There was once a time when open world games were a rarity to be savoured. Kind of like spy games are today... seriously, there are no spy games, even the Tom Clancy games are all action. Anyway, thanks to these fancy schmancy new consoles adorning our living rooms, open world games have become common place. That's brilliant, right? More tasty open worlds to explore?
Nope. Not in my eyes.
...does it have Troy Baker?
The game world grew, but the incredibly dense amount of detail remained intact as City took the series from strength to strength. Origins followed, recycling assets from City and providing a series low point by sapping the joy out of exploration. Arkham Knight then increased the size of its playground by five times, and in doing so lost five times the detail.
The game's increased size also brought about the introduction of the Batmobile to help traverse areas in decent time, but the sloppy mechanics only serves to spoil things. The increased environmental and mechanical costs this no doubt incurred might also have impacted other areas, because the writing certainly wasn't up to scratch when compared with previous form.
After joking about armchair developers, I'm aware it's hypocritical to suggest making a game bigger ruins other aspects of it, but there's mounting evidence. Just Cause 3, Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Witcher 3, Far Cry 4, Watch_Dogs, Mad Max and Metal Gear Solid V are all recent games that I'd argue suffer for having massive open worlds. Lots of empty space artificially lengthens the game whilst boring me out of my tree and practically forcing fast-travel, which surely goes against the point of creating these open worlds in the first place?
Speaking of artificially lengthening games; how about some awful filler in the form of endless challenges, fetch quests and other crap? Go on, it'll help you get the thing you need to do the other thing better. It's simple filler content that serves no other purpose than to keep you playing for longer and make you feel you got better value for money. The industry needs to realise that there is no value in this type of content.
It's all about balance. Bethesda games often get the balance just right, which is to leave you wanting just that little bit more. They create game worlds with so much thought put into them, from item and enemy placement, to accommodating amazing vistas and more. Wandering around and independently
uncovering stories through locations themselves is a special thing, but that's lost when a developer goes open world just for the sake of it.
I guess I'm just asking that developers put some more thought into their world designs and concentrate on producing a strong narrative first, then weaving that into the locales. Make it interesting to explore. The Bioshock series and Alien: Isolation are both great examples of producing open environments whilst not ruining the core aesthetic - everything belongs and has meaning. If you're going to 'go open', make sure you do it like that.
For now, I'm off to travel that 10km to my next objective over the generic land masses of Just Cause 3.
Four years ago, Deus Ex: Human Revolution stealthed onto the scene, punched through a wall and brought a new generation of gamers into the dystopian world first seen in 2000’s seminal Deus Ex.
There are so many factions fighting for dominance in the darker corners of Deus Ex’s world that there’s bound to be a great multiplayer game in there. Ideally it would play along the same lines as the single-player campaign – players would select augmentations they like, and save them on a soldier (ala loadouts from Call of Duty) – then battle it out in one of the game’s ‘hub’ areas.
Developers could make use of ‘verticality’ and have teams using all their augmentations to the maximum, turning invisible at will, jumping to obscene heights and punching through walls.
Plus, keep the team sizes small, and working together to snatch victory from your similarly augmented enemies would become a tense game of cat and mouse – especially if you fill the hubs with NPCs, like Assassin’s Creed’s excellent multiplayer offering. Such a mode should force gamers to think creatively to flush out and kill enemy agents – much like the core game, Deus Ex’s multiplayer should feel free to play outside the lines.
Plus, you could create maps drawn from the series’ deep lore, such as Area 51, Hell’s Kitchen or the vertical city of Hengsha.
..imagine a multi-tiered 'ghetto city', filled with NPCs, moving and rioting and fighting - all of which the player can move through and influence
Proper boss battles
If there was one criticism that appeared in every review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it was the boss battles. Farmed out to a company outside Square-Enix for some unknown reason, DE:HR’s final encounters broke the flow of the action completely, and committed a cardinal sin of Deus Ex: denying the player choice.
Ideally, the next Deus Ex should still feature climatic boss fights, but you should be allowed to use your brain, guile, luck and augmentations to avoid them, or win them in a way other than by repeatedly shooting your foe.
Take Anna Navarre and Gunther Hermann, for example. This pair – mechanically augmented and embittered UNATCO agents – could be killed in the original Deus Ex by discovering their ‘killphrase’, which upon being spoken would cause them to self destruct, saving you valuable bullets and time. Alternatively, they could simply be avoided entirely, if your stealth skill was high enough.
This kind of freedom to choose is at the heart of Deus Ex, and should certainly extend to the boss battles too.
Deus Ex and Human Revolution both suffered from the same issue when it comes to the awesome augmentation technology the series is built around – power.
Both JC Denton and Adam Jensen boasted an amazing selection of cool augmentations, from the ability to see through walls to a tiny spy drone deployed from the eye, to powerful, strength-boosting muscles – but if you ran out of bioelectric cells (DE), or candy bars (DE:HR), then you were essentially buggered. Many a gamer no doubt found themselves in a firefight after discovering they couldn’t punch an enemy down in Human Revolution because they ran out of bloody Mars Bars.
