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Dragon Age Inquisition – What Went Wrong?

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On paper, Dragon Age Inquisition was everything that Dragon Age II wasn’t. It was huge, massive and epic. It had original characters, a road story and a traditional fantasy quest.

No one could accuse it of just reusing the same bunch of locations. The Frostbite engine brought Dragon Age Inquisition close to something resembling an open world (though still with no day and night cycle) and many of them were stunningly beautiful. Even more gorgeous were the interiors of castles and fortresses. The Elven and Orlesian art were particularly amazing.

There was also an epic story. You weren’t poking around doing fetch quests in the same city for 5 years. Instead you were doing fetch quests across a vast landscape. But there was also the traditional struggle between good and evil.

So what went wrong?

1. Icon vomit – EA decided that the future was Assassin’s Creed. So all games must be AssCreedified. Bioware didn’t suddenly decide to listen to fans. They were under orders to make their own Assassin’s Creed game. And they did.

Dragon Age Inquisition was much better than the Assassin’s Creed games. You never have to follow around eavesdropping on an NPC. But it was full of the traditional AssCreed icon vomit.

DAI went crazy for collectibles. Collect tiles, collect shards, solve puzzle maps, collect gears, collect collectibles, collect icons. Worst of all, the shards and gears were door keys. And door keys were a design gimmick that died with Doom.

Some of these were voluntary, some were required to gain access, but even voluntary icon vomit is still icon vomit, it changes how the game is played and gets in the way of the story. If your landscape is filled with icons to clear, it’s not a magical place.

2. Story fail – The original Dragon Age had a good balance between a personal story and the larger struggle. Dragon Age II mired players in a boring personal story with no larger struggle. Dragon Age III is all larger struggle.

DAI had plenty of characters but most of them felt bland and lacking in depth. The central character is defined by his leadership of the Inquisition. And that means constantly being complimented to death. Personal growth is meaningless. The choices are between being polite or rude.

Worst of all, DAI Mass Effects you, dumping you at the center of a huge organization (while still having to do all the work, including micromanaging it) with strongholds you can get lost in. It’s epic, but also epically boring.

Between the icon vomit and micromanaging all the social and political tasks of the Inquisition, Dragon Age Inquisition doesn’t feel legendary. It feels like a job. CEO meets RPG.

Does anyone really want to play a game running an organization like The Inquisition?

And the story itself feels cut and pasted from a hundred other RPGs. It’s practically the story of Elder Scrolls Oblivion right down to rushing around shutting down portals to the demon realm. You’re even playing the “Chosen One”. Bioware throws in all sorts of twists and turns, but it’s not really enough.

3. None of It Matters – You can shape the Chantry or the Orlesian Empire, though you don’t much see the impact of that, and this time your choice between mages and templars actually matters. Somewhat.

The enemy is purely evil and insane. Even when it isn’t, you’re not allowed to talk your way out of misunderstandings. Instead you have to fight.

Bioware likes to pretend it gets gray areas, but all the story gray areas don’t change that you’re not allowed to play the game in shades of gray. Instead you go from pointless fight to pointless fight to cutscene. It doesn’t matter what’s in the codex if the only acceptable solution is to cut off the other guy’s head. That was the problem in Dragon Age II.

It’s still the problem.

The judgement scenes are a nice idea, but the original Dragon Age did it much better by just forcing you to confront the question of how to deal with nuanced villains. It made the game feel like a paperback fantasy novel.

Dragon Age Inquisition doesn’t feel like a story. It feels like a great engine with a lot of disconnected attachments that take you out of the story. And it gives you very little access or control over the story.

Dragon Age asked you to make personal decisions about how to save the world. Dragon Age Inquisition sets out to do the same, but somewhere along the way it again abandons player agency. Instead it flatters your ego and throws you into a simplistic story full of job tasks and fetch questions, pointless customizations and empty exchanges, instead of real decisions with consequences.

And it was a close thing.

Corypheus was always the wrong villain for the game. Solas was the right one. Instead he’s being reserved for a possible sequel. But Solas is the kind of personal nuanced villain Dragon Age Inquisition needed. Corypheus is the classic unhinged villain, a ranting egomaniac who wants to destroy everything to get his way. He has to be destroyed. But Solas wants to reshape the world while committing terrible crimes along the way.

