I loved ‘The Journey’, and I’m not a football fan

BACK OF THE NET

What with the current general feelings of disdain towards EA after putting Visceral Games’ Star Wars project out to pasture (a story that Jason Schreier has nicely summarised over at Kotaku), here’s some contrasting praise for the publisher:

with The Journey: Hunter Returns, Electronic Arts have succeeded again this year in creating a genuinely enjoyable single player experience that runs parallel to the Ultimate team and Pro-Clubs game modes most fans purchase annually for. Here are some notes about the game.

Spoilers ahead

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Hunter after his move to the MLS early in the game. The best feature of all has been retained: The ability to pause the cut-scenes and watch the character’s clothes continue to move.

Starting in Brazil, the story has you slide tackling children in the opening cinematic, and it’s awesome. The opening cinematic, that is, showcasing the multitude of actors and real players involved in the project. Not nipping a child’s career in the bud. Is that what you were thinking? Shame on you. Red card.

This year’s journey mode amalgamates the progress and choices you made in last year’s instalment and continues the football-centric melodrama but with even more agency over Alex Hunter, continuing an almost Telltale-esque illusion of depth and branching narrative. Not only do you have ranging dialogue options that will alter your perception amongst fans and management, but you now have additional nuances such as the ability to fully personalise Hunter’s style both on and off the pitch. The improvement in graphical fidelity bolsters this variety, and it made my obvious immediate decision to apply an octopus tattoo a joy.

Whilst these are ultimately superfluous decisions in the game, they allowed me to personalise and align with the character when banging them in from the half way line. To be fair though, to contrast this point, I did act like an absolute wanker for the first half of the game in order to unlock the fiery, cheetah style haircut. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

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Here’s a low res image of Griezmann congratulating me at Athletico, since that’s the European club I chose to return to after conquering the MLS. To be honest Antoine, you were less of a help than a hindrance: Poor placement in the box mate, you should have been on the end of a LOT more crosses. This was a long caption.

In terms of the gameplay, it’s football. As with the previous game, development of skills both in the statistics of the player and your actual skill level mutually assure improvement, and this is matched by the dynamic difficulty feature attuning itself to your play. Starting off at Semi-pro, I ended up being WORLD CLASS (world class difficulty, unfortunately I don’t think I’m quite world class yet). This is genuinely rewarding, and it inspired me to take my newfound ability into the other modes. You are also coerced into FUT with nice starter player packs and Hunter/Williams themselves as players, which is nice.

The gameplay is also furthered by more variety and flair to break up the monotony of traditional pro-clubs or standard style play: new, creative training challenges, the introduction of different mechanics as you progress (i.e the partner situation), and even the option to play as 6’4 Williams or Hunter’s estranged American prodigy sister.

Dependant on your success across the board, you will finish each chapter to a differing degree of completion. It may not make a difference in the long run, but It keeps the game fresh, even though it’s football at the end of the day.

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Here’s Alex with his Dad in their favourite Diner. They definitely aren’t here on a daily basis because EA want to reuse the asset. The hot dogs are just absolutely phenomenal. Plus, by using mustard and ketchup bottles, Alex can learn about the red and yellow cards in a tactical discussion across lunch.

One thing I will say is that the meaningful scenes and story overall seemed to peter off towards the end of the experience. In order to illustrate this point, I’m also going to make this sentence (and subsequent paragraph) peter off so tha-

It’s clear that the lack of any mention of the champions league or world cup mean good things for Alex in the future, and I have no complaints about that at all. EA are in a position now where if they omitted The Journey from FIFA 19, it would would be noticeable.

Great single player experience from a company that are seemingly lacking confidence in single player experiences. It’s telling that The Journey: Hunter Returns is an optional addition to a largely multiplayer, annual title. Perhaps this is what we can expect (and are already seeing with Battlefront 2) from future Star Wars endeavours.

FOXTROT UNIFORM: Lightning has struck twice with ‘Before the Storm’

*Spoilers for the first episode if you haven’t played it*

I finally got a few hours to sit and play Deck Nine’s Life is Strange prequel: Before the Storm. Here are some thoughts on the game I wrote down whilst playing episode one (“awake”). The episode was originally released on the 31st of August. I’m late to the party. Everyone’s already gone home and I’m sat alone eating stale cake.

First of all, given the circumstances (complications of the voice acting strike that saw Ashly Burch serving as a writing consultant in the game but not reprising her role as Chloe), I felt the voice acting was great. Rhianna DeVries serves Chloe’s character perfectly well, especially in those sarcastic moments, which if you’re me playing with the new “Backtalk” mechanic, is 99% of the time.