No, what’s needed is a rechargeable battery system built into the hero’s torso – one that charges the batteries beyond the first ‘bar’, and won’t leave you gasping when you need to make a quick escape.
A good example would be the Crysis series’ Nanosuit which, while powerful, required careful monitoring at all times, and had you walk a line between all-powerful superhero and crawling failure.
Make the more powerful augmentations suck power like an Xbox One power brick, certainly – but don’t make us beat up a vending machine to use them more than once a level.
Many a gamer no doubt found themselves in a firefight after discovering they couldn’t punch an enemy down in Human Revolution because they ran out of bloody Mars Bars.
Interlinked and unpredictable storylines
The Deus Ex storyline spans many decades now, from the bleak early years of augmentation in Human Revolution in the 2020s, to Deus Ex’s cyberpunk 2052 dystopia and Invisible War’s neon-lit 2072. Throughout it all, a decent storyline filled with betrayal, conspiracy and rebellion runs – and we’d like to see the next chapter bring them all closer together.
While details on the next game in the series, and the ‘Universe’ concept alluded to in Square-Enix’s October 2014 blog post, are vague, we suspect the next game will be set somewhere between the events of Human Revolution and Deus Ex.
While Human Revolution did an adequate job of revealing the early years of some of Deus Ex’s characters, this time period would allow a deeper exploration of the events that defined the original title.
(Deus Ex nerdgasm/spoiler alert ahead).
We’d love to see an exploration of the birth of UNATCO and the schism between the Illuminati and Bob Page’s Majestic 12. Then, what about the nanoaugmentation project? What about the creation of JC Denton and his brother – were there failed attempts before the ill-fated pair?
Keep us guessing, SquEnix, and you’d be on to a winner.
With the ‘next’ Deus Ex featuring “trans-humanism segregation”, and “a "ghetto-city' voluntarily built in order to separate the classes”, the stage is set for some truly spectacular ‘hubs’ to play in.
All three Deus Ex titles were at their best in their respective ‘hubs’. Deus Ex’s New York, Hong Kong and Paris hubs were a delight to explore, rammed with side missions and things to see and do. Similarly,Human Revolution and Invisible War’s hubs had a magic of their own, and all three allowed the gamer to explore and enjoy the feel of moving as an augmented human in a changing world.
With the next title, we’d like to see more made of these hubs. They need to be bigger, and boast more activities than ever before. Give us side missions, mysteries and murders until we never want to leave, and harness the power of next-gen consoles to populate them with a mass of NPCs going about their business.
For example, imagine a multi-tiered ‘ghetto-city’ filled with NPCs, moving and rioting and fighting – all of which the player can move through and influence. As the story advances, the hub will change dynamically around the player, showing day by day the effects of the player’s interaction and choices made.
Deus Ex’s brand of conspiracy works best in such environments, as the knowledge of events influencing the game world empowers the player – and makes every decision matter all the more when they can see the effects first-hand.
What do you want to see in the next Deus Ex game? Let us know!
Games have become more cinematic than ever before. The aggressive trailer and announcement campaigns, explosive cut-scenes getting increasingly elaborate and big names from the film industry being roped in to do everything from music to cinematography and storytelling. A lot of games get flack for being too much like films (see The Last of Us and The Order 1886), but on the flipside, Telltale Games series have only grown in popularity - how are they getting away with it?
An obvious choice perhaps, since BioWare already does an excellent job of playing out player choice in its games, but the key here (and with all of these games) is that it is another way to explore the universe.
The ‘Story’ difficulty of Mass Effect 2 and 3 made it possible to dial down the combat, but this game could come at the experience from a multitude of angles, on both sides of the fight. There is more than enough players not wanting to say goodbye to Garrus and the gang and so why not pitch something during Garrus’ time at C-Sec and make it more like a procedural investigation with elements of a thriller.
You could incorporate some of the slower elements of games like Batman: Arkham City which saw some glimmers of what could be really interesting detective work, and would fit into the established Telltale template.
There would be plenty of places to explore within the Citadel alone, but beyond that there’s a universe to explore. You could even take a different slant and follow the rise of Mass Effect 2’s Illusive Man, coming at the same scenario from two different perspectives, finally reaching a climax as both sides pit their wits against each other - since in a corrupt world, power comes from influence rather than strength.
The stories players have come up with alone could fill dozens of books (not to mention the dozens of actual books written about that world), and with such rich lore and diverse settings to draw on you could find yourself on an interesting quest.
The challenge is to not make the player feel like they are missing out on having ‘full’ control of their character as they would have in Skyrim. Perhaps the character you follow has taken an arrow to the knee and now can’t go out accomplishing elaborate feats of physical strength, or even that their story begins with their town being saved by one of the player characters from the series, which inspires them.
Encounters with dragons could prove problematic of course, since you can’t really talk them down (though they managed a minor encounter in the most recent episode of the Game of Thrones Telltale game). Stepping away from clichéd characters to really push the depth of a single character’s story could really draw players who (like me) have been too daunted by the scale and scope of an epic game like Skyrim in the past.
