Delays

If you’d rather skip to the part specifically concerning delayed games, it begins in the third paragraph. These are my uncut thoughts regarding recent (and bygone) video game delays, and I do enjoy a bit of a spiel. 

Unlike concise disquisition and casual small-talk, the concept of just waiting had come – with almost unnatural proficiency – naturally to me. Indeed, I was the only child I’ve ever known to get excited by the prospect of Doctors’ waiting rooms, and perfectly entertained of a Sunday morning by sitting on the bottom step of my house, suspended in the close surveillance of spiders, cars, occasional street animals – and the very occasional human being. I was a regular traffic-staring cat, resigned to windowsills and garden patios to cast extraordinarily emphatic stares to whomever might be passing at the given moment. The postman was positively overjoyed to shunt our share of bills through our letterbox each morning, only to find the child from Insidious staring bemusedly up at him – unmoving – through the warped textures of front door glass. Not.

My talents for just waiting have dwindled spectacularly since that time. Perhaps it’s the incomprehensible business of contemporary life, or the rapidity at which technology seems to be developing, or my new-found antsiness when presented with time to kill. Waiting just ain’t as fun as it used to be – and it’s only in recent years that I’ve begun to feel the inextricable bite of the delayed game.

Just how unpredictable official launches have transpired to be in recent years (Assassin’s Creed Unity springs irrevocably to mind), I can understand why delays are becoming more of a regularity. Most recently, Uncharted 4′s delay from original 2015 release to May 2016 arguably ensured Naughty Dog gave fans the ending the marvellous Uncharted series deserved. And in my opinion, it ended on a note that encompassed both the Uncharted series and the history of Naughty Dog as a company in a way that balanced fun, humour, nostalgia and authenticity with impressive and evident dedication.

Uncharted 4 Drake and Elena

I suppose when considering a game like Uncharted 4, however, that there’s always going to be something to judge it against. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot to Uncharted 4 that felt fresh (not the least of which was the fluid grappling-hook feature), but when it comes to delays surrounding anticipated new IP’s, I think the stakes raise significantly. That’s why No Man’s Sky leaves me a little apprehensive; a title that’s seen so much excitement over its two years in the public eye that I fear many fans’ expectations could well be misinterpreting what No Man’s Sky – as an explorative, sandbox-adventure game – really is.

(In an interview with Eurogamer, Hello Games developer Sean Murray shares some info on the innumerable japes to be had in the August-assigned No Man’s Sky. You can find it here.)

I’m excited too – I’d even say hyped myself – but apprehensive, and there’s an incredible amount of pressure right now on Hello Games to create something that lives up to the hype. It’s commendable in itself. The nine-year-mystery that is The Last Guardian appears to be in a similar predicament, and with only really enough information about the game to tease, the game’s official launch feels rocky right now (ahead of next week’s E3, that is).

No Mans Sky Aliens.jpg

Just a little longer till I can seek out the domain of the turtle-penguins and be accepted as one of their own. 

So for anyone who enjoys a ramble (I’ll assume that’s indeed you if you’ve read thus far) and is finding it difficult to manage their hype for the delayed, the detained and the dawdling, I want to hark back to one of the most protracted delays seen in video gaming, and how it was worth every moment of postman-deterring traffic-staring.

Valve’s Team Fortress 2 was delayed for almost ten years, and is often considered amongst the likes of Duke Nukem Forever as one of the lengthiest development processes in video gaming. It’s quite spectacular, given that Team Fortress began its life as a Quake mod.
Development for Team Fortress 2 commenced in 1998 after making a switch from Valve’s Quake engine to GoldSrc, with Robin Walker and John Cook at the helm of the game’s development. The duo set to work on a modern, realistic and complex war game, which would comprise numerous innovations like command hierarchies, commanding lookouts, communication networks and even parachute drops over enemy territory. It was – no doubt – impressive for its time, and by the time Team Fortress 2: Brotherhood of Arms (a name that was ultimately cancelled) was showcased during 1999’s E3, Valve’s use of Parametric animation and multi-resolution technology struck as innovative, and incredibly promising.

