Rundown (12/08-12/14) The Conclusion of Chaos: Part 2

Wherein I discuss the end of a great trial, the crumbling of a retail giant, expanding licenses, surreal stealth releases, and the assorted announcements of two underwhelming live streamed events.

This past Thursday I hit another personal landmark of mine, having taken my last final exam, attended my last college class, and done everything I needed to before walking away from school altogether with a Master’s degree in accounting.  It is an immense accomplishment for me personally, having gone further in my educational pursuits than anyone in my family, and done so rather quickly. However, for as much as I would like this conclusion to end the chaos that is found when trying to juggle employment and education, it’s unfortunately more of a middle step.  Because if you are going to be an accountant, you really should be a Certified Public Accountant, and in order to be a CPA, you need to spend a year studying for and subsequently taking difficult exams on all things accounting. Or in other words, the chaos that is school has been expelled from my life, but the chaos that is studying and test-taking has only reached a new difficulty.  *Sigh* 

Casting aside such musings and focusing on the happenings of the games industry, the first story I have lined up this week involves GameStop.  The only remaining dedicated games store chain in the United States, and a company that has been subjected to a myriad of financial woes over the past few years.  Predominantly due to a changing environment where consumers are buying games digitally, from online stores via same-day shipping, or from retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy, all of whom boast extensive catalogs of modern titles and hardware.  Competition like this has and continues to damage the viability of dedicated stores like GameStop, and while I can hem and haw over how much I enjoyed visiting these stores when I was younger, doing so would feel disingenuous considering that I haven’t bought a game from a physical store since… maybe 2012.  Meaning that I am part of the problem.  

Anyways, the most current update regarding the chain is that mass closures are being planned.  YouTube user CAMELOT331, a reliable former GameStop employee with numerous connections, has recently shared a good deal of information on GameStop’s plans to stay afloat, and in revealing these it only serves as a reminder of how inscrutable and scummy the company truly is.  In short, they plan on closing down 2,000 stores by the end of Q2 2020, but they won’t notify employees that their stores are being shut down, are using fear tactics to make sure that employees of struggling stores are selling more phones, and will be effectively robbing all loyal customers who pre-ordered from them of their reservation fee.  Oh, and these closures are being deliberately timed to limit the amount of returns and gift card usage. Which is a great move from a financial perspective… but serves as just another reason to actively want the company to go under

On a brighter note, Sony held yet another iteration of their live streamed announcement barrage, State of Play.  Like previous installments, it was a showcase of some promising independent titles, such as Paper Beast and Superliminal, small updates on previously announced titles, like the immensely impressive game developer toolkit that is Dreams, along with some significant announcements.  As a showcase, I thought it was pretty well balanced, but the narration, both regards to the script and the vocal performance, continues to strike me as forced and unnatural, almost distracting me from the games they showed, only two of which were particularly eye catching.  Namely the PlatinumGames title announced during Square Enix’s 2018 E3 press conference, Babylon’s Fall, along with the previously leaked Resident Evil 3 remake.

Only a string of gameplay snippets were shown for Babylon’s Fall, with no details about the world, story, characters, or general hook of the game, which honestly just looks like a sun drenched fantasy action game with the flare that Platinum is renowned for.  It looks flashy, the sword-boy protagonist has some cool looking moves, and the battles shown look to be intense and cathartic enough, but that’s honestly about it, making this reveal a rather underwhelming one.  I would hope that this was merely a taste that was thrown together quickly, but instead the trailer ended by announcing that no new information is going to be shared on this title until summer of 2020. Whoo.

As for Resident Evil 3, the reveal trailer was what one would expect after this year’s Resident Evil 2 remake, with the title being poised as a narrative side story that mirrors its predecessor in both look and tone.  The only thing that particularly stood out to me, in that it looked unlike what came before, were the number of first person sequences thrown into this cinematic trailer, making me wonder if the game was doing to shift things up by returning to the perspective seen in Resident Evil 7.  But no, it appears to be an over-the-shoulder third person affair, and one that is coming out rather soon, boasting an April 3rd, 2020 release date.  

A release window that, realistically, could have only been pursued by having a seperate team work on and develop this game in synchronicity with Resident Evil 2 (2019), and you’d be right.  While the full developer list has not been made available, the primary developer of Resident Evil 3 (2020) is actually an independent game company known as M-Two. Which is not to be confused with M2, the developer behind many of the finest retro game compilations of recent years.  This M-Two is an independent game company founded back in 2017 by former PlatinumGames CEO and Capcom producer, Tatsuya Minami.  It is presumably because of those connections to Capcom, which were fostered during the 90s and 2000s, that a deal managed to be struck between these two parties, and the studio was given the privilege of working on such a highly anticipated title.  