A better game would have asked you what crimes you were willing to commit to stop him.

Unfortunately Dragon Age Inquisition wasn’t that game.

The Hegemony Villains in Looking Glass’ Terra Nova Game were Social Justice Warriors

terra_nova__strike_force_centauri__big_box_cover_by_rho_mu_31-d8pejqjGOG has put Terra Nova Strike Force Centauri back in circulation.

Terra Nova was a brilliant game hobbled by bad advertising and terrible FMV. It was one of the games that showed how amazing Looking Glass was.

There’s plenty of commentary on how ahead of its time its graphics and gameplay were, but it also had an amazing backstory that most people don’t remember because it was drowned by terrible FMV that had no relationship to it.

The clans of Alpha Centauri were Jupiter colonists who fled a solar system taken over by the Hegemony. The Hegemony was a nightmarish version of the UN, the USSR and the social justice warriors mashed together. After the Hegemony took over Jupiter by bombing a dome and killing 750,000 people, the Jupiter colonists escaped.

But the Hegemony followed them.

This abridged backstory from Terra Nova Strike Force Centauri’s library shows just how much effort went into developing the social system of the enemy empire in the game.

 

To understand the Hegemony, one must first understand the principles and aims of the Publican movement. The Publicans are the instigators and rulers of the Hegemony, and they have set all the policies of the Terran government since the early 22nd Century, when the United Nations was disbanded.

The Publicans themselves constitute a very special social class on Terra. As “guides” for humanity, they live somewhat outside of the restraints placed on human civilization. The special case of the Publicans is discussed later in the report after the rights, status and circumstances of all other Terrans are outlined.

Principles of Publicanism

1. Universal Equality, Selective Suffrage – the foundation of the Hegemony is equality of all citizens. Citizenship is a birthright of Terrans and can be lost only through antisocial behavior. Citizenship entails protection and equality under Hegemony law, but not the right to vote, that right is incumbent to a sub-class of citizens known as elders

An elder is a citizen who has served eight 4-year terms of public service. This service entitles the elder to vote on all matters of public policy not reserved to the Publican class. The political theory behind elder suffrage is that only a citizen who has devoted his life to public service has demonstrated the social commitment needed to vote in a responsible fashion.

2. Universal Public Service – Upon reaching the age of 18, all Terrans are tested for societal productivity and aptitude. The testing determines the socially useful skills of the candidate and the nature of their lifetime contribution to society. Once the citizen’s aptitudes have been tested, he/she is offered a 4-year position somewhere on Terra based on availability of work according to their aptitudes. If such a position is available, the candidate must accept it or suffer loss of citizenship.

Each citizen is permitted to decline a term of public service only once in their lifetime and must continue performing their current duty for two years at which point they must accept the next position offered to them.

Terms of public service may never be served in sequence in the same location. Terra’s entire population is constantly on the move, with individual families never residing in the same locale for more than four years at a time. Publican doctrine requires this as a means of ensuring equality and to prevent any from developing an attachment to the land that might lead to nationalistic sentiment.

All Terrans involved in Public Service are compensated equally, regardless of the service they perform. Administrators are paid exactly the same wage as street sweepers.

A citizen who has served two full-4-year terms is entitled to 10% higher compensation. Each subsequent two terms of service raises base compensation by an additional 10 percent.

Terrans serving in an enterprise of 20 or more individuals are subject to review by other members of their work force at any time during their period of service. Should 2/3rds of the work force disapprove, that individual is removed from the enterprise. Four such removals result in a loss of citizenship.

3. Universal Health Care, Shelter and Food – all Terrans, citizens or not, are entitled to free medical care, regardless of social position, depending on supply.

Housing – Within a single locale, all dwellings are the same in terms of construction, living space and fundamental equipment. Non-citizens, called deviants, are required to live in multi-family dwellings which it is a citizen’s right to live in a single family dwelling.

4. The Family – The institution of family, and children in particular, is at the heart of the Hegemony. Publicans see themselves as sacred keepers of the future, and nothing symbolizes the future of a society as much as their children. Much of the Hegemony’s legal system centers around isolation from family as punishment for anti-social behavior (see Deviants.)

