Backlog: Justice, I (Didn't) Choose You! edition
Earlier this week a grand jury decided against indicting Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
We're not a political blog, insofar as having "real talk" about how current events inform games and game development. We made a few empassioned, and still-relevant, opinions on the tragedy in Ferguson on episode #49 of our podcast. Listen to that for our take on policing in America and how videogames are affected by the militarization of municiple police forces. Battlefield: Hardline wasn't conceptualized in a vacuum of cop shows and action films.
So what's the deal with Pikachu up at the top of the post? Nick chose the header this week -- my take is it's an absurd yet depressingly relevant Photoshop. Every year we get the same, bland shit: giant-sized pop culture icons gliding through a skyscraper canyon in a display of c0nsumerism so adorably disturbing that it's a big fucking deal. People love this stuff. Personally, I'd rather the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade fly a few political floats (like our dear Ferguson Pikachu) to keep the broadcast lively. Al Roker can only carry a show so far, you know?
Anyway, I'm not sure where else to take this meandering intro. How about we get to the games?
Yeah, that sounds good! -- Aaron Thayer
Well, well, well...hello, old friend. In years past, a common Backlog contribution from me was “So I spent another 20 hours playing Pro Evo Soccer…”, but for the last few years that just hasn’t been true. I’ve wanted to like the last few Pro Evo titles; I even bought PES 2014 with the hopes that it would satiate my desires for a soccer addiction once more. But, try as I might, PES 2014 just hasn’t caught on with me. It doesn’t help that I’ve had to go through a somewhat arduous process to add edited uniforms and players into the game. It’s felt like modding a PC game at times.
In doing research for another piece I’m working on writing, I began to get that itch again. It’s soccer season, and I wanted one of the new soccer games. After reading through reviews and trying both the FIFA 15 and Pro Evo Soccer 2015 demos, I made my decision and bought...FIFA 15.
Yes. The guy who was a dyed-in-the-wool Pro Evo fan is heading back to the other side of the fence. I’d played FIFA titles in previous generations (FIFA Soccer 2004 and 2005 in particular, plus FIFA 08 and 09 on Xbox 360) but wasn’t a fan of recent iterations. It didn’t feel right; Pro Evo always felt more “right” to me. It may have been a little faster and a touch arcadey, but Pro Evo has traditionally allowed better creative freedom in creating goals than FIFA, which always became a race to find the AI’s weak point. Some years it’s weak to lobbed passes through the middle, some years it’s weak to speed, some years weak to crosses. But it always lacked the satisfaction of variety. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s more than one way to score a goal, and in the past FIFA didn’t reflect that terribly well.
Based on my experience so far, FIFA 15 feels like a massive improvement in that regard and a few others, namely presentation. First the goals: you can score in so many ways in FIFA 15. You can score from distance, you can create havoc in the box, you can score on a breakaway, you can build up pressure and finally slip a shot through, and you can even score from corners sometimes. Above all, FIFA 15 is tuned for action above all -- and if it means there’s a penalty shot every game (which is hardly reflective of real life) then so be it. Maybe I’m just burned out from having a few years of staid PES titles, but the somewhat-unrealistic action-packed games are at least a change of pace from PES 2014. It might be action-packed but it’s still a solid game -- defense doesn’t feel impossible, mistakes feel like I made the wrong decision and not the game cheating, and every situation feels like it’s under control and not being controlled by the AI. There are times in past FIFA and PES titles where sometimes the invisible hand of the AI crept in, but I haven’t really felt that in any way so far.
What’s also a welcome change of pace is the presentation of FIFA 15. While PES has never hit the standards set by Western sports games for presentation (including commentary, crowds, and menu organization), this year’s FIFA does a great job of capturing the contemporary state of soccer and soccer media. In the single-player career mode, not only is it more interesting and fun to try to sign new players for your team, but the newswire built into the game will report afterwards your own actions. For example, I’m using Arsenal, and I was searching for a new striker to help shore up my attack. When I asked a player’s club about his price and availability, a few in-game days later the newswire reported my advances and interest.
In the UK, the transfer deadline day -- the last day on which players can change clubs, both for the summer period (ending August 31st) and winter (the month of January) -- features the drama and intrigue of the NFL or NBA Drafts. And the game reflects that well. When you enter the final day, your negotiations then become by the hour instead of by the day, allowing players to put together last-minute deals. While it’s kind of gross to see the British Sky Sports coverage of the real transfer deadline days, as a player, EA Sports’ take on it makes transfers exciting and engaging.
While I’m just a few in-game weeks into my FIFA 15 career, it’s already kept me up too late a couple times this week. It definitely has me in the “just one more match…” spell that the best soccer games have always cast on me. And with a good amount of other modes to play (from creating your own pro to tackling the card-game style FIFA Ultimate Team mode) I’ll probably keep going back to this for a long while.
The week before our final Game of the Year deliberations is always a busy one for me. It's my last chance to check out all the games I swore I'd play in time to determine our top ten list but somehow never found the time for. Since I'm a glutton for punishment, I usually save the most interesting games for last while I slog through steaming piles of regurgitated, big-publisher AAA nonsense – out of a sense of duty to our readers, of course. And frankly, I was just grateful to have any excuse to stop playing the bloated, tedious and thoroughly un-fun Dragon Age: Inquisition.
The Sailor's Dream is yet another immaculate, beautiful, and unusual game of slow exploration and quiet contemplation from Simogo. It's not a game about reaching a conclusion or seeing a story through from start to finish; instead, it's about the communication of a feeling and the satisfaction of piecing together the interlocking personalities that populate this story and understanding the way they come together. I wish it'd been a longer game—it only took 45 minutes to complete the majority of it—but there's a good chunk of additional things to unlock that'll take at least a week to complete. Still, those 45 minutes were unbelievable: Simogo paid an incredible amount of attention to key details like the feeling of movement, dynamic and engrossing audio work, and some of the most beautiful and painterly artwork I've seen in a game in years. $3.99 might sound steep, but if you appreciate a beautiful thing made with care, it's absolutely worth the price of entry. Just make sure you do yourself a favor and set aside an hour with you, your iPad, and a good set of headphones. Don't rush this one.
I also had the opportunity to play through the Monument Valley Forgotten Shoresexpansion. I adored Monument Valley for its uncanny ability to make me feel clever at a precise pace throughout the entire game. Forgotten Shores is a victory lap for Ustwo, and it's an opportunity to demonstrate the expertise they've picked up over the last few months within this game's framework. Each level boasts impressive art design and manages to feel fresh and relevant; in other words, it doesn't fall into the same trap that so many expansions do of feeling superfluous or tacked-on. If you enjoyed Monument Valley, Forgotten Shores is a necessary purchase.