Saturday, January 25, 2020
Jedi Fallen Order
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
A long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far far away video game audiences were inundated with games that explored and expanded on the Star Wars universe in a meaningful and at the time canonical way. But as we have learned time and time again: all good things must end. And end it did when Disney bought Lucasfilm, and relegated the once revered LucasArts to nothing but a mobile developer. The house of mouse signed a ten year deal with Electronic Arts but the single player story driven saber filled adventure everyone was expecting was still nearly six years away. EA's handling of the Star Wars license since 2013 has left a lot to be desired, but despite it's many, MANY flaws Jedi: Fallen Order is a big step in the right direction even if that step forward is largely reliant on the past.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. I played through Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order late last year and while it was good I feel like a lot of people are overly excited about a new Star Wars game that is anything but disappointing at launch and are reviewing it a bit to favorably. So this week I bring you my managed thoughts on the game that some people are already calling the best game of the generation, let's talk about Fallen Order.
This video may contain spoilers.
Gameplay is the real temptation of a Star Wars game. We all see Jedi use the force and wield their lightsabers, bounty hunters jetpacking through cities, podracers racing at life and death speeds, and droids…being built, and we wanna do those things! We all want a taste of what's it's like to use the force, carry a light saber, and win a podrace. And that desire is what naturally leads Star Wars to video games. The gameplay of Fallen Order is the reason I finished the game. It provides a level of polish that is expected of a much more experienced development studio and utilizes and weaves together sophisticated mechanics with a level of precision that I feel comfortable calling nearly best in class.
Combat feels punchy and satisfying, moving quickly but not sacrificing its weightiness for that sense of speed. Combat is really only bogged down by some incomprehensible difficulty spikes like Oggdo Bogdo and the bounty hunter gauntlet. Exploration is enthralling, reminiscent of the Metroid prime games allowing the player to canvas each planet at their leisure and unlocking additional areas through new force abilities as the player progresses. The only hindrance to the exportability of the planets of Fallen Order is the map with which the player is supposed to navigate those planets. I legitimately would have preferred to not have any map at all, it caused nothing but confusion. While both the combat and exploration can be frustrating they make up for those moments (or sometimes hours) of difficulty with even more hours of pure unadulterated excellence.
Like I said, the gameplay is the reason I finished the game, I certainly didn’t finish it for the story, and the characters were very hit and miss. I don’t like to be this reductionist but the story of Fallen Order is just stupid. The plot revolves around a macguffin device that is said to contain a list of force sensitive children that will help to rebuild the Jedi Order, that Cal and Cere only realize the true potential of after they’ve spent the entire game pursuing it. The cast of characters hop from planet to planet in pursuit of this plot device of an object only to destroy it once they’ve finally gotten their hands on it. The reasoning for their destroying the Jedi Holocron is sound, but it was already stored in a clearly very safe place that took them weeks of searching and planet hopping to unlock. I was left thinking that if only Cal and Cere had had their revelation that maybe pursuing a list of children that were prime candidates to be inducted into a child militia wasn’t the most ethical quest in history prior to their starting said quest they could have been saved a lot of trouble.
Almost in spite of it's stupid story Fallen Order manages to deliver some of the best and worst Star Wars characters of the Disney era. Cal Kestas is a bland and generic feeling protagonist that feels as though went through a sort of creative tug of war between being a blank slate for the player to project themselves onto and a unique character for the new canon of Star Wars lore. What results of this creative struggle is a character that is neither. Cal looks to distinct and has to much personality that prevented me from ever envisioning myself as him but all his emotions and reactions felt toned down in a way that he was never compelling me to become invested in him or anything around him…he's just meh. Jedi master Cere on the other hand in my opinion fell victim to the same money motivated political plot armor that so many other Disney characters have in recent years. I don’t want to get to political on this show but I am absolutely interested in seeing new compelling characters added to the Star Wars universe and I don’t give two shits about their gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other arbitrary differences. Those things aren't what makes up the fiber or a person and they certainly aren't what makes a character in a story deep or engaging. Cere is a character whose story showed potential but then that potential was squashed by her being impervious to having any major flaws or personal struggles to overcome.
Then there's Trilla. Trilla is exactly what Cere, and Rey, and Captain Marvel, and every other character who seems to be shielded from any sense of imperfection so as not to cast certain demographics in a less than perfect light is not. Trilla is a well thought out character with a genuinely interesting personal conflict that we see unfold and change who she is and how she behaves throughout the course of the game. Her character design is ominous and slowly devolves into a look of unhinged madness making her appear even more physically imposing but in a different more psychotic way. Her voice acting is excellent, and her physical prowess is obviously a threat without being flawless. Trilla is an amazing villain and in my opinion the best female character of the Disney era of Star Wars because the writers treated her as a character that just so happened to be a woman.
And finally at the end of the game we get a short cameo from Darth Vader. Vader appears on the scene and immediately his overwhelming power is felt and demonstrated. Where Cal and the player have been training over the course of the entire game Vader shows up and teaches the player that no matter how good you are at the game sometimes it’s the midi-chlorian count that really matters in a fight. When considering his appearance in comics, Rebels, Rogue One, and now this Vader has been treated with the reverence and honor that the entire series should have been given. Vader is the one part of Star Wars that Disney has yet to miss on.
From a visual and performance perspective the game fairs about as well as it does in the story department. To put it simply: there is no excuse for this game to look the way it does. Over the course of my play through on a PS4 pro I was constantly seeing dropped frames, texture pop in, and in some cases even textures refusing to load altogether. When I picked up the Kyber crystal and held it in my hand the textures just didn’t load resulting in something that looked more akin to an early PS2 game. I am amazed that Respawn was able to pressure EA into letting them develop using a graphics engine that wasn’t frostbite then opted to use unreal when they have three games worth of experience developing in source! It is honestly a shame that the game plays so incredibly well yet looks so…not good.
Despite my complaining my overall experience with Jedi: Fallen Order was a good one. The game relies heavily on the nostalgia of early 2000's Star Wars games. It runs the same play that so many games from the prequel era did: take a good game and slap a Star Wars skin on it. In this case that good game was Dark Souls. Respawn tried their hand at making their own Dark Souls game, cranked the difficulty way down, then put it in the context of Star Wars. And I don’t mean to sound like I think any of this is bad, in fact these are all good things! The formula of replicating a successful game then putting it in the Star Wars universe was a good one fifteen to twenty years ago and it's still a good one today. Personally I hope EA or whoever handles the Star Wars license after the EA deal is up keeps doing what Respawn has done with Jedi: Fallen Order, because it made for a pretty good game and a huge step in the right direction for Star Wars games as a whole.
