Our voyage through this orgy of excess and consumerism continues. This entry will cover Square Enix, PC, Devolver Digital, and part of the Ubisoft show. The next entry will wrap everything up. For real this time.
Square Enix – Final Fantasy 7 Remake
On the podcast last week I joked that Square Enix would chop up the original so that Midgar – the starting city in Final Fantasy 7 – would be an entire game all by itself. It turns out the joke’s on me, because that’s what they’re doing for real.
I should make it clear that I’m not one of the hardcare fans of this game. I played it sometime in 2005 or so, when I was in my mid 30s. Most of the fans played it in 1997 when they were teenagers or young adults. It had an enormous impact on them, and so this is a really big deal for those fans. For me, it was something I really liked, but for a lot of people it was a defining moment in their relationship with the hobby.
The new combat looks a lot like other modern JRPG titles. It runs in realtime, you’re free to move around, and you press the attack button to charge up your abilities. It looks fine to me, but I don’t know how it will go over with the fans.
It’s very pretty.
Most of the rest of the Square Enix presentation was a never-ending chain of JRPGs. This isn’t really my genre, so they all kinda blurred together in my mind. Let’s skip all that and jump right to…
Square Enix – Marvel’s Avengers
I’ve been saying for years that we need more superhero games. The genre feels so perfect for the medium. The Batman: Arkham Whatever games proved that you can make a really successful franchise if you’re willing to spend the money to develop a quality experience, and yet the vast majority of superhero titles end up being crappy shovelware movie tie-ins. Finally Disney has licensed a proper developer to make a proper Avenger’s game.
And it somehow looks terrible.
Maybe it’s mean to nitpick the graphics, but this was a 100% cinematic trailer with no hint of gameplay. When judged as pre-rendered footage, this looks like it belongs in a presentation at E3 2011.
The entire Avengers segment was fifteen minutes long. They showed cutscenes, interviewed cast members, and had presenters describe the game, but they couldn’t show us any gameplay? The game releases in exactly a year, so the gameplay systems ought to be in a presentable state by now. I think these visuals are drab and underwhelming, but I think most people would be willing to overlook that if it was part of an otherwise solid experience with good gameplay. But it’s reasonable to assume that they’re trying to show off their strongest content, and if these cinematic sequences are the strongest content then this game is in trouble.
Withholding gameplay at this point just makes me worry what developer Crystal Dynamics trying to hide. The game was apparently playable on the show floor, but there’s no footage available to the general public. Reactions seem positive, but they’re positive in an alarming way. Every reaction so far has praised the game for they way it “feels like God of War”The Thor stuff. and “feels like Anthem”Iron Man stuff., and how it seamlessly transitions between cutscenes and gameplay. Apparently a lot of those punching sequences in the trailer are actually quicktime events? Also, this whole “feels like X” design makes me worry that this game is going to be a hodgepodge of things lifted from other games while lacking that fine tuning and polish that made those mechanics such a success in the first place.
All of this this sounds like developer Crystal Dynamics at their worst. My big problem with Rise of the Tomb Raider was that the cutscenes were so constant and flow-breaking. Every couple of rooms, the designer would yank control away and make you quicktime your way through something. There was a huge focus on the story, and the writing wasn’t anywhere near strong enough to support that level of narrative focus.
This trailer doesn’t even have the fun quips and banter the movies are known for. At one point we get this dialog:
Black Widow: Thor, what’s your status?
Thor: There are humans trapped! And there are lots of small angry men.
Iron Man: Is that a joke? Did Thor just make a joke?
Shamus Young: No Tony, that wasn’t even close to being a joke.
The fact that the writer feels the need to self-consciously point out jokes makes me think we’re either in for a snooze or (worse) a cringe-fest. This cutscene was a full three minutes long. (Most Marvel trailers only run for two, and occasionally two and a half.) In all that time the game never made a case for itself. It was a bunch of loud action, flat utilitarian dialog, no drama, ugly visuals, and uninspired cinematography.
My Escapist column this week is going to cover this trailer in more detail. That should go live later today, and I’ll have a post discussing it tomorrow. So I’m not going to enumerate all of the problems with this trailer or I’d just be repeating myself.
I know the game has almost a year before release. But based on this trailer, I’m not seeing the creative spark that makes for a good game. Everything we’ve been shown is weak and the lack of visible gameplay is worrisome.
