Backlog: Failure to Launch edition

You know it's the start of the holiday release season when major triple-A efforts resemble half-baked potatoes. We get it: Gamers are an insatiably hungry bunch, and business is as business does. This time of year is very important for the bottom lines of developers and publishers.

But both Assassin's Creed Unity and Halo: The Master Chief Collection launched Tuesday to instantaneous reports of major (and sometimes hilarious) bugs, outages and general instability. It's so bad at Ubisoft that it launched a Unity public-facing bug-catching blog to put some positive spin on an otherwise shit situation. Ho' boy.

Even the perennial powerhouse that is World of Warcraft was largely unplayable with unscheduled maintenance, hotfixes and a DDoS attack when Warlords of Draenor dropped on Thursday.

Let's hope that next week's major release, Dragon Age: Inquisition, doesn't have the stability issues reviewers encountered on pre-patch 2.02 PlayStation 4 consoles. -- Aaron Thayer


I think the best way to understandThe Binding of Isaac is as a window into Edmund McMillen's personal vision of hell. That it's dressed up as a The Legend of Zelda-inspired roguelike isn't a huge surprise; McMillen draws heavy inspiration from the dungeons and their resident monsters in bringing this game to life. But McMillen's art style takes complete control here, breathing life into violent piles of shit, malformed fetuses, skeletal nightmares and other childhood horrors. And at the heart of this gauntlet of dungeons is none other than Isaac's own mother, possessed to commit terrible acts by her zealous love for her god. It all sounds very grim and serious, and it is; yet everything springs to life with a gleeful immaturity and a disregard for political correctness thanks to McMillen's trademark vibrant art and animation style.

I smile a lot while I play this game. I think that's the point.

Isaac was recently re-released in an updated package as The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. I don't know enough about the original to say what's new and what's not; I was always terrible at this game, because everyone's terrible at this game, because it's really hard. But Rebirth brings the series to new platforms, including the PlayStation 4 and Vita, where I've spent the majority of my time with it. If there was ever a killer app for the Vita, I'm pretty sure this is it. Isaac is a ruthless roguelike, but the remake seems more generous with its health bonuses, damage upgrades and other aces-in-the-hole to prolong his short, doomed lifespan. An average game probably lasts me between 20 and 30 minutes now, and that feels just about perfect for a bus ride or an insomnia-plagued night.

I find myself wondering just how much of Isaac speaks directly to McMillen's own demons. Maybe it doesn't at all; maybe it's just a fun game given a bizarre coat of paint. But part of me hopes and believes this game stems from personal experiences, no matter how similar or different, and the game exists in its weird, twitchy, unpleasant but unmistakably endearing state out of dogged persistence. I want to believe this game exists as a result of catharsis – something good given to world borne out of something rough and unpleasant in one life. In a world where AAA games are cranked out by soul-sucking conglomerates with hundreds of different people operating as cogs in some massive, marketing-driven machine, it's a beautiful sight to see a game that doesn't flinch away from its medium or its message.


In a first for Call of Duty, men shoot other men

In a first for Call of Duty, men shoot other men


What an insane week. Between Sunset Overdrive, Dragon Age Keep, Assassin’s Creed Unity and now Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, I almost feel like I’m covering games on deadline.

‘Tis the season for gamingdom’s blockbuster, triple-A behemoths. I’m not ready, to be honest. I assumed 2014 was going to just drift off into quiet obscurity in the shadow of 2015’s huge (delayed) titles. But no, that wasn’t reality.

To my chagrin, there were more great games coming than I initially predicted. And being the masochist I am, I’ve tried to finish each of them over the last five days. Why the rush? Because I want to clear my schedule for the wonderfully reviewed and much-hyped Dragon Age: Inquisition.

However, I’m not really making much progress. With so many disparate interactive experiences wading around in my brain, this week is going to be a scattered attempt at tossing thoughts against the wall to see how many stick.

To start: Unity is perhaps the most-broken triple-A launch title in recent memory. This shit is super bad, yo.

Do yourself a favor and search YouTube for “Assassin’s Creed Unity Bugs.” The results are numerous and hilarious. Ubisoft rightfully deserves the endless ribbing for embargoing reviews until the middle of the afternoon on launch day to hide its problems.

While the trickery isn’t altogether unexpected for a game with so many blemishes, it’s just another blunder for Ubisoft Montreal following the controversy about excluding female assassin player models. Let alone the fact that EA let press reviews for Inquisition drop a week ahead of launch, which accomplished two things: demonstrate BioWare’s swagger-soaked confidence in its product, and unintentionally make Ubisoft look like assholes.