Oh, and remember that Project Resistance game revealed back in September, only to be later revealed as Resident Evil Resistance?  Well, it turns out that this asymmetrical multiplayer survival-thon is not going to be a standalone title, and it will, as a matter of fact, be released as part of the Resident Evil 3 remake.  On one hand, it makes for a cool little bonus, and ensures that there will be a player base in the millions considering the sales success of RE2.  On the other… why are you lumping two different games developed by different studios together like this when the audience overlap might not be there?  I mean, other than making the game seem like a more valuable package in an attempt to offset how the original Resident Evil 3 lacked the same quantity content as the original Resident Evil 2, and presumably that pattern will continue with this remake.  

While still vaguely on the topic of Sony, back in 1997 the publisher managed to obtain the rights to make games based on Major League Baseball, and over the past two decades has elected to put out annual titles, dubbed MLB The Show, exclusively on Playstation systems.  However, that is evidentially going to change, as the PR Twitter account of the MLB announced that, effective 2021, the series will begin expanding beyond Playstation onto other platforms.  While I do not care about this series, or any sports game series for that matter, this is an interesting change that has sparked some discussion about Sony moving beyond creating games exclusively for the Playstation brand, and possibly branching out into other platforms, namely PC.  This is a clear indication of them loosening their exclusivity rights, either willingly or unwillingly, and could potentially lead to interesting shifts in how exclusivity works in the next generation.  

But screw that noise, because it’s time to talk about The Game Awards.  An earnest attempt by Geoff Keighley to create an awards show for the medium of gaming that is worthy of renown and recognition… but most people only watch this thing for the game announcements, fresh trailers, and world premieres.  

Such as the design and name reveal for the next generation Xbox, previously dubbed Project Scarlett, but is now known as Xbox Series X.  A name that obviously went through extensive focus testing, and that’s surprising considering how similar the at a glance is to Xbox One X, and how the system can be abbreviated as Xbox SX… or Xbox SeX… or SeXbox.  As for the design, it looks like a minimalistic mid-tower gaming PC, which makes it an unobtrusive part of an entertainment setup, but also robs the system of much visual identity. Honestly, the only surprising thing about this reveal was that it was for the next Xbox, given the vagueness of the reveal trailer.

Oh, but what is a system without games, and after revealing Halo Infinite at E3, Microsoft went for the next best thing… a sequel to a game an acquired studio was probably working on before they were even acquired.  Or to be more specific, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, a sequel to the widely praised Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and it was naturally revealed with a CG trailer that depicted dirty Norse battlefields and rituals while the titular heroine chanted maniacally.  Which I guess looks neat.

Not to lean in too hard on the whole Xbox schtick, the first actual Playstation 5 console exclusive was announced in the form of Godfall, a third person action RPG with a heavy emphasis on loot, or a looter slasher if you prefer catchy marketing approved lingo.  The title is being published by Gearbox and developed by Counterplay Games, who put out the collectible card game Duelyst before jumping into making a next generation game about people in cool flashy armor fighting monsters and the divine as part of what will likely be a sort of live service that will attempt to hit the ground running when the PS5 launches, given its holiday 2020 release window.  Oh, and it’s also coming out for the Epic Games Store, because of course it is.

As for Nintendo, as the trifecta must be completed, there was no Smash announcement, no Metroid Prime Trilogy, or a Bayonetta 3 re-reveal.  Instead it was the third game in Square Enix’s retro inspired Bravely series, Bravely Default II.  Yes, despite establishing a clear naming convention with Bravely Default and Bravely Second, they just slapped a 2 on it, presumably because Bravely Second did not sell as well as the first one, and they want this to be less intimidating to new players, or something.  

Very little was shown beyond artwork, but I have to say that the in-engine visuals look a bit plain.  Which is surprising considering the established style of the development team, and the fact that the Switch can run something like Dragon Quest XI.  Beyond that… I just can’t say I’m interested in this game considering how much I disliked the first entry in the series between its characters, character designs, easily exploitable battle system, and the whole murdering and then cosplaying as somebody thing.  But for those who actually liked this game, the title will release as a Switch exclusive sometime in 2020.

Tuque Games, a studio responsible for the middlingly received twin stick shooter Livelock, announced Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance.  A name clearly referencing the Baldur’s Gate spin-off of the same name, Dark Alliance, which attempted to make the western RPG series more of a straightforward overhead action game, and that is absolutely not the genre the trailer implies.  I mean, due to the focus on combat and first person action, I kind of assumed it was a first person brawler of sorts, but that’s weirdly directed CG trailers for you  Anyways, the game is due out in fall 2020 for unspecified platforms.

