Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Prey 2017, and The Modern Immersive Sim

The mid-late 90’s spawned the immersive sim, a genre defined by influential PC titles such as Thief: The Dark Project and System Shock with the original Deus Ex following suit at the start of the millenium. Ion Storm and Looking Glass Studios pioneered the open-ended design we currently associate the genre with–design that consists of two core tenets:

  • Large interconnected environments
  • Player expression

The first principle is simple. An immersive sim generally consists of either one large open world map or several self-contained levels. Each environment in an immersive sim must provide a sense of scale on a micro or macro level while facilitating multiple playstyles. These playstyles are usually given more weight through some sort of progression system. Regardless of how a player chooses to build their character, proper immersive sims are designed from the ground up to allow each objective to be completed in a multitude of ways.

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System Shock 2

Deus Ex: MankindDivided and Prey are shining examples of this complex genre in an industry so far removed from the creative spark the industry once thrived in. Both these games are laser focused in their approach to game design, providing true freedom without the artificial progression barriers emblematic of contemporary triple-A game design.

“Games are not about being told things. If you want to tell people things, write a book or make a movie. Games are dialogues – and dialogue requires both parties to take the floor once in a while”

This creative vision for the medium’s interactivity and its role in shaping unique experiences is the cornerstone of the immersive sim. Industry veteran, Warren Spector’s, sentiment hits even harder nowadays with the seventh and eighth generation of consoles giving rise to some of the most restrictive experiences the industry has known since the introduction of 3D gaming. Franchises that built their legacy on freedom of expression including Interplay’s Fallout have become hollow shells of their former selves.

The mainstream penetration of gaming as an industry has lead to a massive shift in priorities for most Triple-A developers and publishers. That shift chiefly consists of simplifying games to facilitate a new audience. We’ve seen this countless times. Franchises like Thief, Fallout, and The Elder Scrolls that used to mean something have abandoned old school free-form design principles in favor of catering to a broader demographic. It certainly makes sense from a business standpoint. This new audience of gamers didn’t materialize out of thin air and suddenly understand the complexities of yore. They’re being eased in through more and more streamlined entries with each passing year. Unfortunately, the end result is a neglection of the core audience that grew up with some of these intellectual properties.

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Child killing in the original Fallout. One of many instances of freedom within a simulation being stripped away further with each passing installment the moment Bethesda took over.

Let’s backpedal a moment to Thief, Fallout, and The Elder Scrolls. Each of these fallen IP’s shares a connection with the modern day reinventions of Deus Ex and Prey. The abhorrent betrayal of the Thief  legacy in the form of 2014’s reboot was developed by Eidos Montréal and published by Square Enix–the same duo that gave consumers Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. By the same token, Bethesda Studios, the publishing giant’s internal studio, continues to butcher the Fallout and Elder Scrolls names further with each installment.

Despite this sacrilege, Bethesda entrusted Arkane Studios with the 2017 iteration of Prey. As a reboot, it ironically offers more freedom than Bethesda’s own modern open world rpg’s. In an era whereby Bethesda pigeonholes players into playing specific roles for main quests as well as side quests with dialogue responses from NPC’s in select quests remaining exactly the same no matter what you say, a game like Prey shouldn’t even exist.

Yet it’s anomalous existence is a sign that true talent still exists within the Triple-A space. Both Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Prey explore the genre in slightly different ways, though they each share many of the commandments set by Ion Storm during the development process of the original Deus Ex.

Warren Spector touches on the idea of a simulation when describing the importance of problem solving. This, at the end of the day, is the holy grail of the genre with every other design element serving to reinforce that ideal. Immersive sims are titled as such partly because they are simulations, but not in the sense that you are probably thinking. They don’t concern themselves with ultra realistic depictions of the world “average joe” resides in. Rather, this simulation stems from the concept that the entire game operates by a consistent set of rules and logic. Understanding these rules and remaining true to them is key to maintaining the simulation.

How many games have you played in your life in which a crate can be pushed specifically because a designer decided pushing that crate by that wall was the only way to progress at that point in time? Yet, look around and the rest of the game is littered with crates that can’t be manipulated in any fashion. That inconsistency creates a rift in the simulation. This stands in stark contrast to the consistent game logic in Prey and Mankind Divided, both of which allow players to pick up, place, and throw nearly every object in the game world.

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

This simulation gives players the tools to experiment and solve logic puzzles in interesting ways. For example, the hub world of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is filled with verticality, remaining true to the commandment of thinking within a fully 3D space. When navigating the streets, a balcony, fire escape, or even an open window might draw attention. Sure, the player could find several entry points within that building from the ground floor or even below ground level and then exit through that window. However, because the player has grown accustomed to a simulation with consistent logic, the possibilities increase exponentially.