With corruption and propaganda rife in the world of Deus Ex, it lends itself to an exploration of some of the unseen few near those in power at the top. What would it feel like to realise the company or government you work for wanted to wipe out augmented humans, it’s never as simple as walking away, but staying and standing for something which you didn’t agree with so strongly could create some interesting internal struggles.
If a character was augmented and those implants were being messed with remotely, battling against your choices, then that could create a whole different level of challenge - swapping buttons around, blacking out the screen at a crucial moment so you have to fire blind.
Plus the augments themselves could offer some interesting choices, similar to how Rhys in Tales from the Borderlands is beginning to show some of his more unique abilities. Imagine remotely hacking other people in that world, tapping directly into their memories and seeing the situation from an entirely different perspective.
With Revelations 2, Capcom is already half way there with this one. It’s already an episodic title with a couple of main characters, some of whom even have different abilities.
The thing about Resident Evil is that is isn’t realistic, there is no way any of these characters would survive half of these situations, so you would have to find a way to dial down the mass of zombie hordes and make it about the characters, in a similar vein to how The Walking Dead deals with the zombie apocalypse.
The benefit with Resident Evil though is that there are already a lot of beloved characters which you can draw on and bring into the story. Some of the most engaging moments of Revelations 2 were character-based rather than action-based, and the story, though a bit silly, was what made me look forward to getting into the next episode, while the action just creeped me out and made me hesitate whenever I thought about playing it.
Take a leaf out of Dead Rising’s book and make the game a bit more self-aware, so that the characters acknowledge how mad it all is but still need to work together to get out of it. There might be less head stomping, but it would be far more fun than sitting through another CGI Resident Evil film which only has tenuous links to the original series.
Unlikely to happen perhaps, but the worlds of both Rapture and Columbia beg a return visit. To see Rapture as the madness started to take hold and deal with your character slowly descending into Adam-induced madness would be great fun.
The style of both games is so well carried out that you could find plenty of stories to tell in that world, perhaps taking a closer look at some of the characters you only really heard from in audio logs.
A looming sense of dread for each universe as both morality and truth are called into question everywhere you turn could fuel a really interesting Noir-esque investigative thriller which explores the founding of both of these great cities. Plus there’s great opportunity for Easter eggs aplenty.
Probably to have all of these series really happen would be a bit much, but hopefully there are some ideas there which make for some interesting and varied game experiences. Also, just to be clear, we would love to see new IP from Telltale as well, since The Wolf Among Us (despite being adapted from fairy tales) remains one of the strongest examples of what the developers can do. What would be your top picks? Let us know on the forum.
'Why do you game?' - I've been asked more times than I can count over the last 22 years - more so in the few years since I hit my mid-twenties.
It's become apparent to me in the last decade or so, that despite the average age of gamers actually being somewhere in their late twenties/thirties, people still seem to see gaming as something childish, to be scorned or laughed at. As if me picking up my One or PS4 controller in the evening is akin to sitting down on the floor with a My Little Pony colouring book and a box of Crayola, and sticking the finished pictures on my parents' fridge.
The thing is, people seem to still be pre-occupied with a stereotype of what (or rather, who) a gamer actually is. You say 'gamer', the uninitiated instantly see a teenage boy, shut in his bedroom for days on end eating Pot Noodles - I have nothing against a good PN, by the way - and whose only friends are of the online variety - again, most of my friends are online, and the nicest lot I've (n)ever met.
Of course, I'm not denying there are gamers like that, but I’m sure there are doctors, nurses, lawyers and politicians who were like it once, too, and you know what? They probably still enjoy a bit or orc slaying or tomb raiding when they get time to relax. And that's the point - you don't stop enjoying something just because your age, living situation or occupation changes.
To me, playing an engaging game is no different to someone unwinding by sitting down with a good book. It's just an interactive one. Instead of seeing characters in my head, and playing out situations with my imagination, I'm acting them out in a more physical way, literally playing them out. What I do is no different to what you do, it just takes on a different form.
Not that other hobbies and interests are any less important, of course - mine (or, if you are with us, ours) is no more superior to something like knitting, even if it did cost me about £500 more than a ball of wool and some knitting needles (disclaimer, I have no idea how much wool and knitting needles actually cost). Yet, for some reason, what I enjoy is looked down upon, as if there are better things I could be doing with my time or spending my money on - like yoga classes, cupcakes and sewing machines, if my similarly-aged female associates are anything to go by.
After another round of disparaging looks from mothers at the school gate, I've now decided my default response to 'why do you play games?' is going to be 'why does it matter?' because it doesn't. Why I enjoy what I do, is irrelevant. As long as I do enjoy what I'm doing, and you enjoy what you're doing, then everyone's happy.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a date with a Pot Noodle and a dragon.
Remastering games is something this generation’s developers appear to be doing by the bucketload, and frankly not all of them are what you would expect, appearing more like cheeky cash-grabs than anything else.
