Praise the Emperor. Between this and Darktide, it looks like 2021 will be the year of shooters set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
What we have here, is a game that looks like mash up of the modern Doom games, with Titanfall inspired gymnastics. It’s published by Focus Interactive and developed by Streum On Studio, who is responsible for the likes of other shooters, and even a previous 40K game, the Left4Dead style co-op shooter, Space Hulk: Deathwing.
It looks great, too.
I continue to love that the 40k universe is developed by a wide variety of publishers and studios, with tons of interesting and even quirky ideas, like the recent arcade aerial shooter, Warhammer 40k: Dakka Squadron.
Necromunda: Hired Gun is set to release on June 1st, and is currently discounted by 15% (on Steam) until then.
I have a lot of feelings about both EA and Microsoft these days, and most of them are bad. I even recently had a big ol’ rant about exclusivity and how big publishers owning everything is bad for everyone.
That said, GamePass is a good idea. While the XBox software sucks on PC, which I will repeat until that changes, GamePass has a pretty solid selection for the monthly cost, and with EA Play’s standard library now being included in the Ultimate plan, that selection just got a whole lot bigger. Not that I’m a huge fan of EA titles, especially those with exploitative microtransactions, or limited content for the “AAA” price, the fact that I can now play them for all-in-one price of a GamePass subscription means I don’t have to pay for any of it.
This is pretty tempting.
I’ve had a GamePass subscription since November which is currently valid through May. While I never actually paid for it (ok, technically $1) thanks to various promotional offers, it continues to get more and more tempting, at least on short term bases. With a lot of big titles available to pay for a single monthly cost, there are plenty of games that I know I’ll only play once, or games I just want to try out… picking up GamePass for a month or two could be well worth it.
Mostly though, I use it to check out games I eventually want to buy for my Steam library, because games are typically more stable there. Although, recent reports say that the new version of Neir Automata which just arrived on GamePass is a new build that is more stable that its Steam counterpart.
So I bought Loop Hero a few days ago, and can’t seem to do anything else. I’m not the only one, either. While it hasn’t blown up quite to the extent of Valheim, which is an unstoppable machine of unrelenting consistency, it’s doing quite well for an indie game quite intentionally designed to look like it was made 30 years– so much so that it even has a CRT scanline filter.
In its first week, it sold over 500,000 copies, and sits at a 95% with nearly 10,000 “overwhelmingly positive” reviews. It rocks a very consistent 40,000 simultaneous players, which is pretty good for a roguelike, reverse-tower-defense, deck-builder. I know, it’s confusing just saying it. It’s a game that’s hard to describe, and even harder to illustrate with images. Even following a guide wouldn’t make much sense without actually playing the game yourself, and it’d probably be pretty boring to watch a play-through.
Yet, this is probably the most innovative game of 2021, so far.
I’ll do my best to break down what makes this such a hit.
First, you take two, simple, recognizable and ancient game formulas and flip em. Especially the tower defense part. Like a TD game, you have a set path of travel, except you are the character on the path, and baddies spawn to impede your progress. You place towers along the way to give you bonuses and resources to collect, but they also act as spawners, increasing the number and variety of monsters in your path. The point of it all, is to complete as many loops as you can before returning to your homestead, where you use the resources you acquire to build up your base, unlock new items and classes, so you can return to the loop to gather resources so you can continue to upgrade your base. It sounds repetitive–and it kind of is–but it’s also marvelously addictive.
The roguelike elements are present, in that every loop is unique, and you start fresh at level 1 every time. Death is not nearly as punishing as most games, and often serves as a narrative punctuation, and you even still get to keep at least 30% of what you gathered, or more if you have the right items which protect your losses. So, while it is technically a roguelike, the elements are more of a gameplay mechanic, rather than simply your main incentive to stay alive.
So far, it probably all sounds pretty straightforward, right? Do loops, get loot, repeat. Yet, somehow I’ve already done this for 35 hours in 3 days, so there’s something in there keeping me going, and it’s the depth.