Logic dictates that window is a possible entry point, but Adam Jensen can’t jump high enough to reach it. You know what he can do, though–manipulate objects. A little bit of jerry-rigging together random boxes, trash cans, or whatever else seems like a suitable platform yields an improvised stair case. This isn’t breaking the game or exploiting any systems. It is an example of playing within a simulation to solve a simple logic puzzle. Prey allows the exact same manipulation of physics objects, though it also offers one tool that changes the game in either a dramatic or subtle way depending on how the end user chooses to engage with it–the Gloo Cannon

Trapping enemies is the gloo cannon’s primary purpose. Directing a stream of munition at a target will harden it into a stone-like substance, allowing the player to damage the enemy with conventional weaponry. The more genius application, however, is its versatility as an aid in environmental traversal. Each shot hardens into a circular glue-like substance when directed at any surface. There is no limit to its use case with none of the invisible walls or insta-death zones modern gamers are all too familiar with.

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Prey

The turning point for me occured when I came across a power plant-ish area. As per usual, the intricately designed map facilitated upper level access prior to even entering the room. I found a broken walkway that lead to a door. A code I didn’t have access to blocked my entry. Gated behind level 4 security, I was unable to thwart it with my level 3 hacking skill. I had enough neuromods to upgrade to that final level, but I decided to find another way and invest those neuromods into other skills. I explored the upper bounds of the plant to find another door to the room, except this door could only be opened after turning on the plant’s power. If you’re keeping score, that’s already three different ways to access a completely random room in the game.

How did I solve this conundrum? A eureka moment suddenly hit me when I noticed an enemy wandering the room from ground level. I pulled out my trusty gloo cannon and improvised platforms up to the window, allowing me to smash through the glass with a wrench. This was only possible because I solved an unplanned logic puzzle through my own interaction with the game’s systems and underlying simulation.

The rope arrow from the Thief series is another excellent example of the degradation running rampant through the industry. The rope arrow can be used at any contact point on any wooden or mossy surface in Thief: The Dark Project and Thief 2: The Metal Age. That rope’s use case dwindled significantly, with only the designated points on deliberately placed beams deemed acceptable in the reboot. That change alone shatters the entire illusion of an immersive simulation that prioritizes freedom of expression. Thief (2014) is the poster child for how diluted game experiences have become in the past twenty years.

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That white area is the only contact point the Thief reboot allows ropes to attach to, a far cry from the older titles.

Mankind Divided‘s intricate design permeates every inch of the experience with even the most nondescript side quests offering a level of freedom Thief (2014) could only dream of. At one point, I was tasked with finding some sort of information from a room within an apartment complex. This locked room, situated on the second floor, enforces that interaction between player and simulation.

Searching for the access code from somewhere in the game world or perhaps even an NPC was within question. Hacking was also an option, though my hacking skill at that point wasn’t high enough. This would have been a barrier put in place by a less ambitious developer to prevent the player from accessing the aforementioned room until later, but as we’ve discussed, artificial progression barriers are antithetical to the immersive sim philosophy.

Eagle eyed players that canvassed the complex would have found a set of garage doors on ground level gated by lower level security, meaning these could actually be hacked. After entering both garage doors and gathering materials, I found a conspicuous air vent. This vent served as an interconnected tunnel that lead to several rooms within the apartment complex including the previously inaccessible room. The solutions don’t end there, though. If the player invested augmentation points into a strength skill that allows cracks in walls to be destroyed, he/she could have found said crack on the third floor. After crumbling the wall and entering the room, an improvised staircase thanks to the consistent simulation would have allowed the player to enter vents situated near the ceiling–vents that served as yet another entry point to that second floor apartment room.

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Prey

This interconnected nature of Mankind Divided‘s hub world is taken even further with Prey. Whereas Eidos Montréal’s vision consists of two hub locations with individual levels thrown in for good measure, Arkane Studios opts for a single map. The Talos I is a gargantuan space station filled with hundreds of rooms and dozens of floors. The scope of the station is already complex enough to make exclusively indoor exploration feel rewarding with some of the most intricate loops and connections between areas you’ll ever find in gaming. It doesn’t end there, though.

Players are given free reign to exit the station and fly in space within a contained barrier. The only way to enter and exit the station is through five designated air locks. If you choose to exit through Airlock A and find another airlock you want to enter through for more convenient navigation, you’ll need to find and access that airlock from the inside before it can be used as an entrance. That isn’t the whole story, though, seeing as the station is filled with hull breaches and the like. This requires exiting the station and finding said hull breaches to access destroyed rooms that can’t be touched from the inside.

While Square Enix essentially murdered the Deus Ex franchise after Mankind Divided‘s sales figures, there is still hope thanks to Arkane Studios, the final bastions of hope for keeping the immersive sim alive. If you have yet to touch the genre to this day, Prey and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided are perfect modern day interpretations of those design philosophies pioneered in the early days. No genre is as emergent and encapsulating as the immersive sim.