What were your thoughts on Fallen Order and why am I wrong and you're unsubbing right now? Let me know in the comments down below! Don’t forget to check out everything we do all in one spot over ColdNorthPro.com and that includes both of our podcasts! Ill be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games.
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
Independent developers make up one of the fastest growing groups pushing out some of the most creative ideas in all of gaming. For the most part indie games are unpolished, not great to look at, and lacking of the more clear understanding of how to execute on what drives a good experience with a game. But that’s all perfectly okay because the indie scene serves two purposes. First it functions as a place for aspiring developers to cut their teeth and learn the ropes before taking their ideas up to the big leagues. And Second the inherently smaller audience that comes with the indie scene allows for developers to pursue the types of games they want to make as opposed to whatever flavor of the week the publisher overlords are pursuing on any given day. But on the rarest of occasions we get an indie game that hits both the indie level of creativity and the triple A level of polish and completeness making for some seriously memorable experiences. Untitled Goose Game is a shockingly unique experience with the uncanny ability to appeal to and be loved by almost anyone, the game is a breath of fresh air that can only come from an indie studio and easily a new contender for the unspoken title "King of the Indies."
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Several weeks ago I couldn’t help but succumb to the temptation of the Honk so I bought and played Untitled Goose Game, let's talk about it.
For the uninitiated Untitled Goose Game is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It's a game where you play as a goose and it doesn’t have a title. The premise of the game is simple, if you’ve ever had an interaction with a goose you will know that geese are real jerks and are basically always out trying to cause the most amount of mischief possible while still being seen in a positive light by the general public. Geese are jerks and this game is a jerk simulator. Untitled Goose Game puts the player in the role of a goose causing trouble in a sleepy English village while trying to steal yet another bell for it's stash. The goose is a thief and not a good person and it should be treated as such.
Alright alright on the surface goose game is a game about being a goose but what that really is is an extremely clever disguise for a puzzle game. The Developer House House uses this setting and anti-hero to string together a series of puzzles that are easily believable as those that might trouble a real goose throughout his daily life. Just like real life the gooses goals range from the simple like "get the groundskeeper wet" to the more complex like "steal a pint glass and drop it in the canal" but the beauty of all of these objectives is that they are each their own individual puzzle to be solved using the environment around the goose.
Goose game is really good, like really really good. But what is it that makes the game so good and deserving of not only my but so many other peoples praise? Well it's actually a combination of a few different things. The game functions as a master class in curving the difficulty of gameplay. At the outset of the game the player and the goose possess all the abilities they will have throughout, the game will get no more complex or intricate through new abilities making the goose's development be purely based on the players understanding of the puzzles presented to them. In the first area of the game the player is given menial tasks like "Get into the garden" or the infamous "rake in the lake." These tasks are simple enough and fairly uninvolved when it comes to interpreting and figuring out what the game wants before carrying that out. But as the game progresses so does the complexity of the tasks perfectly matching the pace at which the players understand of the games intricacies develop until eventually the player is doing things like "drop a bucket on the burly man's head" and "be awarded a flower" with as much understanding and efficiency as the earlier tasks.
And not only is the difficulty curve masterfully crafted and well pace but the actual content of the puzzles is incredibly well done as well. Not only is the player never spending to long doing any one particular thing but just before any area starts to feel worn out or overused the game shuffles the player along into the next area leaving me at least with nothing but good memories of every area. Geese have a lot of mischief to make and a lot of places to make it.
And that mischief is the final ingredient in the recipe of what makes goose game so enjoyable. The game is just straight up funny and that funniness is constant. The humor doesn’t come and go in waves but is consistently giving its audience a reason to grin or chuckle slightly. While there's really only one big laugh in the game that comes as the end of a well tuned crescendo the entire game is funny to the point that looking back on how often I was doing something I thought was funny its easy to consider the game hilarious.
I don’t consider this a perfect game and based on reviews I don’t think many other people do. But what seems to be the biggest complaint held against it by many reviewers is the length. Critics and audiences alike seem to be saying that the game is to short which is understandable as it's only natural to want more of a good thing. But I don’t agree with this sentiment, I don’t think the game's length is something to be held against it, in fact I think that the short length of the game is indicative of House House being a developer that knows when to say stop. The main to do list takes just a couple of hours and the to do as well list adds another couple hours onto that but at just 4-6 hours of gameplay this is a game that is ripe for some DLC adventures. The introduction of a few new puzzle areas with the inclusion possibly a cooperative mode with a Canadian goose friend is something I would pay more for than House House asked for the base game. Length is a difficult thing to get just right and while I don’t think goose game is the perfect length I do think it's always smarter to leave your audience hungry for more than it is to overstay ones welcome.
In a word goose game is fantastic. It is easily one of the most charming and enjoyable gaming experience I've had this year. Coming from a studio of just four people House House was able to make goose game the game they wanted it to be and what resulted was an indie title on par with the likes of Super Meat Boy, Hotline Miami, Journey, and Owlboy.
What do you guys think of the possibility of a goose game sequel and what would you want to see from it? Let me know in the comments down below. And while youre down there don’t forget to subscribe and click that bell icon for notifications to be sent to you whenever we post a new video. You can see everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com, Ill be back next week talking about the often forgot Crash Bandicoot game so until then just go play some games.
Personal Top 5
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
We made it! We have all take another trip around the sun and on that journey we got some really awesome new video games! Some games are fantastic some are disappointing and every year when we reach roughly this point in space where we were one year and one trip around the sun ago a bunch of people on youtube talk about what were the best games that came out this year. I think that’s a valuable conversation to have an we will absolutely be discussing that on HardReset sometime soon but this week we will be getting a little more personal, a bit more in depth in what I played this year.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. You can see everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. This week instead of doing the regular old best games of 2019 list I figured I would put a personal spin on it, so lets talk about the best games I played in 2019.
This list may contain spoilers.
I love Zelda and there are very few Zelda games I haven't played all the way through but this year I got the opportunity to tackle one of those small handful head on. Now I know you're all thinking Link's Awakening because that one came out just a few months ago and is an amazing game but that’s not the fifth best game I played this year.
The Legend of Zelda The Minish Cap is an absolutely stunning 2D Zelda adventure and one that somehow slipped past me when it was first released. Just like most Zelda games it has its own unique mechanic that makes for some incredibly interesting puzzles and does a lot to build on the lore of Hyrule. Not only is it one of the best games I played this year but I think this one might even be one of my favorite Zelda games period. And it wasn’t even developed by Nintendo. I really hadnt heard much about Minish Cap so as a result I wasn’t sure what to expect and what I got blew me away.
