Well that was indeed another year. When we look back at 2020 from a gaming (and not purely cursed hellfire) perspective, two major things will stand out. First, we'll remember just how important getting lost in a game during this incredibly weird and depressing decade of a year was. From Animal Crossing to Hades, there were plenty of games to help forget the world with. Despite becoming a new parent at the tail end of 2019, I still managed to surpass my previous record for games played in a year with a whopping 90+ games played this year probably due to not really being able to leave the house for 9 months. Aside from that, we'll also remember the release of the next-gen of consoles with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S and X and the epic hunts to get them.
It appears the days of consoles launching with cutesy mascots may be long over. Sure, the PlayStation 5 comes pre-loaded with the delightfully nostalgic tech showcase Astro's Playroom, but the real console exclusive that has people trying to get their hands on one of these elusive wonders is Bluepoint's remake of FromSoftware's Demon's Souls. At last, those without access to the Souls game that started it all way back on the PS3 can experience this intriguing historical document of a game that laid much of the foundation for the far more heralded Dark Souls trilogy. It both feels somewhat old as many of the constructs found within have reappeared multiple times in the ensuing decade plus of Soulsborne titles but also thrillingly new as massive improvements to graphical fidelity, frame rates (a Souls game running at a consistent 60 fps might be the most impressive thing Sony has ever done), and that wonderful haptic feedback the PS5 controller is becoming known for. While I may not have found myself slamming my head against the wall out of frustration like most Soulsborne games are notorious for (I suffered a mere 79 deaths versus the thousand or so I usually do, but I mainly attribute this to that smooth frame rate and tons of prior Souls experience), I still found myself completely absorbed in the fog-covered world of Boletaria, loving learning how one of my favorite genres of games got its start.
Despite the evil forces of the bot gods and crashing websites being aligned against me, I managed to score pre-orders for both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S thanks to my impeccable skills at refreshing web pages incessantly. The next-gen is here for me at last, and it's pretty damn glorious. Fortunately for my general well-being, I do have a wife and kid or else this week off for Thanksgiving where I got to really dive deep into my new beautiful gaming children may have seen me officially become one with my KILLABEE chair. There's a lot to love about both new consoles, and it's still far too early to know where they'll land in the all-time gaming pantheon, so the point of this post is merely to talk about what I've noticed about the two machines and not overly compare the two (especially since that's a more apt exercise for the Xbox Series X).
As I waded through the gaming doldrums of the past few months in preparation for the imminent release of the next generation of consoles, it seemed like as good a time as any to revisit some of my personal favorites that helped define the last two generations of gaming, Naughty Dog's high-flying, treasure hunting Uncharted series. The globe-trotting exploits of the self-proclaimed descendent of Sir Francis Drake have held a special place in my heart because they truly embody my belief that video games can be so much more than just mindless action. They can also be one of the highest forms of entertainment and storytelling - two tenants that the series has really helped usher into the mainstream over the last 15 years. After several years away, I was excited to spend a month or so revisiting my old friends like the womanizer with a heart of gold, Sully, and Elena, the tenacious reporter who just might be the only one capable of calling out our main protagonist Nathan Drake on his bullshit. However, simply enjoying them wouldn't be nearly productive enough, so, naturally, I decided it was time to definitively rank them all through a combination of both gut feeling and 11 carefully crafted categories that epitomize what an Uncharted game should be.
The most overwhelming year in recent memory has been kind of an underwhelming one in gaming with an abundance of good games (Ghost of Tsushima, Streets of Rage 4), plenty of masterful remakes/remasters that deal in nostalgia over establishing something revolutionary (Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Final Fantasy VII Remake), and a few big shots that just missed out on greatness (sobbing uncontrollably in the general direction of The Last of Us: Part II). While this is to be expected as game companies seem more focused on kicking off the next-gen due in November than making the final year of the current-gen's dominance all that memorable, it's still a tad disappointing. Thankfully, the team of superstars at Super Giant games decided to change all that by releasing the first truly remarkable gaming experience of 2020 with their clinic on how to make roguelikes accessible and fun for all known as Hades. In lesser hands, Hades might have just been a slick indie that gets people excited for a week or two and moves out of the collective memory, but under the careful toiling of the creators of two of my personal favorites, Bastion and Pyre, it manages to crack the roguelike code by making death the best part of the game.
The skateboarding/reliving your adolescence sim known as the remastered Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 released at 9:00 PM on September 3rd. At approximately 9:01 PM, one whole musical note into the Guerrilla Radio scored hype video kicking off the game, I found that I was 14 years old again and ready to shred. This remaster is somehow more than we had any right to even hope for. It exists as a nostalgia bomb that feels both entirely new and completely familiar at the same time because it truly has managed to get wiser as it got older. Perhaps most importantly, though, it's also the ultimate excuse to revisit that tiny streak of rebellion the originals bestowed upon this former President of the mathletes that could only come from such a glorious Punk and Ska filled soundtrack, and it gave my aging self another chance to keep searching for that one, perfect line to skate.
My expectations going in to the final first-party PS4 release, Sucker Punch's Ghost of Tsushima, were kept to a relative minimum. I just wanted to spend a few hours exploring the island for pretty screenshots of samurai fun. While within minutes I was able to confirm this relatively simple goal would be easily achievable, I … Continue reading Pictures From My Time as the Ghost of Tsushima
Without a moment's hesitation, I can say that my favorite game of all time is Naughty Dog's 2013 masterpiece The Last of Us. It's a beautiful tale of crushing loss and survival in a zombie-ravaged future that is filled with an overwhelming sense of dread in every crevice but also manages to contain moments of unparalleled beauty. While the series could have easily ended with the first game's heartbreaking finale (more on that later), the mega-hit was clearly always going to get a sequel. So how do you possibly follow-up the greatest game of all-time, and how will that game play out when it coincidentally releases in the midst of a global pandemic? The answer, it turns out, is quite complicated.
I can vividly remember tearing through issues of Gamepro and Electronic Gaming Monthly back in 1998 trying to piece together just what this crazy looking game, Metal Gear Solid, was going to be. The images were unlike anything I'd seen before, and the idea of a stealth game seemed like an extremely foreign concept to me. After months of waiting breathlessly, I was thrilled to finally dive in on the day that my pre-ordered copy arrived at the local Babbage's at last. Over the ensuing months, I didn't just play the game; I devoured it - running through it four times in fairly quick succession until I had every last nook, cranny, and terrorist deeply implanted into my brain. The promises of those magazine articles had come to fruition, and everything from the crazy uses of the camera to the seemingly endless cinematics, heavy mature rating, and meta-nature of it all felt absolutely revolutionary to my 13-year-old self.
Apparently gaming in 2020 is the year of FromSoftware for me, as the first half which already included Bloodborne and Sekiro has now added 2016's Dark Souls 3 to the mix. Perhaps it was Soulsborne fatigue, or maybe it was all that's changed in the 4 years since it came out, but I found DS3 to be my least favorite of all the Soulsborne titles so far (still TBD on Dark Souls 2 and Demon Souls). Overall it was still a very solid game that provided plenty of fun smashing giant bosses with massive greatswords for 50 or so hours, but it played more like a refined Dark Souls than anything that had something new to say. Lacking the foreboding atmosphere and trick weapons of Bloodborne and the incredible precision of Sekiro, DS3 felt oddly dated and almost a little rough, while also lacking the sense of wonder and amazement that makes that first trek through the original Dark Souls so memorable. Fortunately, though, DS3 manages to pick itself up from some early game stumbles and really gets rolling around the halfway mark, maintaining a high level of consistency throughout the rest of the main game and two excellent DLC packs.