Continuing this prolonged Telltale Games revival arc was the announcement, and immediate release, of both a remastered version of their two-season Batman series, dubbed The Telltale Batman Shadows Edition, along with the revival of The Wolf Among Us 2.  Now, while the Telltale name is attached on this project, it is important to remember that Telltale Games was re-established earlier this year, and only a few people working there now were employees in 2018.  The rest scattered, but certain clusters got back together at companies like Skybound Games and AdHoc.  And wouldn’t you know it, The Wolf Among Us 2 is being co-developed by AdHoc.  So that’s pretty cool, I guess.

Those were the big announcements at this show, but there were some stragglers like Amazon’s MMO, New World, which is coming out in May of 2020 and is about some bad things happening because of a fantasy war or something.  Meanwhile, Riot games flaunted some of their money around by funding two League of Legends spin-offs from other developers.  Airship Syndicate, developer of Battle Chasers: Nightwar and Darksiders: Genesis, is working on a story driven turn-based RPG dubbed Ruined King.  Along with Double Stallion Games, developer of Speed Brawl and… Big Action Mega Fight! is making a time bending platformer by the ever intuitive name of CONV/RGENCE.  

Overall, there were some neat announcement here, but nothing too exciting, hype, or particularly shocking.  Which, unfortunately, is why a lot of people watch these things, so the outlook towards this iteration of The Game Awards was a touch bitter.  I thought it was fine, there was some neat stuff, and while it is always upsetting when you don’t get the toy you want in a children’s meal, that’s unfortunately the way life works, so just appreciate what you get and wait it out for the next thing… or something.

Moving onto announcements that I actually found appealing,a s they appealed to my niche sensibilities, Too Kyo Games, that all-star developer featuring the creative heads behind Danganronpa, Zero Escape, and Root Double (which I really need to get around to), recently announced another project, dubbed Death Come True.  An FMV title written and directed by Danganronpa series writer Kazutaka Kodaka that, obviously, involves some sort of elaborate death game hosed by a masked individual, and centering around 6 central characters.  Details are set to be revealed very gradually, presumably leading up to a full reveal, but they could honestly just put this game up for sale right now, and I’d probably buy it, even if my visual novel backlog is immense at the moment.

I just mentioned Root Double, but there’s also The House in Fata Morgana, AI: The Somnium Files, 428: Shibuya Scramble, and Steins;Gate 0.  Speaking of which, remember how a few months ago the Australian ratings board revealed that Steins;Gate: My Darling’s Embrace, a romantic comedy spin-off of the acclaimed visual novel, was being localized?  Well, apropos of no announcement, drumming up of hype, or acknowledgement of this leak, Spike Chunsoft went and stealth released this game.  A move that I find utterly absurd, outlandish, and generally awe inspiring in this day in an age where a game’s hype cycle can directly indicate its sales numbers, and general longevity.  I mean, even the launch trailer claims it’s the announcement trailer, which is just… what?  

On the subject of bizarre stealth releases, THQ Nordic just released a playable prototype for a remake of the seminal 2001 Eurojank RPG Gothic.  Yes, in an unprecedented move, the expansive publisher crafted a two hour long vertical slice that attempts to modernize this classic series both visually and mechanically in order to gauge feedback, interest, and determine whether or not development should even continue.  This remake is being developed by THQ Nordic Barcelona, rather than the original developer Piranha Bytes, yet for some reason this prototype, or playable teaser, is only available to those who own a Piranha Bytes game.  

Briefly looking at some of the feedback, rather than playing the game myself, a lot of it just seems bitter or angry, but there is some constructive advice to better adhere to what fans liked about the original games, and I am very interested in seeing where this remake goes, as it would be a bit… surreal if THQ Noridc went and canceled the whole thing after releasing a playable teaser like this.  Although, just from watching the comparison trailer, I can safely say that the remake is definitely missing the same atmosphere as the original, being a bit too vibrant, colorful, and lively, rather than being more true to the namesake of the series. I think it looks better and has more character as a grim, dingy, and dirty world flushed will dull hues, rather than what the developers attempted in the remake.  

Alright, I think that covers it for this week, and this likely will cover the bulk of gaming news that pops up in the mostly dry and uneventful month of December, where much of the talk about games is centered around contemplative recollections over the best games of the past year, along with hemming and hawing about what joys the next year will bring.  But I’ll get to that hurdle, and content drought, when it comes up. Until then, seeya.

Header image comes from The House in Fata Morgana.

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