Rundown (6/03-6/09) PRE3 2018: Darkness Rising

Ah yes, the fabled time of bliss and joy amongst the greater western video gaming community is finally here.  While the event has been made obsolete to a certain degree thanks to the digital age and preeminent announcements, E3 is always a time of great powerhouse excitement for those who follow the gaming industry, with a plethora of announcements and various bits of news to be taken in.  

As to be expected, a lot of things were announced this week, and many of them not strictly E3 related, so forgive me if this whole ultra sized Rundown seems a bit unfocused.  

Starting from the top of my list, Lords of the Fallen was a 2014 Souls-like action RPG that did rather well despite a slightly tepid critical reception, and shortly after its launch, publisher CI Games announced that they would be creating a sequel.  Then complications emerged with the main developer, Deck 13, who would go on to make The Surge in 2017.  This left Lords of the Fallen 2 without a core developer, but after presumably a lot of shopping around, CI Games was finally able to find one in the form of the recently formed New York based Defiant Studios.  Which serves as a reminder that game development is ultimately led by business, partnerships, and joint productions, and even fairly stable seeming sequels can turn into a mess when one is not looking.  Also, it is a common misconception that Bandai Namco published Lords of the Fallen, when they just distributed it in North America..

The same general rule applies to Terra Battle 2, the sequel to Mistwalker’s mobile strategy RPG thing, which launched last year worldwide on September 21st.  Well, before the game can even have its one year anniversary, the North American services are going to be shut down.  In-app purchases were disabled and the game was removed from storefronts effective June 3rd, while the game itself will be shut down in the region effective September 3rd.  This is attributed to “unexpected struggles” the game faced upon launch, and presumably boils down to the game failing to attract a large enough foreign audience to continue western operations.  

I would comment on how this is particularly sad, especially for those who spent money on this game, but it is in the nature of the market, and I cannot feign surprise that the game wound up in such a state.  I made it no secret that I feel that Mistwalker’s talents are being effectively wasted on mobile games, due to how the company’s previous console efforts, namely Lost Odyssey and The Last Story were so impressive.  Also, in case you were hoping for Terra Wars to be something more impressive, a snippet of gameplay was recently revealed, and, well, it looks pretty bad.  

Shifting over to the opposite, that is to say a Japanese game coming to the west rather than leaving it, After being released in Japan about two weeks ago, Atlus have announced that the two latest Persona dancing spin-off titles, Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight, will be released in the west for PS4 and Vita, sometime in early 2019.  This is largely to be expected, as localization for games like this, in addition to adapting some of the material for a western audience, does take some time.  As was previously evident, the games are very flashy and stylish dancing fueled rhythm games that take the characters from the two numbered entries and loosely adapt a storyline for its characters, while offering the player a series of songs to play through from the excellent soundtracks of the Persona series.  Hopefully it does better here than it did in Japan, because, well, it kind of flopped to be honest.

Hopefully the same state is avoided by the next title on the agenda, Work X Work, a quirky little JRPG from the mostly unknown developer Netchubiyori, along with the director and art director from Mother 3.  The game centers around a young prince who travels into a theme park called Hero-sama Land in hopes of defeating a demon king within it, befriending a part-time employee, Pochio, who form a duo of dungeon dwellers who are occasionally joined by park visitors as their adventure progresses.  It is unsurprisingly a very lighthearted and silly title where the core gameplay that is driven around offering instructions to party members, rather than outright commanding them which, while a bit iffy, gels seemingly well in the quirky personality featured in the storyline and the game’s equally quirky art direction.  The game is to be a Switch exclusive, debuting in Japan later this year, with a localization likely scheduled for sometime soon.

Speaking of localization, Sekai Project, peddlers of copious quantities of visual novels, such as Memory’s Dogma and World End Economica, have recently announced Sekai Games, an initiative to move more of their niche titles over to console, porting and re-releasing some existing titles while also bringing a few new more action oriented games.  These include the customizable mech combat game MASS Builder and an 8-bit styled game based around the cult classic Samurai Cop, which I know nothing about, other than how the Super Best Boys really seem to like it.  Seeing as how I am all for games being made available for a wider audience, I am perfectly happy to see this from Sekai Project.  Though I do have concern over their ability to take on the number of projects they do, they seem to be carrying their weight properly, and games are ultimately coming out, which I guess is the important thing.

Moving on, the story of Hitman (2016) is in itself a messy one involving a lot of publisher tampering by way of Square Enix and resulted in very confused messaging regarding the game, with delays and changes to its release structure resulting in a always online episodic stealth game that was marred by an underwhelming launch and time sensitive content, among other things.  The game’s commercial response caused developer IO Interactive and Square Enix to part ways, with IO retaining the rights to Hitman. Since then, they have updated and re-released Hitman (2016), with a Definitive Edition having come out just last month, published by Warner Brothers Interactive.

