Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Surge: A good old school game in a modern package

It is an awkward but awesome experience when you load a 2017 game and it ends up feeling like you are back in the old days, yeah...It happened to me and it was wonderful. Of course, before I begin let me get something really clear. This game is in no way dated or anything like that. It is just has a couple of design choices that make it an hybrid in terms of old school and current trends and that game is called The Surge.

In order to pay homage to the times this game takes me back to, I am going to do this review in a Game Pro style, so let's begin.

The Surge

The Surge
Developed by: Deck13 Interactive
Published by: Focus Home Interactive
Released on: May 16, 2017

Graphics (4.5/5)
The graphics on The Surge are nothing to flip about, but at the same time they are good enough to give us this industrious feeling that will be the first thing that will remind a lot of gamers about some games of the past. Think about places like the facility in Dino Crisis, the Heimdal in Carrier, the island city in Blue Stinger and even some awesome wastelands in Half Life 2. Another nice thing is that the indoor places look spooky enough for this game to be as scary as a survival horror at some places.

Sounds (4/5)
The music and sound effects are decent and do their job (the country music that is heard on safe zones (med day) is so good that it has gotten stuck in my head and I don't even like country music. What the game needed to be perfect in terms of sound is some more dramatic music to enhance the mood and keep us in our toes.

Before going to the next category I will share the med bay song with you all.

Gameplay (3/5)
Game play in The Surge will be familiar to anybody who has played Dark Souls or any similar game. You have to go through various zones, finding safe places and defeating tough enemies to advance while getting stronger yourself. It also borrows the npc side-quest thing where you get npcs to join you in your safe zone with some of them having things for you to do. Now, what differentiates this game from Dark Souls and what makes it so old school oriented is that maps are a lot deeper, so just hacking and slashing won't take you anywhere if you don't know where you are going and since this game has 0% hand holding this means that you really have to think things through before advancing. The only reason why it gets a (3) as its score on gameplay is because it doesn't have an online component or a character creation option, both been things that are always fun in these types of games.

Fun Factor (4/5)
The Surge is a really fun game with all its complex exploration and places to find, but I have to admit that while I am delighted with how old school it is, some people may not agree with me since it lacks some of the elements that many see as a given in any game that is similar to Dark Souls. Not counting the side quests you can screw up in one playthrough, replay value doesn't seem to be much considering that no online component means no pvp, which is something that really extends the life of any Souls/Borne game.

The Surge Character Development

Challenge (5/5)
With no hand holding at all, the challenge in this game is spot on without been too frustrating for anyone. It is not that hard when fighting after you get used to the enemy patterns, but it still keeps you in your toes, because sometimes a simple mistake can be fatal. Another challenging aspect is that the maps in the game are not linear at all and it takes a lot of planning and experimenting with your surroundings before you can confidently explore a place without been paranoid about enemies and traps waiting for you on every corner.

The Surge getting implants
Final Score (4/5)
The Surge is not a perfect game, but it is one of those imperfect experiences that are fun enough for us to look past its rough edges and enjoy it like we do any of the popular games out there. If you consider yourself to be a hardcore and/or old school oriented gamer then this is a must buy, if not then research a little before deciding on it.

(+) Great atmosphere, really good on exploration
(+) Nice challenge and rpg elements
(-) Lacks an online component and create a character option.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What do "old schoolers" really want of modern gaming?

Some people (especially newer generations) see the old school gamer as a group of grouchy old dudes (or dudettes) who live with nostalgia glasses permanently attached to their eyes. Because of this misconception and after studying how some classic games resonate with gamers more than their modern counterparts, I have decided to post my findings on this case. Get prepared to know what an old school gamer really thinks and what we really want in modern gaming.

Chrono Cross
This simple and small Chrono Cross town has more substance that many big "open world" worlds.

1) Complex simplicity:

Take the term "complex simplicity" as the base for all the future items on this list. We know that most people think that classic games (90's until mid 00's) are all about complexity with their sophisticated systems and the lack of visual ques, but it is quite the opposite. The truth is that classic games were a lot simpler where it mattered. While games in previous eras had things that made them look complex, in reality they were really relaxing and could be played with an easy going attitude without feeling that the developers are taking you by the hand or pulling your arm through the whole game.

For example, many classic games were very linear, but somehow they were designed to feel like anything but linear. I have been playing some classics like Chrono Cross, Dark Cloud, Blood Omen, Legacy of Kain, Terranigma among some others and while I know for a fact that they are linear games, they feel as deep as any multi-million open world modern production. This happens because old games presented more content with less levels of stress. So instead of raining dull chores on us, we moved through the story in a relaxed way and we welcomed any change of pace that was interesting enough without implying that we had to completely go out of our way or make some change that would completely take us out of the mood we had until that moment. Of course, this is not the only aspect of simplicity that applies in this situation as there are others like...