By 2000, however, the Team Fortress 2 buzz had petered out somewhat, with news surrounding the game’s development becoming more and more threadbare as time ticked on. The delay was likely lengthened by the fact that Valve was simultaneously working on Half Life 2, and, save for a few comments made by Valve marketing director Doug Lombardi and exec Gabe Newell that the game was still happening, all was quiet on the Team Fortress­-front until 2007.

Team Fortress 2 Gameplay.jpg

And by then, boy had things changed. After secretly creating “probably three to four different games” associated with Team Fortress, Valve had agreed on a final design. In those seven years, Team Fortress 2 had gone from gritty modern warfare to Saturday-morning cartoon, and proffered a softer, stylised art style “grounded in the conventions of early 20th century commercial illustration”, with particular inspirations reportedly drawn from J.C Leyendecker, Dean Cornwell and Norman Rockwell.

Looking back at the game, it’s difficult not to compare it to the fast-paced-punch of vibrant titles like Overwatch and Battleborn, because Team Fortress 2 seems to have so evidently influenced them.

Weapons were now less realistic than ridiculous; giving players access to a supercharged armory home to lasers, cannons, nukes and hulking-great missile launchers that often lent a sense of cohesion and diversity to the game’s multiplayer battles. Compared to the grit and mud of Resistance and Call of Duty, Team Fortress 2 was a breath of fresh air, with a clear and simplistic visual design that allowed combat to feel clean and straightforward, without seguing into banality.

Was it worth it? Was it ever. Team Fortress 2 opened to widespread appeal amidst audiences and a deluge of critical appraisal; all whilst snatching a name for itself over time as one of Steam’s most heavily-played multiplayer titles. It was even named amongst IGN’s Best of 2007 for Best Artistic Design, and swept a joint award with Half Life 2 as Game of the Year.  Despite its status as a 2007 game, Team Fortress 2 still looks and feels as fresh as it did upon release, and has seen itself reincarnated in more recently successful multiplayer shooters like Overwatch and Battleborn.

Team Fortress 2 Gameplay 2

If you’re finding yourself pining for No Man’s Sky, or losing hope over the ever-elusive The Last Guardian, perhaps it’s worth remembering that in some cases – certainly in the case of Team Fortress 2 – it’s well worth the wait.

Wait, what? What was that? Duke Nukem Forever? Well…it’s okay. We don’t need to think about that. Not now. Not ever.

Which games are you looking forward to ahead of E3? Do you think the delayed titles will live up to the hype? I’d love to hear your opinion down in the comments.

Life is…Weird.

NOTE: If you’re planning on playing Life is Strange or otherwise want to avoid spoilers of any kind, I’d recommend coming back to this post after finishing the game. Because, in the words of Poltergiest’s Carol Ann, they’re heeeere. 

Life is Strange is one of those games that, for all its glaring faults, is unforgivably reccommendable. The challenge level of the puzzles undulates more capriciously than its adolescent subjects, and there’s something intrinsically cringe-worthy about its insistence that ‘hella’ is indeed more valuable than virtually every other word ever to exist, but I’d be a disgusting liar to claim that I wasn’t moved by the messages that underlay Max Caulfield’s increasingly fragile world.

Or…worlds…

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Life is Strange’s premise almost had me rolling my eyes and sighing. You play a decidedly more trusting Holden Caulfield. Max Caulfield is an introspective photography student whose journal is chock-full of teenage anxieties about friendships and identities, documented in vernacular like ‘punny’ and ‘bitchin’, whilst twee polaroid selfies represent some of her most cherished shots.  And yet, however extreme her character appears, I connected right away. I found wry familiarity in her multiple anxious interjections, and agonisation over how others must perceive her, and if I was feeling bold, I’d argue that other players likely felt it too.

And whilst the discovery and experimentation around Max’s suddenly birthed power to rewind time is undeniably important, it’s rather, given in such a narrative-driven genre, how it affects her. How the enormity of the power she holds over others’ lives ultimately convinces her that her despotism can only hurt her, and that being uncertain is okay.

It’s a concept that has been raised throughout history in various films, paintings, perhaps most notably literature, and the gaming scene is steadily getting to grips with such themes around identity.