This game is way deeper than it appears on the surface, and even with the amount of time I’ve put in, I still haven’t figured out all the potential tower combinations that exist. Like many other tower defense games, you can combine the effects of towers to either help you, or hinder the enemy, or sometimes vice versa and both. However, these effects are not immediately obvious, and exist nowhere in the game’s description or lore. When you unlock these combinations, they are described in the in-game encyclopedia, but you will not be instructed on how to make them.
This leads to complexity of gameplay I never thought possible from a tower defense game. Suddenly, I’m not just arbitrarily looping to unlock better gear and new buildings at home, but I’m doing it to make new discoveries about how the game works. For such a seemingly simple game, I’ve never had so many, “ooooooooh,” moments, where I realize how to modify or improve my gameplay techniques.
This is the spark of creativity. Not just from the developer, but also for the player. It’s why people like crafting games. People like being given choices, and opportunities to build and invent. It’s not just sandbox-y, player freedom, it’s the feeling that your creative choices make you better at the game. That’s a magical feeling. Loop Hero pulls off that magic in such a way that it somehow feels like it’s reinventing the wheel with mechanics that aren’t all that new. It’s almost like if someone just flipped a tire inside out and realize this could be a whole new way to get around.
Which is perhaps why it’s so appealing. There’s nothing here that should be entirely unfamiliar to the seasoned gamer. The basebuilding is fairly straightforward, but open-ended. You have a large grid, and you can place most buildings wherever you want within reason, and within a certain radius of other buildings. The deck-building is simply picking the bonuses and towers you want to show up in your hand while you’re looping. Collecting loot and leveling up in the game is straightforward, increasing in loot rarity and monster difficulty every time you start a new loop. Combat is simply watching your character attack, while you sort out which items you’re using.
Yet, there’s also no other game to compare this to. It has somehow taken so many familiar elements of game design, and made something entirely new. This isn’t a clever homage, or a throwback, even though it looks like it is.
What it is, is something that will inspire a new genre. I am quite certain we will soon see Loop-likes, and I am here for it.
Ok, I will try not to be completely inflammatory in this one, but holy shit, this crap is getting old. As of this morning, Microsoft now officially owns ZeniMax Media (Bethesda’s parent corp), and wasted no time telling us that there will be Bethesda games exclusive to PC and Xbox in the future.
As you may surmount by my intent to restrain myself from writing an entire post of just expletives, I don’t like platform exclusivity. I fucking hate it.
I hate Epic Game Store with a fiery, burning passion and have never spent a single dollar of my own money in there because it is a shallow, contemptable cesspit where competition goes to die. And yes, this is me holding back. I will likely have a rant about EGS alone at some point in the future.
Platform exclusivity is anti-consumer. Plain and simple.
I know, I may have already lost some of my audience due to my language, or because I might be coming across as a Steam fanboy (I am, a little), but just hear me out: exclusivity on a platform that should and can be open (like PC) is a cancer that burdens the consumer with less choice, more complication and ultimately, encourages piracy.
I wasn’t going to go in on this today, but fuck it, we’re here, so let’s do this. Get ready for a long rant about why exclusivity is bad.
First, let’s talk a bit about film and music.
Back in the late 90s and early 00s, digital piracy was all the rage. Napster and other early file share programs were credited with killing both the film and music industry. (More so the music industry, but that’s not particularly relevant). And of course it did. Not only did it change the price of a $20 CD or DVD to free, but it also made it incredibly easy to find anything you were looking for. Both free and convenient. Hard to beat that kind of value.
But as some of us will remember, quality was often lacking, and there was always a risk you might download something illicit, or harmful to your computer. So when iTunes, Netflix and Spotify came along… it was a breath of fresh air. Suddenly, I can buy any song for $0.99, or just pay a monthly subscription and get a huge library of content that I can access anywhere at any time. Plus, now I’m at least giving something back to the artists.
Yet, as we’re all well aware, these days it’s become less simple, at least for film and TV. Music remains fairly available across most platforms, but movies and TV shows are being more and more sectioned off as they were when they were on cable and network television. When before, you just had Neflix and Hulu, now there’s also Amazon Prime, HBOMax, Disney+, CBS All Access, CRAVE, Crunchyroll, and a host of others. Most of these have exclusive content which was at one point, (or even still, depending on what country you’re in) on Netflix. What was once a $8/month sub, has become $80-100/month, which is basically what we were paying for cable in the before times.