This past summer my wife went to visit her family and I took some PTO while she was gone. The combination of these two things resulted in my having a few days with nothing to do. I texted a friend of mine and asked if he would be interested in playing a co-op game together. We wound up playing through the entire Gears of War series over the course of several months and after all was said and done Gears of War 3 is the best.
Gears 3 is the pinnacle of the Gears of War franchise. The excellent combat and gameplay feels refined from the first two entries and combine that with a great story and the best visual aesthetic the games have had to date and what you're left with is Gears 3. Epic took all the good of the first two games and seemed to leave out all the bad then even added in four player co-op on top of it all. If you have to pick one Gears game to play make it Gears 3.
The first Resident Evil game I ever finished was RE7 on PSVR and that was enough to make me significantly more interested in the series. While I had dabled with a few of the previous games they all had something that was holding me back. Static cameras, tank controls, and in the case of RE6 just simply being a bad game stood in the way of those games winning me over. But Resident Evil 2 remake changed that.
RE2 remake is obviously exactly what Resident Evil was always supposed to be. Not only did Capcom finally achieve what they have been trying for since the late ninties but they completely changed what it means to be a remake forcing me for the first time ever to consider a remake in my game of the year contenders. RE2 remake features excellent controls, fantastic exploration, and most importantly gets the series back to the horror tone set in the first three games. THIS is the future of Resident Evil.
Video games are a medium in which anything new inherently comes with a huge amount of uncertainty. So for a developer and publisher to take a risk on a new IP and knock it out of the park is a rare sight. Earlier this year Remedy and 505 released Control a twilight zone/x-files type narrative adventure into the unknown.
Control sees the player control the main character through an atmosphere the likes of which have never been seen in any game previously. Gameplay is incredibly fun while at the same time being somewhat traditional and approachable. The story revolves around a federal beureau tasked with investigating and cataloging the paranormal keeping players guessing around every turn. Control is a game that I cant wait for more of and with it's arguably best of all time fourth wall break is easily my game of the year.
Now before we get to the best game I played this year I want to acknowledge the most disappointing game I played this year.
To change a proven formula is a monumental risk and is one that is almost never taken all at once for fear of losing an audience. While I applaud this sort of risk taking it doesn’t always work out. Like I said before I spent the whole summer playing through all the Gears of War games and in early September I couldn’t have been more excited to start Gears 5.
My excitement lasted through the first chapter of the second act then was quickly put out as the game came to a screeching halt when I entered the first open world area. Everything about the open areas of the second and third acts was so easy to hate. It was slow, empty, and felt utterly pointless to the story. And to top it all off as soon as the game got back to being a more traditional Gears experience the player is forced to make a story changing decision that sticks out like a sore thumb in a franchise that has never done this before. Gears 5 took some big risks that didn’t pay off and sadly could potentially have some dire consequences for future games in the series.
Sometimes we just aren't in the right mindset when approaching something for the first time. The reason I play games is to have fun and if I'm not having fun in some way then I don’t see it as a problem to put a game down and simply acknowledge that nothing will catch everyone's attention. This happened to me in October of 2018. One of the most anticipated games of all time was released and after putting about 10 hours into it I just wasn’t having fun. But months later I came back to Red Dead Redemption 2.
Throughout the game Rockstar tells a very slow story of a gang of outlaws who are for the most part good people doing bad things. But after the death of a moral counterweight their leader Dutch goes spiraling out of control. Red Redemption 2 is just as much about Dutch's fall into the pits of being a bad man as it is about Arthur's redemption to becoming a good man. Even knowing what happened in the end I was still incredibly invested in the story because at its core RDR2 is a character piece. In no other piece of media be it a book, movie, game, show, whatever have I ever burst into tears the way I did when Arthur went to ride back to camp to confront Dutch after giving everyone the opportunity to escape the gang. Not only do I regret not making Red Dead Redemption 2 my game of the year 2018 but it is definitely a contender for game of the generation.
So what do you think of my list? What are some of the best games you played this year and what are some games from years past I should play in 2020? Let me know in the comments down below. Don’t forget to check out everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games!
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
Over the past decade or so the accessibility to development tools for people to make their own small scale indie games has completely exploded. Where building a video game used to require an out of this world expensive development PC, a pricey software license, and a devkit to test on now it seems as though the biggest barrier to entry is the will. As the horsepower of consumer grade electronics has closed the gap between themselves and their "Pro" grade counterparts, devs have revamped their business models, and the audience has become larger allowing for more product to flourish in the market the indie development scene has grown. But we have finally reached what many see as a critical mass and game development itself has been gamified. Manfeld farm is an outstanding atmospheric horror experience that was even able to scare a horror veteral like myself, but whats even more impressive is the community of fledgling developers being cultivated by Dreams, from which the next Amy Hennig, Shigeru Miyamoto, or even Hideo Kojima could emerge.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Don’t forget to check out our website ColdNorthPro.com to see everything we do all in one spot. I played an indie game this week that both scared and impressed me in what can be created in just a matter of days. It was a new breed of indie game, one that I expect we will be seeing quite a bit of next generation. It was a game made entirely in Dreams. Lets talk about Manfeld Farm.
Full disclosure: Manfeld Farm was made by a friend of mine named Nathan Crumrine who is incredibly talented in so many ways. The game is a work in progress so if you decide to play it yourself your experience may differ from mine. I haven't been paid to make this video (believe me I tried) and all the thoughts and opinions I express are my own.
Manfeld Farm is an atmospheric thriller game with some jump scares peppered in. The story sees the player character Max arrive at his grandparents farmhouse late one night only to discover that they are no where to be found and he is to let himself inside as he will be spending the night here alone. The game's premise is explained almost immediately and all subsequent events and queues are explained via notes left around the farm by Max's grandfather for either himself or Max. While story telling and sheparding the player down the golden path is simple the rate at which vital information is doled out to the player shows to be an excellent tool in maintaining a sense of tension throughout the games 45 minute run time. As Max gets more and more information it seems as though the farm comes alive. Max's grandmother has made a hobby out of collecting dolls in her retirement and in his infinite wisdom Max's grandfather bought her six mannequins for a birthday present. As the player progresses through the game the mannequins come alive and begin to stalk Max in the horrifyingly empty way that only a mannequin possibly could. Story is simple and vague but that feels intentional as it contributes in an excellent way to the feeling of fear and loneliness the player is meant to experience.
