Even though it sat awhile untouched in my Steam queue, “The Witcher 2” ended up being one of my favorite RPG’s of modern gaming. While this is due in large part to some world spanning story telling similar to “FF XII” in scope, but with the intimacy, pacing, and tight structure of a Bioware tale, even the controversially challenging gameplay grew on me, largely due to the fact that mastering it didn’t come easy.
Considering that challenge, it’s surprising that the game had the success it did across the mass market, but ultimately the level of craftsmanship put into the game made it undeniable, even to people that wouldn’t normally receive it so well.
Given that combination of quality and success, a sequel may have been inevitable, but ever since that announcement “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” has been anything but a given, and has been surprising all that lay eyes on it with its ambitious plans to completely re-shape a franchise that already re-invented itself once before with its runaway hit predecessor.
While it’s as true as ever that anything shy of the final product will be loose talk and hype, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to remain level headed when it comes to “Wild Hunt” as every promotional bit and feature plan released so far has shown a game that is going to be very, very special. That’s a trend that continues with the newest teaser called “Killing Monsters.”
Without spoiling anything from that must see video, the way it turns the trailer title on its ear and defies your expectations going into it with something incredible is a microcosm of what this series does so well. “Dead Island” may have proved that great teasers do not equal great games, but I dare you to watch that video and not tell me that despite any inclinations you may have toward pessimism regarding the entire concept of a pre-rendered teaser, that you are not seriously hyped up.
Add to that the recent announcement the great Charles Dance (Lord Tywin Lannister from “Game of Thrones”) will be playing a major role, and it’s becoming more and more clear what the first truly great game of the next generation may be.
If the phrase “Live Action Fan Film” in the world of gaming makes you cringe, it would be hard to blame you. Often times they are poorly produced (if generally well meaning) works of minimal effort that remind us all that the world of gaming and film do not easily mesh.
Even if you are adamant in that belief though, you do yourself a tremendous disservice if you don’t take about 30 minutes of your time today and check out that fan film presented by the folks at Machinima set in the “Fallout” universe.
Beyond impressive for a fan film, it’s actually a genuinely entertaining, and surprisingly well made, piece that somehow manages to maintain the things that make the “Fallout” series so great, while just transferring them to another medium. While some production hiccups are found (the super mutant fight stands out), even the low points are enjoyable in a campy sort of way, and in no way diminish the incredible writing, pacing, direction, and yes, even acting to be found. It’s perhaps the best example ever made of the magic that can happen when you give a filmmaker with a true passion for gaming even the most modest of budgets to work with.
Made by the same people responsible for the also entertaining, if less dramatic, “Fallout” series “Nuka Break,” “Red Star” is apparently the first in a series of fan made live action adaptations planned by Machinima, with games like “League of Legends,” “Half-Life,” and even “Minecraft” all getting the celluloid treatment.
While the quality of those additional adaptations remains to be seen, this was an excellent way to present the idea, as “Red Star” is the greatest live action video game film I’ve ever seen. Give it a shot, and start dreaming again of the day when a network like AMC, FX, or even HBO realizes the creative potential inherit in a “Fallout” TV series.
Besides a joyous bearing of free printer paper, the other intent, and message, of the script was a simple one. It was to make everyone take notice that “Beyond Two Souls” will be different.
It was the late Roger Ebert who famously raised the question if gaming could ever truly become art. Mind you he didn’t say it wasn’t art, and he didn’t say it couldn’t be art as is popularly cited, but rather it was more of a challenge to the medium to silence the doubters, himself included.
Now any gamer knows that storytelling in games is impressively unique and blazes its own path to create a quality that only the medium is capable of. To summarize the idea, think of “Bioshock.”
What gaming has lacked up until now though is a title that makes people who neither care about or respect video games (but very much do care about and respect films) to pause for a moment and consider the same growth that gamers have been seeing for decades now. Of course for that to truly work, the game must not just impact film lovers in that way, but gamers as well.
“L.A. Noire” came close, as did “Beyond Two Souls” predecessor “Heavy Rain.” Before that, “Grand Theft Auto IV” and as host of others.
However, “Beyond Two Souls” may be the first title that truly needs to be that game. It doesn’t want to be that game because it can, and it doesn’t dream about being that game because it may, but rather it needs to be that game to be considered a success by all parties involved.
And what a coup that would be if it was. While gaming doesn’t necessarily need that game to continue to exist, just imagine the world that would be left in its wake. Just imagine what the world of video games would be like if a game was released that would both satisfy the creative desires of the fans, the financial needs of the industry (like “Heavy Rain” did in a big way), and make people who couldn’t give a damn about either suddenly take notice, and be forced to really look at a video game with artistic respect.
It would be gaming’s Trojan horse. A rebel to even games themselves, under the guise of an expected appeal to the so considered higher authorities.
Then again, it may not be. It’s entirely possible that “Beyond Two Souls” will be a flop, or worse nothing at all. Even if it isn’t the game that shifts the perspective of video gaming though, it is a harbinger that a day is coming where even the most resolute of gamers must question their expectations regarding the capabilities of the medium. A day you could argue hasn’t been experienced sine “Grand Theft Auto III.”
Of course, much like that 2,000 page script, that day may come as soon as “Beyond Two Soul’s” October 18th release date when that very game will be delivered, to the amazement of all, right at the doorstep.
In a perfect world, there would be no need to tout the virtues of a game like “Guacamelee!” because you would already be hopelessly obsessed with it, and relaying your experience to others with conversations no more elaborate than “Dude!” and “I know.”