Crysis series campaigns
(Let's not talk about the multiplayer)
What's that you say? Those rubbish games? Yes. Those rubbish games. The ones probably brought down by inferior hardware – aka 'last gen’ consoles. The freedom of gameplay in the Crysis series is tremendous, and with hardware allowing the game to run above 20fps the games would be very good indeed. Let's face it, Crysis – a game that came out over four years ago – is still better-looking than pretty much everything released this generation. While graphics aren't everything – and it seems hypocritical to have an old PC game (that probably still wouldn't be as good as the PC on ‘ultra’ settings) as a showcase for generation remasters – there are so many positives to Crysis titles.
The gameplay is fun, the gunplay is best-in-class and there are multiple ways to attack your enemies and go about your objectives – with speed, power and stealth being the black-and-white options. There's plenty of enemy variety, too. Having even the first Crysis run at 60fps would be the bomb. Last-generation consoles barely managed above 20fps, and the screen was blurry for most of it too – which is down to lower resolutions, according to the idiot’s guide to hardware, which would surely be bumped up on new consoles. The first two Crysis titles have decent stories as well, with the third going a bit mental admittedly – but then the third game makes up for it with seven open-world maps, mixing the best of the previous games. It's Far Cry starring Master Chief. The only thing remaining to point out is that Crytek really need the money. It's a missed opportunity.
Left 4 Dead 2
In the absence of a third Left 4 Dead being created by Valve any time soon, why not slap Left 4 Dead 2 on to your Xbox One or PS4? This multiplayer game is still one of the best ever created, if not the best, and it includes every level from the first Left 4 Dead thanks to crazy downloadable content drops. Stick an £8-12 download price on it and you'll have a tonne of players killing zombies for the next 10 years while we wait for number three to be released – whether that be Portal 3, Half Life 3 or Left 4 Dead 3.
What's so good about it? Well, four player co-op (with bots while offline) taking on hordes of 28 Days Later-style zombies on crack, and special zombies creating all kinds of problems as the players try to get from A to B. It's simple on paper, but the game creates no end of stories between your friends in a ''do you remember the time...'' vein. With a story told subtly through character remarks and messages scribbled on walls and a competitive multiplayer allowing four players to take control of special zombies as well, this level of simplicity becomes a virtue.
Perhaps more an eventuality than being on a wishlist in the wake of ODST gracing the Master Chief Collection, Halo: Reach – possibly the greatest Halo campaign – is the only game missing on Xbox One. Its release on Xbox 360 was great, and certainly the high-point of the series, but it did suffer with an incredibly low framerate and an odd film grain effect (which could be down to resolution again). Seeing the game spruced up to high heaven would only confirm Bungie's last good game as the greatest they've ever made.
The game has everything: four player co-op that scales in difficulty the more players are added, some of the best set-pieces and level design, solid gameplay and visuals and sound that are simply sublime. This is without mentioning the excellent narrative, which follows six doomed Spartans as they defend their planet from certain annihilation.
It's going to happen. Expect an E3 announcement.
Star Wars Battlefront
If any game needed a sequel or a remastering it is Star Wars Battlefront 2. ‘Oh, but it's already getting a kind of sequel-y remastery-type thing’, you respond. Is it really, though, or is it getting a reboot – a reboot by a company which doesn’t know how to make its games fun anymore has taken on a Star Wars game all about fun. It's a recipe for disaster. Sure, fans of Battlefield will be right at home, as will the Call of Duty fans – the series that DICE has been trying to emulate – but do we need another twitchy FPS?
It's already confirmed that the previously primarily third-person Battlefront is now limited to first-person view. It's a slippery slope. Certain elements of the Battlefield series being present isn't a bad thing – Battlefront after all is a Star Wars version of Battlefield – but it was also so much more. We all want to see ground-to-air combat, going into space and doing the whole blow up the Star Destroyer thing, that's all good gravy – but will they bring along with it a grinding progression system, or limited health so you die in one shot? Will they take away the joys of playing against bots because other people ruin the fun for everyone, and all we want is to shoot droids on our own time?
There's only one thing DICE needs to remember – when taking inspiration, take it from Star Wars Battlefront, not CoD or Battlefield. Make the game fun first, but fun for everyone – not just the FPS obsessives.
You would be forgiven for thinking the first Fable would be the likely candidate for remastering, given the recent anniversary release; but frankly nothing beats the vast depth of Fable II, and the incredibly simple mechanics lacking in the weaker Fable III. But why remaster it?
Simply, because it's been five years and there is only Fable Legends (that we know of) on the horizon – and that one doesn't hit the targets that a fully fledged Fable game would smash. So, bring back the most user-friendly and fun Fable with kick-ass graphics and a fun co-op mode. Games are too boring nowadays, let's go take some bar wench into the wheel of fortune... or was it wheel of death?
We'll find out now...
If there's one thing that’s pretty certain about Mass Effect, it's that you'll have an opinion on it: The ending was rubbish. The ending was great. I love Garrus. Oh? My Garrus is dead, it's all about Tali. I made this decision about what gun to buy from Cerberus and it didn't affect my ending.
Let's just shut up about the ending, okay? Three supremely wonderful games in their own right tell an incredible story in the course of over 90 hours, and while some fans still begrudge Bioware for not giving them infinite endings in favour of an admittedly Deus Ex-style ultimate choice, these fans forget that it's the entire journey that matters – and everyone’s story will be different.