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Blue Reflection’s Difficulty Problem

Difficulty is integral to turn-based role playing games. Gamers generally look to turn-based rpg’s over their active counterparts when they want a more mentally taxing experience. That’s not to say that games with turn-based combat always have to be hardcore masochistic tests of skill, but without enough player engagement, the passiveness of navigating menus becomes mind numbing. This is the predicament Blue Reflection finds itself in. It is one of the most insulting role playing games I have ever had the displeasure of playing.BLUE REFLECTION_20171120214412

The issue stems from its non-traditional progression system that ties leveling to story progress and optional friendship meters as opposed to experience points gained from battle. This wouldn’t pose an issue were it not for the game’s lack of urgency. Unlike the modern Persona titles, which contain a calendar system, meaning there are only so many social links and activities you can complete in one playthrough, Blue Reflection lacks such a system entirely.

What does this mean for the end-user? Remember when I brought up that leveling is tied to friendships and main story events? Players can bond multiple times with several characters, earning up to a dozen levels or more in a single sitting without engaging in combat or progressing the narrative.

BLUE REFLECTION_20171208163537I chose to develop as many bonds as possible around the mid-point of the game, hoping to break up the tedium of dungeon excursions with slice of life style interactions. By the time I returned to the main story path, I was so over-leveled that I plowed through every enemy encounter in a single move even on hard. This game breaking moment was exacerbated by the title’s inherently casual nature. Health and magic is restored completely after each fight, meaning once you have broken the game, spamming the most powerful multi-enemy attacks without the need to conserve any magic points in long drawn-out dungeons is the only strategy moving forward. This devolves what would otherwise be a fairly strategic battle system emphasizing ether management and wait times into a nonsensical spam fest. The issue is further compounded by Blue Reflection‘s lack of consequence. Dying in battle transports the player back to the real world without resorting to a prior save state. BLUE REFLECTION_20171119162232

Gust has expressed interest in developing a sequel. Despite my voracious tear-down of Blue Reflection, I won’t condemn a future installment. The writing and hardware optimization could use major retooling, but the core concepts are there. If Gust just re-balances the difficulty in any way they see fit, then we’ll already have a markedly more palatable experience. The question remains, though, whether they are capable of capitalizing on the franchise’s potential.

 

How Hidden Agenda Stacks Up as A Single Player Experience

We certainly saw how people had responded to Until Dawn, especially on streaming sites. That inspired a lot of the direction we’ve taken with the game.”

Hidden Agenda_20171029154011Supermassive Games has been around since last gen, dabbling in the creation of downloadable content for LittleBigPlanet among other minor projects, though 2015’s Until Dawn was their breakout hit. The developers saw Until Dawn transform into a party game due to its decision based gameplay that could result in either all or none of the eight playable characters dying.

This group-centered environment induced by Until Dawn’s mechanics heavily informed the design of Hidden Agenda. Whether that change in direction is for the better isn’t my place to decide as the developers have made it clear through interviews and trailers that the multiplayer “competitive” mode is THE way to play the game. Well, I have no friends so I have yet to try the multiplayer mode myself, but that’s not what this article is for.

Hidden Agenda_20171029160306Rather than writing a traditional review of Hidden Agenda because I have not experienced it properly, I aim to figure out how well it stacks up as a single player experience through the game’s “story” mode. Not everyone interested in this game may want to play with friends. They’d prefer an isolated experience in a similar vein to Until Dawn. Before starting the analysis, it’s worth noting the price. Launching at $20  after Until Dawn‘s full fledged $60 price tag in 2015(which can now be had for $20), it’s clear that Hidden Agenda is a budget title and should be treated as such.

Hidden Agenda_20171103202355First impressions for the single player gamer are not strong. Even if you want to play by yourself, you are still required to download the Hidden Agenda app for your smartphone. Don’t worry. It’s free, though using this app, as you’ll soon find out, is a price of admission not worth taking. Both the system and phone have to be connected through the same wifi network before they can be synced. The game is played entirely through this app, a design decision that ultimately hampers the single player experience, transforming it into a hollow shell devoid of any potential it might have had. The already simple mechanics of Until Dawn are streamlined even further. Players never physically control either of the protagonists in a three dimensional space. Instead, the three modes of control consist of:

  • Making one of two decisions(it’s never any more than two)
  • Quick time events; either uneventful chase sequences or some of the most awkward fights you’ll witness in your life
  • Crime Investigation

On paper, crime scene investigation seems like the most interesting use of the playlink technology powering the game until you realize how shallow the experience is. Every crime scene consists of a single still frame with three pieces of evidence scattered about the scene. Crime scene investigations are timed, which when utilized properly, should add a sense of pressure that only video games can provide. However, instead of being a tense race against the clock, these scenes devolve into tedious wrestling matches against the unresponsive touch controls. Through the entirety of the experience, all decisions and mechanics are enabled through the use of an on-screen pointer that corresponds to your finger on the phone. Crime scenes use this pointer as well. This is where the game begins to fall apart. The second you identify a clue, the stupid app has a schizophrenic attack and loses the normally adequate, though not ideal, level of response for at least 2-4 seconds, wasting your time in the process. I did not time the crime scenes myself, though they are all definitely expected to be completed within a window of under thirty seconds.

