on Westworld, Batman and Bioshock, and Bethesda

1. I’ve been out of commission for longer than usual; we were out of town for a family wedding, and then the bulk of my evening free time was spent getting caught up on Westworld, which I adore.  I’ve said here before that I don’t often watch that much TV, and most of what I do watch is stuff that’s binge-ready (either because it’s a Netflix series like Stranger Things or the Marvel stuff) or that I completely missed during their regular run and which is now, in its current form, binge-ready (stuff like, say, Battlestar Galactica or Breaking Bad or what-have-you).

So I’m in an unusual place, then, with respect to Westworld; I’m watching it “live” (well, to be literal about it, I’m watching it on Monday evening after the kid goes to bed) and so I’m stuck on the same cliffhanger as everyone else.  I don’t have popular critical opinions cluttering my own perspective, as I’ve made it a point to avoid reading anything about it until after I get caught up.  And so what I can say about it is that, for the most part, I think it’s stunning.  The acting is fantastic (even if Jeffrey Wright doesn’t know how to wear glasses)…

…the cinematography is stupendous, and the writing is terrific.  The show is smart and confident and, thus far, knows exactly how much information they want to reveal with each episode, and I’m totally hooked.  I’ve read some stuff where people are frustrated with the pacing, or that they don’t like the mystery because it’s obvious where things are headed; I disagree.  Certainly I can see a number of different places where it can go, but there are too many things that remain enigmatic, and I’m happy for them to remain that way for the time being.

2. As far as games go, I’m still in this weird thing where I’m feeling disconnected from the game-playing process.  I’m in this weird lull in Forza Horizon 3 where I’m kinda just roaming around; I’m not feeling pulled towards Gears 4, even just to cheat and play ahead of my co-op campaign.

I rented the Bioshock remasters, mostly because I was curious about how they looked.  As far as the Xbox One versions, I was underwhelmed by the first game’s port; but then again, I’ve played that introduction sequence so many times that it’s no longer very interesting.  I skipped looking at B2 entirely and went straight to Infinite, and… yeah, that game’s world and presentation are still absolutely stunning, but the minute I started having to kill things, I could almost literally hear my brain checking out.

On the other hand, I also got the Batman Arkham Remasters, and those games still hold up.  With the occasional weird graphical glitch (on Xbox One), they are still gorgeous and fun and totally absorbing.  I’m breezing through Asylum at the moment and it’s just as terrific as it’s ever been, and I’ll happily play through City when I finish Asylum.

3.  I should probably offer an opinion with respect to Bethesda’s recent decision to no longer offer pre-release review copies to major outlets.  I can’t comment as a member of the press, because I’m not a member of the press; I’ve paid for (or paid for the rental of) nearly every single game I’ve ever played and discussed.  (Indeed, I think I’ve only ever received 2 codes for the purposes of writing reviews, and I didn’t get paid for either of those pieces.)

Anyway.  Do I think it’s bullshit?  Yes, of course.  Do I think it’s intensely hypocritical for publishers to deny critics a chance to review a game while also using those same critical voices to write preview pieces?  Yes, without question.  Do I think it’s ridiculous that Bethesda isn’t allowing professional critics to review their games before release, but that they are giving copies to prominent YouTubers and other “influencers”?  Oh boy oh boy, yes I do.

Will other prominent publishers follow suit?  And do I think this could start an alarming precedent wherein traditional games journalism and criticism becomes irrelevant?

Mmmmmaybe?

I think there will always be a place for long-form written criticism – this is what I want, and this is what I’d have liked to have done professionally – though I suspect that the audience for that particular style will, sadly, diminish in time.  Game journalism is moving into all sorts of weird directions, and a lot of it is heading towards video streaming (which might actually generate some revenue) and podcasting (which almost always doesn’t).  I, personally, have neither the time nor the inclination towards consuming my criticism in those forms, but that’s neither here nor there.

The fact of the matter is that Bethesda is doing this so that slightly-less-than-great review scores don’t affect pre-order numbers.  And yet pre-ordering, in this age of digital downloads, seems largely irrelevant, doesn’t it?  I mean, in the past, I pre-ordered physical copies at a Gamestop because, if I didn’t, then I was shit out of luck for weeks until a new shipment came in.  Amazon made this a little easier, though in my personal experience “release-date delivery” usually still meant “a day or two later”.  Right now, the only advantage to pre-ordering a digital download is the pre-loading of a 50-60 GB file; you’re basically spending $60 for the privilege of instant gratification.