All citizens are entitled to marry and conceive children. A family may consist of two adults and two children at any one time. Any excess children due to poor planning or multiple births are offered to childless couples or assumed into the Publican class.

All children between the ages of 6 and 18 must spend 4 months of every year in service to the state. Such service usually consists of providing child care, although light labor such as food distribution and social work projects may occasionally be required.

All children are educated in Publican schools in Literacy, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Data Navigation. The teaching of History or any schooling in cultural or ethnic heritage is considered child abuse and is punished as such.

Child abuse is one of the most serious crimes that can be committed under Hegemony rule. It is punishable by loss of citizenship or death. Inadvertent or unconscious child abuse will warn a parent or caregiver a warning and a required course of study.

5. Economics

The Hegemony operates under a limited market economy that has only a surface resemblance to what was once called Socialism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Entire Hegemony is a Free Trade Zone. Profit is strictly regulated at 8%. No enterprise may earn more than 8% above investment on an annual basis. Any addition profit generated must be tithed to the Hegemony. All profit is equally divided among the workers of any enterprise.

There is no private ownership of land in the Hegemony. All land belongs to the state and is leased in tenancy to the people who live there. Citizens may own household goods, but no machinery of production may be pricately owned with the exception of hand tools.

All crafts are organized into guilds of varying sizes. The only individual revenue-generation activity permitted in the Hegemony is in the fields of art and entertainment. Profit is strictly regulated. Artists and entertainers must serve 4-year-terms subject to relocation at the Hegemony’s whim.

Banking and capitalism are all outlawed forms of economic endeavor, as is the selling of insurance. New enterprises are spawned as the need arises with funding from the Hegemony. Need is determined by availability of resources and services.

6. Deviants

Any Terran who is deprived of citizenship is classified as a deviant. Deviants are not permitted to dwell in Terran society, nor to have any contact with citizens. The deviants never call themselves that, instead prefering to call themselves, The Forsaken.

All deviants are required to live in special preserves with the largest of them being situated in Antarctica. Repeated attempts to break quarantine result in exile to Antarctica.

Deviant society is self-governing. All deviants are sterilized. There are rumors of children who seek refuge in deviant preserves.

7. The Publicans

Since 2104, the Publicans, an elite class of public servants created by the UN, have ruled Terra. The idea was that public administration has always tended to corruption because the administrators earned their positions as spoils of political victory.

The Publicans were to be career public servants with no ties to any political interest group or political franchise. That theory worked well until the Publicans became a political interest group on their own. By that time they controlled most of the media and virtually all channels of distribution of resources and the bureaucracies that implemented public policy.

When they determined that it was in the public interest for them to take over, they did. Thus was born the Hegemony.

Publicans still may not vote, but they do set the agenda. There is no true public referendum in the Hegemony, only the appearance of one. Citizens and elders may propose legislation, but if the Publicans oppose them, the matter will never come to a vote.

Publicans are entitled to greater shares of housing, food and consumer goods owing to their “exceptional contributions to the workings of the state.”

Mastoid implants are placed in all Publicans allowing them to covertly communicate among themselves.

Disputes between citizens and Publicans can only be judged by a Publican court. Citizens may not sit in judgement of Publicans on any matter.

While no citizen may bear arms, Publicans are permitted to carry weapons.

Publican children are educated in special schools that teach a broader curriculum including the humanities and social sciences.

Publicans at the highest level are permitted to remain in a single location for their entire lifetimes.

The Publicans brook no opposition nor sanction alternative approaches. Of great import to them is the firm belief that they constitute the only prop[er human authority in existence.

They believe that they are charged with the salvation of the human race.

They all eat the same foods, live in the same sorts of dwellings and individuality and uniqueness are anathema to the Publicans and thus outlawed in the Hegemony.

2046 Lunar Colonization

2074 Publican class established by UN

2104 Publicans take over, UN disbanded, Hegemony established

2110 First Public Education Campaign undertaken. Latin and Central America purged of independent nations.

2115 Second Public Education Campaign launched. Africa unified into a single entity

2117 Third and final Public Education campaign started. Earth becomes a single nation with common language and laws.

2122 Venus Wars begin. Hegemony landing attempts repelled by colonists.

2123 Hegemony establishes first beachhead on Venus while suffering heavy casualties. Venus Resistance shifts to war of attrition rather than defense

2124 Hegemony forces destroy the dome colony of Jerusalem resulting in the instant annihilation of some 750,000 people. Venus capitulates.