Gameplay is equally simple but intentionally so. Movement feels like a very basic variation on how we have come to expect to move throughout a three dimensional space in a game over the last few decades and in no way looks to be reinventing the wheel. Mechanically the game revolves around using context clues left around the farm and some that appear as the player progresses. A note left on the fridge directs the player to a drawer in the kitchen where they can find the garage door opener allowing them to unlock new areas within the map to furhter unravel what is happening on the farm. Simple but effective. When the mannequins come alive they move at a rate at which they can easily be outrun allowing the player to ease into a false sense of security that is quickly shattered by some careful placement of mannequins as well as a limiting and disorienting field of view making traveling through certain parts of the farm feel claustrophobic and almost never ending. The developers choice to not give the player any means of fighting back adds to the sense of helplessness and desperation making the game feel more urgent and foreboding.
One of the stand out features of Manfeld Farm is the farm itself. Not only does it make logical sense being a farm and actually showing the player what is farmed there but it also plays into the story by being an interesting setting with a wide variety of opportunity to weave the story in and out of. While it may have felt a bit baron and empty the fact that there were separate buildings for the house, garage, shed, and barn did a lot to counteract the more styleized graphics dilluting the sense of fear. And the limited draw distance never letting the player see to far ahead of themselves expertly emulates the feeling of being outside in the country completely removed from the light pollution of any city and how horrifying that situation can be.
But just like anything else Manfeld farm is in no way perfect. While the setting was expertly crafted and everything made logical sense the antagonists did not. A group of mannequins are simply out of their element on a farm. As soon as I read the word mannequins on a note Max's grandfather left him I knew that those mannequins would be what would be scaring me throughout the game. As excellent as the setting was it would have better served a sequel in which the mannequins had already been established as the "villains" and this first outing would have played out better in a department store or something of the sort. While there were undoubtedly clues moving the player along from one step to the next there were multiple times when those clues simply didn’t make any sense. To be a bit more on the nose with pushing the player along would run the risk of breaking immersion but would, in my opinion, lead to significantly less frustrated walking around not knowing what to do next. And finally the controls. Like I had mentioned before the controls are so incredibly standard that when I wound up in the pond I didn’t even think to press a button to submerge and assumed that I couldn’t. A very simple on screen prompt to notify the player that they can swim underwater would help a lot in that part of the game. All of these changes are fairly simple to make and I hope could be incorporated into a sequel that I would be very interested to play…Manfeld Mall perhaps?
But this is all a part of a larger narrative revolving around Dreams as a whole right now. Before Dreams Nathan had absolutely zero experience in game development and now he has made a whole game and helped to collaborate on another. As we approach the next generation of consoles there needs to be a larger push from both Sony and Media Molecule to secure the future of Dreams as a development tool. The game needs to get a PS5 release with additional features and tools and it also needs a mac and PC release for those Dreamers that are wanting to take their creating to the next level. Ultimately Dreams is a gateway drug into larger and more respected development tools and it makes game development more accessible to the masses. Manfeld Farm is one of dozens if not hundreds of games from developers that show real promise whom we would have never heard of if it weren't for dreams.
So what are your thoughts on Dreams and where do you think Media Molecule will take it after the february 2020 release? Let me know in the comments down below. Don’t forget to check out our website ColdNorthPro.com to see everything we do all in one spot. And if you want to play Manfeld Farm or the other game Nathan has made you can find links to those in the description down below. I will be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games.
Nintendo Switch Lite
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
In 1983 the video game industry crashed. In 1985 Nintnedo was practically giving the NES to retailers. In order to get customers to even consider buying the NES it was marketed not as a video game console but as a toy. As a result of this marketing the widely accepted perception was that while yes video games were making a bit of a comeback they were really only for kids. As the story goes in 1979 Gunpei Yokoi saw a businessman on a train playing with an LCD calculator to pass the time, this observation birthed the game and watch series of products. In 1989 the natural evolution of the game and watch came to fruition: the Gameboy, a handheld portable console with the capability to play interchangeable cartridges. Suddenly video games were still for kids but with more and more adults from all walks of life playing they were more for the kid within us all. The Switch Lite iterates on and better realizes Nintendo's concept of a home console on the go than its predecessor, despite its reduced feature set the Switch Lite offers up a handheld experience that is so far superior to its larger counterpart that it has me and I'm sure thousands of other people experiencing that reconnection with yesteryear in a way not seen since 1989.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Earlier this year I got what is the most Gameboy like successor to the Gameboy that there has been since the original Gameboy Advance and in a way that I was absolutely not expecting it's so much better than I ever could have hoped. So lets talk about the Nintendo Switch Lite.
In the mid aughts companies that were making personal electronics made a huge leap in industrial design turning those products we remember as gigantic hunks of plastic into the sleek aesthetically pleasing handhelds we know today. Granted the transition from something like the Gamegear to the Galaxy Note 10 didn’t happen over night. The two products that I personally credit as being the catalyst for the shift in design are the iPod and the Gameboy Advance SP. These two products changed portable devices from toys into consumer electronics. The sleek form factor, high quality build materials, and muted more mature colors proved to be trend setters that still dictate design choices in the products we use most today. The Gameboy Advance SP served as a precursor to the DS and more importantly the DS Lite which is the era in which Nintendo handheld's started to feel more grown up and adult, a stark contrast to the bright colors and child like wonder brought on by the software they ran.
In a way the DS serves as the point of separation for Nintendo handhelds. Design emphasis' shifted from fun and exciting to focused and refined. To be clear Neither of these are a bad choice just radically different. Gone were the default fun and wild colors and in their stead was the standard silver, black, and white. Gone was the slab design proudly displaying the pinkish buttons and the words "Nintendo Game Boy" below the screen for everyone to see, Nintendo instead opting for a sleek clamshell design with a subtle DS logo made up of two rectangles being the only visible branding when closed. Our world was more on the move than ever with new technologies allowing people to be constantly working from anywhere they chose. Times had changed and Nintendo was changing with them.
So for the last 14 years we've dealt with business Nintendo. The GBA SP and original DS were both introduced to the world in silver, the standard DS Lite was a bright white very reminiscent of apple, and since then there have been different more varied colors presented as the default but nothing even close to the days of the atomic purple Gameboy Color, Indigo Gameboy Advance, and Spice Orange Gamecube. While there was a hint of those bright colors at the launch of the original switch with the neon joycon they were still attached to the drab black system. The Switch Lite harkens back to the Gameboy in so many ways. A slab design with controls on either side of the screen reminiscent of the Gameboy Advance, unapologetically in your face color options like those of the Gameboy Color, and contrasting bright white buttons and control sticks all make the Switch Lite almost more of a successor to the original GBA than it is to the Switch.