It is precisely because of all of this that I find it unsurprising that Hitman 2, not to be confused with 2002’s Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, was announced.  Being revealed with a CG trailer using non-game assets, there is not much to comment on the game, but it looks to be a rather direct continuation of the open form stealth execution gameplay that has defined the series since its inception.  Also, it is not going to be episodic this time The game is set to release on the expected trifecta of PS4, XBO, and PC on November 13th.

Normally, a new Tetris game is hardly newsworthy, as it is uncommon for the 30+ year old formula to be shaken up, but that’s just what Enhance Games, the developers behind Rez Infinite and the recently released Lumines Remastered hope to do.  Tetris Effect is an attempt to turn this well established puzzle game into something impressive by surrounding the core mechanics around a level of audio visual lavishness that one would expect from these developers, that copes to be a “wondrous, emotional journey through the universe”.  While I am still a bit unsure of what exactly playing this game will be like, the reveal trailer, which also details the phenomena the game is named after, looks incredibly impressive, and lead me to believe that this game could be something wildly impressive when it releases this fall for PS4 as a VR compatible title.

As part of a resurgence of fighting games that correlates to an increase in the ubiquity of streaming and a decrease of interest in the latest Street Fighter, a lot of companies have been putting out large numbered entries in fighting game series that previously were on somewhat of a decline, and I guess the next entry in that lineage is Dead or Alive 6.  The was announced with a bombastic and flashy trailer that did not communicate much, though I would not really be able to discern much given my complete ineptitude with the genre.  The game is set to release for PS4, XBO, and PC in early 2019, and more details will be shown on June 11th. Maybe they’ll announce a continuation of the trend of featuring Virtua Fighter characters in Dead or Alive, because you know Sega is never going to devote the resources into making a Virtua Fighter 6.

Back during Gamescom, there was a collaboration teased between Dontnod (Remember Me, Life Is Strange) and Bandai Namco that just now was properly revealed as Twin Mirror.  The game centers around a young man travelling back to his rural hometown, wherein he soon stumbles into a series of mysteries as part of a narrative driven adventure wherein player choice shapes the story.  Which I consider to be a very boilerplate concept that has a lot of potential to spin off in odd directions, though I am not sure if that is the case based on the trailer. Aside from a sequence set in a dream-like world and one wherein the protagonist punches what I interpret to be a ghost man in the face, it seems very grounded, and a bit blan to be honest.  When I was hoping for something more akin to Twin Peaks, or even an Indigo Prophecy.  Though, it is only a single trailer, and the game’s true colors will be shown when it comes out in 2019 for the PS4, XBO, and PC.

Valve recently issued a statement regarding a subject that I have been railing against for quite a while, that of how they let basically anything old rubbish to be sold on Steam.  The statement they provided goes on about how they want people to be able to choose what they see on Steam, and be able to curate their own content, which I do respect, but they definitively said that their stance is that, “the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.”  A lot of people have commented on how flawed this stance is, especially when you consider that Valve could easily afford to curate their content

Starting positively, it is nice to see that their curation does not involve any sort of specific agenda or a desire to reflect a sort of image, as they, according to this statement, are allowing people to create and sell whatever they want.  However, if previous releases are any indication, their definition of “trolling” is one of the most liberal ones I have ever seen.  I would be fine with “trolling” being prohibited if it referred to the following: Asset flips that are made with a negligible amount of effort.  Games that are made to encourage hate towards persons on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.  And games that are so blatantly bad that they would fail to meet any meaningful quality standards and, as such, would be considered trolling, as no reasonable person would believe them to be worthy of being sold.  Also, based on this list, why can’t people buy hentai on your store again?  And why, just a few weeks ago, did you threaten to cleanse your storefront of all milky anime lewds?

I would also like to bring up a very large problem that Valve is ignoring, the fact that a lot of people simply cannot make money off of this service.  Because many games have no meaningful visibility unless the end user does some digging, searching for the games they want, participating in the queue that Valve prepares for them, and is active enough to provide Steam with relevant tags that could be recommended to them.  You could easily hire and train a group of individuals to vet these games, ensure they work, and make sure that they meet some form of quality control before they are slapped on your storefront, but no. Instead, you allow drivel and sub-mediocrity upon your store, a due to a bullheaded interpretation of the infallible right of freedom of speech and a desire to not spend an insignificant amount of money on hiring new employees for the express purpose of content curation in a move that would near certainly assist end users, developers, and the company’s image by addressing one of its most prominent criticisms.  

Alright, that’s about everything that I caught wind of leading up to E3, so onto the first event!

