Open-World Fatigue and the Importance of Release Dates

Speaking purely in terms of entertainment, the first few months of 2017 have been spectacular. Peak TV has not let up one bit, with promising newcomers like Legion joining continuing successes like The Americans. Movies, especially more “popular” releases like Get Out, Logan, John Wick 2, and Lego Batman, have been exceedingly great.. But both still pale in comparison to the gaming landscape, which has seen a historically excellent slate of games, right in the middle of a period notorious for being a slow.

I already wrote about my love for Resident Evil 7, a game that is beginning to get left behind in the larger cultural conversation. February saw the release of Horizon: Zero Dawn, one of the greatest Playstation exclusives in Sony’s history and an enormous step forward for developer Guerrilla Games. But even that title, a massive Ubisoft-esque open world action game, was shortly eclipsed by the hype surrounding Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game that was universally hailed as an instant classic and one of the very best games ever made a full week before it even released.

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Resident Evil 7 Review

When you break it down, there are two major competing ideologies when it comes to modern game design. On the one hand, you have your open-world, player-driven experiences. In these titles, developers craft expansive sandboxes of potential experiences and give the player a number of ways to interact with their environment. Games like The Elder Scrolls, Grand Theft Auto, Far Cry, and Assassin’s Creed give players unique stories and memories, things to laugh about or share with friends. These “high expression titles,” as Warren Spector once called them, are often considered the more forward-thinking, or pure, examples of game design.

But their successes do not mean that we should discount the strengths of games that eschew freedom in pursuit of more explicitly crafted experiences. Looking at the output of Naughty Dog, one of the most renowned developers, we can see how powerful these directed experiences can be. The Last of Us tells an incredible story, perhaps the best we’ve seen in the industry, by tying the game’s progression and gameplay scenarios to the feelings of tension or relief inherent in the story beats.

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Suicide Squad Review

(This review contains some spoilers for Suicide Squad. I wouldn’t worry about it.)

It’s rare to make a decision that you can stand behind with complete, unwavering confidence. In the last year, I can only think of a few. Marrying my wife is one. Not voting for Donald Trump is another. Now, I can comfortably add “not paying to see Suicide Squad in theaters” to the list.

When you consume as much entertainment as I do, it becomes increasingly easy to pinpoint where, exactly, a film fell apart. But Suicide Squad is special, in that nearly every creative decision made is the wrong one. It is such a thorough, spectacular mess of a movie that no one area, be it the script, the direction, or the editing, can be seen as a weak link. This movie is the product of a creative team that never figured out what movie they wanted to make, and the rot starts at the very top.

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Does Final Fantasy XV’s Supplemental Material Go Too Far?

In the weeks since i started playing Final Fantasy XV, I’ve had a number of conversations with fellow players. What did you think of the story? Did you like the characters? Were you okay with the switch to real-time combat? Why does Prompto take photos of his friends getting mauled by exotic beasts? But one question that keeps coming up is whether or not somebody watched the game’s supplementary materials: the CGI movie Kingsglaive, and the anime Brotherhood. Both of these help fill out the world, delving into lore and backstories that further the player’s understanding of the game. They vary in quality (Brotherhood is very good, Kingsglaive is merely passable), but are instrumental in understanding a few of the game’s major plot points.

On the one hand, the release of supplemental entertainment outside of the original work’s medium is not a new phenomenon. The print industry, for example, frequently churns out books meant to expand on the worlds of popular movie, TV, and video game properties. The Star Wars Expanded Universe, which was abandoned with the release of The Force Awakens, is one particularly popular example. Another is the series of Halo novels, based on the popular video game franchise. These books filled in the game’s universe and became a huge success with fans. In addition to these extensions, there are novelizations of popular movies, which has proven to be an enormous industry in and of itself.

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Final Fantasy XV Review

For at least a year, I’ve expected Final Fantasy XV to be a disaster. After the popular series spent an entire console generation disappointing fans with the XIII trilogy, the developers stated their intention to reclaim popularity by appealing to western audiences. Final Fantasy XV (formerly a PS3 titled called Final Fantasy Versus XIII) would eschew the elements of previous Final Fantasy games that had become unpopular in recent years. Menu-based combat, relatively linear designs, complex stat-based RPG systems…all would be traded for an open-world, real-time approximation of western RPGs.

But every time Square Enix would show something from Final Fantasy XV, it was clear that they had no idea what western audiences actually wanted. Footage from the game screamed Japan, from the black leather costumes, to the anime-like banter between the protagonists, to the incomprehensible story centered around crystals and kingdoms and daemons.

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