For a long time now personal electronics have been about getting work done and have been designed in a way that communicates that. For an even longer time Nintendo has been a company focused on making games and creating fun but with the acceleration of mobile work being done I think they felt pressure to disguise their gaming devices as something that at a glance could be some sort of productivity tool. Well I am happy to say the Switch Lite took that design mentality and threw it out the window. The Switch Lite is shamelessly a toy. It comes it two bright colors and one more muted boring one, the rugged plastic features a nice matte finish that is resistant to scratches and scuffs but when it does get them wears them like a badge of honor rather than a blemish to be hidden away. The Switch Lite is tough, where I would always put my standard Switch in a case when leaving the house I didn’t even bother to buy a case for my Switch Lite. And doing away with the hinge from the DS family makes it feel less sophisticated and infinitely less delicate than any of those except of course the 2DS.
Hardware wise the Switch Lite is almost identical to its older brother to a fault. Internally you'll find the exact silicon, and a similar battery but unfortunately the same joystick module as the joycon which has already led to reports of joycon drift in a device without detachable joycon's. You'll also be hard pressed to find the hardware used to output the image from the Swtich to a TV via a standard docking unit making this particular iteration of the Switch a handheld only device. I'm still holding out hope for some sort of pro dock that implements the docking hardware for the Lite and some sort of upscaler or anti aliasing hardware for all switch models that can be sold in lieu of a switch pro. So in handheld mode the Switch lite performs admirably. Actual game performance is indistinguishable from that of the standard switch and battery life is slightly better than in the original switch, surely a result of the smaller screen). Overall the Switch Lite feels so good to play on and is so much more of an appropriate size for a handheld game system it just makes the form factor of the standard Switch both look and feel like a prototype that should have never come to market whereas the Lite feels like a finished product.
For years Nintendo has had both home console and handheld offerings. In 2017 Nintendo released the Switch and pitched it as the successor to the Wii U saying they would continue to support the 3DS. Two years later the 3DS is all but dead and being replaced by a handheld only Switch. The Switch was never the successor to the Wii U it was just Nintendo finally achieving what they have been working towards for literally decades: having a handheld offering with the capability to play it on the TV.
Since the introduction of the PlayStation in 1994 Nintendo has struggled with the home console market. With the exception of the Wii they haven't been able to come out on top of a home console generation since the SNES but while they've struggled in the living room they've been the undisputed champ of handhelds. So it's only natural that Nintendo tries to prune the branches of their business that are struggling and focus on the one that has always been dominant. First there was the Super Gameboy, then a similar product for the N64, during the GameCube era they sold the Gameboy player to wild success, and the Wii U was arguably a proof of concept for the Switch. Nintendo has slowly been working towards merging the two branches of their business into one and finally achieved it with the Switch. But after the introduction of the Switch the question remained on everyone's mind: is this the start of the ninth generation of consoles nearly four years early or is it the next generation of handheld? In my mind the Switch Lite answers that question.
I have always played my Switch almost exclusively in handheld mode but the complete exclusion of the docked mode from the Switch Lite says to me that Nintendo thinks of the Switch first and foremost as a handheld device. Which makes much more sense if you think about it contextually with regard to the timing of everything else. The 3DS was a massive success selling more than 75 million units worldwide making it a prime candidate for a successor and being released in 2011 was due for one. The Wii U was introduced one year earlier than the Xbox One and the PS4 yet was being replaced four years earlier than those? And for two full console generations now Nintendo has seemed unconcerned with competing in the same way that Sony and Microsoft do. The transition to being a handheld only company has been a long time coming and the Switch Lite solidifies that being one of their best handheld offerings to date.
Switch brought Nintendo back into everyone's mindshare by offering a handheld secondary gaming experience that was marketed at adults as opposed to children. Switch Lite takes the work done by the Switch one step further and not only solidifies Nintendo's existence as a handheld gaming company but also takes cues from the Gameboy family and isn't afraid to present itself as what it is: a toy. Throughout the eighties and nineties and even into the early aughts Nintendo built a reputation as a whimsical toy company on par with Disney, but as they moved along with trends they seemed to, at least on a the hardware side, lose their sense of identity. The Switch Lite is Nintendo in full force embracing their roots and owning who they are: the best god damn toy company in the world.
Did you buy a Switch Lite? If you did let me know what color you chose and why in the comments down below. If you didn’t I'd like to know what's holding you back. If you liked what you heard don’t forget to subscribe while you're down there so you don’t miss any of our video essays or podcasts every week. You can see everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next week talking about the Goose that has taken the gaming world by storm so until then just go play some games.
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
The major hardware developers are constantly looking to push the envelope and fundamentally change the way we play games. Microsoft did it when they built the Xbox 360 from the ground up to be an online centered experience, Sony did it when they crammed what was nearly the power of the PlayStation 2 into your pocket just four years after the launch of the original PS2, and Nintendo is constantly reinventing the wheel with varying degrees of success. But one innovation that seems to be an almost certainty at this point is game streaming. Microsoft is focusing on streaming with project Xcloud, and Google has even entered the industry relying on a fully streaming offering. But the player that has had the capability to stream games directly to your living room longer than anyone else has been Sony. As we hurdle toward a game streaming future Sony has taken a different approach entirely by offering a complimentary service to the traditional gaming experience as opposed to trying to replace what is already functioning almost perfectly.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Sony finally convinced me to sub to their game streaming service PlayStation now and after about a month of having it available to me on my PlayStation I've got some thoughts, so lets talk about PSnow.
Quick disclaimer here: I may sound like I'm bashing one service or another but if you start to think that just know that I love Gamepass and think it is an amazing service that has absolutely disrupted the industry in an incredible way over the last two years. Competition is king because that’s whats best for all of us so I will cheer on any company that forces the others to compete and that’s what this video is about.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this week's topic lets just bring everyone who may not know the specifics of PSnow up to speed. In the middle of 2012 Sony acquired Gaikai a forward thinking games streaming service for the cool price of $380m. As the seventh generation of consoles was coming to a close at the time of this acquisition it was obvious that this was an acquisition to be utilized in Sony's upcoming console that was at the time presumably called the PlayStation 4. In late 2014 the public finally got their hands on PSnow and the reception was lackluster to say the least. I remember very clearly hearing about the concept and saying to my roommate at the time that this was just going to end up being another subscription bill that I see as a must have similar to Netflix. I was a big believer in PSnow from the start but the monetization model at launch made it less of the "Netflix of gaming" and more just a pitiful substitute for true backwards compatibility.
