Month: December 2017

The New Most Overrated Game Ever

by Jed Pressgrove

The most overrated video game was once The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for a simple reason: so many called it the greatest achievement in gaming without acknowledging its obvious flaws. The character of Navi, for instance, makes it almost impossible to take the game’s dramatic intentions seriously. Navi peppers the proceedings with unnecessary tutorial-like remarks, and her name, a condescending abbreviation of “Navigator,” symbolizes how many pop games since Ocarina of Time (released in 1998) have treated players like infants — a trend still going strong as we approach 2018.

For close to two decades, it seemed nothing could dethrone Ocarina of Time as the most overrated game of all time. Then the exaggerated hoopla over The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild happened this year. Within weeks of its release, many said Breath of the Wild had surpassed Ocarina of Time as the No. 1 game in history, and a segment of gamers expressed outrage when Breath of the Wild’s Metacritic score dropped one point, from 99 to 98, after all reviews were completed and tallied. During the summer, Edge revised its 100 greatest games list just so it could put Breath of the Wild at the top. I even saw more than one adult praise Breath of the Wild for having a jump button (did they really miss Zelda II: The Adventure of Link or any of the countless platformers out there?).

Why is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild considered so outstanding, especially when its flaws undercut the potential of its open world? I have identified four areas where the game either falters to a significant degree or is clearly outmatched by other titles.

Storytelling

Breath of the Wild has a huge map and flexible mechanics so that fans do the heavy lifting when it comes to storytelling and so that Nintendo can get away with endless banalities. When people exchange tales about what they have done as players in a game, academics call it “emergent narrative.” Under this (snooze-inducing) framework, the variety of puzzle solutions and environmental factors in Breath of the Wild, for example, suggests the game allows the most potential for fun stories between audience members.

I’m not sure this is true. There are other games, such as Minecraft and Scribblenauts, that can lead to a wider variety of stories than Breath of the Wild. And is emergent narrative automatically compelling anyway? It might be neat that this guy uses Item A to alter Environmental Factor C to overcome Obstacle Z, but I doubt many of these anecdotes will stand the test of time, even as self-absorbed curiosities.

In any case, the greatest game of all time should not have a story as generic and monotonous as Breath of the Wild’s (see the seventh paragraph of my review here); its cast should not amount to little more than peddlers of Nintendo tradition and whimsy if the goal is indeed to depict an ostensibly living world. Just two years ago, critics and fans recognized The Witcher 3 for imbuing its many minor characters with unmistakable, striking humanity, yet Breath of the Wild gets a pass despite being filled with tired contrivances like superfluous side quests and throwaway caricatures of human beings.

The one-dimensional heroism of Breath of the Wild’s plot limits the philosophical possibilities of its world. Why does the press imply this game has the best open world when it completely lacks the morality variable that made Fallout, Planescape: Torment, and The Witcher 3 so vibrant and provocative? Is chopping down trees to create bridges and crush enemies that trailblazing in comparison to what these games did for storytelling?

Climbing

At first glance, it does seem significant that you can climb, without equipment, mountains and towers in Breath of the Wild. You might even say this feature gives Breath of the Wild a distinct identity as an open-world game. But compared to Assassin’s Creed Origins (also released in 2017), which allows you to scale myriad awe-inspiring structures in ancient Egypt with no need to worry about a stamina bar, Breath of the Wild appears quaint, unimaginative, and plodding. What’s more, Twilight Princess still has the most exciting climbing sequences of any Zelda game with its double-clawshot mechanic, which requires you to use the camera while hanging to reach greater heights.

Weapon Breaking

Because weapons break in Breath of the Wild about as often as an American politician says something stupid, out-of-reach treasure chests aren’t as tempting to pursue if you already have multiple arms in stock. If you know everything you find will soon disintegrate, why get excited about the prospect of new items? The weapon system, like the stamina system, doesn’t serve the exploratory focus of the game and points to a superficial kind of realism. Further, Muramasa: The Demon Blade’s weapon-breaking dynamic exposes Nintendo’s approach as amateurish. In Muramasa, swords temporarily break if you use them too much, forcing you to switch weaponry until the broken ones “heal.” This rule not only spices up the combo-heavy fights but also gives weight to the game’s conceit that swords are living beings. In contrast, Breath of the Wild seems to take place in a world where no one can make anything worth a damn, suggesting its weapon system is a parody at best.