Okay, sure, but not to the extent that one Shepard will have kicked the Reapers arses back on Horizon and retired as a disk jockey on Ilium, while another sits crying into a bottle of intergalactic but somehow still Scotch whiskey as they mourn the loss of three team-mates from a decision involving which dock to pick – funny as that would be.
Mass Effect is a series that gets you emotionally attached to the characters in such a way that it's understandable to be upset when the ending doesn't live up to expectations. It has the best stories to tell. It also had really good combat in the second game, with really good RPG elements in the first, and an amalgam of the two in the third – despite what some would argue was the weakest story.
None without faults then? That's where a remaster comes in. Use Mass Effect 3’s gameplay and visuals throughout and Mass Effect’s sluggish running will be solved, allowing the story to flourish. Mass Effect 2 will, well, just look and play better. It’s a guaranteed seller, and perfect for consumption while we wait for (at the very earliest) 2016’s next Mass Effect.
What games do you think deserve a remaster? Let us know on the forums.
Being a huge fan of the Shenmue series, I was absolutely thrilled when the great Yu Suzuki presented Shenmue 3 at this year’s E3 (I did wonder why nobody shouted out “I see” in the crowd though). Part funded by Sony, with the rest being taken care of via Kickstarter (for which it set the record) and Paypal donations, the game looks set to finally tie-up some of the loose ends of Ryo Hazuki’s slow-burn quest to avenge his father’s death.
Part one of the Shenmue series first made it’s way to our European shores back in December of 2000, a glorious Christmas treat for all those aboard the good ship Dreamcast. Originally intended as a Virtua Fighter RPG for the Sega Saturn, development (and the idea in general) shifted quickly to Sega’s much more capable 128-bit machine. Shenmue was marketed as a Full.Reactive.Eyes.Entertainment (yes I’m pretty sure that was deemed hilarious at the time, too) or the first true open-world city-based game.
Players could interact with anything - did you want to play some cassettes? Pet a kitten? Waste your hard earned money at the arcade or the local shop? Maybe just watch the Rastafarian hot dog store owner dance? Almost everything and anyone could be studied, toyed with or talked to in the city of Yokosuka.
The deep combat system owed a great deal to it’s Virtua Fighter RPG origins - martial arts kicks, punches, throws and blocks could all be learnt as you progressed in the story. Talking to wise elders often resulted in the learning of a new move (the Visual Memory Unit would beep when you got the button combinations right), which you could then practise and master in one of Yokosuka’s playgrounds.
Probably the most notorious gameplay element of Shenmue was it’s marmite quick-time events, or QTE’s. Many key parts of the story descended into tense button-bashing affairs, such as chases and fights - the stand-out being a spectacular brawl against a flock of sailors in a bar (the detective work leading up to this point contains some of the most hilarious dubbing in a game). Post-Shenmue, many studios proceeded to fill their games with QTE’s, pretty much ruining the concept completely - I’m looking at you Ubisoft.
Let us dream of sailors, fork lift trucks, Phoenix mirrors, the four Wude and "the day the snow turned to rain".
The blend of a deep, weaving and emotional storyline crossed with the daily ennui of life made Shenmue a truly fascinating game at the time, and it still holds up today. I can’t think of many other games where you can search for your father’s killer, whilst also taking time out to work as a fork lift truck driver. It’s these peculiar juxtapositions that make the game a truly rare breed.
The forlorn nature of the first game somewhat gave way in the second. Set in a world many times larger than the original, and taking in the whole of Hong Kong and some of the mountainous ranges of China, the graphical style was dialled back, to allow for all the extra NPCs, shops and areas you could visit, and, in my opinion, it improves on the original because of what this allowed. Shenmue 2’s world is bigger, uglier and scarier than the first game - perfectly placing you in Ryo’s mindset, a young man in a completely different culture fending for himself entirely.
HD remasters are often frowned upon by the wider gaming community (and sometimes developers), and sometimes that is definitely fair (did we really need The Last of Us again so soon?) - but Shenmue is such a different experience to anything else on the market that a coat of varnish to the visuals, music and controller options would truly give us a definitive version. I pray that Sega put their money and best men behind this project, to give us something wholly spectacular - akin to Nintendo’s sublime second trip to The Wind Waker. A half-baked job is my only concern with this project - I’d rather see the originals ported over a shonky HD re-master.
There are so many reasons to want a Shenmue HD collection; the story, the fighting, the QTE’s, the hilarious dialogue, and the arcade sessions on Space Harrier and Out-Run among others. Here’s hoping Sega do the right thing - until then, let us dream of sailors, fork lift trucks, Phoenix mirrors, the four Wude and “the day the snow turned to rain”.
Do you want a Shenmue HD Collection? Have you backed Part 3 on Kickstarter or Paypal? Let us know in the forum.
We began our adventure in 1997, and it was so much fun. We shared laughter, and tears, and sometimes we even went back and did the same things over and over just for nostalgia's sake. Yet, somewhere along the line, Final Fantasy and I have drifted apart.