When the service officially launched in late 2014 it wasn’t a single monthly fee for all you can play like I had naively imagined it would be, it was more of a rental service in which you paid a few dollars to rent the right to stream the game for a limited amount of time. Thankfully this didn’t last long and they moved to a slightly less insane but still overpriced model that did fulfill the all you can play dream but at a price that was abhorrently high for the games the service had to offer. After settling into this prohibitive pricing structure the service would remain there for years looking as though it had fallen into the no mans land of forgotten Sony projects of which the PSvita is the mayor. But recently the service has had some new life breathed into it. In September of 2018 Sony announced that they were bringing the capability to download the PS2 and PS4 games offered on the service to the console drastically improving the overall experience for those titles. And then in early October in what Sony themselves said was a direct response to their competition they cut the price significantly.
As it stands now PSnow is an all you can play service that offers nearly 900 games spanning three generations of PlayStation. Players can stream PS2, PS3, and PS4 games and have the option to download PS2 and PS4 games. PSnow can be used on a PS4 and a PC both requiring the use of DualShock 4 but both platforms having wireless options for connectivity available to them. And all this can be done for one low monthly price. Man that last paragraph has me thinking I should really consider a career as an infomercial guy.
But anyway this is all great in theory but one of the main reasons that PSnow didn’t catch on when it first launched and one of the main reasons people are still hesitant to adopt streaming platforms is because it's a much less reliable technology than just running the game locally. If the technology doesn’t provide a passable experience for the premium then there is no sense in paying. When Sony first moved the service into the monthly subscription model I used a free seven day trial to see how it worked and while my internet conditions weren't ideal they were better than a lot of the PS4 userbase has available to them and back then in 2015 the service was down right unusable. It was slow to connect, low res, choppy, and the latency was something I found myself actively correcting for. The technology was clearly not ready for prime time. But years later Sony wiped the slate clean and gave everyone another free seven day trial and to my surprise the service has come a long way. It's still not something I would wan to use as my primary means of playing games but its certainly passable. Resolution is still capped at 720p which in the age of 4K might as well be SD, the framerates are still a bit slower than I would like but overall games were playable and after my second seven day free trial I was ready to jump on board, that is until I saw the price.
The lowest rate being $100 per year that came out to $8.33 per month it was still to much to ask for what the service had to offer. But that was all back in September. On October 1st Sony slashed the price of PSnow across the board. The month to month price was cut from $20 to $10 (not coincidentally right in line with Microsoft's Gamepass), the three month price was reduce from $45 to $25, and the annual price went from $100 to just $60, the price of just one game per year. Suddenly what was a service that was struggling to compete on the downloading front with Gamepass and is somehow already seen as a runner up in the streaming space to a product that hasn’t even launched yet is offering an incredible value for literally the price of a Starbucks coffee once per month.
But like I mentioned earlier Sony isn't the only one looking toward either a streaming or a subscription service future for the games industry. Both Microsoft and Google are making a play at capturing that segment of the market that has been priced out of the hobby. Microsoft's Gamepass is a subscription service with more than 200 games ALL available for download with one pricing option available for $10 on Xbox or $5 on PC. Google is taking a different approach, they’ve employed a two part tariff in which the user pays $10 month for the ability to stream games through Stadia and then requires the player to buy games at full retail price. While Google does offer an option that removes the monthly cost entirely it comes at the price of frame rate and resolution and still requires users to buy the right to stream games for full retail cost.
In my mind Sony has made two key moves that have turned PSnow from a obligatory service they keep alive to keep up the appearance of competing in this space to something that is truly a must have and the imaginative different approach to streaming that has gotten me on board. They're offering something that is the answer to both Stadia and Gamepass rolled into one and they're doing it for half the cost of one of those services. Sony's move to a $5 per month paid annually price point was without a doubt a deliberate move to adjust the expectations of what the service will deliver. Suddenly its gone from feeling the need to get my $20 worth every to one of those things that I don’t even think about because of how cheap it is and I just like having it there.
There are plenty of movies that aren't amongst the best movies I've ever seen but were enjoyable none the less. Movies that I would have never had enough interest in to seek out and spend money on but when I watched them they became one that I could easily suggest for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Movies that I would have never seen without my perpetual Netflix subscription, and that’s exactly what PSnow is becoming. PSnow has almost 900 games most of which I would never go out of my way to play or spend money on but by removing almost all barriers to entry leads to me experimenting with a ton of games I would have never tried before. I never played Ratchet and Clank until the 2016 remake and I loved it but by that time the PS3 was so far in the rear view mirror that I wasn’t about to dust it off and find a used copy of A Crack in Time just to play some more Ratchet and Clank. I have fond memories of playing the demo of Motorstorm in Wal-Mart when the PS3 launched but I couldn’t be bothered to spend my money on the game. And God of War is a narrative driven adventure that after playing the PS4 game I was interested in learning more about the older games but it was just to much of a hassle. These are all games that I would have never played had it not been for PSnow. They're not the best games of all time but they're fun enough experiences that at $5 per month they make PSnow a complete no brainer.
Sony has taken major strides towards turning PSnow into the complimentary streaming service that could become a huge part of the PlayStation ecosystem moving forward but there is still work to be done. Sony's number one priority when it comes to new features for PSnow needs to be mobile. With iOS13 finally supporting the DualShock 4 and Xbox one controller natively the prospect of nearly 900 games streaming directly to my phone is incredibly exciting. Sony did a great job by whittling down the number of supported devices in an effort to focus on the core experience but the mobile space is a major sticking point for Stadia and if Sony could beat Stadia to iPhones and most Androids that could be hugely beneficial. Speaking of Stadia there is one thing that Google thought of that their competitors didn’t: Wi-Fi in the controller. As we move into the future of streaming latency is going to be public enemy number one and the controller skipping a step and connecting directly to the server rather than the device and then the server is a stroke of genius.
When Microsoft announced Gamepass it was a revolutionary new way to deliver games to players. When Google announced Stadia they immediately had my interest and while the graveyard of abandoned Google services will most likely prevent me from ever buying a game on Stadia I will be interested to see how well it handles. Just a few months ago Sony was a distant third in the race to bring a subscription and or streaming service to relevance but with the two pronged approach of making it a secondary more complimentary add on rather than a replacement for the traditional experience and pricing so competitively you would think Sony is going under I think Sony has leap frogged their two biggest competitors and become the first subscription service that I'm willing to pay for. Now I just need a PSnow app to live on the home screen of my phone and I'll be happy.
Have you tried PSnow? What are your thoughts on it and which of these three services do you think will be the one to really break through all the apprehension and be adopted mainstream? Let me know in the comments down below. And while you're down there don’t forget to hit that subscribe button if you haven't already. Go check out everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com, I'll be back next week talking about something else I haven't really decided yet so until then just go play some games!