Stamina

Breath of the Wild has the most pointless stamina system in recent memory. The most appealing part of the game is its invitation to explore a world, yet the invitation holds contempt for those who just want to run at a decent clip without having to worry about an indicator. Perhaps this contradiction could be overlooked if the stamina system made sense. You lose stamina for running, climbing, and gliding but not for standard melee attacks or jumping. Say what you will about the frustration of your protagonist becoming exhausted in Dark Souls, but at least that game applies the concept in a consistent, fair, and understandable fashion. Breath of the Wild’s pretense of realism is merely half-assed.

This flaw is even more egregious in light of Nioh, which was released a month before Breath of the Wild. Nioh reinvents stamina management, wherein a timed button press can save endurance and open up a variety of strategic options, from dodging to jabbing. Whereas Breath of the Wild’s stamina system doesn’t improve anything about the game, Nioh’s unique take on energy conservation sets its combat apart from every release before it. That the gaming world didn’t explicitly acknowledge Nioh’s superiority in this regard speaks to an ignorance surrounding the accolades for Breath of the Wild.

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Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2017

by Jed Pressgrove

2017 had plenty of good games compared to the last few years. But don’t be thrown off by the hype: several of the biggest releases were very flawed (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, Persona 5, Yakuza 0) or downright terrible (Resident Evil 7, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Xenoblade Chronicles 2). The gaming world still has incredibly low standards, and many critics can still be indistinguishable from fanboys, but as always, the games themselves represent a vibrant art form.

1. The Norwood Suite

Cosmo D’s 2015 game, Off-Peak, was an audiovisual and thematic revelation. No other independent first-person game — not Dear Esther, not Gone Home, not Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture — had captured humanity in such provocative, comprehensible, and technically daring terms. Incredibly, The Norwood Suite doesn’t just match the effort of Off-Peak. It surpasses its predecessor’s use of sound, incorporating a larger, more emotionally varied soundtrack and making every character’s dialogue an instrumental riff within the sonic landscape. It complicates the theme of art under capitalism; whereas Off-Peak focuses on the diversity and struggle of artists in an exploitative system, The Norwood Suite covers a wider range of expressive individuals, including corporate sellouts, leading figures who abuse other artists in the process of creating iconic works (as exemplified by Peter Norwood), and more. Last but not least, The Norwood Suite confirms its developer’s distinctiveness as a surrealist. Some fans of Cosmo D compare him to filmmaker David Lynch. That’s an oversimplification. Lynch, who often serves up ominous abstractions, has never so blatantly called attention to cultural joy, sacrifice, and problems through a surreal lens, nor can he fully explore the possibilities of music within space. Cosmo D, like the people he portrays, is his own artist.

(See more thoughts on The Norwood Suite here.)

2. Nier: Automata

With some of the most resonant images, songs, and dialogue of the year, director Yoko Taro presents the bigotry of androids in Nier: Automata as a reflection of our own othering, which has no political boundaries.

(See full review of Nier: Automata here.)

3. Splasher

This platformer from developer Splashteam understands that “more” does not equal great design. That’s why Splasher’s unique kineticism thrives across 24 levels. There’s an odd humor in failing to rush through these intricate stages, as your fingers scramble to tap the right button for the right kind of environment-altering liquid. This dynamic makes Splasher an action masterpiece.

(See more thoughts on Splasher here.)

4. Little Red Lie

As the most cynical game of the year, Little Red Lie sometimes lays everything on too thick. At the same time, one would be lucky in 2017 to find more compelling writing, from a standpoint of form or unfiltered emotion, than Will O’Neill’s work in this game. Little Red Lie is an ominous statement on how individuals and society influence each other, but it also functions as a mirror. In highlighting all of the characters’ lies, which come in innumerable forms, the game asks us to take a longer look at our own words. The coda, which aggressively breaks the fourth wall, might feel like an accusation or an insult, yet I interpret it as a moral challenge, a chance to be honest with one’s self.

5. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the antithesis of Silent Hill 2. Its action is not fundamentally banal. It’s a focused, rather than inconsistent, metaphor. It doesn’t rely on a hackneyed “the protagonist is the culprit” plot twist. Even more, it ultimately presents the human mind as something to understand, not fear, with a universal message about overcoming hatred in all its internal forms.

(See full review of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice here.)

(See more thoughts on the game here.)

6. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

The combat of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is distinctively hard-nosed, avoiding the gimmicks of recent Fire Emblem sequels, and its time mechanic encourages experimentation in a way the series never has. Just as remarkable is the game’s story of two heroes, whose love can’t overlook the need to discover identity and destiny along separate paths.

(See full review of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia here.)

(See more thoughts on the game here.)

7. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

If Mario + Rabbids didn’t have a pointless story and so much inconsequential item collecting, it could have been the best turn-based game of the year. As it stands, movement within a tile-based system has never been this electrifying.