2130 Interstellar Agreement reached. The colonists of Jupiter agree to relocate to Centuari. The Hegemony assists the Jupiter colonists with preparation.

Fallout 4 Has a Fallout 2 Vibe

And that’s a good thing.

You don’t have to be an NMA poster to know that Fallout 3 was a mess. An empty world where you spent most of your time killing things in subway tunnels with some ambitious set pieces, but few people in them and no sense of life.

Fallout New Vegas got back to what the series was meant to be and the new Fallout 4 trailer shows a world that is closer to Fallout 2, the best game in the series, that’s more than just radscorpions and wastelands, but has people trying to put things back together after the end. There’s color, life, sprawling commerce and cities with more than 4 people in them.

Fallout 3 was good at showing the devastation and emptiness left behind, but it lacked people. Fallout New Vegas did its best, but Obsidian couldn’t do much with the engine. New Vegas had to be broken up.

Fallout 4 seems to be set in a Boston that mixes old ruins with new technology. Hopefully like Fallout 2, it shows new societies emerging out of the rubble, secretive technology clans and a little bit of cyberpunk.

I would mention the faces, but it’s just easier to assume that any Gamebyro game is going to suffer from zombieface.

Privateer’s Working Class Universe

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Open world space games are back. Post-EVE they’re multiplayer oriented. Elite Dangerous decided to drop its single player. Star Citizen and No Man’s Sky may have single player campaigns, but they aren’t out yet.

The last great space open world game was Privateer and it was its world that made it worked. Privateer succeeded where Freelancer failed because it was a different kind of game. It wasn’t just an open world Wing Commander. Instead you started out in a flying crate that couldn’t stand up to a single fighter. It was dirty and ugly. Getting by took running odd jobs delivering ore around a single backward solar system.

It should have sucked and sometimes it did, but it also made it real.

You weren’t a hero in Privateer. Until the end there were no big stakes. You were just a truck driver in space (that game was actually made and Dennis Hopper was in it) trying to get by. Everything was broken and everything cost money. Keeping your ship flying so you could get work was about stretching a tight budget even tighter.

You could eventually buy the big ship and the top of the line weapons, but only after a lot of sweat and toil. And it wasn’t just you. Your enemies weren’t Kilrathi, though they were in there. You were fighting petty pirates flying basic fighters or crazy retro fanatics. They were just as much at the bottom of the ladder as you. You were flying through industrial zones where militia in basic fighters fought it out with pirates trying to steal some cargo or smugglers moving drugs and slaves.

And you could become a drug dealer or a slaver too. It was an option.

Privateer was a bad neighborhood, a working class universe in which you could make good or bad choices, but there wasn’t anywhere to go. You could run cargo or hunt down pirates. Those are the same limitations you find in other open world space games, but here they were the character of the universe you lived in. They didn’t feel like bad game design, but like a matter of fact statement.

For the few glamorous fighter pilots, there was the opportunity to do something big and take on the Kilrathi in a war for humanity. Everyone else was just working a 9 to 5 job. They might be doing it in space, but it was still the same old.

Space wasn’t glamorous. It wasn’t exciting. It was miserable and dirty. And it was amazing.

Star Citizen’s promos borrow from the same toolbox, but it will be interesting to see if it can capture that feeling. Freelancer didn’t.

Saints Row 55: Technicolor Yawn Parody Out of Hell

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There’s more DLC coming. With angel wings. And Shakespeare. And hilariously wacky weapons.

Just be glad this one isn’t being released as Saints Row 5 like the last one was.

Saints Row 3 was amazing because it took a GTA clone and asked what would happen if GTA were actually fun and if it had a story that kicked it up to 11.

Saints Row 4 dropped the fun part and swapped out constant parodies for the story. You were constantly figuring out which powers to swap while trying to figure out what game was being parodied now.

Since then it’s been a stream of DLC that no one can keep track of.