This is exactly what we were trying to avoid. This is why millennials and younger generations ditched TV in the first place. It’s expensive, riddled with advertising, and sectioned off into “packages” which very intentionally kill consumer choice, because we really have no options when it comes to service providers. Even in a big city, you rarely get more than 2 or 3 options that are worth anything.
So what happens? We go back to piracy. I’m certainly not paying for 6 or more subscription services. I’m paying for one or two at most–and then I will find the shows and movies that are otherwise unavailable, via other means–or just not watch them.
I feel the same way about gaming platforms, and especially those which are available on PC. Some of you will say, “well a launcher is just a launcher. You can still play it on PC, so what does it matter if it’s on Steam or Epic?”
A lot, actually.
First, let’s talk about platform features and software design.
I wouldn’t mind other launchers so much if they weren’t absolutely atrocious in their design philosophy. While Steam is by no means perfect, and can be a bloated, dated looking mess sometimes… it’s nearly 18 years old. It’s old enough to vote, as of this year. As such, it has features that other platforms have never even considered adding that I can tell, and it blows my mind, since this should be the bar of quality we’ve come to expect. Especially considering Steam was virtually the only combined DRM platform and store that existed on PC without any competition for years. It is nearly single-handedly responsible for the entire marketplace of modern PC gaming as we know it.
So why can’t we have the same standards for design on other platforms? For example, no other platform has default controller compatibility other than their own. Sure, Sony supports Dual-Shock controllers, and Microsoft supports XBox controllers, but Steam supports any controller, fully in-UI whether in full-screen or desktop mode. Even the Switch Pro Controller, which was never given any official PC support by Nintendo–Valve just took it upon themselves to make it work. No other platform even attempts this kind of stuff.
Certainly not EA, with Origin which has been around nearly as long as Steam at this point, and not Ubisoft with UPlay, which has also been around almost as long. So why should I support their platforms when they bring nothing to the table? Plus, at least EA and Ubisoft, for all their faults, still bring most of their games to Steam, and allow you to use both launchers (awkwardly).
So at this point, you start to look at some of the exclusivity that publishers like Epic and Microsoft are trying to pull lately, and I just have to ask, “why?” What is the value they believe they bring to the table? If anything, exclusivity agreements have caused actual irreparable damage to some games and developers. The recent fiasco with Hitman 3, for example, wherein the developer intended to include content from Hitman 1 and 2 for those who already owned the game, but this turned into a technical impossibility, because Hitman 2 doesn’t exist on Epic Store, and Hitman 3 is a timed Epic exclusive, so no one can get Hitman 2 content for Hitman 3 on Epic Store without having to individually buy the content. It’s a fucking mess that could have been avoided simply by not enforcing exclusivity. People who already own the first two games on Steam could be enjoying all the content in Hitman 3 right now on PC, but they can’t, and the only honest answer to “why not?” is greed.
I wouldn’t even mind Microsoft having platform exclusivity if the XBox software on PC wasn’t so horrendously bad. For some reason, they hide game files behind complicated hidden folders, which causes games to crash. This is common problem, and I’ve solved it more than once by purchasing the same game again on Steam. And again, because these files are hidden, it makes it harder to hook the game as a “non-steam game” (a feature Steam has that allows you to hook games outside of Steam so you can use Steam-releated features like 3rd-party controller compatibility). So I can’t use my Switch Pro Controller with Xbox Gamepass games without complicated workarounds. Which sucks, because I otherwise think Gamepass is a pretty good idea.
So, when I see Sony release first-party Playstation titles on Steam and other PC stores a couple years after they release, I see a publisher who understands that branching out to other platforms is good for business.
Because here’s the thing:
People often argue in favour of Epic’s exclusivity deals because they are pro-developer. Admittedly, they are, especially for tiny devs who would otherwise not get the exposure, or financial runway. When a multi-billion dollar publisher comes along and offers you millions for a one-year exclusivity deal, it’s hard to turn down, and in some cases, I would totally say it’s worth it for the developer. Epic also takes a comparatively low cut from sales.