The notion of time-travelling isn’t seldom-visited. Indeed, having the chance to do-over mistakes you made and take back things you never meant can be undeniably alluring. Generally, a lot of time is spent thinking, pondering over what would have happened if we’d taken control, or convincing ourselves that we had no control over any of it. But what if we did? Would things have been better?

Life is Strange Rail.jpg

Life is Strange gets unignorably optimistic in this regard, despite its incredibly low points. I was reminded that while I could take back the things I didn’t mean, I might not want that kind of responsibility. And what sort of person would I be now if I’d never comprehended the concept of a mistake, loss or misadventure? Pretty damn bored, probably.

After all, our transitional hero – Max – attempts to save her hella-raisin’ friend, Chloe Price, the heartbreak of her father’s death. But after rescuing the man from his sentenced fatal car crash, Max soon discovers that there had to be someone else to fill his shoes – and that someone happened to be Chloe. Chloe’s slightly younger, more robust body certainly took the hit, but instead of killing her, the well-meaning Caulfield is confronted with her best friend’s near-total paralysis, with a collapsing respiratory system that ultimately forces her to beg for euthanasia. There’s just no guarantee that things would have been better if you hadn’t made that mistake – even if they had, would you be prepared for the compromise that came with it?

life is strange ehc

Despite all the nastiness of the world, perhaps it’s necessary. As much as you hate that you ignored sweet Janet Tipperworth or wished you’d punched Lofty Dan for making your Maths class hell, but without them we wouldn’t be the person you are, and who you could’ve been isn’t likely to have been any happier. They, for all intents and purposes, keep the world in balance.

By making most of its choices ambiguous enough to convince you that either decision could lead to devastation, Life is Strange frames the young anxieties about one’s future and how it might be. About oneself and who you might be, and going back and fixing it will likely just have one living for one’s problems.

Again, it’s not a new message, but it was something that stood out to me in Life is Strange, and amidst often schlocky teen characterisation and filler quests, it’s a real strong point of the game.

Game I Will Most Likely Have Forgotten About But Still Get Anyway: Rise of the Tomb Raider

System: PS4; XONE; X360; WINDOWS
Developer: Developer: Crystal Dynamics; Nixxes Software; Eidos
Release Date: Early 2016 (Windows); Late 2016 (PS4)

I’ve never been big on Tomb Raider. Now, this might come as a surprise as it’s one of the most influential platformers to exist and all, but the truth is that it always held a relatively quiet presence amongst other titles I’ve adored. I never saw much of it when growing up, and it’s only now that I’ve really begun to appreciate what so many fans praise about the games.

And what a time to become interested, too. 2013 saw the rejuvination of Lara Croft in a well crafted and thrilling origins story, and with Rise of the Tomb Raider set for PS4 launch in the later part of 2016, it seems there’s no time like the present to really delve into those bygone graves that Croft has a knack for seeking.

lARA

Being a sequel to 2013’s Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider proffers similar gameplay to its predecessor, with a heavier focus on stealth. Michael Brinker of developer, Crystal Dynamics has claimed the player now has a greater ability to “stick with stealth for the entire encounter”, enabling Lara to hide from foes more effectively, without being as easily spotted.

And although Croft’s hotchpotch bow makes its reprise, alongside a nifty hunting knife for melee combat and sneak attacks, one of the most interesting mechanics in Rise of the Tomb Raider lies in its enemy AI. Where in the 2013 reboot, shooting arrows amongst enemies gave away the player’s whereabouts, calculated range attacks can be used to distract your attackers, “if they can’t find Lara,” Brink’s explained in interviews, “they’ll go right back to what they were doing before”.

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A hardened survivalist with ninja-esque qualities? Yes please.
The delayed release for PS4 was a shame, especially considering the original Tomb Raider is widely considered one of the best Playstation titles. And given that, as of 12th December on VGChartz.com, PS4 sales are at almost double those of the Xbox One, the ploy to sell more consoles via exclusivity doesn’t seem to have payed off. As of now, the road unto Lara’s next adventure feels long, and despite my  inexperience with Tomb Raider, the praise Rise of the Tomb Raider has received already suggests it’s a series that might be worth a closer look.