Hidden Agenda_20171103203201The developers recognized this shitty technology and accounted for that. Guiding the pointer in the general direction of a clue highlights a gigantic magnifying glass, immediately giving away the item of interest. It’s a cop-out that would have been unnecessary if the app worked as the developers claimed or better yet, if gamers that know how to hold a controller were given the option of using one. Quick time events are similarly unresponsive, explaining why every QTE prompt slows down the action to give you enough time to wrestle with the controls. Even then, bringing the pointer close enough to the desired QTE box magnetically pulls it in. This design deficiency also adversely effects simple binary decisions. Often, when laying my finger on the phone, dragging back and forth, the pointer would magnetically teleport to the undesired choice, leaving me at the mercy of the playlink technology’s incompetence.

We haven’t had any problems with latency and so forth. We’re comfortable with the fact that we have quick-time events in the game and timed choices, and that’s caused no problems at all…We haven’t at any point had to think, ‘We can’t do that because of latency.’ It just works.

Right. Sure. Okay.

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Be careful dragging your pointer around curiously. The shit controls might make the decision for you against your will.

While control is limited, thereby inhibiting the level of player agency you’d expect from a game of this nature, Hidden Agenda does at the very least exceed Until Dawn in one key area: Presentation. In the move from an earlier version of the Decima Engine circa Killzone: Shadowfall to Unreal Engine 4, Supermassive Games has crafted one of the most visually impressive games of the generation. Despite being two years old, Until Dawn remains one of the best looking current gen games, with Hidden Agenda pushing far beyond that. Noticeable improvements to lighting, materials, and character models are integral to making the experience that much more immersive, a necessity given how lackluster the narrative is.

Hidden Agenda is far from a compelling story. The plot is poorly paced with characters having very little room to develop. It’s perhaps a byproduct of the two to three hour length better suited to film combined with the inefficiency of a script that feels as though it was written for a much longer game. Until Dawn was not cinematic genius, but it wasn’t trying to be. Hidden Agenda doesn’t aspire to be Citizen Kane either, though with the anemic length and lack of player agency, the game’s success hinges entirely on its narrative and when even that feels bare bones, there’s a problem. Filled with some of the most obtrusive scene transitions I have ever witnessed in any piece of entertainment, even Tommy Wiseau would be more capable of tying scenes together.

The basic plot holds promise for an interactive narrative. It centers around a serial killer that is sentenced to death for a series of murders dubbed the “trapper” killings due to each victim being rigged with a trap that kills first responders. The mystery and motives surrounding these murders has the potential to elicit unique gameplay encounters and enable morally ambiguous player choice. What we are left with is a poorly written story devoid of a legitimate sense of agency and filled with mostly binary decisions that do little to stimulate the mind.

Hidden Agenda_20171103214540Hidden Agenda is a botched attempt at capitalizing on the legacy the studio started to build with Until Dawn. In its chase for the casual group-think crowd, Supermassive Games has crafted a shallow experience. While it may very well be a fun game to play with a group of friends over some pizza and drinks, it’s almost insultingly empty for the single player gamer. With that said, Hidden Agenda is still worth looking into for devout proponents of the narrative potency of video games. While it may be a “failure” incapable of competing with proper crime/thriller films and television shows, it’s commendable that the developers took a risk in an industry so averse to experimentation. There are worse ways to spend $20. After all, you could end up finding a used copy of Final Fantasy 15. 

What Remains of Edith Finch And Interactive Storytelling 





WARNING: SPOILERS!

What Remains of Edith Finch is many things. It is a narrative driven experience, or as some like to call it, a “walking simulator”. It is a collection of short stories, but most importantly, What Remains of Edith Finch is one of the finest contemporary examples of the  effectiveness of interactive storytelling. When it hits its peak, Edith Finch utilizes the medium’s interactivity to deliver potent story beats and moments that would be impossible to replicate in any other form of entertainment. 

The player takes control of Edith Finch, the sole remaining member of the Finch Family. She returns to her old family home after being away for years in search of the truth behind each family member’s death. This is where Edith Finch‘s narrative structure lies.

Once the player happens upon the Finch family home, they are left to their own devices. Each room contains a letter, note, or memorabilia of some kind which triggers a playable chapter detailing each individual’s final moments. Due to this set-up and the fact that the game contains no puzzles of any sort, it’s entirely possible to make it to the end while missing half of the Finch family secrets.

However, doing so would be a disservice to the team’s hand-crafted elegance. Rushing through the game is exactly the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. You are supposed to take it slow. After all, there is a reason the game’s default walking speed is mind-numbingly slow and why a sprint function is absent. What Remains of Edith Finch is a labor of love from a studio of tightly-knit individuals. They are proud of the experience they have created and entrust the player to appreciate the game’s quiet time, extrapolating extra information through environmental observation.

The house is painstakingly detailed. Each room serves to accentuate the individual stories as well as the story at large surrounding the Finch family’s supposed “curse”. A player could in theory make a mad-dash to each interactive note/object and learn enough just through the playable stories, but Edith Finch deserves more attention than that. Because this is a video game and not a film, the player is given the opportunity to linger and that more than anything is what cements Edith Finch as a strong narrative experience.