But why can’t they do both? Why can’t a game launch on both Epic and Steam at the same time? Wouldn’t the developer stand to make more money since both platforms are popular and well-funded? It would be the best of both worlds, really. Epic advertises as a smaller, but curated list of games that has fewer overall customers but takes less of a cut, whereas Steam has the mass appeal and larger potential outreach. It’s a win-win for an indie developer.
Besides, Epic doesn’t do any of this out of some sense of nobility, or “pro-developer” sentiment: they just want their slice of the pie. As is evident in their on-going legal battle with Apple, they just want to have their own store on every platform, so they can continue their effort to establish their exclusive brands. They aren’t fighting “against” Apple and Steam’s 30% cut, they just want to cut off a bigger piece of the industry for themselves while appearing to stick it to the man.
It’s not David vs Goliath, it’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. Sure, it’s fun to watch, but the result is a destroyed city that neither of them have to clean up. Or in this case, a joke of a “AAA” gaming industry that cares more about revenue than QA, because consumers will flock to a popular franchise, just because it is popular. They don’t give a shit about quality control. Hence, the abomination that is the recent Avenger’s game.
Platform exclusivity just encourages people back to piracy. It’s doing it for TV and film streaming, and it will do it to games, as well. In an ideal world, we’d pay artists directly, and tell major publishers to fuck right off.
We can look back to Dark Souls as an example. The first PC port was an afterthought. It was locked at 30fps, low texture resolutions, and had terrible online functionality. Despite this, it was still a hit, and resulted in From Software not only remastering it, but also releasing every subsequent Souls’ game on PC, simultaneously with console release. Same with the release of their latest IP, Sekiro. None of this would have happened had From decided to keep Dark Souls a Playstation exclusive.
Exclusivity does not breed competition, or innovation. It only stifles consumers and reduces potential outreach, while encouraging piracy and other alternative means. While I excuse a few companies like Nintendo, because they often have a platform which is dramatically different from others in a way that makes it worth while just for its unique features… the fact that Breath of the Wild emulation and modding on PC is so popular should be evidence enough that Nintendo could stand to make even more money with an official PC release.
Not that I’m expecting Nintendo to start pushing Mario and Zelda to Steam any time soon, but it’s a nice dream.
I’ve been trying to put together a comprehensive modern review of No Man’s Sky, but I keep getting distracted by other games. This one, in particular, I’ve been paying attention to for a while. But since I have already pushed the level cap, I figured I might as well do a review.
Normally, I’d hesitate doing a review outside of Steam for a game so fresh into Early Access without an available end-game, (compared to say Valheim where you can fight bosses, dive dungeons, and pump hundreds of hours into base-building alone, or Dyson Sphere Program, which has obvious missing elements, but you can still achieve the final goal of the game), but I’m making an exception because of how polished the current game already feels, despite barely breaking into the prologue of the story and having a level cap of only 14.
While there are a number of random encounters, and continuous spawns of baddies in certain areas, the game is fairly hard-capped for content at around 25 hours. The other important thing to note, is that this game will likely never be content complete during Early Access. It never was for the first one, (and I bought the first one in Early Access, as well) so I don’t expect it to be in this one. The developer has also expressed this sentiment. I think it’s important to know this going in, because the last game had some lamentations of abandonment towards the nearing of its completion, because it didn’t get a lot of updates towards the end.
However, when it did release, it was a massive opening up of content and narrative, so I have the same expectations for this game’s release.
So what comes along with those expectations?
Well, Everspace 2 is a lot like the first one, mechanically speaking. In fact, it’s near identical. Fans of the first game will slip into the feel of the sequel without skipping a beat, and that’s not a bad thing. The first game had great graphics and smooth gameplay. It had tons of exploration, combat, crafting and variety of encounters. The problem, is a lot of these mechanics felt locked behind the roguelike death: both in how you unlock more ships, but also in that none of your efforts felt like they mattered. While the progression shared a lot of similarities with FTL, it didn’t quite use the formula in a way that fit the narrative. FTL rarely wants you to fail, despite its difficulty curve, while Everspace *needs* you to fail at least a few times to further the progression of the story. Every time you play FTL is intended to be a new adventure, whereas Everspace is a continuation of the same adventure by one individual.
It’s not to say that I think Everspace uses the FTL progression system poorly, but I think it could have done it differently.