Gat Out of Hell throws in a new city still in technicolor darkness and with more superpowers. Like flying. You could fly in SR4, but now you’ll have wings. Also lots of arch references. It’ll be the perfect Comedy Central videogame.

And that’s all Saints Row is now. It’s Family Guy. It’s a Comedy Central show. It’s a bunch of references to things you might have heard of stuck between minigames.

Saints Row 3 walked a line. It was ridiculously over the top, but it had its own story. It wasn’t just a bunch of loosely linked Family Guy parodies of other things. It took the characters seriously in its own twisted way. Its action scenes mattered because of that.

The new Saints Row model is to amp up the jokes, more costumes, more weapons, more minigames, less story and less gameplay fun. Don’t release new games. Just release more over the top DLCs for a game that already sold well and hope everyone keeps on being excited at the latest Awesome Show DLC. It’s like Serious Sam without being fun to play.

It’s back to the manure cannon but with a knowing wink and a topical reference to another game you might have played. You know, an actual game.

Why are Gaming Journalists Such Angry Whores?

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Blah blah entitled gamers blah blah culture of misogynistic hatred blah blah blah toxic harassment blah blah GamerGate doesn’t exist blah blah Anita Sarkeesian attacked by ninjas blah blah blah gamers need to just die blah blah just let us do Bioware press and leave us alone.

It’s not the gamers who are angry. Some gamers are angry. They’re the ones who still read blogs like Kotaku, Destructoid, RockPaperShotgun, PC Gamer (online it’s just another blog) and are a little confused about why they’re indistinguishable from Social Justice Warriors Tumblrs.

Most gamers stopped paying attention.

Why even bother? How many people still subscribe to print copies of PC Gamer? How many people care about the previews carefully leaked to friendly gaming journalists? How many people care about an introverted culture of gaming journalists who want to promote the latest pixel art indie about transgender pirate cats as the future of gaming?

Most gamers have moved on. Most non-gamers have moved on leaving behind angry gaming journalists who try to shore up their journalistic creds after all their corporate shilling by attacking gamers as misogynists, because they can’t bite the corporate hand that feeds them.

They’re whores. GamerGate and Zoe Quinn are just tiny little reminders. Mostly the whoring is virtual. Nobody went to bed with anybody to get all star reviews for Dragon Age 2.

Probably.

If you spend your nights shilling for companies and their terrible products, you have to take it out somewhere, somehow. When you can bash a game safely (because it’s not a Bioware game) you do it. And the safest targets are gamers. Dirty, filthy gamers.

There are no gaming journalists. There are employees of gaming websites funded by game publisher advertising who navigate those financial relationships and are told which games they can pan and which games they have to praise.

They’re whores and they’re unhappy whores. They’re the poor whites of the gaming Confederacy. They have to treat someone else like dirt to feel better about what whores they are.

Because worst of all, their line of work is vanishing. Gamers have figured out that the difference between a gaming journalist and an Activision employee is that the former gets paid to pretend that he isn’t the latter.

And they moved on. They get their reviews from Metacritic, Twitch and YouTube. They’ll take rips of the latest exclusive magazine preview which will be on Reddit in five minutes without reading the source.

It’s game over.

Such articles appeared concurrently in Gamasutra (“ ‘Gamers’ are over” and “A guide to ending ‘gamers’ ”), Destructoid (“There are gamers at the gate, but they may already be dead”), Kotaku (“We might be witnessing the ‘death of an identity’ ”) and Rock, Paper, Shotgun (“Gamers are over”), as well as Ars Technica (“The death of the ‘gamers’ ”), Vice (“Killing the gamer identity”) and BuzzFeed (“Gaming is leaving ‘gamers’ behind”). These articles share some traits in common besides their theses: They are unconvincing, lacking in hard evidence, and big on wishful thinking.

quick glance at financials shows that “gamers” are not going anywhere. If “gamers” really are dying, no one told the marketing departments for these publications, which continue to trumpet their “gamer” demographic to advertisers. What is going on instead is projection. As long as these journalists held a monopoly on gaming coverage, they could maintain a dismal relationship with their audience in spite of the fact that “most games coverage is almost indistinguishable from PR,” in the words of disaffected game columnist Robert Florence, who himself wrote about corruption in gaming journalism before quitting Eurogamer. But all that’s changing with the rise of long-form amateur gaming journalism and game commentating on YouTube and Twitch.tv, the latter of which was just bought by Amazon for $1 billion as the gaming press was declaring the end of gamers.