(See full review of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle here.)

(See more thoughts on the game here.)

8. Super Mario Odyssey

There are two strange signs of Super Mario Odyssey’s greatness. First, the game manages to counteract its pandering nonsense — a photo mode, nostalgic and trite two-dimensional platforming segments, repetitive item collecting — with sheer ingenuity and humor. Second, we may never see another pop game that reveals the urge of so many different people to enslave, brand, and manipulate things for their own gain. Cappy is innocuously packaged as a friendly guide, but his popularity as a device for unbridled control speaks to a double-edged type of catharsis, where we see in each other a common dark thread.

(See full review of Super Mario Odyssey here.)

9. Pyre

Developer Supergiant Games goes beyond the norms of RPGs and sports games to show how sport connects and divides us. Unlike countless other games, Pyre sees potential for revolution, both personal and social, via nonviolent means. In today’s world, that’s a controversial idea, especially for those who only see sports as games.

(See full review of Pyre here.)

(See more thoughts on the game here.)

10. Torment: Tides of Numenera

Yes, I would have preferred this sequel to the unforgettable Planescape: Torment to stand out more visually and to distance itself more from the numbers obsession of many RPGs. But you also won’t find many games in 2017, or any year, this concerned with exploring the philosophies and sentiments of beings who may make you uncomfortable. Tides of Numenera is a call for people to leave their echo chambers and bubbles, even while the ghosts of history live on in startlingly destructive ways.

(See full review of Torment: Tides of Numenera here.)

Game Bias’ 10 Worst Video Games of 2017 and Play-Instead List

by Jed Pressgrove

Although 2017 has nothing on 2015 in terms of its overall share of terrible games, several works this year showed a special hatred for rural folk and places. This trend shelters the political egos of fools that think people who live outside of cities are largely deranged, clueless, and hopeless. The biggest monsters in one’s mind will always be the biggest monsters in one’s world, regardless of the diversity that spans all of humankind.

You’ll notice I’m doing something different this year with the list. For each of these reprehensible choices, I will suggest a game you should play instead. The catch is I’m only going to recommend alternatives that are far from perfect but nonetheless do more than enough things right to rise above the following junk.

1. Resident Evil 7

Many in the gaming world said this embarrassingly unoriginal sequel was a return to great horror for the Resident Evil series (note: Resident Evil has always been more corny than disturbing). More than one reason can explain why this questionable claim was made: virtual-reality hype; the bizarre sentiment that a first-person perspective is automatically revolutionary; and a conscious or unconscious feeling that we all should be very frightened of people who live in the country. Resident Evil 7 has sexist and racist ideas, too — just more crap often accepted as classic horror.

(See full review of Resident Evil 7 here.)

Play Instead: Prey

Like Resident Evil 7, Prey is a first-person shooter influenced by horror movies, but Prey has a less discriminatory perspective on humanity and, in stark contrast to the dull inventory of its urban-snob counterpart, features one of the most inventive weapons of the year: the Gloo Cannon.

2. Doki Doki Literature Club!

Dear Dan Salvato,

I realize you think portraying girls as out-of-control lunatics somehow subverts anime, manga, and dating cliches. Unfortunately, horror movies have been portraying the female sex in this way for decades. Back to the drawing board.

Sincerely,

Game Developers’ Favorite Critic

(See full review of Doki Doki Literature Club! here.)

Play Instead: Little Nightmares

While Little Nightmares doesn’t try to reject conventions or go meta like Doki Doki Literature Club!, it earns its tension more honestly with technically exquisite imagery.

3. Troll and I

The bugginess of Troll and I is what horrible legends are made of. Publisher Maximum Games should go to confession, if not to prison, for the monstrous sin of releasing this poor excuse for a game.

(See full of review of Troll and I here.)

Play Instead: Destiny 2

Destiny 2 waters down the very idea of shooting a target and trying out new firearms, treating almost every gun as an opportunity to make consumers feel comfortable and smooth. The jumping in the game feels like something out of a rejected Nintendo Entertainment System platformer. And its ramblings about Light make its morality more superficial than that of Star Wars. But at least the product works.

4. Outlast 2

Games can be understandably critical of religion (see The Binding of Isaac and Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia), but Outlast 2 hatefully portrays people of faith in incomprehensible, psychotic terms. The game’s shallowness is particularly noticeable given that the protagonist, despite having gone to a Catholic school, shares no clear opinion on matters of providence and religiosity. And of course, all of this madness is possible due to backward rural savages, including women who think murdering their children is righteous. What a shocker.

(See full review of Outlast 2 here.)