Thankfully, we have Everspace 2, which does away with all that and drops us into a sprawling open world. All of those materials you acquired, you get to keep and stash and hoard and craft with. Unlock ships so you can line your hangar with them. Buy them, trade them, upgrade them. There is a lot of freedom already available in this early version of the game.
Not to mention variety of gameplay. There are a dizzying number of puzzles hidden around every nook and cranny. You can literally fly inside the core of orbital space cities to dig for locked containers, and find their respective keys. There are mini-games to detonate giant asteroids for their resources, or bounce lasers by physically strapping a mirror to the front of your ship. It’s even scratching the ARPG itch with the crafting and loot system, and has a lot of potential to fill the void left by classics like Freelancer and Descent.
I don’t want to go too hard into comparing it to legendary games, or games with much bigger scopes and much bigger studios. The developers have already expressed how intimidating that is, and they want to temper expectations, which is fair; considering how far hype can take a game, and inflate expectations.
That being said, I still feel like this game’s potential is huge. Even if it doesn’t live up to the impossible standards of meeting nostalgia’s call to the 90s, or matching the sheer size and density of open worlds existing in games like The Witcher 3, there’s no reason it can’t stand in its own shoes.
For one thing, this is probably the most polished early Early Access release I’ve ever seen. Framerates remain smooth as silk, and there are no obvious missing textures or fritzy AIs running around. I’ve had no client crashes, no audio glitches; it nearly plays like a finished game right up until you hit the level cap and narrative cliffhanger. It’s nice to be able to say that when you compare to some recent full releases of “AAA” games.
So, do I recommend buying Everspace 2 in Early Access?
You really just want to play the game in its current state because you are desperate for fresh space action.
You really liked the first game, and want to support the developer while they finish this one.
You are expecting the game to be finished within the year.
You are expecting a complete, or near-complete game experience at any time during Early Access.
When the game is finished, I’m sure I’ll have no issues recommending it to anyone who is interested. I’ll continue to check in on the game as it develops, but I’m not expecting to see a *lot* of content added to the game until it’s finished, which likely will be some time mid-to-late 2022.
At the end of it all, I have no regrets with my purchase, and can’t wait to see what comes next!
I’m going to have a little dignity, and spare you the sight of yet another poor fan-made mockup of what the next Switch might look like. Crap like that is one of the reasons I started writing again. There are no images of what the next Switch what will look like, and we know very little about the appearance in general, other than it is very likely to be sporting a new 7″ Samsung OLED. So, while I will be doing a lot speculating here, remember that it is still just that–until we get an official announcement from Nintendo.
According to a fresh batch of information from reputable online leakers and insider reports from Bloomberg, who has been a strangely consistent source of gaming news in recent days, it sounds like production of the next version of Nintendo’s Switch is just around the corner. According to the Bloomberg report, a 7″, 720p OLED screen will start mass production in June, and insiders say it will be for Nintendo’s next console.
While the screen is a bit of a step up in size, and will likely have higher contrast with lower power requirements, it remains the same fairly low resolution as the original Switch. That said, our reputable online leaker says the console will be 4K capable in big-screen mode, thanks to Nvidia’s DLSS technology. Since the first Switch uses a custom Nvidia Tegra mobile chip, it does make sense that Nvidia would be responsible for the Switch’s new GPU as well. Considering the leaps DLSS 2.0 has made in the last year or two with improving framerates, especially at higher resolutions, it sounds like the next-gen Switch should have no issues keeping up with its next-gen counterparts from Sony and Microsoft.
Despite having a rough time competing with Xbox and Playstation throughout the late ’00s, and early ’10s, Nintendo has maintained strong performance with Switch sales, and has been the number one selling console since 2019, even since the release of the new XBox and Playstation offerings.
While Nintendo’s stumbles have been no secret, they’ve never waivered from trying to innovate, and Nintendo’s diversion into motion-controls was quite a hit with the first generation of Wii, even if the more hardcore gamers were turned away from its lack of traditional style games, and popular 3rd party franchises. So much so that even Phil Spencer of XBox legend, recently admitted he’d never have Nintendo’s brevity when it comes to challenging the norms.