Game companies and developers are now reaching out directly to quasi-amateur enthusiasts as a better way to build their brands, both because the gamers are more influential than the gaming journalists, and because these enthusiasts have far better relationships with their audiences than gaming journalists do. (Admittedly, most anyone does.) This week, Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto signaled a focus on hard-core gamers, and Nintendo has already been shutting out the video game press for years. As Gamasutra’s Keza MacDonald wrote in June, the increasingly direct relationship between gamers and game companies has “removed what used to be [game journalism’s] function: to tell people about games.” Another Gamasutra article cited game developers saying that YouTube coverage had far more impact than all website coverage combined.

I generally don’t read gaming websites because I don’t like sifting through rewritten press releases and underage toothbrush incest anime coverage to find one or two genuine pieces of content. Instead I go to affable enthusiasts on YouTube and Twitch, people like Ryan Letourneau (Northernlion), Michelle (TheRPGMinx), Nick Reinecke (RockLeeSmile), Daniel Hardcastle (NerdCubed), and the unfathomably popular Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie), a 24-year-old gamer who has 30 million subscribers, the most viewed YouTube channel of all time, and makes $4 million a year off his channel by, more or less, playing video games.

It is understandable that online gaming journalists would be uncomfortable in this situation. The antagonism of the gaming press toward its audience stems partly from justified outrage at the horrible behavior of a small subset of it, but also from helpless resentment toward the entirety of the press’s shrinking audience—hence the self-defeating attempt to generalize the former into the latter. Rather than stressing that the vast majority of gamers are reasonable people who don’t harass women, hold reactionary, protectionist views, or start vitriolic online campaigns against the press, the websites trashed the entire term “gamer” and, to no one’s surprise, earned 10 times the enmity overnight.

Good luck guys, because your scam is past its sell by date.

I am a straight Asian-American male from a working class family. My family survived wars, political purges, and 3 different refugee camps just to be able to come to America. I consider myself politically a left-leaning liberal. I do support worker’s rights, women’s rights, gay rights, transgender rights, religious freedom, and oppose racism. Yeah, the whole deal. Hell, number of the writers and commentators that are vilifying me right now are people I used to enjoy reading and watching. It’s not as if I was always against everything they had to say all the time. I’ve often shared very similar views at times.

This is why the behaviour of the gaming media as of late sickens me. They use the causes and values that I sincerely believe in, and turned it into a shield they can hide behind to avoid criticism. As if claiming to fight for justice forgives corruption and general cruelty to others. They’ve weaponized these issues and values for their own cynical gain. The gaming media presents the narrative as if opposing their corruption and insanity would mean turning my back on the values and issues I care about. As insane as it sounds, this is deeply troubling to me; painful even.

Hope there’s room for more than one Anita Sarkeesian on Kickstarter or you’re all screwed. And not in a Zoe Quinn way.

Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed With Less Cyberspace

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Like many open world games, Watch Dogs is a wonderful open world matched with a miserable game. The GTA games get around their poor gameplay and annoying mission structures by filling them up with edgy outsized characters and social commentary.

Watch Dogs tries feebly for the social commentary angle, but their ruminations on privacy and technology don’t distract from the Instafail missions, the annoying placement of saves and cutscenes, the too complicated control setup and the poor shooting.

And everything else.

As an open world, Watch Dogs has a Chicago that looks terrible in the daylight, but amazing at night. The overlays give every little NPC a story and make the world come alive in a way that GTA and Saints Row never managed to do. Most of the functions are just pickpocketting and eavesdropping with a cell phone, but picking up missions by eavesdropping on phone calls makes for a dynamic world and mission structure.

It’s too bad that the missions themselves are so miserable.

Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed with less cyberspace and even more awkward controls. The controls are too complicated when they don’t need to be burying the game under layer and layer of strange screens and too simple when they don’t need to be so that when you’re trying to stay in cover, your one press of a key instead alerts every bad guy in the area.