There are people out there with takes much more knowledgeable than mine, obviously, and so I have no idea how much this is going to mess things up for the press.  But if nothing else, the practice of taking games out of the hands of critics in order to maximize day-one profits should finally and definitively answer the question as to whether Games are Art.

Weekend Recap: Falling Out

First impressions are everything.  Back in my theater school days, our teachers told us that the audition process really only took 5 seconds; that in the time it took for you to open the door and walk to the center of the room, the casting agents saw 99% of what they needed to see.  Doesn’t matter how well you prepared your monologue, or if your accents are up to snuff, or how good your pratfall skills are; it’s simply the gut reaction to seeing you emerge and present yourself.  It’s over before you even open your mouth.

This applies to pretty much everything, regardless of medium.  The first sentence of a book; the opening notes of a song; hell, even the title screen to a movie – these all set the stage for what happens next.

And so it is to my great chagrin and disappointment that the opening hour or two of Fallout 4 has fallen utterly flat for me.  If I hadn’t spent hundred upon hundreds of hours with Bethesda’s other open-world RPGs and were therefore inclined to give FO4 the benefit of the doubt, I’d be seriously considering selling my Pip-Boy edition on eBay.

The irony, of course, is that I haven’t played enough of it to properly articulate my feelings as to why I’m feeling so out of sorts with it.  Which means that I need to play more of it.  Which I don’t want to do, at all.

What I can say, though, even in the tiny amount of time I’ve spent with it, is that it looks old.  Antiquated.  Like an iteration of the Fallout 3 engine, only with a more diverse color palette.  Certain environments are clearly copied and pasted, and even in the town of Sanctuary, which is pre-fab even before the bombs start falling, it’s distressing how obvious it is. Characters’ mouths don’t match up with the words they speak, which would’ve been excusable 10 years ago.  The game feels stiff and stodgy in my hands – and while this might be because I just spent 50 hours playing both Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Rise of the Tomb Raider, where character movement is meant to be incredibly fluid, it’s still a thing that I’m feeling, and I can’t help it.

It also doesn’t help that the game doesn’t explain itself at all.  The only reason why I know about crafting and resources and scavenging is because I read a whole bunch of preview and review coverage.  There’s a workshop in the very first town you come to once you escape the Vault, and while there’s a very brief tutorial that shows you how it works, it doesn’t explain why it’s something you need to know, and in any event there’s nothing you can really do with it at that point anyway – so why bother introducing it?  I have successfully modded a pistol, but I’m sure I’m going to come across some better guns soon enough; should I bother?

I’ve also succumbed to some serious radiation poisoning already – far more than I ever received in FO3, and this is just from doing some very minor off-the-main-path exploring in FO4’s first hour – and the potions that I thought would fix that don’t seem to be working.  So either I’m doing something wrong, or there’s a bug, or… I don’t know.  Hopefully there’s a doctor nearby that can patch me up, because if I’m going to be down a full third of my maximum health for the next hundred hours, I might as well just re-roll and try again.


I dabbled a little bit in Star Wars Battlefront last night, too – just some of the solo tutorial stuff, if only so that when I finally do some co-op or general online mayhem, that I know what the hell I’m doing.  It’s gorgeous, which I suppose goes without saying.  It’s also a big shallow and a little dumb, but you know what?  That’s kinda my speed, when it comes to online multiplayer.  Mindless action, where I can just turn my brain off and blow shit up with buddies?  I can dig it.


 

I also played maybe 10-20 minutes of Hard West, which is best described as XCOM in the Old West, and that game is pretty neat!  It’s not optimized for the Steam Controller, though, and I’m either gonna need to find my 360 controller or just use a mouse and keyboard like a regular person.


The wife and I had a movie date yesterday afternoon and caught Spectre, which was better than I’d been led to believe.  Sure, it dabbles a lot deeper into the grosser parts of the classic, misogynistic Bond mystique than any of the previous Daniel Craig films – like basically raping Monica Bellucci literally hours after her husband’s funeral for no particular reason – and Cristoph Waltz isn’t particularly sinister or eeeeee-vil, but overall?  Not a bad way for Craig to make his exit, if this is indeed his last Bond film.  I might be more forgiving than most critics if only because this was the first time that the wife and I got to go to the movies in several months, and it was easy enough to turn off the critical-thinking parts of our brains.