Yakuza 0
The Yakuza series is an example where less realism = tons of fun.

2) Less realism, more suspension of disbelief:

I am not stating that the next Call of Duty game needs to have magic on it or anything like that. What I mean with less realism applies to games where suspension of disbelief is more important than making the game similar to the real world in terms of the overall fun factor of the game. For example, weapons that break too quickly, unnecessary hunger and thirst mechanics (unless the game's focus is survival), forcing the player to wait or be idle for no reason other than the developers telling us to and time constraints (not to be mistaken for time limits) are some of the things that really dampens any gaming experience if they are forced fed on us.

Most of the time all we want is to play and enjoy the game world without some heavy chore on our backs. Why? Because that gives us extra time to learn and master other things like the complex systems of old that some people complain about. We prefer to challenge our own minds than have a simple inconvenience for the whole duration of the game. This is more rewarding and fun in many ways and marks the difference between feeling challenged and feeling annoyed.

Solid Snake
A salute for the times where Konami was good.

3) Games that can be serious, but are not serious about it.

Everybody likes a nice storyline that we can take seriously for a while, be it because we are emotionally invested in the game or because the plot itself is just too good. What seems to be a turn off for old schoolers are stories that can be serious and good, but take a game flow approach that is even more serious than the storyline itself, thus becoming too rigid for its own good.

Take for example Metal Gear vs Splinter Cell. There was a time where these two franchises were bitter rivals, but in the end Metal Gear came on top, mostly because of one reason. While Metal Gear kept a game flow that relaxed its serious story and made it even more enjoyable than it already was, Splinter Cell (after Pandora's Tomorrow) went for a serious/serious approach and that basically ruined it. The reason why the first 3 Splinter Cell games were so good, was because the player could do all sorts of fun things with the stealth mechanics and that made the game to be a lot more enjoyable. Sadly, later on they decided to remove all that in favor of some straight forward linearity and that broke the game.

Resident Evil Remake
Repeat with me: Backtracking is good! 

4)  Freedom without sacrificing substance

Any of you who that are 25 years old or older can remember the times where in the first Resident Evil we walked from what was supposed to be the end of the game back through the garden house and into the mansion in order to get the two Mo-Disks we needed and found out that the place was not safe anymore because new monsters were now prowling in it. That little example is enough to explain what freedom without sacrificing substance means. We could move basically through the whole game world without feeling pushed or forced to proceed and the story and focus of the game was kept intact (no generic stuff or excessive recycling of resources). This is why those games felt like 40 hour experiences even if they had 14 hours of gameplay at best.

Tales of Vesperia
Berseria is awesome, but Vesperia was the last handcrafted "Tales of" game.

5) Handcrafted game worlds

Have you ever got the feeling that the world in which you move when playing a game feels a little too structured? Roads go here, walls go there and everything seems sanitized and as organized as a set of Tetris pieces. That is good enough for dungeon crawlers or rogue rpg games where the structure is the game itself, but for games that are trying to make you believe that you are playing in a lush and detailed environment, seen this kind of thing is quite disappointing.

Why is this so disappointing? Because it give us a message that says that the game was made with a cheap approach and that most of what they did was cut corners. This feels bad, especially when the game in question is supposed to be a comeback of a beloved series (Star Ocean I am looking at you) and it kind of insults our intelligence because it implies that we will buy anything as long as it has the name of a franchise we love.

On the other hand when a "detailed" game world feels too structured and generic it really eats away any enthusiasm that we had when we started playing and anybody with a basic knowledge of how videogame logic works will immediately notice when the great big world we were sold on is not that good.


In summary:

All that we old schoolers want can be summarized in these 5 things and they are really not that hard to do. They are feats of game design that have been lost in time and we need to get back. Luckily for us, games like the ones we have been getting on this semester (Jan-May 2017) are getting back to these good practices, so not all hope is lost. Let us thrive for quality and have gaming become what it used to be while in harmony with the latest advances in technology.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Why hating on the Nintendo Switch is stupid

I normally don't rise in defense of any corporate product (believing that the companies themselves must do that with their policies), but this time I will make an exception as I don't really understand all the hate and saltiness that has been going on ever since the Nintendo's presentation of the Switch. So today, I am going to shoot down some misconceptions about Nintendo's new console that the trolls and haters are using to discredit the whole platform before it even begins. Be aware that I am not going to bash on arguments that are solid (there are a few of them out there), but the misconceptions that are just plain silly.

Now we are ready, so let's do this!
-Misconception #1:
The Switch is under-powered omg lulz...