Instead there’s probably a pretty good chance you haven’t heard of “Guacamelee!,” and don’t know that you should be playing it, and not reading this, right now. Since you’re already here though (thanks by the way), let me skip the traditional review and just give you five quick reasons to experience the brilliance of a game where you play a dead peasant turned Mexican professional wrestler super hero, on a quest for revenge and love (actually…make that six reasons).
Style…Now In Color!
It takes all of a glance at “Guacamelee!” to notice that this game is a looker. Its Mexican culture and folklore motif is rarely used in major games (the great “Grim Fandango” is the only other that jumps to mind), and here is gloriously captured in every single aspect of the title, right down to the font. It makes every frame instantly recognizable, and turns the game into something truly great. If you cut “Gucamelee!,” it would bleed style and charm.
More importantly it would bleed it in vibrant colors. We’re still in the black, brown, and gray age of video game color palates, so when a title like “Guacamelee!” comes along and presents an already creative style in full Technicolor, it’s worth considering a purchase just to experience the brilliance that transpires when 16 bit art philosophy meets the hardware power of the modern age.
It’s Actually Really, Really Funny
It’s not all classic day of the dead style though, as the world of “Guacamelee!” also sports nods to cartoons like “Samurai Jack,” video games like “Mega Man,” internet programs like “Homestar Runner” and much, much, more. Nearly all of these references are well hidden in the game’s art style, and recognizing them is sure to lead to uncontrollable grins for anyone in the know.
Yet the game’s best jokes come from its own devices. Whether it’s your ability to morph into a chicken to get into small spaces, or the lamentations of a gun toting villain who realizes he’s wasted all of his bullets shooting the floor for emphasis, at its best, “Guacamelee!” feels like a lost golden age Disney movie when it comes to accessible, yet genuinely funny, humor.
Challenging, Yet Rewarding
As much as I love a game like “Dark Souls,” it’s hard to ignore that at a certain point the risk/reward factor becomes painfully uneven. However, even though “Guacamelee!” pays tribute to many classically challenging games like “Dark Souls” does, you never feel like you are being cruelly punished.
Even though it’s not exactly the most difficult game ever created, “Guacamelee!” does sport sections that require above average skill and patience. However, as long as you are willing to develop your skills and creatively explore the extent of those abilities, you won’t get hung up on too many sections due to unfair play. Even if you do though, the payoff always equals the effort. It’s difficult to find a game that can hit the mark when it comes to a balanced, yet progressive challenge, but that’s exactly what “Guacamelee!” offers.
Fresh Combat, Classic Adventure
“Guacamelee!’s” biggest gameplay feature would have to be its Metroidvania 2D adventure style, where a large map becomes more and more open to you as new abilities are earned. Yet that classic 2D trope isn’t the only familiar concept, as the better part of the gameplay is largely just a creative tribute to a video game age gone by.
The one aspect that feels like much more than an homage though is the combat. It’s a combination of Mexican lucha-libre and old fashioned brawling, all based around a fighting game combo system, and at its best produces moments previously unseen. Most enemies require you to use a variety of maneuvers to best them, and exploring the destructive potential the system is capable of is just as fun as exploring the levels themselves.
It’s Basically this Year’s “Journey”
Alright, so it probably won’t be nominated for a Grammy, and it’s potential to make grow men weep at its beauty is slightly less than “Journey,” but when playing “Guacamelee!” you get the same distinct impression that you’re playing something that exists well outside of the norm, and is artistically significant for the medium.
Though to be honest, “Guacamelee!” also resembles “Journey” in that it is very short. It’s not quite as short as last year’s indie sensation, but even if you are going for 100%, you’ll maybe get 10 hours out of it. While that is a little heartbreaking, considering the game’s bargain $14.99 price, it shouldn’t prevent you from playing “Guacamelee!”, and this year be the one who recommends that great indie game to everybody, and not the one who hears about it from everybody else.
Can’t get enough “Bioshock Infinite?” It’s hard to blame you really, as along with being one of the most stylistically complex and intellectually rewarding games of all time, it’s also somewhat short.
Though the game’s developers are promising a bountiful amount of DLC add-ons for the title, if you really need your “Infinite” fix in the meantime, you may want to consider the somewhat intriguing upcoming board game version.
In production by board game creator PlaidHat Games, “Bioshock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia” will share the rough timeline of the video game, as players choose between warring factions and vie for control of the floating city of Columbia, all while rouge elements Booker and Elizabeth carry out their own adventure, and possibly disrupt or aid yours.
Details concerning the game’s rules are still coming, but it’s meant for 2-4 players, contains 52 impressively detailed miniatures, and sounds like a mix of “Risk,” “Monopoly,” and, thanks to the skyhook system of rails, even “Chutes and Ladders” (yeah I haven’t played a board game in a while…). On an aesthetic level, everything from the board and pieces, to the cards and papers are incredibly well designed and capture the creative spirit of the source material perfectly. Also given the amount of pieces shown so far, and the company’s usual style, it’s likely this will be a pretty in-depth and complex board game that should provide the same level of outside the box thinking fans have come to expect from this series.
While a board game version of a video game may seem like a step back technologically, this is actually a smart complement to “Infinite.” The revolution was one of the game’s biggest themes and plot points, and getting to explore it further (along with everything else about the world of “Infinite”) through an active means like a board game is an enticing proposition. Also considering it is so hard to incorporate multiplayer into the “Bioshock” video game world without it coming across as cheap (see “Bioshock 2”), this may be the perfect alternative.
Available at a pre-order discount price of $59.95, there is no firm release date for the set as of yet, but given the level of care that has seemingly been put into it, this looks to be the furthest thing from a cash-in attempt, and may be worth any serious “Bioshock” fan’s attention.