The missions are all about stealth, without the controls to make stealth workable. You have dozens of weapons, but it takes a few shots to kill you.

And that’s just the random missions.

Watch Dogs’ campaign tasks you with an annoying protagonist impossible to care about, who never develops a personality and never shuts up. And he has sidekicks who make you appreciate his lack of personality especially since they keep calling until you take their mission.

If you thought GTA 4’s social networking was annoying, try listening to the same Jordy Chin phone call a dozen times.

Watch Dogs builds a complicated and interesting open world and then jams you into a dumbed down game making the same mistake that Rockstar keeps making with the GTA games. But Watch Dogs doesn’t have enough color to compensate or enough style the way that its Assassins’ Creed games do. Once you get past the open world, there’s no reason to keep playing.

Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed with the amazing open world, but without any of the fun combat or platforming. Instead you’re stuck with another character who can die if he steps the wrong way outside a mission zone, but who doesn’t even offer the fun of cutting through a mob of enemies with a cutlass.

That’s what makes Watch Dogs so joyless. Its characters are bland, its combat is poor and its controls are worse. It’s a great open world that lets you go from urban to rural in a short drive, that lets you encounter a hundred different people with their own stories in a single block, but that plays like an arcade game without any of the fun.

It’s fun to occasionally raise a bridge during a chase letting you fly overhead or raise the bollards shutting down your pursuers, but more often it feels like trying to play a piano while someone is throwing bricks at your head. Stopping criminal convoys also sounds like fun, until your mission requirements tell you that your job is to knock down one driver while surviving attacks by his dozen cronies in a body that can take about three gunshots. Kill him accidentally and you also die.

It’s fun to hack a grenade that your enemy is carrying, but you’re as likely to end up inside a camera while he kills you. It’s fun to zoom through the cameras, but then you’re stuck with hacking a pipe puzzle.

The only way to have fun in Watch Dogs is to avoid its mission structures and Ubisoft’s design makes that as hard as it can to do assaulting you with phone calls and pop ups until you give in and muddle your way through another miserable mission.

And then you wonder why you’re playing Watch Dogs at all.

Sunset in Skyrim

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Deus Ex Human Revolution game review

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It’s not Deus Ex Human Revolution’s fault that its another FPS with unlockables in which you stalk through office buildings and warehouses fighting minor varieties of the same enemies while picking up clues to the story from files and emails. From its beautiful art style to its attempts at letting you sneak around and take down enemies in different ways, it is making an effort.

It just isn’t groundbreaking.

Deus Ex Human Revolution owes more to the influences of the modern FPS/RPG, Half Life 2 Bioshock, than it does to the original game, but it isn’t breaking any new ground in gaming or its story about the dangers of enhancing human abilities with cybernetic technology.

Deus Ex Human Revolution doesn’t do subtle. It takes a clear position on every issue and its endings bully you into a single path making those three endings almost as interchangeable as Mass Effect 3’s duplicate endings. It tries to make conversations a factor, but they never matter.  Human Revolution gets by on conspiracy theories, looping broadcasts of an Alex Jones wannabe and playing with headline conspiracy theories about FEMA, Blackwater and the World Health Organization, but it’s the art design that is more effective than the story.

The graphics telling detainees to crouch at a FEMA detainee camp and the rows of padded velvet armchairs in the observation area of an operating theater where human subjects are experimented on are much more effective than the game’s own lectures. Making matters worse, Deus Ex Human Revolution’s cutscenes are even worse than its much maligned boss battles, which are mostly not that bad. Sneak through to an objective and a cutscene comes on where Adam Jensen strides boldly into a room and lets a bunch of gangsters or the CEO or a corrupt Chinese medical company sidle around him. And making worse matters, even worse, Adam Jensen, in the cutscenes, is an idiot who is slow to figure out the same things that the player already knows. And all these terrible cutscenes culminate in a final moral choice that makes no sense and in which the game’s only good ending is to blow up yourself and a station full of people so that humanity never learns the truth.

Human Revolution’s story of conspiracies holds together at least until in an idiotic plot twist, Hugh Darrow, the man behind enhancement technology sabotages the Illuminati’s plan to compensate for anger over his birth defect leaving his Global Warming station to be overrun by zombies.