That said, both Sony and Microsoft are looking strong, provided they can push consoles out to break shortages which have been ongoing for months. Against my lamentations over poor software design, I have to admit XBox Gamepass is a marvel subscription service, even on PC, and Sony seems to understand that PC is a viable market as well, with not only recent hits like DEATH STRANDING and Horizon Zero Dawn, but we even have a fresh batch of new rumoured first-party Sony titles on the way:
Bloodborne and Ghosts are two games I’ve considered buying a PS4 to play. There are a few others as well, but I really have to hand it to Sony for understand that there is a market beyond console exclusivity.
I guess the real question is: will Sony and Microsoft have product to ship this year? Or at least, will they have product to ship by the time Nintendo announces their Switch successor, which is sounding more and more real all the time? It’s even suggested there will be a few exclusives, which begs speculation as to whether it will be a refresh, or an entirely new console.
The rumoured name of the new machine is the Super Nintendo Switch and I honestly love it. I believe the SNES is the machine that first was able to capture games as more than just a past time, but as a piece of art. Grand RPGs, colourful adventure games, platformers of every kind, spawning and inspiring entire genres, and showing us some of the greatest talent from early developers like Rare and Midway.
Will Nintendo or any game maker ever capture that magic, again? It’s hard to say, but it’s also hard to compare this current era to what was the boom that created modern gaming as we know it. Sometimes, you’re just chasing nostalgia, and it’s an easy dragon to chase and never catch.
Update: One last rumour to end all rumours, as far as I’m concerned. If this one is true, then it’s the final nail of confirmation we need that the new Switch is not only on the way, but due for that fall-winter release we tend to expect from major consoles.
According to an insider report from Gamereactor, Nvidia will be discontinuing the Tegra X1 Mariko chip, which the current line of Switch hardware uses. Yes, both the Switch and Switch Lite. If this is true, then a successor would have to be on the way by the end of the year in order to supplant demand for what has been the highest selling console for a while.
So I came across this video today from an earnest, Japanese solo-project called Vulture – Unlimited Frontier. You can actually download and play this project, too. It’s pretty rough around the edges, but it’s got some fun in there for sure.
After marveling at the sound effects and dancing robot animations, I was quickly reminded of the absolutely travesty that is the lack of good, modern mech games.
The late 90s and early 2000s saw tons of titles and full franchises, especially for Playstation 2, from big developers like Kojima (Konami) and From Software (Dark Souls). Zone of the Enders and Armored Core series are lauded entries in gaming. I pumped a lot of hours into Armored Core: Nexus, and ZoE: The 2nd Runner, is lauded as one of the best games ever made. They even remastered it for 4k and VR to varying degrees of success.
So where the hell are the new mech games? Sure, there are some fun indie projects out there, and I’ve played… all of them, basically. But many of them lack content, or gameplay, or even just a little bit of modern fidelity. I know, I’m not usually one to complain about graphics, but this feels like the one genre being completely ignored, when giant robots seem like a thing that could take advantage of modern graphics engines.
I always hear the argument that “there is no market for mecha” especially in west, but I call B.S. Michael Bay’s awful Transformers movies still made a ton of money despite being awful. The first Pacific Rim film did, too, and it wasn’t great, either. So imagine if they made something with giant robots that was actually good! Instead, we get Piranha Games clinging on to the Mechwarrior IP so it can prey on those desperate for the glory days of when that series was good. I have a couple of articles from the past about why they’re worst.
It’s not to say there isn’t a small indie market, though. But many of them seem either under budget and under produced, like War Tech Fighters, or lack depth of gameplay like DAEMON X MACHINA. The best indie title right now is probably M.A.S.S. Builder. It has great mech customization options, but it too lacks depth of gameplay.
The closest thing we ever got to modern mech action was the Titanfall series, but it was criminally undersold, and instead Respawn was pushed to devolve the universe into Apex Legends, which is effectively Titanfall without the Titans.
Mecha seems trapped in its era of 20-25 years ago, and for some reason we can’t do better. But I honestly believe From Software could save us if they pulled themselves away from Souls-likes for a while. Furthermore, if Kojima can sell millions of copies of the masturbatory clusterfuck that was DEATH STRANDING (it was a great game, though, to be fair), then he can sell a new mecha action game.
