Backlog: West Coast Heat Wave Edition

Image courtesy spinster cardigan

Image courtesy spinster cardigan

 

Talking about the weather generally causes eyes to roll, but here we are anyway: Portland, Oregon is sweaty. What feels like the heat of a thousand suns cooks our skin to a nice tanned char, while hairy pets pant in agony. So, basically, it's summer.

This week's backlog takes it easy, with your usual rogue's gallery of Silicon Sasquatch staff blathering on about their digital preoccupations over the past week. But before you scroll past the break, I'd like to highlight episode 46 of our podcast, which we dropped last night. After we finished the recording on Wednesday, I realized it would become one of our best (and perhaps our most important) episodes, which means a little extra promotion is in order. Doug, Nick and I tackled the deeply distressing, and sadly controversial, issue of diversity and representation across game development and the games press. We're self-aware enough to address the irony of three white males lambasting the industry's horrendously anemic representation for women, minorities and the LGBT community, but all the same I think we come across as measured and proactive.

To reiterate a point I make on the podcast, I wish we could compensate writers. This website acts in many ways like a part-time nonprofit, and all of us staff do it on the side. Clearly we can do better about soliciting volunteers of different backgrounds and viewpoints, and that will be a goal we keep in mind as 2014 progresses. Perhaps our lack of confidence in anyone wanting to write gratis for a small-time project keeps us from pushing our output in a positive direction. We really get into the roots of the issue on the episode, so you won't want to miss it!

Please take an hour and listen to "Diversity? What Diversity?" by clicking here. -- Aaron Thayer

Nick

After an unexpected trip last week to the hinterlands of central Michigan, I'm back in Seattle and reasonably settled back into my old routine. What does that mean for games these days? Something...different.

I'm talking about Hearthstone, or, to borrow from Trent Reznor, "that old familiar sting." Something about this damn game has me suspended in its icy grip, and as much as I'd like to move on to the next game I keep coming back for more. And after hundreds of matches, dozens of new booster packs and more than a handful of crushing defeats in the Arena, I have to acknowledge that Hearthstone is becoming an even deeper, more complex game than I had anticipated. There's a level of nuance here that's typical of Blizzard's big-name retail franchises, and to see that level of design polish in a free-to-play game really raises the bar for what can be done. I haven't spent any money on the game yet thanks to its generous offerings of in-game currency, but with an upcoming single-player expansion on the horizon, that may soon change.

A while back I 100%ed Mutant Mudds Deluxe, one of the free PlayStation Plus games on Vita last month. I didn't like it, but it was short enough and challenging enough that I felt compelled to play it through to completion. So, yeah: joke's on me.

Finally, I'm a couple hours into Wolfenstein: The NewOrder. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the ludicrous pastiche of sci-fi, camp and horror that defines the Wolfenstein series, even if the games themselves haven't always been consistently polished. The New Order might be the most polished, thoughtful, consistent and fun game in the series since the original. Taking a stereotypical silent, tough-guy protagonist and throwing him into a modern game with all its narrative trappings and sophisticated storytelling techniques was a risky move for developer Machine Games, but the end result is something truly special - a game that honors its heritage of fast-paced ultraviolence while proving that modern shooters don't need to be all about agony, gore, and gritty realism. So far it's an excellent ride, and it's looking like a shoo-in for our Game of the Year lists. If you're on the fence, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by this one.

Tyler

Shaundi? Meet...Fun Shaundi.
Shaundi? Meet...Fun Shaundi.

My feet are presently firmed planted in the past. I haven’t bought into any of the new consoles because I don’t feel as though there’s been enough to justify the investment so far. I am close with the Wii U but region locking prevents me from easily obtaining an American SKU (Nintendo, my wallet thanks you). Not investing much in new software gives me a chance to explore this column for its intended purpose, working my way through games that, for whatever reason, I didn’t invest in at their time of release. It can be a different experience, playing through a game after the fervor has died down; once the market campaign has run its course, reviews have all been published and internet communities have all moved on to the next big thing. Sometimes it leads me to wonder what all the hubbub was about, and other times it makes me question why flaws that seemed so glaring to others are easily overlooked by me. Saints Row IV is the latter.

The most significant change from the other Saints Row games is that, for the majority of the campaign, the protagonist has super-powers and this dramatically changes the way the player interacts with the city of Pittsb...Steelport. As a comic book geek myself I have a soft spot for any game that can enjoyably deliver the power-fantasy of being super-human. In that respect, Saints Row IV is one of the best superpower games I’ve ever played. For some critics, at the time of launch, powers weren’t enough to renew a game with otherwise similar mission structure to its predecessor and an identical setting (except now without a day-night cycle) but Saints Row IV introduces enough new gameplay to stand on its own.

It helps that Saints Row IV is dripping with style, and whether or not its particular brand of cool is of interest to you, the game is written in a way that expertly walks the tightrope of absurdity and sincerity. I can dress my character is any manner of ridiculous outfits, “romance” my crew members with a simple button press and beat pedestrians with a tentacle bat, and yet I care about saving the Earth, rescuing my homies and helping them with their emotional problems.

Games need to grow up as a medium but that doesn’t mean they all need to be like The Last of Us or Gone Home. Maturity isn’t just about being serious—it’s about being smart. I would much rather play a silly and smart game like Saints Row IV than any number of stupid and serious games on the market.