What Remains of Edith Finch also utilizes video game conventions to tell certain stories in ways that only a video game could. The story of Molly Finch is just one example of this. As a kid with an active imagination, Molly claims she was hungry one night, then saw a bird. She tried reaching for this bird and in doing so suddenly turns into a cat. Through a series of events and clever transitions, she then becomes an owl, then a shark, then a sea monster. Each shift in perspective provides a shift in playstyle and controls, each of which prove to be disorienting to the player. 

Boundless leaps of logic are to be expected in a video game and that sort of logic-leaping nonsense in the typical video game is a perfect catalyst for representing the imagination of a little girl. These radical shifts in perspective leave the player in wonder as he/she comes to grips with the controls and rule set of each new perspective, perfectly echoing the mindset of a child as she’s pretending to be all these things and acclimating. Had this been a film or novel, the effect just wouldn’t have been the same.

Unfortunately, for all its successes, What Remains of Edith Finch also highlights why games like this still have a lot to learn. I mentioned quiet time earlier, but to be honest, there actually is very little of it. Edith herself talks a lot. Any interactive object will trigger dialogue from Edith. Traveling through most of the house will trigger dialogue. Go up these steps. Trigger dialogue. Open this door. Trigger dialogue. It’s as if the writers were afraid their niche game would somehow bore the sort of player that is interested in experiences of this nature. A little more restraint could have gone a long way.

What Remains of Edith Finch, despite what you may believe, is a wonderful celebration of life rather than a mourning of death.

“In Memory of Shirley Davis”

Reads the end credits soon followed by portraits of every member at Giant Sparrow. You’ll immediately notice that each member’s portrait is taken from their infancy and early childhood years. That’s when it hits. As Edith echoes in her final words: “I don’t want you to be sad. I want you to be amazed that we ever had the chance to be here at all“. What Remains of Edith Finch is a narrative experience that explores and celebrates the gift of life and living in the moment. While it may still have room to grow, What Remains of Edith Finch is about as good as it gets within this genre at this point in time. This genre and the video game industry at large still have a lot to learn about writing, pacing, and restraint, but regardless, it’s exciting to be a part of this and play something as special as What Remains of Edith Finch.

NieR: Automata Is One of The Best And Most Clever Games of The Generation(Too Clever For The Financial Post) 

Nier: Automata exemplifies what is wrong with mainstream gaming media. Although Automata‘s reception has been startlingly positive from both critics and consumers, there are a scant few individuals that missed the point of Nier: Automata and as such, their overall impression of the game is less than positive.

One example is the Financial Post’s review. Before we begin to tear this review apart, I must preface this tirade by stating that I condone dissenting opinions. There is nothing inherently wrong with one critic liking a game and another one disliking it. It’s bound to happen and as long as both sides of the fence have legitimate reasons and arguments for their own sides, all it does is generate a rich discussion surrounding the game.

The issue with The Financial Post’s review of the game is that the reviewer in question(Chad Sapieha if you want to get out the pitchforks) did not finish the game properly. Based on the wording used in his review, it’s fair to assume he either never finished a second playthrough or just never even started one to begin with. This can be surmised by the following excerpt: “Perhaps I stopped too early. Maybe I should have played through a second time – and a third and fourth – to see what the writers were holding back for those with the patience and tenacity to keep going. Maybe Nier: Automata is actually the Rashomon of video games, providing new insight and perspective each time you play, resulting in something that transcends each individual play-though.


But if Platinum Games wanted me to do that, it should have made the first time through a lot more charming
.”

This closing sentiment echoes the unprofessional attitude the writer took when choosing to critique Nier. The issue stems from that fact that the “multiple playthroughs” are integral to Nier: Automata‘s design. Unlike a lot of other games that like to claim “branching storylines” and “multiple endings”, Nier really follows through on that promise of delivering an entirely new experience until the true ending is achieved by the third playhthrough. 

Automata‘s playthroughs are more than simply playing this game the exact same way and getting a different cutscene at the end. Story route A is basically equivalent to the opening 10-15 hours of a sprawling 60+ hour rpg. You’re barely scratching the surface of the game and in reviewing it so prematurely have defamed the narrative ambition of the title.

Because – in what can only be described as an utterly miscalculated decision – the writers decided that in order to fully explore these weighty themes and issues they needed to make us play the game more than once.

After finishing it the first time, with no real resolutions provided, we’re told we need to start this 25-hour plus game all over again to get the full Nier: Automata experience.”
If the reviewer in question had bothered to begin a second playthrough, he would have immediately found out that the thirty minute or so prologue mission is entirely different and that players take control of 9S. 9S controls differently from 2B, already making it a unique enough experience from the outset. However, that’s not where the game’s ambition lies so let’s go a step further.