 —

Links for your curious heart:

http://mmgn.com/xboxone/articles–rise-of-the-tomb-raider-interview

Most Interesting World: Horizon: Zero Dawn

Release Date: 2016
Developer: Guerrilla Games
System: PS4

Horizon Zero Dawn bird
Guerrilla Games’ departure from the Killzone series seemed to have popped up out of the blue, but according to interviews with IGN, Horizon: Zero Dawn has been in the works for quite some time. Having begun before work started for Killzone: Shadow Fall, Senior Producer – Mark Norris – describes Horizon as a game that is “ultimately about exploration”, as well as being a tale of self-discovery and purpose within a cataclysmic world.

Zero Dawn marks an interesting entry in the post-apocalyptic style, as it’s one of the few that is classically attractive. The E3 Demo opened upon a vibrant echo of prehistory; home to towering, sentient robots and the parochial human tribes that live perpetually in their shadow. The main story follows Aloy, a trained robot hunter.

horizon aloy

The story itself is deemed by Norris as “one of the closely guarded secrets” of Horizon: Zero Dawn, “because we think it will be really special”. All we know for now is that Aloy “does have a little bit of a special relationship with the machines”, and the sheer amount of meanings behind that statement has me thoroughly interested in how Guerrilla presents the narrative within the gorgeously mechanical open world around 150 people are striving to bring to life.

Horizon’s combat and exploration strike a resemblance to Shadow of Mordor, incorporating tactical stealth elements to take down some of the smaller bots. Most of the direct combat, however, appears to be ranged-oriented, which was something that threw me off a little, as a perpetual sword-wielder. Aloy is equipped with a techy bow and arrow, and judging by the game’s E3 Demo, ranged combat strikes as clean and uncluttered.
In addition to Aloy’s trusty bow, the demo showcased the protagonist’s ability to salvage enemy parts to use against it during a battle; something that already suggests that your titanic foes will require a lot more than a few well-aimed pin pricks to topple.
Horizon Zero Dawn Combat

Although combat took much of the limelight at E3, it’s Zero Dawn’s world that interests me. It’s not a bog standard collection of rolling hills to play about on; it actually feels archaic, flecked with fallen memories of the so-called ‘triumphs of mankind’ that have since melded with the earths. It’s less sinister than it is curious, and atop Norris’ claim that Zero Dawn will, “open your mind to a different way that we can tell stories”, the game is definitely on my watch list.

Links for your curious heart:

PS4 Exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn Interview – Guerrilla Talks Story, Aloy, Size of the Machines and More

Don’t Starve Spooky Review: Night Terrors

Genre: Action/Adventure, Survival

Developer: Klei Entertainment

Publisher: Klei Entertainment

Systems: XOne, iOS, Wii U, PS3, PS4, PSVita, PC, Linux, Mac OS

To me, Don’t Starve is the perfect Halloween game. It’s not scary per se; when playing, you won’t be expecting the jolt of a forthcoming jumpscare. Nor will you encounter ghosties or ghoulies, at least none that are so readily apparent.

What Don’t Starve does capture, however, is the spiritual essence of Halloween as an event; an archaic festival shrouded in superstition. Don’t Starve’s Mother Nature is harsh and distrustful, and as you strive to cobble together supplies to last the night, you’re all the while reminded of the inevitable darkness looming, and the threat of the unknown encloaked within it. So I wanted to do a review. A spooky review.

don't starve hands of darkness

Do bring a night light.

Usually with survival sims, you get what you pay for. And Klei’s Don’t Starve, on the face of it, looks conspicuously conformative in this regard. But as the ashen wilderness fills in around me, it becomes frightfully apparent that starving will often be the very last thing on my mind. How could I have been so naive.

Incidentally, that is a question that surfaces time and time again in Don’t Starve. As much as I’d like to scream profanity at the cruelty at each of my timely deaths in this game, I’m simultaneously reminded that the entire experience was resultant of my decisions, and my decisions alone. The world of Don’t Starve is deliberately elusive; veined with paths to places unknown that beckon with duplicitous reassurance.

don't starve treeguard

Do appreciate the greenery.