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Max’s rewind time ability is switched out in the prequel for a verbal tennis match that often provides hilarious results if you play close attention. FOXTROT UNIFORM.

The whole ‘fuck you Max for leaving’ aspect of the story is layered on a bit thick, especially when interacting with different memories in Chloe’s house. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, given that we haven’t been in this world for a while, and fans of the original game can find nice references here and there to past (or I guess future) experiences.

Returning to familiar places themselves, such as again Chloe’s house or the Junkyard, is hauntingly beautiful, as the game manages (with the assistance of the musical motifs) to draw up similar emotional connotations that you felt in the original game, giving a real association of feeling to a location. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

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Here’s a lovely moving image to break up the monotony of text. I’m prouder of this post’s title than I should be.

DON’T AXE DON’T FELL: The conversations between Rachel and Chloe are believable and cool. The Junkyard scene was powerful, I couldn’t help but feel enraged and betrayed by Rachel’s sudden departure after the slow build up of friendship throughout their conversation on the train and shared moments up to that point.

The complexity of smaller characters and how Deck Nine subtlety get you to give a shit is astounding. I literally care very much about Drew and Mikey and their whole family situation because of some texts and journal entries that I could have glossed over like it was nothing. This is what makes Life is Strange so enjoyable. The way the name ‘Prescott’ makes you feel less guilty about stealing a memorial plaque is absolutely brilliant; you’re in the heads of the characters and feeling what they are. Part of me wishes I had the patience to wait for the whole series to come out, as it’s these sorts of nuances that I have to refresh myself on because I have the memory of a goldfish and completely forget about them when not engulfed in the moment.

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I don’t even need to say anything about how good the D&D mini-game thing is. 

The transition to the unity engine, which i’m assuming is at least partially down the change in development team, works well. The game looks and runs like a dream and it has more video settings to tinker around with than I remember in the original. The sunlight and the way it casts shadows onto the varying set pieces (I’m not just talking about the ones Chloe stomps on to Principal Wells’ dismay) is RADIATING. The soundtrack also is a treat; Daughter have perfectly encapsulated the feel of Life is Strange and make those quiet moments all the more worth sitting back and listening to.

Well done Deck Nine, you’ve done a stellar job. HOW ARE YOU GONNA DO ME WITH THAT ENDING THOUGH. You know i’m definitely going to try and frame that woman for cheating with Rach’s dad.

 

Marc Laidlaw’s ‘Epistle 3’ provides a bittersweet closure to the Half-Life story

“After Orange Box we have to get episode 3 out, we know how the trilogy ends, and there are a bunch of loose ends and narrative arcs that need to come to a conclusion”

Gabe Newell, IGN, August 2007

Thoughts on Laidlaw’s plot outline for Half-Life 2: Episode 3. 

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Born.

It’s an interesting parallel that Alyx is saved by G-Man in what I can only imagine is the culmination and intense climax of episode 3’s possible end under lead writer Marc Laidlaw’s guise.

I can’t help but imagine that a fitting end would have been Gordon’s inevitable demise saving the world one last time. Evidently from the effective ‘war note’ perspective that Laidlaw wrote the piece this couldn’t have logically worked, but that would have been such a gut-punch to see a character we loved so dearly vanishing to safety before you, and then having to make peace and eventually accept fate, having escaped it many times before only to be resurrected in the name of more turmoil. Not this time. Gordon can’t escape every time. The moments of silence and environmental storytelling in Half-Life are a part of what make the series so great, and this would have been a powerful moment to go out on.

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One of my many treasured memories. Mr Gnome here joined our company for as long as I could keep him under enemy fire. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

The main thing that gets me as a fan not being able to see this vision come to fruition is the crossover in lore between the different Valve series’, and how that would have culminated and paid off in the third instalment. Exploring the Borealis and getting that environmental payoff in the form of Aperture motifs and robotics akin to GLADOS would have been a real treat. Instead those intricacies (many of which are the reason I fell in love with the series) are understandably glossed over in order to serve the basic referential purpose of the cut and dry turn of events. Ironically fitting, as Gordon is known to be a man of few words and in his mind those nuances aren’t worth mentioning in what Laidlaw envisages as his final correspondence with the outside world.

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My P-Body action figure stands proudly on my shelf next to my Gordon Freeman, a daily reminder of what could have been. THIS COULD BE US GABE BUT YOU PLAYIN’

I adore Valve, and I can only hope that we see more of Freeman in the future, whether that be with a completely different plot to the one outlined by Marc, or one similar. What with the news of the game’s dormancy and the radio silence from Valve, I had thought about perhaps a novel or book release containing the conclusive story and perhaps the concept art and information, and this is ostensibly that in its rawest form. I can happily accept that as a pleasant surprise in what has probably been one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) years in the history of video games. Thanks Marc!