Each subsequent playthrough essentially acts as new game plus, meaning all gold, crafting materials, character progression, weapons, and so on carry over from story route A all the way to C, cutting down on the tedium typically associated with playing a game more than once for a different ending. Furthermore, 9S has the ability to hack enemies, chests, and doors, introducing an entirely new mechanic to story route b. That’s to say nothing of the added story scenes throughout that flesh out sections you’ve already played in addition to new enemy types being introduced. EVEN FURTHER, all previously completed side quests will remain completed, meaning no time wasted on doing the same tedious side quests again and again for lore or extra experience or just to scratch your OCD itch. 

That second playthrough already sounds like a different enough experience to be worth playing, doesn’t it? The real game changer, however, is story route c. This third playthrough is a different game from beginning to end. It introduces yet another new playable character, A2, whom plays similarly to 2B with the added mechanic of taunting enemies to enrage them, increasing both your attack power and their attack power. Story route c takes place after endings a and b. This isn’t just some “let’s play the same main story again a third time with even more added cutscenes to flesh it out even more”. No, this third route is a fresh experience. Story route c is so integral to the narrative structure of Nier: Automata that a preview of future events in an anime style “this is what will happen next. Tune in to find out” plays after the end credits of story route b. 

If Chad Sapieha had bothered to play the game three times and still didn’t like it much, then that’s fair play. However, as it stands, his criticism of Nier: Automata is predicated entirely upon the need to play an open world rpg more than once to fully understand the story. It’s clear by the review that Chad didn’t understand just how different each playthrough is and as such, his criticism of Nier: Automata is unprofessional. That it even showed up on metacritic is baffling. The Financial Post should stick to boring news and stock information. It’s clear that the site and Chad aren’t qualified enough to properly review a game.  

Rainbow Six Siege is Brilliant

A little over a year on from its release with a second year of confirmed support, Rainbow Six Siege has survived its launch woes and cements itself as one of the best shooters of this generation.

Rainbow Six Siege has been able to captivate me in ways no other game has. Its greatest strength lies within the methodical pacing. Each match lasts only a handful of minutes, and combined with the low player health and lack of respawning, that makes each second crucial.

The difference between winning or losing a round can sometimes hinge upon whether or not you happened to be aiming at the right location at the right time. In spite of this time sensitivity, a lot of game time is spent waiting. Whether a player is laying prone in a corner or has punched a hole in a wall for a new line of site, situational awareness is paramount to success. Running in straight to the objective with reckless abandon WILL get you killed. 

Success requires patience. Oftentimes, even more tense than a firefight is a tango between players on opposing sides of an obstruction. Player 1 is repelling down the side of a building. Player 2 hears the rope and makes a quick sprint toward a corner by the window. Player 1 hears these footsteps just before deciding to charge through. This leads to a mindgame mimicking a balancing of power.

This constant balancing of power between humans players with only one life nestled deep within the micro-level destruction creates a dynamic no other multiplayer game aspires to. No other game this generation has made the simple act of slowly turning a corner feel so incredibly tense and dire. 

Both players are scared for their lives, but just one slight move can turn the tide of battle. Perhaps player 1 has a flashbang, but should he/she risk shooting or punching a hole in the window to allow space for this flashbang to enter through? Doing so might give the opponent just enough of a reaction time to gun him/her down.

Because of the nature of Rainbow Six Siege‘s mechanics, underlying structure, and game flow, more than half of your total play time will be spent scouting for information through drones or cameras, sitting in silence, listening for sounds, or dancing back and forth between an opposing player until one dies or retreats. 

It is one of the most satisfying games to play in this day and age. Yes, it’s got its fair share of bullshit like any multiplayer game in existence, but when a game plan goes right, Rainbow Six Siege enables a specific kind of power fantasy rarely seen in gaming.

Variety is The Spice of Life(Gaming)

Stop me if this has ever happened to you before. You are looking over a list of games to be released over the next several months. For a good majority of those games, all you can think is “damn, I want that”. Then, you begin to spark conversation with your gaming friends about what you are looking forward to. 

Game after game gets shut down by your friends, with statements usually along the lines of “I don’t like games like that” or “that’s not my kind of game”. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an innocent enough statement that’s not attacking anyone for liking something different, but then you sit back and reflect. 

As a “hardcore gamer”, you find yourself enamored by the sheer variety of experiences on offer in the medium. As such, you refuse to turn a game down just because of the genre it falls in or just because it’s purely gameplay driven or just because it’s a cinematic/narrative driven experience. You love all games because all kinds of experiences are equally valid, but your friends have a much more limited taste in games, making it far more difficult to really connect in conversation.

Gaming’s greatest strength is its versitlity which can extend far beyond that of any other medium. Want to watch a horror movie? There’s esentially only serious horror or cheesy and/or comedy horror. Want to play a horror video game? Yeah, there’s still the two tonal extremes as with film, but how does it actually play? Is it first person? Is it third person? Does it rely heavily on melee or gun combat? Is there even any combat at all? How much puzzle solving and environmental exploration is involved? Is it super linear or more open ended? Does it have choices that impact the narrative? How difficult is it? So many parts come together to create video games and being able to experience everything the medium has to offer keeps it from ever becoming stale. Unlike some of my friends, I never get bored of games or have my moods where I don’t want to play a game. 

