas, free as can be, with your crew of pirates and friends, doing what you want when you want? Now after nearly 100 percenting Black Flag, I can safely say it is not only the best and most polished Assassin’s Creed game, but also the best pirate game in gaming history.

3. Bioshock Infinite

A long time in the making, Bioshock Infinite let some with too high of expectations down. Some criticized it’s violence or it’s linearity. Others compared it to it’s predecessor, saying the floating city of Columbia wasn’t as interesting or as well done as the sunken dystopia of Rapture. I beg to differ. The themes of race, American exceptionalism, and religion found in Infinite I found to be much more captivating and thought provoking than the economics of Rapture. Throw in the sci-fi element of alternate realities and the idea that one choice, one single act, can change the course of one’s life entirely and you have me hooked. The gunplay is just entertaining icing on the cake.

Infinite is on this list, despite it’s flaws, because it made me feel uncomfortable. Entering a temple dedicated to Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, made me uncomfortable. Being asked to lynch an interracial couple made me uncomfortable. The level of violence Booker directs towards his enemies, violence he can’t seem to control, makes me uncomfortable. If something in a game makes me uncomfortable, it is probably doing something right, and Bioshock Infinite hit just enough right notes to make it one of my top games of 2013.

2. Gone Home

There is no combat in Gone Home. No mini-games. Almost no voice-acting. It takes only about two or three hours to finish.

Which is exactly why Gone Home is so brilliant. Players occupy the body of a young twenty-something girl coming home from an extended trip across Europe. While she was away overseas, her family moved into a strange new house, and when you arrive nobody is home. Cryptic messages tell you not to snoop around, and to definitely not go up to the attic. What follows is a simple game of exploration, finding documents, notes, and other clues that help the player piece together what has happened to this family, in particular your younger sister Sam, who is the author of many of the notes lying around the house.

I loved Gone Home because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I finished it in one single, intense and focused sitting as I searched every inch of this spooky and foreign empty house. The game throws curveballs at you, at times making you think it is something it isn’t. At the end, the very real and very strong feeling of dread I had before opening the door to the attic was something I haven’t felt in a video game in a long time. Gone Home is important because it shows games don’t have to be about guns or violence. They don’t have to last 30 hours to be considered “worth it.” And they don’t have to be told in cinematics that take you out of the experience, but rather can be told simply through the gameplay. For all the reasons above, Gone Home is one of my favorite games of 2013.

Game of the Year – Papers, Please

Papers, Please is an indie game about stamping passports. And reading rule books. And verifying birthday’s and expiration dates.

Sound exciting? Not really, but place these mundane sounding game mechanics in a dystopian country called Arstotzka, reminiscent of Cold War Soviet Russia, where you work as an immigration official on the border and things get complicated quick. With one simple “Access Granted” or “Access Denied” stamp can save or ruin somebody’s life. Do you deny this man entry because his paper’s aren’t up to date, even though it would separate him from his wife and child? If you let him through your job might be on the line, as every mistake you make cuts into your already measly paycheck, which you must use to pay for food, heat, and medicine for your family. Do you accept bribes? Do you detain innocent people because you get money for every three people detained? Do you help rebels trying to smuggle agents into the country? Every chapter of Papers, Please includes more heart wrenching choices like these than any other game I’ve played. The consequences of your actions are near immediate and painful. For more than half of the game I wasn’t able to provide both heat and food for my family. Soon all of them were sick, and I was forced to allow my uncle to die so I could have enough income to buy medicine for my wife, son, and mother-in-law. All of this is told in in the retro aesthetic of the game were people for the most part are just pixelated silhouettes and 90 percent of your time in the game is spent at a desk staring over documents.

This simple gameplay and clean interface, combined with it’s social commentary on security checkpoints, full body scanners, privacy and immigration law, makes Papers, Please without question my game of the year. Check it out. Glory to Arstotzka.

What games were among your favorites this year?

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