Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was never meant to be an “important” game. It’s the gloriously stupid follow-up to the similarly ridiculous Wolfenstein: The New Order. Like its predecessor, it features an alternate-1960s in which the Nazis won World War II, and you and your crew go about slaughtering said Nazis. Despite its ultra-violence, few considered the first game to be especially controversial. Surprise! That’s changed.
Unlike The New Order, the majority of Wolfenstein II takes place in America. This led to an ad campaign focused around, well, Nazis in America, which didn’t go well with certain corners of the internet. It was a situation that most companies would pull back from, but the game’s publisher, Bethesda, showed tremendous backbone by sticking to their guns and taking a bold “Nazis are bad” stance. So the game came out, the people who wouldn’t play have played the game anyway kept away, and the rest of us had a pretty great time.
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Nier: Automata is a good game after one trip through its world. It’s a great game after three. Creator Yoko Taro takes the player’s familiarity with science fiction conceits and uses them to lure him or her into a sense of complacency, then continually builds and complicates his themes and his world until it’s hard to know which way is up anymore. The result is mesmerizing and completely unlike any game released this year.
The setting is the far-future. Humanity has abandoned the planet Earth entirely, leaving behind a race of androids created in their image. These creations are at constant war with the “machines,” another race of sentient robots sent by an alien race to invade Earth. As android unit 2B, your role is to fight back the machine menace so that humanity can have its planet back.
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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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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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The story behind The Last Guardian is almost as epic as the game itself. After nine years of announcements, brief glimpses, delays, disappearances, re-appearances, and a platform jump, it’s finally complete, printed onto blu-ray discs, and available for download on the Playstation Store. Starting up the game is almost surreal, like meeting an old friend after having accepted their death.
Lead designer Fumito Ueda, who was also behind Playstation 2 classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, had a lot to live up to with The Last Guardian, and in a broad sense, he did. When The Last Guardian is working the way it is designed to, it’s a peerless example of interactive, emotional storytelling. Unfortunately, it’s crippled by major bugs and performance issues that absolutely should have been resolved during the game’s nine years of development.
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