Play Instead: Stranger Things

This free mobile game, evocative of NES and SNES games, is little more than a nostalgic way to market a supernatural television show, yet it’s still more inventive and less reliant on trial-and-error challenges than Outlast 2.

5. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

This first-person shooter recreates adolescent 1990s ultraviolence, but it’s also a kind of political commentary that paints idiotic ideas, such as anonymous KKK members walking around in a Nazi-dominated society, as profound. Don’t be fooled by the blaxploitation stereotype, the naked pregnant woman gunning down bad guys, or the half-baked portrayal of a half-Jewish protagonist: this game upholds the indestructible white-hero formula with a degree of stupidity that must be seen to be believed. You certainly have the right to buy into the notion that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus functions as some cathartic, telling spectacle, but you’re going to wake up the next day with the same level of insight into the world, and you can’t just shoot the troubles away.

(See full review of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus here.)

Play Instead: The Surge

Both The Surge and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus involve a hero leaving a wheelchair thanks to advanced technology. The difference is The Surge understands that competition, not phony-baloney heroism, drives the culture of capitalism, and that’s something we have to resist.

6. Night in the Woods

In a society where the gap between the rich and the poor seems to grow as we speak, the treatment of the privileged millennial protagonist in Night in the Woods is especially insulting. With a smart-ass vibe, developer Infinite Fall allows Mae Borowski, the central figure of the game, to go hog-wild in a deceptive depiction of a working-class community and attempts to pass off this story as indicative of something real. It’s one thing to examine an obviously flawed character; it’s another thing to try to make someone believe that almost everyone around the punk would ultimately put up with her. The implication of the grave-digging sequence — that no one would care about a boy’s corpse being defiled — shows a disgusting level of incoherent “progressive” cynicism.

(See full review of Night in the Woods here.)

Play Instead: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Imperfect protagonist: Chloe Frazer > Mae Borowski. Believable outraged friend: Nadine Ross > Bea Santello.

7. South Park: The Fractured But Whole

If this game represents the satire of our time, may Jonathan Swift rise from the grave to mock us. South Park: The Fractured But Whole’s cowardly, trite approach to comedy is immediately apparent. The opening tries to make fun of the political framing of the Zack Snyder film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the attempt falls flat because a superhero movie, of all things, has more to say about the current disarray of the United States than South Park creator Trey Parker, who helped direct and write this game. Even if you ignore the recycled shit jokes and lazy racial humor, this RPG fails to be engaging. As in the 2014 predecessor South Park: The Stick of Truth, exploration is a bore because the environment is too familiar and standardized. And if the combat in The Stick of Truth was an uninspired take on Super Mario RPG, the battles in The Fractured But Whole suggest an idiot’s perspective on tile-based tactics.

Play Instead: Dujanah

Jack King-Spooner has made far better games than Dujanah (Beeswing, Will You Ever Return? 2, Sluggish Morss: A Delicate Time in History). Yet the fictional arcade within it alone is more clever than The Fractured But Whole, with experiences that effectively lampoon pop hits (such as F-Zero) and even a decent juvenile spoof called “Pie or Anus.”

8. Valkyria Revolution

If nothing else, Valkyria Revolution proves that a game can’t make a serious statement with flippant dialogue and incessant loading that destroys the drama and pacing of a story. This disaster by Media.Vision offers another lesson, too: if you forget video-game history, you’re unlikely to surpass or even match superior work. For anyone who has experienced the measured real-time action of the 1990s games Secret of Mana and Secret of Evermore, Valkyria Revolution’s cruise-control approach to battle is unacceptable.

(See full review of Valkyria Revolution here.)

Play Instead: Cosmic Star Heroine

This independent RPG knows history better than Valkyria Revolution. Developer Zeboyd Games acknowledges its influences and builds on them, delivering one of the most fascinating takes on turn-based combat this year.

9. Everything

David OReilly continues to pretend like he has a grasp on the nature of existence in Everything. And just like they did when OReilly released Mountain in 2014, some people continue to eat it up because they think whimsy equals wit and insight.

(See full review of Everything here.)

Play Instead: ATV Renegades

ATV Renegades shows that being down to earth, and making people laugh in the process, is underrated.

10. Tekken 7

No pop game confirms the sorry conservative state of fighting games more than Tekken 7. Namco’s allegiance to Capcom is obvious in the camerawork, the “new” mechanics, and the inclusion of boring bad-guy Akuma.

(See full review of Tekken 7 here.)

Play Instead: Arms

Leave it to Nintendo to try something distinct within the fighting-game genre. Even if the game isn’t always fair or focused, its weirdness is offset by how uniquely it articulates the importance of footwork and orthodox/southpaw dynamics.