That mostly comes down to the fact that I open my mind to playing any kind of game. When within a week I can go from playing a generic first person shooter to a hardcore rpg to a walking simulator to a racing game, I’m never going to grow tired of gaming. Open your mind and you’ll have so much more fun with games. 

Look Back: Playing Resident Evil 6 For The First Time in 2016

Resident Evil 6 has garnered quite the reputation as being the most reviled entry in the mainline series. It’s a game I have yet to play until very recently and after finally taking the plunge, I’m left utterly baffled by the hate. Yes, Resident Evil 6 is far from a masterpiece. It has some pretty blatant issues and frustrating design inconsistencies, but to call this a “bad” game is extreme. 

I get it. There are these hardcore series stalwarts that hate change and automatically insult any new installment in a series that’s different because they’re regressive and can’t handle change. Every fanbase has those people. Who cares that Resident Evil 6 isn’t a horror game? It was clear from the start that it was going to be an action game and makes no attempts at hiding that. 

You can complain all you want that the series’ roots are gone, but they’ve been gone for years and this game embraces that by doing a hard left turn, challenging your preconceived notions of what a Resident Evil game is. Put simply, on a purely mechanical level, Resident Evil 6 is the most satisfying RE game to play. 

First impressions upon beginning the prologue are iffy. The opening playable sequence is a tightly directed and controlled vertical slice that entirely removes control from the player. When the tutorial prompts you to use the left stick to move, Leon will move forward regardless of which direction you move the analog stick. It’s as if Resident Evil 6 thinks you’re a fucking dumbass and can’t handle control in video games. Once it begins properly,though, it shines brightly, but not too bright. 

Let’s get this out of the way. Resident Evil 6 is not what I’d call a good game; more along the lines of average, but that’s the problem with consumers in this day and age. They hear anything less than “amazing” and the game is not worth their time. Plenty of average games can be filled with a fair amount of fun and interesting ideas/mechanics. RE 6 is one of those games.

No matter how directionless the story and level design becomes; no matter how contrived and scripted its set pieces can be, Resident Evil 6 feels so good to play. The mobility and control is something I never thought I’d see in a Resident Evil game. The ability to sprint and slide while still shooting is a blessing. Additionally, you can quick turn during the slide and still be laying on your back, ready to shoot at any enemies from behind with style. 

There’s also the fact that your character seamlessly transitions from cover to laying on the ground and vice versa just from moving the analog stick back and forth. If you’re on your back against a wall, the camera switches to a first person perspective so as to not cause camera issues. I also haven’t even begun to mention the contextual melee animations as well as the No Mercy mode.

Resident Evil 6 isn’t a game I’d revisit time and time again because of how well designed it is like Resident Evil 4 or even Resident Evil 5, but it’s far better than butthurt fanboys make it out to be. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the game felt on a purely mechanical level. In that respect, this is the best RE game by miles. 

7 Favorite Games

Not too long ago, #7favegames was trending on Twitter. After several days of collecting my thoughts and such, I decided I’d compile my seven favorite games. Keep in mind with lists like these that personal preference holds greater significance than a more objective analysis(hence the title “favorite” not “best”). Also, it’s important to remember that sometimes your mood can impact the experience of a game so this isn’t my definitive list for eternity, but these are my favorite games as of right now. 

7. Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster Seal


RPG’s are my favorite genre. There’s something about the consistent progression and management of skills/abilities that triggers the OCD within me. Deep RPG elements are the most satisfying mechanics to manipulate and understand in a game. Spending half an hour in menus, carefully comparing stats and deciding which skills benefit which class the most is compelling enough to save an otherwise mediocre game. 

It’s a saving grace then that Dungeon Travelers 2 is one of the deepest rpg’s you’ll ever play with an insane amount of customization and malleability for different playstyles, but the game surrounding these elements is nothing to scoff at. Dungeons quickly become engaging tests of endurance and path-finding while the game’s characters and writing ooze self-aware humor. Dialogue scenes never overstay their welcome unlike a lot of other rpg’s(I’m looking at you Trillion: God of Destruction). Dungeon Travelers 2 provides perhaps the most gratifying role playing experience you’ll ever have on a handheld. 

6. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round


Fighting games aren’t known for being accessible. As a person that doesn’t have the time or desire to become a high level pro at something like a Blazblue, DOA 5 is the best fighting game to jump into. Fighters tend to have this issue whereby they’re either too difficult or they’re too easy. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round captures the perfect balance between accessibility and depth. 

Anyone can press buttons and make impressive things happen on screen, helped by the fast paced nature of combat and fluidity of the animations. It’s the only fighting game I’ve been able to enjoy on a surface level while still having enough depth that I can pursue when I find myself bored with the core mechanics. It’s a game I’ve sunk over 600 hours into and with the upcoming Mai of King of Fighters fame being added to the roster next month, there will be many more hours to come. 