Yet sometime after that, things began to change a little. After the release of XII, I started to lose that feeling of fulfilment when a new Final Fantasy came out. The anticipation was there, and the want for it to be good, for it to make me feel the way its predecessors did; but it never happened. So much started to change, and in my mind, it did not need to.
With the arrival of Final Fantasy XIII and our new protagonist Lightning, there was hope a new generation of Final Fantasy would revive the games of old, in all their open world, expansive glory. Unfortunately, it fell flat and dashed a lot of hopes and dreams. Despite fans being so vocal about how they want to play a Final Fantasy game, Square Enix just don't seem to be listening any more.
From a personal perspective, the biggest issue really is linearity. I like being able to jump on an airship and go wherever I please, and in recent iterations this has been taken away from me – there's no travelling back and forth between places to complete tonnes of (sometimes completely random) side missions, or finding bizarre items to make two big yellow birds breed. Hidden summons? Nope. Extra, missable characters? No. Those would probably be made DLC now. And what about those card games in VIII and IX? Those were awesome. I spent hours finding and winning decent cards alone.
Battle systems have taken a bit of a battering, too, being changed to mindless button tapping – honestly, I think I got through 80% of XIII without really paying any attention to what was going on – gone are the days of actual turn based strategy, where you really need to think about what move to make next, do you have time to cast that spell or should you use a potion first? Maybe you should just cease attacking altogether and focus on your defence? Does it really matter any more, because all the battles run the same anyway?
There used to be something that really set Final Fantasy apart from other RPGs of its sort. It was the element of personal interest invested in the characters, they way you played through it and really cared about what happened to them and wanted them to save the world. It was the way the story was told, how it played out and genuinely shocked you in places. How it made you cry, and laugh along with the characters you'd grown to love. Of course, it was also about having characters you can relate to and are actually likeable, and Square Enix seem to have lost the ability to produce those, as well.
there used to be something that set Final Fantasy apart from other RPGs of its sort... how it made you cry and laugh along with the characters...
Lightning. I know people who love her, but I know far more who really don't understand why Square have milked her story as much as they have. The writers used to come up with characters who yes, had their flaws, and yes, some were borderline mental health cases – but they were likeable. There's something about Lightning that just isn't. There's no personality there, she's like watching paint dry. This could be forgiven if her companions were awesome enough to make up for it, but that doesn't happen either. Whether it's whiny Hope, OTT Vanille or far too macho for someone with that haircut Snow, they just don't really cut it compared to what Final Fantasy used to give us.
Of course, now we're faced with a new generation and a new Final Fantasy to look forward to. The first videos and glimpses seem promising, even if the main characters do look like a J-Pop version of the Backstreet Boys. I've still got the feeling of anticipation and excitement, I genuinely do want this game and will be a day one adopter of it. But it's tinged with the thought at the back of my mind that if I get too hyped for it, I could well be disappointed in the long run.
Fingers crossed a new generation of Final Fantasy can rekindle what we used to have. I miss you, old chum.
Microsoft’s Xbox 360 first launched in November 2005, Sony’s PlayStation 3 followed in November 2006. The 360 initially retailed for either £279.99 with a 20GB HDD, or £209.99 without any storage; a price that had declined come the release of the PS3. Sony’s console came in a £299.99 40GB model and a £424.99 60GB model. Needless to say, with a higher asking price and a year long wait, PS3 didn’t have the most successful launch.
When E3 2013 arrived in June, Microsoft opened the show with their infamous Xbox One press conference. ‘Controversial’ always online and game sharing policies, mandatory Kinect and a resultant steep price point sent the Internet into meltdown.
Sony monitored this, and at the last minute changed their presentation to hard counter, undercut and thrust barbs Xbox’s way throughout. Executives on stage literally couldn't contain their joy as the audience present, and undoubtedly at home, roared with the hammering of each metaphorical nail into Microsoft's coffin. They won a large portion of the gaming community over, and that’s still evident today with the gulf in sales between the two console giants.
Sony better utilised those few hours between press conferences than they did an entire year in the previous generation.
That brings us to the present, and history seemingly repeating itself as disdain once again reigns supreme amongst gamers. This time it’s directed towards Oculus Rift and the virtual reality peripheral’s hefty £499.99 asking price, revealed with the recent opening of pre-orders. Once again, Sony are content to lift the veil second - undoubtedly lurking in the background to gauge consumer reaction, so that when their time comes, they’ll again right their predecessing competitor’s wrongs and be heralded the hero.
This is of course speculation, but I’m putting it out there now: PlayStation VR will be cheaper, £349.99 - £399.99 at most, and will bundle with a game of greater significance than those offered by Oculus.
Splinter Cell. Ghost Recon. Rainbow Six. All three of the critically acclaimed series used to be practically perfect, and as time progressed and consoles became more powerful the games became... well, a bit rubbish.
Unfortunately, Tom was talking to himself, here's what the reply was.
