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.

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?

a to-do list of sorts

It should sort of go without saying that posting here is going to be pretty light for the next few weeks.  Taking care of my newborn son takes up a fair amount of time, and the time I have that’s left over is generally spent trying to get back to sleep as quickly as possible.   There’s just not a whole hell of a lot of gaming going on.

But I think that would be the case even if I weren’t changing diapers and trying to stay awake.  The release calendar is light, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.  The only real must-have on my schedule for the rest of the year is GTA5, which doesn’t come out until September.  Certainly I’m intrigued by Metro Last Light, and that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon or whatever the hell it’s called looks pretty amazing, and I guess there’s some neat-looking 3DS stuff coming out over the next few months, but the pickings for fresh content are slim.

So I’m thinking that this is a marvelous opportunity – when I can carve out a few hours – to get back into games that I never finished.  As there’s no real grand critical conversation that I feel that I’m missing out on, and since there’s no rush to finish something new before it gets spoiled, I feel like I could take my time and finish the games that, for whatever reason, I needed to put down.

Tops on this to-do list is Dishonored, especially as the new DLC that came out this week looks pretty great.    I’d gotten pretty close to the end on the 360, but I think I’d gotten turned off by how rote the violence was getting.  And yet my memories of it now are quite fond, actually, especially in light of all the things about Bioshock Infinite that turned me off.  I’d already picked it up on the PC during a holiday Steam sale, so that’s as good a reason as any to give it another ago.

Also, for some reason, I’ve been thinking more and more about getting back into my PC save of Skyrim.  A friend of mine has been playing it pretty continuously since it came out – he’s level 81 or something by now – and I’d asked him if, after all that time, there was still stuff he hadn’t yet done.  Turns out there was plenty he hadn’t done, and in the meantime he was still enjoying doing the non-mission stuff, too.  Now, I’d put that game down on the 360 in a fit of disgust, after sinking over 80 hours into it; too many quests were bugged, too many glitches broke my immersion, and I just stopped giving a shit about the stuff I hadn’t yet done.  I’d given my 360 copy to a friend and to be honest I don’t really care if I ever get it back.  But now, having been away from it for so long, and figuring that at least some of the bugs ought to have been squashed by now, and knowing that it looks pretty goddamned spectacular on my PC… well, I’m curious to give it another ago.   And maybe I’ll make a conscious effort to stay away from the critical path and try doing some of the stuff I know I’d been putting off on the 360.

And I’d like to see if I could finish Antichamber.  I can’t remember where I left off with it, so I might as well start over and try to brute-force my way back to where I’d gotten stuck.

I’m also pretty curious about Starseed Pilgrim, even though it’s brand new.  I suppose I’m curious about it also because I’m thinking about getting Fez again once it comes out on Steam in a few weeks, and for some reason the two games remind me of each other.  I’d gotten over 100% in Fez on the 360, but apparently I hadn’t truly finished it, and I was afraid to go back and dive in once Polytron decided to not patch certain game-breaking bugs.

On the 3DS side, I’ve put Etrian Odyssey 4 to the side – I’m in this weird limbo where I don’t have any quests but I’ve clearly got a long ways to go before the game ends, so I’m kinda just grinding, which isn’t all that interesting – and have fully invested myself in Super Mario 3D Land.  I’m in the last level of World 8, which, as I understand it, means that I’m only 50% of the way through.  That game is pretty goddamned terrific, even if it’s occasionally frustrating.

I’m sure there’s other titles that should go on this list, but I can’t remember what they are.  I can’t remember much of anything these days, to be honest; it’s a wonder I can put matching socks on my feet before I walk out the door.  In any event, I’m too annoyed with Bioshock Infinite right now to give it a proper second run-through, anyway, so I might as well try to have some fun.