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
Some of the most innovative games of all time are also some of the most polarizing. Games that have the courage to push the boundaries of what we have come to expect of a game and do so in a way that moves the medium forward into the great unknown. While this doesn’t always turn out well (Wii Music) there are times when even the most divisive games like Fortnite have moved the industry forward. Hideo Kojima is one of if not THE auteur of video games and while the story of the Metal Gear franchise on paper is laughable when consumed as a series of games it is one of the best multipart stories ever told proving that Kojima has the chops to get a big job done. Death Stranding is a wholly unique and enchanting game, for those it doesn’t click with it comes off as a pretentious fart sniffing walking simulator. But for those who interest is piqued it's a mesmerizing cathartic piece of art that can go on for hours.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Metal Gear is one of my favorite video game franchises ever so when Kojima's latest game was released I was going to play it no matter what the critics said. So lets get started with talking about Death Stranding.
Just so everyone knows this video wont contain any spoilers and is in no way meant to be a review. I haven't finished the game yet so I wont be referencing anything that cant be found in the marketing material and trailers. Also in an attempt to keep this video as friendly to those that haven't played the game yet as possible all of the capture you'll see here will be from the opening hours of the game in the first area so even if you consider that spoilerish don’t worry its just the very beginning of the game.
From the moment the game was announced Death Stranding was shrouded in mystery. And that was what the whole marketing campaign was based around. The games story is more than convoluted enough to confuse even someone playing the game. But for someone not actually playing through it all the trailers might as well have been tone pieces because even if they spelled the story out to us in those trailers, which it turns out they kind of did, it's still so confusing and difficult to put together that without knowing what we were being told it all felt disconnected. Now I understand that what I'm describing right now sounds like just a poorly made trailer but that confusion was engineered to entice the audience and entice us it did. We wanted to know what was happening with that baby we kept seeing in the trailers and the speculation around the major things like timefall and what exactly is the Death Stranding to the smallest details like what the main characters name was is the mystery that built a community before the game was even released.
And that mystery wasn’t immediately or entirely answered after the games release. Just like most Kojima game Death Stranding has a hell of a story to tell and while some people will call it dumb and to crazy from what I've seen thus far I feel like once again he has hit that perfect level of wackiness that it just feels cool. With regards to the actual plot that occurs during the game it's definitely slow and intentionally so. There seems to be so much story to tell and so much going on all at once that without Red Dead 2 speed pacing the game would feel like a blur and nobody would understand what literally happened much less the inevitable subtext that comes with all Kojima games. Both the story and the exposition must be parceled out to the audience piece by piece and remembered clearly in order to make it digestible. Because of the complexity of the story it must be unfolded slowly and deliberately, similar to the difference between smashing a lego set and taking it apart piece by piece; one ends in a well plotted and organized manner while the other ends in complete disarray.
One thing that all stories have in common is a setting. Everything has to happen somewhere and the care that is put into creating that somewhere is almost always directly correlated with the care that is put into the story being told there. It's an easy comparison to make but think of it as the difference between Tolkien and Rowling. While both series are fantastic in their own way Rowling clearly wrote about a character and built a world around that character and molded that world to fit her needs as they came up whereas Tolkien created a world and then told a story within that world forcing the characters in the story to abide by the preestablished rules of the world. Death Stranding is leans heavily in the direction of Tolkien; Kojima imagined and created a world with systems structure and rules then proceeded to tell a story within that world. The United States of Death Stranding is a wholly realized world with a huge amount of lore to understand.
But all the story, mystery, and world building in the universe doesn’t mean anything if a game isn't fun and this is where Death Stranding seems to lose so much of its audience. The primary gameplay loop of Death Stranding consists of picking up packages and carrying them their destinations. It's a simple grind but one that is extremely easy to fall into a sort of trance with. Everything unfolds so naturally all in the course of picking up and delivering packages that I often find myself promising just one more package and end up playing for another two or three hours.
What makes that seemingly boring loop so endlessly entertaining though is movement. Over the last 30+ years we have come to expect movement in games to be fairly simple and straight forward (no pun intended). Movement has become to streamlined in video games, the assassins creed games have a parkour button that allows the player to simply hold the button and run up a 10 story building for Christ sake. But when I first started Death Stranding I tried to run forward just like I would in any other game and immediately lost my balance and fell after tripping on a rock. It was then that the game pointed out to me that by pressing the R1 button I had the ability to scan the terrain and see in great detail what terrain would be more or less difficult to walk on. This balance mechanic makes movement something that the player has to cognitively keep in the back of their minds at all times. Where almost all other games make the player a superhero through their radical abilities Death Stranding leaves the player with a sense of accomplishment after traversing a patch of boulders or keeping their cargo dry by using a ladder as a bridge to cross a small stream. Death Stranding is fun for the same reason Mario 64 or Spider-Man PS4 is fun because the simple act of moving around the world is fun.
So it's easy to see why Death Stranding is such a love it or hate type of game. I understand why some people don’t like it but honestly I kinda love it. I took a break from Death Stranding to play Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order just a week after Death Stranding was released and while Fallen Order is in no way a bad game after just a few hours with it I couldn’t help but think about how primitive it feels in comparison to Death Stranding. Kojima's latest truly does feel like a generational leap forward for video games and while ripping off that band aid is difficult and not appropriate for all genres I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what ramifications it will have on the medium moving forward.
Are you someone that loved Death Stranding or someone that hates it? Let me know which you are and why in the comments down below. Don’t forget to check out everything we do including our movies podcast NoRefunds the podcast that watches bad movies so you don’t have to all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. Ill be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games!
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
So here we are, we've finally made it to Gears 5. If you'll remember in my E3 reaction video I briefly mentioned that I might play through the Gears games in preparation for Gears 5 and low and behold it turned out to be the series I spent my summer playing. I fell in love with Gears this summer, I learned to love the characters, got to enjoy some of the best cover based shooting in the industry, experienced some of the most ridiculous over the top macho stories video games have to offer, and even became so accustomed to the active reload system that I find myself hitting my right bumper in almost every game now purely out of habit. But after playing through Gears 5 I'm sad to say that I fear the best of the series may be behind us. In my opinion Gears 5 was a big swing and a miss, the coalition took a huge risk in changing the entire format of the series and while I personally didn’t enjoy it I applaud them for trying and hope to see other development studios follow suit.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. I played Gears 5 at launch but didn’t get around to writing a video about it until a couple weeks ago and to say that I have a less than favorable opinion on the game would be generous. It's been a long time coming so without any further ado let's talk about Gears 5.
Spoiler alert: in this video I will discuss some major plot points of Gears 5 and inherently Gears 3 and 4 as well. So if you haven't played those games and you want to you should probably stop watching this video now.