 

 

 

Hypothetical: The Inevitable HD Remake List

My digital copy of Destiny finished pre-loading over the weekend.  I have a thing tomorrow night, though, and I’m not sure if I’ll be awake enough when I get home to do much more than create a character and go through the first 1-2 levels before hitting the hay; therefore, being that anyone reading this will likely have already played through what I wouldn’t get to until Wednesday at the earliest, there probably won’t be a “First Few Hours” post.  And, ultimately, I expect the opening hours to be more or less what we played in the beta, albeit with some additional graphical spit-shining (and (hopefully) some new Dinklage VO).

In the meantime, I think I’ve burned myself out on Diablo III.  (Speaking of which:  if you haven’t yet read Carolyn Petit’s take on Diablo 3 and Dark Souls 2, you should fix that ASAP.)  I find that, these days, I can really only play it for about 30-45 minutes these days before feeling restless and bored; coincidentally, 30-45 minutes is actually just enough time to run some bounties and/or run a Nephalem Rift, get some new gear, and log out.   The bounties don’t seem to change, though; every time I log in it’s the same stuff.  Do I have to finish all 5 bounties in all 5 Acts before they refresh?  That seems… kinda dumb.

So, in order to keep the ol’ wheels turning here at SFTC, and because I’m in a somewhat cynical mood, I’ve spent the last few days guessing what the next inevitable HD remakes are going to be.

We already know about these AAA re-releases, which have either already come out or have been announced as forthcoming.

  • Tomb Raider
  • The Last of Us
  • Metro Redux
  • GTA V
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Saints Row 4
  • Halo 1-4 box set

By the way, the AAA designation is specific and necessary to this discussion.  I’m well aware of stuff like Fez,  Minecraft, Abe’s Oddysee, Hotline Miami, Journey/Flow/Flower and other such indies getting ported to the new consoles; I’m also going to be the first person to buy the Grim Fandango restoration as soon as it’s released.  But I’m specifically talking about AAA titles from the 360/PS3 generation, as those games seem to generate the most press from the big sites – and porting those games also serves as valuable experience for the developers in terms of learning how their existing tech works on the new systems.  (I believe Naughty Dog talked about this specific idea when they ported The Last of Us to PS4 – it helped them learn how to best tweak their engine before getting Uncharted 4 off the ground.)

So, then, what other AAA franchises from the last console era might we expect to see in the future?

  • Beyond: Two Souls is almost certainly getting a PS4 port, according to a number of sources (1, 2, 3).
  • Mass Effect trilogy.  I’ve heard this rumored more than a few times, and it’s not necessarily a bad idea (though it’s asking quite a lot for people who sunk hundreds of hours already to do it again in a higher resolution).  That being said, the boring bits in ME1 would still be boring in 1080p, and the ending in ME3 would still be the ending.  I don’t think Bioware would spend the energy tweaking that stuff when they’d rather work on the new ME game.
  • Bioshock 1, 2, Infinite.  The more I think about it, this seems like a no-brainer.  Consider: the recent iOS port of Bioshock 1; Irrational Studios is all but shut down; TakeTwo surely considers Bioshock a formidable IP that they don’t want to lose.  Just imagine what Bioshock 1 would look like on new hardware.
  • Uncharted 1-3.  Probably a long shot, given that Naughty Dog is already working on Uncharted 4 (and that, as said above, that they learned what they needed to learn about their engine through porting The Last of Us), but it wouldn’t surprise me if Sony outsourced this to another dev house.  Sony’s stated reason for re-releasing last year’s TLOU was because a lot of people who bought a PS4 never owned a PS3; it stands to reason that those same people have never played what is arguably Sony’s biggest exclusive franchise.
  • Gears of War 1-3.  Probably less of a long shot, given that Microsoft needs anything they can get their hands on to get the Xbox One into more living rooms, and given that the Halo box set is a thing that’s already happening.  But this might depend more on Epic and Unreal Engine 4.
  • This most certainly won’t happen, but I personally wouldn’t mind seeing Rockstar come out with their own Orange Box, with Max Payne 3, L.A. Noire, and Red Dead Redemption in one HD package.  For me, personally, that would be my birthday and Christmas every day for the rest of my life.  Hell, I’d just be happy with Red Dead.  It will be a sad day when my 360 dies; RDR is the only reason why I haven’t yet pulled the plug myself.
  • Similarly, I would be very, very surprised to see Bethesda do ports of OblivionSkyrim or Fallout 3/New Vegas.  I’d be inclined to check those out, certainly, but the amount of work necessary to properly port those games seems far too excessive, and it’s all but certain that work on Elder Scrolls VI and Fallout 4 are well underway already.  (And, of course, the PC modding community is also doing a bang-up job as far as those games are concerned.)

What would you like to see?  Or are you done with HD remasters?