You can read ‘Epistle 3’ here

“Half-Life 1 was a year late, Half-Life 2 was a year late, Half-Life 2: Episode 3 where is it? So we tend to view ourselves as subject to valid criticism on our ability to manage our schedules”

Gabe Newell, Machinima, September 2009

Subsurface Circular is very different from my average train journey

essentially a short steam review summary

Mike Bithell’s new text-based adventure shares similarities with my average train journey to the extent of robotic figures nodding their heads to some obnoxiously loud electronic music. I fear I am one of them.

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Luckily the trains I get on in the UK don’t really have chairs facing each other, so I don’t have to look at anyone

It’s a great self contained story. Not since Device 6 have I whipped out a notepad and started jotting down stuff to try and solve the puzzles. Without delving into any spoilers, the choice provided in the story had me genuinely sat deciding what to do for a while, a lot more thought provoking than some of the Telltale games’ decisions for example. That isn’t a knock at those games at all, I love them, but I usually feel binary and confident in the decision I make in a Telltale game, where as in this it’s a grey area in which you’re not quite sure whether what you’re doing is right (and as one character states, both choices will result in harrowing circumstances).

As the credits roll and the game cycles back to the opening menu (musically devoid aside from the familiar subway haze of brakes and doors), I sat percolating on the ramification of the decisions I had made, as there is evidently no in-game validation.

I would certainly recommend, amazing value considering the normal price is under a fiver and I got it for even cheaper with the special promotion. Bithell Games have thrown in a few additional features such as a developer commentary (always welcome), some hidden achievements and even a concept art gallery which is lovely.

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The game’s simplistic and efficient UI. You just about can’t make out the barrage of insults. Someone’s a bit touchy.

A fascinating asymmetry, the game captures the subway atmosphere well despite the futuristic narrative and the supplementary fact that EVERYONE IS A ROBOT (something the ‘Teks’ themselves comment on in a humorous manner); train cars screech, passengers get off, characters can’t get signal (funny that we can’t escape this fucking inconvenience even in a fantasy world) and the stations and conversations built around them establish a believable society. This is an achievement considering you will never see the surface, or the decision you make coming to fruition

Congratulations to the team, I had a great time playing the game.

Dark Horse to Publish Crash Bandicoot Book in 2018

Following the recent successful return of popular 90’s platform icon Crash Bandicoot in the PS4 exclusive (for now hopefully) N.Sane Trilogy, Dark Horse comics editor Ian Tucker has revealed a 150 page, hardcover “bible” entitled The Crash Bandicoot Files: How Willy the Wombat Sparked Marsupial Mania. 

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The Crash Files’ cover displays the original games’ logo alongside concept art from the character’s Looney Tunes inspired inception

The news came as part of a 50 minute Comic-con panel hosted by the almighty Geoff Keighley, centred around Crash Bandicoot in general and discussing both the origin of the character, the process of designing levels and achieving such technical benchmarks on the PlayStation architecture, and how Vicarious Visions were approached by Activision to work on a remaster following Sean Layden’s infamous fashion statement in 2015.

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Sean Layden Turned heads for all the RIGHT reasons by donning this Crash shirt at PSX in 2015. On a serious note, where can I genuinely buy this shirt?

Tucker described the book during the panel as “a reproduction of the original Crash Bandicoot developer’s bible“, featuring production schedules, game scripts, level overviews and even things like the topography of each map (which incidentally is something I believe Vicarious incorporated into the N.Sane Trilogy, as they begun development with the original wire framing of every single level and built upon them). Pages will also include high resolution scans from original notes of the Naughty dog dev team, such as Texture artist Charlotte Francis who featured on the panel.

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Storyboards shown at the panel whilst discussing the way the original game’s cinematics were re-imagined for the PS4 overhaul

During early animation tests for the remakes, John Paul Rhinemiller (Cinematics, Vicarious Visions) stated that “We referred to the bible all the time, because as developers we had that and we were flipping through it all the time. We tried to gather as much inspiration as we could from that bible and try to think what they were thinking about 20 years ago”. Clearly the book had some worth to developers and so will be a goldmine for those who are fans of the PlayStation classic.

The book will join the list of quite a few pieces of memorabilia Crash has received since his resurgence in June, including the consequently mentioned First4Figures 9″ PVC Statue, a beautiful effigy that will grace the desks and shrines of those willing to spend NINETY DOLLARS on a figure.

The Crash Bandicoot Files: How Willy the Wombat Sparked Marsupial Mania is set for release in March 2018

 

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