In this distinctively hand-drawn realm, even the trees are out to get you. As Wilson, the gentleman scientist, you tumble forth into a volatile dimension that you’re left to figure out alone. Chop too much wood and the stoic evergreens will fight back. Leave your camp for too long and risk it being taken over by beligerent flora. Fail to arm yourself correctly and you’ll be torn limb-from-limb by packs of scratchy hellhounds. This isn’t a world that takes too kindly to visitors, and whilst one mistake won’t necessarily kill you, it’ll leave you weak at the cold hard mercy of the impending seasons, which greatly motivates a less-than-brazen approach to the game’s exploration elements.

The fleeting daylight makes each objective huge, often requiring entire in-game days to complete and (more often than not) undue bloodshed. As such, every quest you embark on could catch you far from home as dusk descends, an experience that is terrifying, but certainly never dull. Such are the frailties of many a simulator title.

don't starve night monster

Don’t live the nightlife.

But hidden within its perpetual gloom, Don’t Starve maintains a charming sense of character, making your bedraggled fight for survival as amusing as it is challenging. Characters are exaggerated, grotesque; look and act like children playing dress-up, often resonating an eccentric sense of in-game logic. Chucking fish in a crock pot with some salvaged branches obviously makes fishsticks, whilst earmuffs during winter consist of merely two live rabbits. These details come as an unexpected laugh in Don’t Starve, offering a childlike sense of humour in an otherwise ominous enviroment.

don't starve insanity

Don’t trust imaginary friends.

Whilst trawling the wilderness for components and ingredients, you’ll inevitably have hunger and health bars to contend with; a piece de resistance of the survival genre. But after a few days of skulking for scraps you’re inevitably going to go a little loopy. As such, Don’t Starve‘s sanity meter is easily diminished by murdering passive creatures, being rained on and the all-encompassing nighttime. Allow yourself to go barmy and you’ll become prey to your own psyche, as blurred hallucinations zip in and out of awareness in attempt to do you in. While ominous, the notion of the player as their own worst enemy is a refreshing one.

Gameplay in Don’t Starve is orchestrated, rather than truly wild; a vital approach that allows its more whimsical elements to shine. The concept of a crafting system isn’t exactly unheard of by now, for Minecraft has made sure of that. But even amongst its pixellated siblings, Don’t Starve’s contents of craftables feels natural, purposeful and downright amusing. Most inventions are simple essentials needed for farming and combat, but the game’s imaginative flair peeks cheekily through some of the more optional accessories. From magical staffs to baseball bats made of ham, whether your allegiances lie with the practical or the daft, Don’t Starve will reward or punish you accordingly. And then probably punish you some more.

Craft and inventory systems are smartly organised to ensure speedy construction, and are superbly mapped to the PS4’s controller from the original PC layout. The mundanities of scrolling through supplies are choreless and comfortable thanks to the dual stick controls, and even minor fixes like holding down a command to auto-harvest stand out. There’s nothing particularly wrong with its PC controls, but the gamepad feels more precise; something that goes a long way when daylight’s running thin.

don't starve hey neighbour

Do get to know the locals.

Although Don’t Starve‘s difficulty seems deliberate, its roguelike features have been criticised in the past for their crushing attitude towards the player. Whilst there are ways to cheat death once or twice, you’re more often sent back to the drawing board, with precious little to show for hours of encumbered toil.

On a further note, the game’s thrashing nature sometimes lacks justification. Upon my return from chipping away in a rock biome, I discovered my camp had been made undwellable by a carnivorous plant, as I spiralled into the winter months. Much of what happens in Don’t Starve is simultaneous, making it difficult to stave off luckless happenings to avoid biting the dust, which often induces more rage than reward.

But Don’t Starve‘s smart, innocent outlook and intriguing domain is what has me coming back for more. It’s still a delightful challenge that constantly forces you to adapt to your increasingly vicious surroundings, and success in the face of oblivion is intensely satisfying.

don't starve beefalo
The harrowing world of Don’t Starve balances the charming with the precarious, offering a brutal challenge and inquisitive vibe that emanates Halloween spirit. Despite its heartwrenching permadeath and, at times, overwhelming sense of threat, it’s a meticulously designed survival title that mollycoddles you none. If, like myself, you consider yourself more Halloweenie than Halloweener, Don’t Starve will creep you out, without assaulting your amygdala, as it injects risk into every decision you make.

Don’t Starve, Halloweensfolk!