Backlog: Post-PAX Depression edition

Photo courtesy of BagoGames

Spencer and I are back from PAX. We're a little worse for the wear, maybe, but we each made the most of the four-day extravaganza by playing (and rhyming) lots of new games and engaging in some pretty otherworldly experiences.

Fortunately, we've all made time to play a whole mess of games this week. From The Walking Dead to WWE and Fire Emblem to Formula 1, chances are we've got something for everyone.

Enjoy!  - Nick Cummings

Nick

It’s been a hell of a week for anyone in games who has the ability to feel empathy. I’ve been avoiding the internet as much as possible since PAX, aside from my bizarre stint at the world’s first limerick-based games journalist, and instead I’ve settled in to the calm, familiar comforts that only Nintendo seems to be able to provide.

There’s so much noise on other platforms. If you play games on your computer, you’re bound to run into an unpleasant pop-up notification or instinctively open a web browser to load up something on social media that’ll disappoint you. Likewise, Sony and Microsoft’s platforms are getting a lot better at shoving advertising content and friend activity right in your face, regardless of whether you’re in the mood to feel “connected” or not. I’m a big proponent of games as a conduit to bring people together, but sometimes you just want to curl up with the interactive equivalent of a great novel, y’know?

This week, I’ve only been playing two games. The first, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, shouldn’t come as a surprise. I mentioned it a couple weeks back, but this week I decided to dig in a little deeper. I’m now on the third dungeon and hopelessly entranced by the experience. It’s not a perfect game by any means, and it’s probably not even among the best entries in the series, but it has a heart and a real clever streak. And to be able to experience a game that demands your full attention on a platform like the Wii that doesn’t bombard you with popup notifications about friend activity or achievements earned or any of that crap makes it all that much more enjoyable. There’s a beauty and simplicity to silence and solitude that can make or break certain games. I think developers and platform holders would be smart to reconsider how much “noise” their interfaces conjure up.

I’m also finding a succinct, sweet joy in playing about 20 minutes of Fire Emblem Awakening each day. That’s enough time for a full battle, a bit of character development and some long-term strategizing. The tactical combat stimulates the mind and never fails to conjure a feeling of purpose in the player. Throw in some carefully considered art direction and interesting strategic elements and you’ve got the perfect on-the-go strategy RPG.

Spencer

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Recent events have already prompted me to cast off the “gamer” moniker, and if it keeps up I’ll be tempted to cut off videogames entirely, opting instead to become an essayist and an alcoholic (Nick already beat me to “rhyme artist”). But for you, dear reader, I will carry on. For now.

PAX was a total whirlwind, and it's no small miracle that I was able to stay in one piece the whole time. Except for the cold that I'm now incubating, which is more or less the cost of doing business in Arcadia.

At least it's not swine flu.

In any event, there were a couple games that stood out to me at the convention this year. One is Dreadnought, a shooter by Yager Development (the developers behind Spec Ops: The Line).

"Shooter" is actually a bit too broad of a term. In truth, it's more of a "team arena capital starship shooter." And it's the capital ships that make Dreadnought really stand out. The superheavy vessels so iconic on television and in film -- ships like the Galaxy-class starship, Galactica-type battlestar, and the Imperial II-class Star Destroyer, to name a few-- are underrepresented in games, usually serving as skybox textures or glorified shooting galleries. A few games have tried to tackle the experience of piloting a large, lumbering craft, and while these titles are admirable (and generally well-received), they are few at best. Players, it seems, typically prefer the frantic pace of fighters over their massive motherships.

From what I played, Dreadnought seeks to leverage the slower pace of capital ships by making the game strongly tactical and team-oriented. Waiting to try the demo, I saw dozens of players grab the small, fast Corvette class, only to charge in and get shredded over and over by enemy fire. Meanwhile, a friend, two acquaintances and I selected a duo of very slow, very heavy battlecruisers, and a pair of support craft. We stuck together, leveraged our abilities, and cut the enemy team into ribbons. Communication and planning seem to be key here, perhaps more so than in most shooters.

Dreadnought is slated to be free-to-play, and arrives in 2015, and on both of those counts might I say “oh those sons of bitches, how dare they?”

While it's not new, I did get my first chance to play the board game Resistance at PAX this year, and I'm kicking myself for not trying it sooner. If you ever played classroom games like “Mafia” or “Murder” or “Alien” in elementary school, you already have the basic gist, but for those of you who didn't have such kind teachers: in Resistance, some of the players are Traitors, trying to hide their identity, while the Resistance are trying to identify the Traitors. The former group knows who the traitors are, the latter has no information as to who is who.

Without delving too deep into the mechanics of the game, know that it carries a marvelous slant towards the dramatic. Innocent introductions turn rapidly to suspicion, to open accusations yelled across a game table. I recommend playing with the intention of having a drink afterwards, to blow off some steam. After all, these people are your friends.

As far as you’re aware, anyway.

Before PAX, I grabbed a discounted copy of the much-maligned (by me, anyway) Titanfall, and have been trying to give it a fair shake over the past couple days. I want to like it, and very badly -- on paper, it seems like exactly my kind of game. The makers of Call of Duty take on mech combat? Fabulous, in theory.