Ditching the name schtick from the past two years, and taking a slightly more serious approach on things, EA has had a bad… past few years.  Over the last year, their image has only worsened, as the effectively soiled the parasite infested well of loot boxes by releasing Star Wars Battlefront II, a game heavily marketed to children that was littered with egregious pay to win elements.  It got so bad that they had to remove the feature from the game entirely, and sparked threats of legal action that are still being deliberated over in governments to this day.  Also, they shut down the incredibly talented Visceral Games, after a grueling saga of poor management resulted in a project that was already so far behind and of a so bloated budget that it was no longer a fiscally sound move to keep the California-based studio open.  

Now they effectively have Bioware grasped by their tenderloins, with the entire future of the company resting on Anthem.  An obvious imitation of Activision’s Destiny series, which incidentally pooped all over its sheets shortly after launch, thanks to shady business practices and communication skills comparable to those of an autistic child, more specifically myself during grade school.  While the studio is still funding a series of smaller independent projects like Fe and A Way Out, EA’s corporate side of things still retains a dark air to it that makes the entire company undesirable to me, and caused me to gradually grow increasingly apathetic towards their line-up.

Starting with Anthem, not a whole lot of meaningful new information about the game was revealed.  It will have 4 changeable classes, involve a shared world for all players that moves in real time, and has lore centered around this being a world that the gods gave up on, whatever that means.  The title will only feature cosmetic purchasables, with no loot boxes, and despite there being a multiplayer focus, single-player is still viable, if more difficult. Beyond that, it is still an always online live service that seems to be aiming for EA’s target denominator strongly, and seems to be underplaying the whole player driven narrative thing that Bioware has been known for.  While I do want to be open towards the game, I just struggle to care about games set in ultra-detailed realistic looking worlds built around garnering as many MAU as possible, with gameplay centered around shooting things. Anthem will be out for PS4, XBO, and PC on February 22, 2019.

As for the EA Original they had on offer, there were actually two.  The first being Unraveled Two, a sequel to the 2016 title, with the core difference here being the introduction of co-op, as seen by a blue cat yarn friend joining the red one from the first one.  The two are tethered together and will need to puzzle platform their way around many threats that accompany them on what looks to be a notably more perilous journey filled with evil turkeys.  It ultimately looks like a fun and cute little title, and one that fully supports single player as well, though if it is like the first Unravel, I would advise on waiting to hear the general critical reception first.  Which should not take too long, as Unraveled Two was released for PS4, XBO, and PC immediately after the event.

While the second title was Sea of Solitude, a game based around the loneliness felt by the game’s director.  Feelings that were channeled into a story about a young woman who, after being isolated for an extended amount of time, discovers that she turned into a monster, or rather a shadow person, and must embark on a perilous journey filled across a watery landscape, avoiding monstrous creatures that rule the sky and seas while searching for a way to restore her humanity.  It is all punctuated by a nice cel shaded sort of look that, combined with an appealing color pallette and lighting that would capture my attention on its own. These kinds of projects can typically go either way, but seeing as how it has all the resources it could need from an EA partnership, I am quite interested in seeing how Sea of Solitude shapes up when it comes out in early 2019 for PS4, XBO, and PC.

Also, EA’s Origin Access program is expanding past the EA vault into something more akin to the Xbox Game Pass with Origin Access Premium.  This new premium PC-based subscription service will provide players with new EA first party games as they release, which could easily be seen as a good investment for certain people.  That service is said to launch sometime this summer, but EA is also working on a way to stream their games to various platforms which would be promising, but will likely run into the same wall that many others do.  The simple fact that North American internet infrastructure is laughably outdated, and telecom companies do not want to bother with updating it.

Beyond that, Battlefield V is getting an industry standard battle royale mode.  Respawn is working on Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, which was not even given a teaser trailer, just a name, a confirmation that it takes place between the prequel and original trilogies, and a release window of holiday 2019.  Command and Conquer is back as a boring looking mobile game.  While sports game continue to be sports games.  It was a boring conference that I mostly just skipped through, ignoring everything but the news, which is the best attitude to adopt when viewing whatever EA has to show off to the masses.

That is it for the EA Play event, and with it, the week leading up to E3.  There was also a plethora of information that fell through the cracks thanks to the cyber sleuths of the internet, all of which is more than likely to be announced in the ensuing days.  These leaks included a 10th anniversary remaster of Tales of Vesperia, which is one of the few Tales games to actually garner some notable western interest.  A multiplatform compilation game from Konami, which could be anything, but I’d guess either Castlevania or Metal Gear, and will likely smell like a modern Konami game.  Switch and PS4 versions of RPG Maker MV, which I could easily leading to some impressive things if the user base is there.  Along with some registration information regarding Devil May Cry V and Resident Evil 2 Remake.

That should be about everything, so… wait.  It turns out that motion controls are mandatory for Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee… and that the notice about being able to use buttons on the official website was in reference to how you can press a button instead of swinging the Joy-Cons, but motion controls are still required for aiming, even though you could just use the sticks for that… Yeah, I am going to dedicate a very large section of my review on this game to just that one singular massive feature.  Goldarn it all…

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