Just What I Needed: A Grand Start for Games in 2017

Wow, what is happening with 2017? I don’t remember a year as busy with big, great games before E3 even hit. Developers usually save their big hitters for the holiday season (or rush them out the door for the same season), and sometimes there’s the odd game or two that couldn’t quite make the holiday window and is pushed back to spring. But with games like Horizon Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, this year just seems… different. It’s like 2016 was so unbelievably shitty that some ethereal force that controls video game releases has blessed us with a year of bliss to make up for it. I can (and probably will) write some pretty extensive entries about each of the games I’ve played so far, but I am currently juggling lots of work and class stuff, so I just wanted to give some brief but semi-coherent thoughts about each. It’s been a great year – for games – so far.

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Resident Evil 7

Like many fans of the Resident Evil series, I’ve been  increasingly disappointed by the recent RE games, most notably the sixth installment. I didn’t dislike RE 5, like many people, though I will agree that I missed the creepy atmosphere that the best games in the series had once mastered. But RE 6 was bad, and Resident Evil: Revelations couldn’t wash the bitter taste from my mouth, as good as it was.

As many have said, RE7 is a wonderfully dark return to the earlier games’ quiet, grim, claustrophobic atmosphere. I kind of wonder if the choice to use just one or two locations (the mansion and lab of the first game, the police station and sewers of the second game) had something to do with being conservative with design elements and saving on memory. Either way, when developers know the player is going to spend a lot of time in one place, it forces them to design that place very carefully and results in an added sense of detail and realism, I think. It makes the space more memorable, if anything, especially if it’s designed creatively. That’s how I felt about the house in RE 7. Every room told its own story about the family that once used it. Every maggot and newspaper scrap and rusted knob made me feel like this house has been lived in, so even when I wasn’t being chased by a walking oil-slick, I was unnerved and made anxious by my surroundings. I loved it. The PlayStation VR headset did make me feel nauseous after about fifteen minutes, so I stopped using it because I didn’t want it to affect my experience with the game. I’ve since read confirmations that ‘getting your VR legs,’ like sea legs, is a real thing, so I plan on trying to condition myself to play VR games that involve lots of movement soon and maybe replaying the game again this summer.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn was a truly wonderful surprise, and I want to write about in great detail at some point. When I saw the trailer at Sony’s 2016 E3 presentation, I thought it looked kind of cool, but I was hesitant to be very excited about it. When the tag line for a game involves mashing two disparate genres or periods together, I generally cringe. I’ve seen too many movies and played too many games that meld styles or genres just for the novelty of doing so. So I don’t feel too bad about being cautious about a game that might be described as ‘cave people fighting robot dinosaurs.’

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But holy shit. However justified, my caution was ultimately unnecessary. Horizon is a beautiful game that is fun to play and satisfying to experience in terms of the narrative. Aloy is a wonderful character, the machines are superbly designed and animated, the world is lush and vibrant and feels natural, and the diversity of the supporting cast is inspiring. There were so many moments that made me feel powerful or capable, and I couldn’t help pausing frequently to take tons of screenshots – with the great built-in photo mode – of the sun cutting like blades through a dense tree line, or rain dappling a pond around me, or a hulking, screeching robo-tyrannosaur stomping through the grass next to where I’m hiding. I’ll include a few here, but I have a ton more that I might post at some point.

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Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect: Andromeda has gotten tons of hate after its release, and much of it, in my opinion, is unfounded or overblown. I will say that it has its problems, especially in the first few hours or so. One complaint that I concede to is the fact that the game does little to inspire you in the first few hours. It kind of assumes that you’ll be excited about a journey to a new galaxy and the ability to explore a small part of it, but if you’re not, you’re out of luck. I wish they’d had an intro movie that showed the preparation that went on in the Milky Way before departure, the excitement and anxiety that was building, the haunting spirit of adventure into the unknown that would certainly have pervaded the shipyards and space stations. And then, after a celebratory launch… darkness and silence. Let it linger. Fade some stars in, but hold that darkness close so that the audience begins to feel the same loneliness and isolation of six hundred years sleeping in the absolute stillness of intergalactic space. Then blast us awake with an unrelenting siren. Create that sense of chaos and frantic confusion that you want us to feel after waking up and finding not hope and adventure, but fear and futility. Everything is falling apart. The ship is damaged. The crew is either still sleeping or bewildered. All of that hope and intrepidness is cracking under the weight of panic, and the lives of countless people across several species is at stake… and you have to fix it. That would have been a better way to start the game, I think, especially for players who aren’t automatically excited by being a starship captain in unknown space.

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I was one of those nerds who was excited and invested just by the premise, so it didn’t take me too long to find myself hooked, but I had some other issues with the first handful of hours. I had graphical issues, like facial clipping on almost every alien character model – eyes poking through eyelids, lips clipping through lips. Textures on characters, especially their suits, and ship walls and floors were muddy and had jagged lines, to the point where they looked worse than last-gen Mass Effect games. Oddly enough, even without a patch, this issue seems to have mostly cleared up for me. I’m around 45 hours in and characters and environments look a lot better. I don’t see any facial clipping and textures look a lot more crisp and clear. I wonder if it had something to do with how the game was loading its artifacts during the first playthrough.