That’s Deus Ex Human Revolution as a story, but what is it like as a game? The answer is generic.

The game does keep track of whether you kill people or knock them out, but only to attach a little lecture at the end. Going quietly has its advantages, but is rarely necessary. The enemies are repetitive and so are the levels, most of which take place in minor variations on modern office buildings or warehouses like every other FPS out there.

The exceptions are the large outdoor maps of a new Detroit and Hengsha in China. The engine shows its limitations in these places. Both cities are always dark and a riot in Detroit lacks rioters, but the effort briefly makes the game come alive, especially in the Hengsha sections where the streets are full of stores and people and oppressive security, where a whorehouse has damsels in distress and people from across the world sleep in pod capsules in a giant rundown hotel.

Unfortunately Hengsha is the exception not the rule and before long, you’re back sneaking around abandoned office buildings and fighting soldiers dressed in red so that they are easier to see.

Human Revolution is a decent enough example of what a modified FPS AAA sequel that isn’t in the military genre is like today, but it’s not especially groundbreaking or even worthwhile. Visually it’s stunning, but no other part of the game lives up to its art direction. The Missing Link DLC embedded in the director’s cut in which you expose an undersea lab where the Hyron experiments are taking place shows what the game might have. And what its sequel might still become.

Saints Row 4 Game Review

Saints Row 4 is an unusual beast. It’s an AAA game about gaming. It’s a top of the line meta game that goes meta on the meta with lines like “This is just like playing a game. Wink.” With the wink pronounced out loud.

SR4 begins with a Call of Duty parody and is based around a Mass Effect parody. And there are send ups of everything from Metal Gear “that lightbulb had a family” to the whole Saints Row series. Adding to that there’s a built in text adventure game, a mission that turns you into a character in a side-scroller beat-em-up and a whole bunch of jumping and racing games that are 3D versions of the games you might play on the phone to pass the time.

All that makes Saints Row 4 a lot cleverer than the GTA series thinks it is with its latest take on Organized Crime = The American Dream. An idea that was stale a few years after the Godfather and imitation mob movies finished beating into the ground. But that doesn’t mean that SR4 is good.

Saints Row 3 was a polished machine full of gags, missions that transformed into something more hilariously insane and a territory to explore. Saints Row 4 dumps you into the same city with a few small things switched around and alien gear everywhere. It also overlays the old drive and shoot gameplay with a whole bunch of superpowers so that the cars don’t matter.

SR4 feels like the DLC that it started life as. Its missions feel less polished and while a few match the brilliant insanity of SR3, there are so many filler missions that its own DLC, Enter the Dominatrix, jokes about them.

With everything from lightsabers to terminators to Roddy Piper showing up in the game, Saints Row 4 is trying hard to distract you with shiny things. Superpowers, moddable guns that can be turned into the weapons from Firefly, Star Trek and multiple other franchises. Jumping games, racing games, lots of unlockables. But what it’s trying to distract you from is the lack of gameplay.

Integrating superpowers into a drive and shoot game doesn’t go well either. The superpowers are neat, but the system for deploying and choosing them is awkward. The alien enemies are diverse, but few of them have superpowers. The Wardens who do are the worst thing about the game cutting the player off at a top notoriety level and forcing an annoying battle that ends with a notoriety reset.

That makes the whole superpowers thing feel like a played mod that wasn’t well thought out instead of the center of the game.

Once you’re dumped into the simulation, most of the game consists of going into the other simulations where the other characters are trapped to rescue them. And then fulfilling their loyalty missions. Some of these are surprisingly well written and well acted. SR4 does more with its ridiculous characters and goes deeper than Grand Theft Auto 4 ever did. Others are just filler.

SR4 balances out serious backstory and ridiculous gags. It wraps up its own narrative. But it feels unfinished. There aren’t enough missions and the ending is abrupt and awkward. And too many of the missions feel like pointless fetch quests to stretch out the time.

Saints Row 4 has plenty of great moments, but not enough of them and the closer you get to the ending, the more unfinished it feels until you’re looking at a credits sequence composed of concept art for what the Saints are doing in the real ending.

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