I elect that the west would eat up a modern game with giant robots if given the opportunity. This is my open challenge to the industry to give us the goods!
Are they related news? I dunno, who cares? I mostly can’t be bothered to write more than one post in a day. let’s just say it’s because they’re both indie games.
Current indie darling, Valheim is continuing an unstoppable pace of selling more than a million copies a week, putting them over a staggering 5 million copies sold since Steam launch on February 2. It routinely sits at 2nd or 3rd most played game, and has peaked at over 500,000 simultaneous players. It also sits at the 39th highest rated game on Steam with over 100,000 ‘overwhelmingly positive’ reviews. Pretty remarkable for an early access game in the hands of a tiny 5 person developer.
Perhaps I have paired these two because the significance of indie development and availability is important. I have a very complicated opinion of Epic Games, and I think I share others’ hesitation in considering what the purchase of a developer who has made a game that is available across many platforms, by a publisher recently made famous for platform exclusivity.
I’ll definitely elaborate more on that point in a later post.
I know, I know, it’s another new new “survival” game. Believe me, I’m bored just saying it. But stay with me on this one.
The gaming metaverse is correct in the generalization of it being “Subnautica in space.” Especially in the ways that it counts. It has a great immersive quality, there’s lots to do, and it rides the line of chill and stressful without going too far in either direction.
This title’s most divisive quality however: its use of humour. Some like it, while others seem utterly repulsed by it. Enough so to leave a negative review, and they even seem to comprise the bulk of the negative reviews, against the otherwise high ratio of positive (90%) reviews on Steam.
So when is the literary use of humour enough to turn people off, and even stop playing an otherwise clever game? Well, we’ll get into that. But first, let’s talk about what the game is.
As is asserted and agreed upon by many, this game shares a lot of similarities with the highly acclaimed, Subnautica. It drops you into a dangerous, unforgiving world, with little but your wits to figure out how to survive and thrive after a catastrophic accident aboard a spaceship. So yeah, basically the exact prologue to Subnautica.
You spend a lot of the first act just trying to survive. You have limited oxygen and limited tools, so you spend a lot of time just trying to acquire blueprints and materials so you can spend more time in space. Eventually, you move to build yourself a habitat, while further exploring and delving deeper into the narrative. The base-building is simple, easy and doesn’t ask for a monumental grind, but there is a chance you will have to fix systems along to way to keep your base in good health, especially as it grows. Item and gear progression should be familiar to most, especially if you’ve played similar games.
There is a divergent sense of atmosphere, most certainly, in the attempts at humour. Subnautica comes across more serious, and is occasionally absolutely terrifying. Breathedge pushes away from horrors of the unknown, and takes a more lighthearted approach. If I were to compare it to anything, it has some similarities with Borderlands, and Fallout, or Outer Worlds in its juxtaposed cheerful corporate dystopia.
So this is where the controversy begins: when is use of humour too much? I will admit, the game never lets up. Every item description, every helpful notification from your internal computer voice, every achievement even… are all written to be clever or funny. I can see how this might be tiresome to certain people, but in the later game it just blends into the environment. For me, the humour is just another element of the game, like the skybox or the art style. When jokes hit, it adds to the game for sure, but when they miss, I don’t find it any more detracting than a poor colour choice, or a low res texture. It can be distracting, but it’s unlikely to actually take away from gameplay, especially if the gameplay is good.
And the gameplay is good. While the humour absolves the game of starkness, and wedges out most potentially scary moments, I consider the eased tension a nice break from the stress and occasional terror present in so many other survival games. Subnautica is an easy comparison here, because it is genuinely terrifying at times, without ever classifying itself in the horror genre. It does a good job of this, however, by balancing the terror with beautiful, serene moments in shallow waters. Most other survival games also approach fear in various ways, especially in having more dangerous monsters come out at night, or even making sanity a mechanic with its own meter, like in the Don’t Starve series.