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell was the game to get on Xbox for Christmas, if Halo wasn't enough to persuade you, a bit of main character Sam Fisher and his awesome voice (the mighty Michael Ironside) would. The premise - grizzled war veteran Fisher is invited to join a super secret unit called third echelon, basically a Black Ops unit. The whole concept was based around going in and out without anybody knowing you're there, with the whole 'disavow' caveat, hence the name 'Splinter Cell' roughly translating to mean an agent operating under no government, though in reality they obviously are. Gameplay focused on stealth, utilising the shadows, outwitting and avoiding the guards with gadgetry. It was a brilliant spy game.
The subsequent games Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory (the best splinter cell game, maybe even stealth game ever) further refined the gameplay and always kept the core mechanics at the heart, they even made shooting your way out a little easier. Chaos Theory punished you for being seen, it punished you for killing people, the guards would don riot gear, they'd be drinking red bull and freaking out over any small movements. The game was always driving you to be a shadow, but kept the option to go batshit mental a viable one. Gameplay additions added depth, it was development perfection.
So where did it go wrong? Instead of improving on the formula they decided to throw the development book out the window. Or maybe they didn't have a development book, maybe that's where they went wrong? They had a fun weekend but had so many drinks that they forgot how to make the game. Write it down next time. Double Agent was a game that limited all your options, got rid of the co-op mode and made it a linear trundle through set pieces. It was odd, basically, but to be fair it was created by another studio as the A team created a good version for Xbox and PS2. Then came Conviction. You couldn't be further away from the core of Splinter Cell if you tried. The focus was on a new mechanic that lets you shoot people in the head in a cool animation, which you could only attain by beating people up, which you did a lot in a Jack Bauer interrogation sort of way. It was 24 meets Bourne, which is an amazing game in its own right, but not Splinter Cell.
...They had a fun weekend but had so many drinks that they forgot how to make the game
The most recent release is Blacklist, and credit where it's due, they did very well. It plays with the fluidity of Conviction in the action stakes but it also has a great stealth system. It's just a shame then that the game seems to be built for action fans first, even the story which used to be like a spy novel - like it was Tom Clancy inspired or something - had from double agent gone into an odd revenge tale to blacklists terrorists going to blow stuff up 'because' garbage interspersed with quick time events. They even made Sam Fisher 30 years younger and changed the voice actor to some Canadian douchebag, look, just call it a new IP and give stealth fans a traditional spy game in Chaos Theory's example of how to perfect a stealth game.
The Rainbow Six games have arguably all been brilliant in their own unique ways, despite the odd misstep (Lockdown), they've been highly regarded games. But before they came onto consoles they were something more, something a bit special. Rainbow Six 3 and Black Arrow were the first console ports, they were excellent in their own right allowing a punishing campaign to unfold with your squad as you take on a series of rooms barking orders for enhanced tactics such as flashbang and clearing and even arresting people, all with hostages at stake (they would be killed if you didn't plan it correctly).
Lockdown continued the gameplay but added some crazy features like sniping galleries. Even Rainbow Six Vegas followed the same vein of gameplay that gave the series success, you could even play in split-screen and online co-operatively, they actually added features and made it better.
It's to a much lesser extent that these games are included, but looking at the earlier PC games where planning is the key to survival and also at Siege, it's worrying. They admittedly have the core pillars in place, and even have planning stages, but it's the concept that irks. Siege looks to be focusing primarily on multiplayer scenarios, whilst it's still about trying to save hostages from terrorists, it's hard not to be disappointed that your carefully planned attacks be reduced to some trolling nutjob killing your team with lag and 700 more hours playtime than you or whatever, not that anybody's bitter or anything.
So what about Ghost Recon, it used to be that urban army game instead of the high tech overload Future Soldier, right? No, wait, it used to be a third person army tactics game where you blew everything up? Advanced Warfighter? You're all on crack. Ghost Recon has had more wardrobe changes than Ikea. It started off quite brilliantly, and as enjoyable as its successors are, well, Advanced Warfighter at least, they were further from the core values of the series than drunk people are from ordering a salad.
Ghost Recon and Island Thunder were two first person shooters set in open world areas where you were tasked in undertaking the governments most high value jobs, you were basically the SAS 2.0. You could argue that the other games are like that too, but they didn't have realism and stealth as core pillars, you had to plan or you would die. A mission involved you in control of two teams of soldiers, you could choose their loadouts and they had skills, ie sniper, medic. The kicker? You could be any one of them. At any time. So could your friend in split screen. You'd spend 50% of your time looking at the map, you could map out routes for the AI in such detail you were basically writing satellite navigation instructions for them - you could even tell them to shoot on sight, or never fire, or just return fire only, 'turn left at the rotary, open fire at the next exit'. And they could die, and all the skills you had built up, gone. Plans of attack involved placing one team at the front, another flanking and then synchronising 'go loud' orders to watch the unfolding chaos whilst hoping for the best. It was bliss.
None of the other games allow this, you can tell your men to follow and where to stand, but they never had the depth of a 13 year old game. They lost the magic, you couldn't even play co-op in split screen, there was no switching characters. What happened to you Ghost Recon? You could be XCOM levels of awesome but you're just a sad bag of money.
I mean, what if you turn into some open world mercenaries type game, you know, nothing like you were when you were younger? Oh..