Devolver Digital Big Fancy Press Conference
I don’t know that there’s a lot to say about this show. Devolver Digital is mostly an indie publisher and their show every year is basically a long skit making fun of the big publishers. I generally like what they do, but the “gore, insanity, and severed limbs” jokes aren’t really my thing in terms of humor.
None of the games they showcased really interested me, but I’m glad Devolver is out there doing their thing.
PC Gaming Show
I don’t have a lot to say about this one either. I’m a fan of Day9, the perpetually positive presenter of this promotional PC party.
What I found interesting is that Epic Games did a lot of the funding for this event. Those guys sure are throwing a lot of money around these days. I think those Fortnite millionsCould it be billions? are burning a hole in their pocket. It kinda reminds me of those situations where a lower-class person wins the lottery and blows through the whole thing by impulsively buying random stuff.
I’m not saying that’s what Epic is doing, I’m just saying it reminds me of that sort of intense, unfocused spending. I’m glad they funded the show, but I’m wondering if they have a plan for when the Fortnite well runs dry.
EDIT: I have been reminded that Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines 2: The Videogame is a thing that’s happening. This is pretty surreal. A decade ago I thought these sorts of talky first person open-world roleplaying games were dead. But now Deus Ex is alive again and we even have stuff like Prey. And Cyberpunk 2077 is coming. I suppose Dishonored might also count? Anyway, big-budget first-person games aren’t just for shooting military dudes anymore. I am 100% in favor of this trend.
Bloodlines 2 looks solid so far. The only downside here is that this game is scheduled for the early months of 2020, and those months are PACKED with other games. In any other year, this would be on my “buy on release day, play until 2AM all week” list, but next year? I’ve already got so many games fighting for that position I’m not sure what I’m going to do.
Again, this is not a complaint.
I don’t really have much to say about Nintendo, and I’m only listing it here because some people might worry I forgot. None of Nintendo’s properties land in my wheelhouse and I’m not familiar enough with all the non-Mario properties to have anything meaningful to say about them.
Although I’m happy to hear the Mario Maker is coming to the Switch. That’s a really good idea.
Also, Witcher 3 is coming to the Switch? I’m just thinking of the scene where Geralt finally tracks down Whoreson Jr. and finds the dismembered naked prostitutes on meathooks. Does Nintendo know what they’re getting into here? I’m thinking this will be the first time something like THAT has shown up on a Nintendo system.
Ubisoft – Uplay+
You know, I’d like Ubisoft a lot more if they weren’t such massive assholes to us PC based gamers. Their DRM treats us all like pirates and Uplay is a useless irritant with nothing to offer the end user. I’m mostly not a fan of their open world collect-a-thon games like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed, but I can at least respect those games on the basis of their loyal fans. They’re not for me, but people do love those games. But Uplay? Phone-home DRM? Nobody’s a fan of that garbage. It’s an anti-feature, and for years we’ve had plenty of evidence that DRM doesn’t help the bottom line. It’s all cost and no benefit, and if you’re running a billion-dollar publishing house then being ignorant of this reality is willful ignorance and negligence.
Even more annoying is that the company is completely deaf to the PC space. We scream at them that we hate their ridiculous destructive DRM and it makes their products less attractive while doing nothing to hinder the pirates. Then they reply with, “We need to do this to stop the pirates”, indicating they’re not listening, they don’t care, and they don’t even understand how piracy works. We hate on Uplay and they never respond, or notice, or change anything. Their entire approach on the the PC feels like it comes from a place of open contempt. “We’re willing to take your money because that’s good business, but we don’t care if you like our games and we don’t care what you think of us.”
So now they’re rolling out yet another game subscription service. EA’s Origin has one. Microsoft announced a similar service to predictable results. Discord has one. And now Ubisoft. Demonstrating their complete obliviousness towards the audience, they’ve named it after Uplay, their hated PC nagware / memory sink.
Do they seriously not know?
I’m sure I’ll try it when it launches this September, but only because I’m expecting it to be obnoxious and maybe I can get a column out of it.
I’ll finish this series up in the next entry, including talking about my favorite game of the show that doesn’t have “Cyberpunk” in the name. Warning: It’s probably going to be confusing.
 The Thor stuff.
 Iron Man stuff.
 Could it be billions?
What did web browsers look like 20 years ago, and what kind of crazy features did they have?
The Best of 2011
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2011.
A horrible, railroading, stupid, contrived, and painfully ill-conceived roleplaying campaign. All in good fun.
Two minutes of fun at the expense of a badly-run theme park.
Quakecon 2012 Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.