Without the direction of long-gone former franchise director Patrice Désilets and the departure of recent steward Jade Raymond, the seams barely holding Assassin’s Creed together will rip quite a bit more before it’s sewn back up.

Moving onto the most fun game I played this week: Sunset Overdrive. What could easily have been brainless amusement park spectacle manages to make a strong case for triple-A games doing whatever they can to once again be goofily fun. This game needed to be made, and it’s a huge win for the Xbox One regardless of how well it moves hardware.

Overdrive doesn’t apologize for its attitude. Not that it needs to. And thankfully Insomniac worked hard to up the excitement to sell the batshit-crazy world it created: enemies swarm and explode in orange gore, flames spew from everything every few seconds, weapons designed just to make you laugh -- the list goes on. I wasn’t altogether sure of how to play the game for the first few hours, but after a handful of missions my concerns of insincerity -- and the deeply ingrained assumption that Insomniac was trying way too hard -- melted away. Taking that a step further: Overdrive is one of the most sincere games I’ve ever played.

As for Advanced Warfare, I don’t have much to say yet. I just watched (note: that’s a keyword; what with the series’ penchant for Michael Bay cutscenes) Seattle get wrecked in a terrorist attack, so that’s something.

It’s been five years since I last spent significant time with Call of Duty. While this new, Kevin Spacey-riffic version is perhaps the series’ most-polished and most-cinematic outing, I just find it hard to care.

I used to love hunting for achievements. This is a sad truth known among my social circles. My proudest moment was when I hit 100% achievement completion in Modern Warfare 2. That was hard, but I pushed on for days and days to wholly dominate the game and its myriad systems. Anymore I find myself getting annoyed and impatient with the warfare inherent to the franchise -- all those inexplicable grenade deaths, constantly blood-red damage screens, simulated hearing loss, reused sound effects, hackneyed dialogue...the list goes on.

Maybe it’ll “click” for me during what’s sure to be some epic set piece mission or Hollywood-crafted twist. But until then, I’m left feeling like Advanced Warfare isn’t so much advanced as it is traditional.

Actually, I’d play a game called Call of Duty: Traditional Warfare -- though that basically describes Ryse. We know how that worked out for Crytek.


My god, it’s full of kawaii

My god, it’s full of kawaii

To get some of the holiday blockbuster rush out of the way: I'm actually, honest-to-god playing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfarelike everyone else, and am enjoying it. However, most of my latent first-person shooter twitch muscles are set to "Halo,meaning I respond slowly in combat and need to better learn what makes dudes die in a CoD title. Pray for me when I finally go online with the game. And along with the rest of staff, I'm also lining up my final holiday purchases.

But that's secondary this week. It’s a high point for me with Nintendo and their flagship handheld. I just recently upgraded from my original 3DS to a used 3DS XL, and instantly have a twinge of buyer’s remorse. Why? Well, I bought it a week before the New 3DS and New 3DS LL went on sale in Japan. I’m not frantically searching for my receipts, but after holding and playing one at a store, I’m very impressed. I’ve only used the New 3DS, which is slightly larger than the original version and borrows design cues like the rounded corners from big brother 3DS LL. However, it still feels more substantial in your hands and also packs increased screen size from the previous model. Oh, and those Super Famicom-colored buttons, too.

More importantly, I think that the New 3DS is going to pick up serious steam because of customization. There are already a couple dozen different faceplate designs available for sale, and Nintendo has already announced a second wave coming soon. Whether you want blue gingham or a K.K. Slider face, there are plenty of options. Last month Tyler, Nick and I even discovered while at a store that the solid color ones are translucent, allowing you to slide in other decals or drawings under the replaceable cover. The New 3DS ad campaign in Japan is focusing on that customization, and given how big a market cases and covers have become for cell phones, I can see it exploding for Nintendo in the best way possible.

More importantly, with my new 3DS XL, I’m eager to dig into its software library again. A trip to the Pokémon Center in Tokyo made me want to pick Pokémon Y back up, and a trip to the game store uncovered a used copy of Bravely Default: For the Sequel (the Japanese “director’s cut” which crucially includes the English translation from the European and American versions of Bravely Default). Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS has proven to be a dark horse Game of the Year contender (yeah, I said it!). Then there’s Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Golf World Tour, Animal Crossing and so much more to play!

I may have dabbled in handheld gaming in previous generations, but I've never like I am with the 3DS. For one reason or another, I’m smitten. Whether it will continue to be a long-lasting love or not, I can’t tell. But I want to enjoy the time now.