Please UBISoft, all that is being asked is that you make games that require brains, that rewards players for investing time and patience, that don't reduce themselves to action film plots, that do concentrate on the spy aspects, on being a Ghost. Basically, go back ten or so years and make games like those, but with todays graphical quality. All your fancy new games look great, but they're new IPs. Make it so, sincerely, Tom.
We chat to Delirium Studios’ designer and creative director, Arturo Monedero, about new game The Delusions of Von Sottendorff & His Square Mind, Justin Bieber, Monkey Island, the European indie scene, and mosquitoes.
Forty people have been involved in the production process, over four years of hard work. This is a big difference from our previous work The Rivers of Alice, which was a much more intimate and personal creation. Von Sottendorff retains Delirium’s soul though, but we have completely changed our tone.
What inspired you and your team during the development stage?
We wanted to develop a new platform game, with a different and original mechanic - but in keeping with the flavour of the classics. We also wanted to recreate a more "European" aesthetic and atmosphere. One could say that there are three key references in which inspired the development: for mechanics, the 15-puzzle game; for its platform side, Jet Set Willy (a very old Spectrum game); and for the story & character, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (by Terry Gilliam). My own nice memories of those references have impregnated this development.
Can you tell us about your team at Delirium Studios? How you got started, where you're based etc.
Sure! This adventure began nine years ago in Bilbao - a beautiful city in northern Spain. Delirium Studios has three main partners, all there from the very beginning: Asier Quesada (CEO), Ivan Armada (CTO) and myself (CCO). We began developing advergames, animation and 3D. We needed to learn a lot before making the leap to the video games industry, and becoming independent developers.
After three years we got there, with Kinito Ninja - our first game. We got some revenues and some international awards with this first title, so we decided to focus on game development. At that point we left advertising agencies and “clients” aside. This was one of the most courageous decisions we have ever made in our life, but one that provided us more happiness…
Gradually, we accelerated our productions’ quality level, until The Rivers of Alice saw the light – a title as personal as it was strange, but the one which placed us in the national and international scene. Today, we have six people in the team, but at some points we are as many as twenty - crazy!
...It is a very difficult market - between AAA and indie developments, there is a tremendous desert...
How difficult is it for indie developers in this current market?
It is a very difficult market - between AAA and indie developments, there is a tremendous desert. The player is so demanding because he/she really does not care if your game is developed in Bilbao or New York - it is difficult to make a space for yourself on the international tablecloth. To achieve it takes time and hard work – a great effort.
In Spain, the situation is not particularly good, four hundred studios have emerged, and the country has no capacity to absorb all the titles going on sale. International communication is a must – not investing in it could mean your studio vanishes before you get to launch your second title. I would like to know what American indies’ point of view is in this regard… Would they feel the same as I?
What advice would you give to someone looking to work in the video gaming industry?
Years ago, I would have said to start up a studio with three friends and explore... Nowadays, I really think the levels of market saturation don’t allow enough space for trial and error... I would advise them to get experience from a larger company. It is interesting to get hired and learn as much as you can before: i.e. how do they work, how do they produce, why do they do what they do like they do, etc. Do not stop learning and observing until you have enough experience to make the leap and become a well-trained indie developer. We would probably only need four years to produce what took us eight…
What game(s) have had the biggest affect on your life, and why?
This is a tricky question, it is impossible to answer! LOL! It is true that there are games that become a milestone, such as Monkey Island, which taught me that games could be a story, could have humour... Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Tim Schafer and I felt like a teen fan in front of Justin Bieber, hahaha!
There are so many games I can’t leave out, such as Flashback on the Mega Drive, Age of Empires, Journey (which reconciled me with current video games) or The Last of Us (which taught me there is already hope with AAA).
What are you hopes and plans for Von Sottendorff looking into the future?
We are very excited for our game to get out there, we hope players are gonna like it! We think we have made a great game, and we are very much proud of it – we paid particular attention to the little details. We think it's a great covering letter for Delirium Studios, and Nintendo the best possible framework. If you let me dream, I would like to see Von Sottendorff on other platforms later on, and if it gets some success, I would take out my notes to start with the second part! But I am a dreamer…
What's next for Delirium Studios?
Personally, I am in the funnest moment of my job, giving shape to new ideas to become new titles. It is like being faced with a clay block that you have to start molding. It is too early to say what is it going to be about or which mechanics will be included at this time. However, what I could say for sure is that we always aim to develop differently, to make very unique stuff or to tell an interesting story - otherwise, we wouldn’t develop.
If you were on a desert island (it has power) and could only take one console, what would you take, and why?
Oh! Lots of doubts: Do I have a TV? ... I see many logistical problems in there… and I don’t know if I will be rescued. Uhmm.. I think it would be more sensible to take a Game Boy, with a huge battery pack and hundreds of games. It's simple, it would never break down, it has great games and without a back-lit display, mosquitoes won’t bother me!
Thanks to Arturo, Asier and Alexandra at Delirium for the interview. The Delusions of Von Sottendorff & His Square Mind is out now for Nintendo 3DS - look out for our review in the coming weeks. Why not check out Delirium’s earlier work, The Rivers of Alice too!