5. Gears of War 3


Of all the triple-A shooters to release on last gen consoles, Gears of War 3 is one of the best. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original game. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the first game is mediocre, but Gears of War 2 revitalized my interest in the series while Gears of War 3 was the bonafide masterpiece the franchise needed. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many hours I wasted away playing through the campaign, competitive multiplayer, and horde modes. From my personal experience, Gears of War is the only trilogy to get better with each installment culminating in the tightest and most satisfying shooter experience of the last console generation. 

4. Sonic The Hedgehog 2

 The original Genesis sonic trilogy(counting Sonic 3 & Knuckles as a single game) is one of the best trilogies in gaming with Sonic 2 being the peak of that series. Few platformers since have been able to capture the personality of Sonic 2. The music and level design remains unmatched by modern day platformers.

3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt


The Witcher 3 succeeds as an open world game where countless others fail. While most other games use an open world design as a crutch to fill the map with copy/paste mission types for no reason other than to fill the map with icons, The Witcher 3 fills even the most insignificant and repetitious of missions and missions types with meaningful context that adds a lot to the world. It’s probably the best designed open world game of all time. 

2. Shadow of The Colossus 


Shadow of The Colossus is a difficult game to talk about. To describe it on a mechanical level wouldn’t do it justice. It’s the kind of experience that isn’t comprehensible until you play it. The game’s ability to carry so much emotion through its use of minimalism isn’t very common in the industry. If you want something that will stick with you for years to come, Shadow of The Colossus is that game. 

1. The Last of Us

I won’t go on heaping mountains of praise upon this game as by now, you’ve probably heard everything there is to hear. As an overall experience, it is the best game Naughty Dog has put out and despite its strong narrative and characters, also contains a surprisingly quality multiplayer component that remains contextualized within the game world. It is one of the best examples of what video games can be as a medium for storytelling. It was a huge risk for a triple-A first party developer to go from the bombastic action of Uncharted to the pared back intimacy of The Last of Us, but it paid off. 

Polygon, Sorcery Saga, and Agenda Pushing B.S.

I think most gamers by this point are well aware of the sort of agenda pushing that sites like Kotaku and Polygon are known for. Remember that infamous Bayonetta 2 polygon review?

This article is going to focus on Polygon’s 2014 review of Sorcery Saga: Curse of The Great Curry God. Written by Danielle Riendeau, this piece highlights precisely why websites like Polygon and Kotaku are the butt of countless jokes amongst the gaming community.

The Polygon review contains two paragraphs complaining about the so-called “problematic” nature of the game’s dialogue and characters. As written by Danielle herself: “It’s colorful and goofy, though the story and writing contain problematic elements, like older male characters that hit on the teenaged heroine and plenty of tasteless jokes”


I’m not sure what game Danielle played, but to be offended and put off by Sorcery Saga‘s sense of humor is incredibly disheartening. We live in a world in which everyone gets offended and everyone needs to be politically correct all the time, otherwise you’re “insensitive” and an “awful” person. 

Where and when exactly this trend/ideology began is beyond me, but I do know that this kind of thought process is going to ruin games in the future and lead to unnecessary censorship in an attempt to appease easily offended types like Danielle. Censorship has already come to infect games such as Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, Bravely Second: End Layer, and Fire Emblem Fates. Politics, ideologies, and personal agenda have no place in video game reviews. A review should be a critical assessment of a game’s quality. A review should not highlight “problematic” things like supposed “racism” or “tasteless” humor.

What offends someone might not offend someone else. What one person finds tasteless, another person might find funny or remain unbothered. You can say the same thing about reviews in general since everyone has a different opinion. The difference is that a review attempts to separate bias as much as possible(even though it’s impossible) and asses what the game tries to be and how close it comes to reaching that goal. There are ways to review games that are separate from personal feelings.

As Kyle Bosman of Gametrailers and now Easy Allies once said “I think you can love a game and still give it a 6”. Unfortunately, by stating what game content offends you, you’re essentially throwing that out the door and only letting your singular, narrow ideals dictate what kind of content people should find problematic. That’s not the kind of funneling that belongs in a review meant to inform consumers about how good or bad a game is. 

Later in the review, Danielle inserts a sidebar so that she can push her ideals onto others and have an entire dedicated space to complain. She writes: “Curse of The Great Curry God’s bizarre writing tries to be cute and sassy, but it’s often gross and off-putting. Pupuru attracts the attention of Gigadis, a much older man who pines for her and makes uncomfortable advances towards her throughout the game. She rebuffs him, but it doesn’t stop his constant marriage proposals and verbal fantasizing about her.

The script is lousy with poorly-thought-out molestation jokes and digs at people with mental illness. The cutscenes should have been a respite from the incessant grinding, but I found myself dreading them even more than my thirtieth crawl through a dungeon”


*facepalm*

People like Danielle Riendeau don’t belong in the industry reviewing games. Sure, believe whatever you want to believe, but do NOT air your personal feelings about these kinds of things out into a review. A consumer does not care about how easily offended you are by a work of fiction. A consumer wants to know how good the game is. If you want to write about how offensive a game is, then fine, write your own separate editorial highlighting how probelmatic it is. Do NOT, however, fill your review with this garbage.