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I realize that at this point I sound like so many of the game’s detractors, but it’s partially because these issues seem mostly present in the first stretch of the game, and partially because I expected better of BioWare. In general, I very much like the game. I wish I’d had the ability to create a better looking Joey Ryder (why can’t I have an actual beard, like in Dragon Age: Inquisition?), but I’m definitely invested in my character and am forming strong attachments to my team. I haven’t fallen for someone as hard as I did for Morrigan of Dragon Age or Bastila of Knights of the Old Republic, but I’m having fun being flirty with Peebee. She’s smart and cute and spunky, so I imagine she’ll end up being my main squeeze. I’ll have more to say when I’ve played more, but I’m enjoying it a lot and foresee at least a few dozen more hours of planetary hopping about.

1-2 Switch

For as much hate as Mass Effect: Andromeda has gotten, I’m surprised at how little hate 1-2 Switch has gotten. Well, I don’t know if it deserves hate, exactly, but it deserves some criticism for its lack of depth and hefty price tag, I think. When it was first announced I was convinced it would be packed in with the system. When it wasn’t, I thought Nintendo would use the variable pricing of many Switch games and charge like $30-35 for it. When I saw that it was a full $50, I thought it might be a far more developed and fleshed-out game than I had originally envisioned. Nope. Just a collection of mini-games. Some of the mini-games are fun, sure, and it’s a great game to have to highlight the local multiplayer aspect of the system, but some of the mini-games don’t seem to work as well as they should, and some are just boring. You might have made the same claims about Wii Sports, but packing a game in with the system forgives many sins. I’m glad I have the game, and I look forward to playing with people who have never played it before, but I don’t expect to get much mileage out of it, and that makes $50 far too high of a price tag.

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I also have three 2017 games that I’m itching to play: Persona 5NieR: Automata, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’ve heard many great things about all three, most especially Breath of the Wild, which seems to be destined for a hundred Game of the Year awards. I have an exciting summer ahead of me, it seems.

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I’ve also just gotten around to playing a couple of 2016 games recently, so I’ll throw in some thoughts about those as well.

Street Fighter V

I have a spotty history with the Street Fighter series. Street Fighter II was one of my favorite SNES games, and I loved Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the original PlayStation, but many of the games in between just didn’t grab me. They often felt either too familiar or too new. I know, I know. Pick a side, right? When Street Fighter IV was announced, I thought the art style looked a little too goofy, but I figured I’d give the series another chance. After playing it, well, I still thought the art style was a little too goofy (I really hate when characters have gigantic feet, for one), but the fighting was pretty great. Street Fighter V keeps the art style, sadly, and the fighting is… mostly the same. I’m not a fighting game aficionado, though, so maybe I’m missing some nuanced mechanics or something. The new villain, Necalli, is terrible and I cringe every time he opens his mouth. I very much disliked how limited the roster was, especially because they make obtaining other characters a case of buying them as DLC or earning ranks in the online mode. Neither of those sat well with me. I was glad to have Chun-Li and Cammy, but I wished Akuma and Crimson Viper were in the core line-up. The story mode was weak until they added the free DLC version, which was actually pretty decent. I don’t know how often I’ll go back to the game, though. My crush on Chun-Li was once again reignited, though, and it inspired me to consider future short blog posts about various video game crushes I’ve had/have. But we’ll see.

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Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Fortune

My first instinct is to begin my discussion of this game with a sort of embarrassed apology, but two things: 1) I’m not writing this for anyone other than myself, and 2) I know that this instinct comes from how the culture that shaped me treats sexuality, which is to hide it and be ashamed of it. I fight against that urge every chance I get, for many reasons, but that’s for a different entry, perhaps. I understand that this game hypersexualizes its female characters, and there are some problematic issues with gender throughout it, but I enjoy it and I’m not ashamed of that.

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This is the game that I wanted to play when I bought the first Xtreme game, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, for the original Xbox. That entry and its sequel were, to me, too difficult, mostly because they imposed a time limit on how much you could get done before you’d have to start all over again. There was no way you could build up a collection of items and bathing suits because you could only make enough money to buy a handful of things before you had to start a new vacation and go back to not having anything. Xtreme 3 fixes that, allowing you to carry over all of your money and items to a new vacation, which makes getting rare or expensive swimsuits much easier. The mini-games feel balanced in this game, too, which is another definite improvement, specifically when it comes to the volleyball. It’s the core of the game and I never felt like it was very much fun or rewarding until this entry. The graphics seem a little lackluster for this generation, but they’re pretty good overall. And, speaking of video game crushes, I have a new one, thanks to this game. Momiji is the best. I’m actually considering getting the newer Ninja Gaiden games just to be able to play her in a cool combat role. I am in love. Don’t judge me, non-existent reader! But I digress.

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As I said, I may end up writing about these in more detail over the summer, but I am going to try and write a little about every game that I play from now on. I want to capture initial impressions and thoughts for later use. And I’ll have a lot to capture soon, it seems. Not a bad predicament to be in, I’d say.

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