Status: Wrong!
It may not be as powerful as the PS4 or Xbox One, but games still look quite good and while it will lose graphical power when on handheld mode, the size of the screen will make up for it. Besides, games like Super Mario Odyssey and Xenoblade 2 have a lot of detail on them, details that are been neglected in order to have something to rant about. If you thought that for the price you would be getting a portable PS4/Xbox One then you have lost touch with reality. Now talking about pricing...

-Misconception #2:
The price of the Switch is outrageous, it's the end of the world!

Status: Wrong!
The pricing while it is not the cheapest expected (which was $250), It is quite fair for what it's been offered. This hybrid console does a lot and promises a lot in terms of games so its value will increase really quick after it is launched. By the way, the gaming industry pundits that have been saying it should had been a $200 dollars price tag are maybe living on Jupiter or something because we all know that Nintendo never sells at a loss.

Another thing to take into account that the PSP and PSVITA at their respective launch days costed from 250 to 300 dollars which roughly translates to $300 or more of today's money. All of this makes this complaint to be nothing more than a simple pout because they wanted it cheaper. Underestimating the value of a product based on cheapness is not a professional thing to do.

Nintendo Switch Haters

-Misconception #3:
Paying for an online service? *sobs* we will die... Nintendo is the devil!

Status: Wrong!
The Nintendo online service becoming a paid one reminds me of that moment when Sony decided to do the same thing and everybody was moaning and complaining. Guess what? Now everybody is paying up their PS+ service nicely and it has become a lot more stable when compared to the times when it was free. Here's a tip: When you are devoid of facts then silence becomes a virtue.

-Misconception #4:
The free games on Nintendo's online service will only be available for a month, we are doomed!

Status: Debatable
How can some people use this statement when we don't even know the price that the service will have? We will have it for free until fall, so wait until they reveal more information before starting a pout fest about it.

Mario 64 Pilotwings 64
Remember when all we had for the N64 were these 2 games? We were kids and nobody complained.

-Misconception #5:
The Switch starting lineup is just too small in terms of big games, yuck.

Status: Wrong!
Did people who said this ever thought back to the PS4 and Xbox One launch days? Big games could be counted with the fingers on one of your hands (I still remember all the jokes about it). If we go back to the past the Nintendo 64 launched with only 2 games, The Dreamcast had 4, The Saturn had 4, The Game Cube had 3, The PS2 while official lists have more than 10, we mostly had Fantavision on all stores along with Ridge Racer and Kessen for a long time. Bottom line been that a slow start doesn't mean a bad platform, get your facts straight before complaining.

-Misconception #6:
The switch library is poor, I rather play an Ngage trolololo...

Status: Wrong!
I know variety in gaming taste is a thing, but I cannot help but feel that this complaint is entirely empty and just serves as a tool for trolling. We have one of the most beautiful Legend of Zelda games ever made, we have Mario returning to its Mario 64 roots, a new Xenoblade game, Splatoon been a sequel rather than a simple port, new cool projects from Atlus and Square Enix, a cool classic Street Fighter to take on the go, Bomberman is coming back and can now take Skyrim and even Sonic Mania on the go too and this is all bad? I know some of us are dying for a new Metroid and Fzero game, but let the console run its course before talking trash, because the Switch game library is not bad, it is actually quite excellent.

Mario Odyssey Sonic Adventure

-Misconception #7:
The new Mario game is a rip off of Sonic Adventure hur hur hur *burp*

Status: Wrong!
So let me see if I understand. People saying this are mostly old schoolers who want some of the old stuff coming back (I am a Sega fan myself) so now when a game comes that borrows from the style we know and love we complain about it? It doesn't make sense at all, it's ironic and kind of dumb if you ask me. Let me clarify something before I press on. If you take this from a good point of view and see it as a curiosity rather than something to complain about then this one is not for you.

-Misconception #8:
Nintendo is still for kids hue hue hue...

Status: Wrong!
Yeah well if Nintendo is still for kids I want you to give a Xenoblade game to a kid and see him go through it. When Super Mario Odyssey releases give it to a kid and see how far he/she goes without something holding his/her hand this time. Go ahead and recommend the expected No More Heroes game for Switch to a kid and see how well you do and while you are at it give some infant the Project Octopath game and see how he/she understands the game's story and battle systems. The Nintendo is for kids joke died with the Wii, get on with the times.

Wrapping things up:
I know I look like some sort of Nintendo fanboy, but believe me I am not. I wrote this article not in defense of Nintendo itself, but in defense of the optimism we need in order to see good things happen in the industry. I am all for bringing back the enthusiasm of the days of old, when gamers had a lot more cohesion, hope and illusion around new releases rather than the current sand storms and pouting festivals. I hope I cleared some points by shooting down these misconceptions for all of those who are confused by the trolls and haters. Thanks for reading and keep on gaming!