However, I can’t shake the impression that Titanfall is all candy shell, no chocolate, and the central issue that breaks it for me is the arsenal. Weapons in the CoD series are heavy with the blood and killcount of their real-world counterparts, and that carries through to their overall demeanor -- each gun feels heavy and metallic, the sound and impact of each feels powerful.

In Titanfall’s arsenal, meanwhile, the weapons manage to seem like little more than Nerf toys, clicky and plasticky. Quite the opposite of their CoD counterparts, they lack weight in every regard -- their sound, their look, and their legacy -- and there’s only a handful of them to be found. Other sci-fi shooters have managed to imbue personality into their weapons (Halo leaps to mind), but Titanfall -- at least, in as much as I’ve played -- has failed to do so, and the result feels light and tinny, making the action the equivalent of parkour artists wielding cap guns. Weaponry is, ultimately, the central point of first-person shooters, and to fail there is to lose the battle before it’s begun.

This is not to say that everything about Titanfall is awful. Indeed, I'm trying to focus on the positive right now anyway. The mech combat is metered and pretty fun (though it ends for me almost immediately), and it manages to convey much more depth than pilot combat. But being a troop on the ground, frantically waving my toy gun, fails to draw me into the game -- leaving me external, free to nitpick at my leisure.

I’ll keep trying to do my due diligence. We’ll see what happens.

I’m still playing League of Legends, which is a condition known in psychiatric medicine as “Stockholm syndrome.”

Doug

Wow, it’s been a while.

The summer has gone and past, and I’ve gone from free time and adjustment to Tokyo life to heading out in the morning rush to ride a train like so many other people -- to get to work I must take a train bound for Shibuya Station, which is not for the claustrophobic.

For much of the summer I’ve been stuck in a rut of comfort gaming. If you follow our site, you won’t be surprised by what follows: NBA 2K14, Formula 1 2013, Gran Turismo 6, and Mario Golf World Tour. I’ve been taking my gaming in doses such that I can keep myself sane, and have only been able to truly dig into a couple of titles as of late. And because I’m an idiot and college football season is nigh (Go Ducks), I re-downloaded NCAA Football 14, and just the menu music is making me regret using that hard drive space once more. We’ll see if it sticks.

He's just a common man, if you will
He's just a common man, if you will

What I’ve poured the most time into of late is a pretty shameful little addiction: WWE SuperCard. It is a free-to-play mobile collector card game where you collect a deck, compete against others’ decks (there’s no live head-to-head option, so instead the AI manages the hand) and receive cards for competing (two for a win, one for a loss). You can choose which card in your hand to play in each circumstance (a one-on-one match based on one of four stats, or a tag-team two-on-two match using two of the stats, for example) but for the most part play is based on tapping the screen until animation routines present the stat-based winner. Cards are tiered, and can also be fed to other cards in order to “train” them and increase their level. These go from common through uncommon, rare, super rare, ultra rare, and even higher. You can also combine two of the same card together to make a “Pro” version of the card, with higher stats and an even higher potential leveling ceiling.

In reality, what this boils down to is tapping fairly mindlessly to gather food for whatever card I’m trying to level at any given point, while carefully trying to uncover a high-level card. It’s the perfect mindless dross to have while listening for train stop announcements or walking through stations. While Puzzle & Dragons may still rule the Japanese mobile market, my phone is showing cards powerbombing and piledriving one another.

Of course, since it’s a WWE property, that means all the cards are based on famous wrestlers of past and present. My deck currently includes four men and a woman: Shawn Michaels, Big John Studd, Fandango, Mr. McMahon, and my all-conquering Diva destroyer, A.J. Lee. To go into the minutiae for a moment: I received two Super Rare Michaels cards for finishing second in a King of the Ring tournament, and while I have one HBK fully leveled, the other is still in the process. If you level both to the maximum the resulting Pro card becomes god-like; this was a mistake I made with my Pro Mr. McMahon. I’m considering jumping into another King of the Ring this weekend since I have yet more Super Rares to build the two-deep for the deck, though not all of them are leveled sufficiently and I really only have one Diva card.

Since I’ve just written a few hundred words about a WWE free-to-play game, I think it’s time somebody stages an intervention. Fortunately, it wasn’t the only new game I got to play: I’ve saved the best for last.

Yes, I’ve finished The Walking Dead: Season 2, and I come away quite impressed. I can’t lie: though I’ve enjoyed playing through this second season, it hasn’t struck me quite as hard as the first season did. I think that’s partially due to novelty on the part of the first one and the extremely emotional bond built up between Lee and Clementine; this season is acting as a sequel and Lee is no longer with us, so of course the odds are stacked against it. But even given that, I came away from most episodes confused -- confused with the pacing, frustrated with the turns the story and characters were taking, and though there were definitely memorable moments, what nagged in my mind was the legacy of Season 1.

Without delving into the details, I feel like Episode 5 of Season 2 brings the season to a substantial and rewarding close. In a way, it redeemed the wandering paths this season took, and the effects that these situations had on Clementine. The conclusion is powerful, no matter how you decide to end the chapter, and it leaned on the characters that have been built up the best throughout the season. After Tyler played through it, he said he feels like it will come up for our Game of the Year discussions; I can’t help but agree. Find it on sale and enjoy, because despite the rough start, it’s worth the effort.