But there’s no day-night cycle in Breathedge, so no creepy monsters to pop out in the dark. And while there are things to shoot at later on, the game never really seems intent on jump scares, or generally causing fear reactions just for the sake of it. There are some creepy elements here and there, but the general sense of joviality never really lets you be afraid of anything other than dying and losing progress. Considering there are corpses littering the entire map, both those who were alive and dead before the accident (you were in a space hearse, transporting hundreds of coffins, after all), I give this small indie developer credit for going with a dark humour approach at what would otherwise be considered a horrific incident.
This feels refreshing to me. Sure, the jokes don’t always hit, and they are unrelenting, but it’s such a nice change of pace from every other survival game that plunges you into darkness every 10 minutes so it can send waves of enemies at your base. Even one of my more recent favourites, Valheim is guilty of this.
So now I have a game where I can base-build in peace, while still having to make considerations for the health of my character. I have a game where I can experience the struggles of surviving in a cold, unforgiving vacuum, while also being literally memed by the developer into crafting a helmet that has zero visibility, or a phallus shaped out of scrap metal.
Perhaps I have a leaning preference towards games which don’t take themselves too seriously. I definitely have a bias against those which do. My recent review of OUTRIDERS might reveal some of those sentiments. Too many (especially “AAA”) games these days focus so hard on flashy visuals, and confusing, world-bending narratives, they forget to just let the player have fun.
In today’s ever advancing graphics engines and competitive push to sell VR hardware to the masses, it’s important to remember that games don’t need to emulate hardcore realism to be immersive, and I think Breathedge is more than capable of selling an immersive experience while reminding the player, and perhaps the industry as a whole, to have fun.
I’m at the point where I’m starting to feel like I want those two hours of my life back, and that’s the second time in a row Square-Enix has elicited that reaction from me.
Everything about OUTRIDERS just screams all of problems I had when I played Marvel’s Avengers last year, and maybe a few more. It was nice of Steam to keep a record of my feelings for me:
So how does OUTRIDERS expand upon my general disappointment? Well the cutscenes, for one. There are way too many of them. They constantly interject and interrupt any fun you might be having, and they run at a bizarrely low 30fps on my 3080. Gameplay, I average around 150fps on ultra settings, but as soon as we cut to cinematics, which is frequent, we go back to 30fps. Sometimes they even have you take control of the camera in 30fps. What year is this? What hardware restricts this low of frames during cinematics, especially when gameplay seems so well optimized by comparison? I also can’t turn off motion blur, which is appalling in a modern game.
The first hour of this prologue is spectacularly boring, as well. There is virtually no gameplay at all, and the few minutes there is, has you walking or running on rails and learning nothing about what’s actually happening in the game you end up in. It’s a lot of confusing conjecture that is ultimately very little help in understanding what the hell is going on around you. This leads to a full hour of non-gameplay before you actually get to gameplay.
Gameplay that is… clunky. Attacks don’t feel very weighted, nothing is particularly new or interesting, and the loot already feels exhausting. It feels like a game that is going to want me to grind for weapons, and that I’m lamenting the fact in the first 2 hours of gameplay is not good. Especially since the gameplay itself isn’t all that interesting. It’s generic shooting with some okish looking magic abilities that are honestly better executed in isometric ARPGs like Path of Exile or Grim Dawn.
Plus, the entire concept of cover is flawed. They set it up to be an important mechanic… right up until the point you want to engage any of your class abilities, which require you to play aggressively, as the game even tells you. If you want to heal as a melee class, you need to be close to enemies, and with ranged classes you need to be doing damage. So cover becomes a pointless mechanic the more you level up. It can’t decide between shooting and class abilities, and that’s not a good look for a looter-shooter.
You want a game that has a mix of shooting and powers? Go play Warframe or Destiny 2. They’re free and won’t waste your time. Or Vermantide 2, a great looter-shooter in the Warhammer universe. Or Deep Rock Galactic, a game about deep core mining space dwarfs, from the same publisher as Valheim. Looter shooters are a dime a dozen these days.
OUTRIDERS just feels like yet another blatant “AAA” attempt to tap into a market they don’t understand. Shades of Anthem and Avengers. Square-Enix needs to go back to making Final Fantasy games before they bankrupt themselves on “games-as-a-service.” This game just feels behind the curve, while even EA can see the writing on the wall about shoehorning multiplayer online services. When you look clueless next to EA, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.