Gears 5 is the game that finally made me pull the trigger on the entire series and jump in from the beginning. I had been teetering on the edge of becoming a Gear since late 2016 with the release of Gears 4 but the build up to Gears 5 was for whatever reason the thing that got me to sit down and give them the old college try. And I'm extremely happy I did. At the core of Gears lies two thing: gameplay and characters.
Gears 5 takes that Gears gameplay that has been so well crafted and refined across five previous entries and delivers more of it. Moment to moment gameplay isn't any better or worse than that of Gears 4 or even Gears 3 just equal to it. For almost any other series this would be seen as a bad thing as part of the purpose of a sequel is to evolve and polish the formula but in the case of Gears that gameplay experience already has a mirror sheen to it and polishing any further could potentially be detrimental. For the most part the player finds themselves in similar combat scenarios fighting similar enemies with similar weapons and if I sound like I'm being negative please know that I in no way mean this as an insult. There really isn't much growth left to be done for the series in that respect. The Coalition expands on some elements by bringing some new weapons into play the stand outs being the Lancer GL and the melee weapons, and the revival of the hammer of dawn is incredibly fun but for the most part gameplay in Gears 5 is just more of what makes Gears good…for the most part that is.
Gears 5 does introduce one new element that can be considered a major game changer though…Jack. Jack is Kate's flying robot companion that accompanies her throughout the entire campaign (to be clear this is not the same flying robot companion that worked as the ultimate plot convenience for Delta squad throughout the first three games) and depending on how you play the game he can either introduce an almost entirely superfluous RPG like skill tree mechanic or he can be an entirely different way to play the game altogether. In single player Jack acts as a gadget to apply temporary buffs, health, or interact with the environment in ways to move the plot forward all while adding a completely unnecessary skill tree to the game and giving the player a reason to search for components. These mechanics almost to environmental for the series and come across as the developers adding a trendy mechanic to the game despite it not feeling at home there. But in multiplayer Jack makes for the ultimate support character. Any player that enjoys playing support will have an absolute blast playing as Jack and likely will refuse to give him for the more traditional Gears experience. Allowing the player that plays Jack full control over the skill tree and what abilities to unlock and when to unlock them gives that player freedom. The player evolves from initially being the kid holding the flashlight for dad while he works on the car to becoming the ultimate Bond gadget with the powers of a demigod. I've always played Gears with friends so we got to laugh together as we hunted down every single upgrade and scoured the game for components to make that player's experience more enjoyable. But playing solo Jack is something that I not only don’t want to handle or use but a process that I found myself wishing could be entirely automated by the end of the opening act.
And Jack isn't where The Coalition stopped taking risks. After an extremely straight forward act 1 in which I was surprised to be playing as JD but found enjoyable none the less the player is thrust forward in time and the main cast of characters that were so well established in Gears 4 have become estranged. Kate and Del have gone north in search for answers to Kate's past while JD has continued to move up the ranks in the COG. Act 2 chapter 1 starts as a fairly boring and thankfully brief exploration of the mountain village that Kate's uncle Oscar retreated to after the events of Gears 4. After a brief encounter with Oscar the Swarm invades and the player is left to do typical Gears stuff which is awesome. At the end of this encounter the player even takes over some individual Swarm through Kate's neural link to the hivemind. This particular encounter is made even sweeter when played in co-op as your partners have no way of knowing that you've taken over the Swarm or which Swarm you are which led to a really awesome shouting exchange as I yelled at my partners to stop shooting me. But after this chapter the train jumps the tracks and goes careening into a land that I like to call "every game needs to have an open world for some reason…ville."
After the first chapter of Act 2 the player is given the open world traversal vehicle called the skiff and Kate, Del, and Jack load up to head out on their own adventure. Suddenly a series that's spent five games ushering the player down a golden path of narrow hallways and somewhat open playing fields for enemy encounters finds itself in a vast frozen wasteland that is just as beautiful as it is empty. Moving from one objective marker on the map to another the player encounters small groups of Swarm to fight off at each marker and nothing in between. And when I say nothing I really mean nothing. No packs of enemies making a camp for the night, no sign of human survivors holed up in any nearby caves or shelters, not even any significant terrain to interest the player. Just multiple hours of go here shoot 10 swarm press a button, go there shoot another 10 swarm press another button. And when it's finally all over and the game gets back to the classic Gears experience it lasts for all of about an hour and a half with some really awesome story telling and character development before thrusting you into an even less interesting, even more empty, and even worse desert open environment.
Where the open world areas went wrong is in how they brought the pace of the game to a nearly complete stand still. Two major portions of the game left me feeling as though nothing of any significance was happening and after all was said and done they came across as though they were just filler content to pad out an unnaturally short run time. The tundra in the second act could have been forgiven had the writers capitalized on the naturally solitudinous atmosphere created and given Del and Kate some moments in which they exposed themselves to one another and became temporarily emotionally vulnerable. Honestly when no one but Del accompanied Kate I fully expected that to be the direction in which they were headed but it never came. And when it came time for the second open area in the desert and JD and Fahz tagged along not only were the developers facing all the same challenges from the second act but they had done away with any potential for redemption of what was in my opinion a truly horrible design choice.
Like I mentioned last week the story in Gears 4 was well measured and displayed a shocking amount of restraint but the second chapter of a trilogy is when that restraint can be put aside and the story can be ramped up so as to head into the conclusion on a major high. Gears 5's story felt as though they were completely unconcerned with moving the story forward in any significant way until the fourth act when the Swarm kraken invaded the city and really elevated the stakes of what was happening. Throughout the vast majority of the game the characters are working towards bringing the hammer of dawn back online despite all Baird's warnings that no good can come from this action. And as that story progresses it becomes apparent that the hammer of dawn story is really just a charade to let the player explore deeper into Kate and her dealing with her heritage. Which is extremely interesting don’t get me wrong, Kate is without a doubt the best character of this new generation of Gears but after playing Gears 5 it feels as though the balance between Kate's personal story and the human Swarm conflict story skews a bit to far in favor of Kate.
After spending the entire game with Del and getting next to no redeeming action from JD the game presents the player with a choice. At the end of the game the player chooses if Del dies and JD lives or if Del lives and JD dies. Like I mentioned before I have just spent the entirety of both Gears 4 and 5 with Del at my side. And not only that but at the end of the first act JD goes from the extra vanilla high school quarter back template that he somehow reverted to after the end of Gears 4 to a war mongering asshole for which I have no sympathy and am given almost no reason to forgive. I'm not sure what choice The Coalition intended for me to choose but this was the single easiest choice I have ever made in a video game. JD died and I didn’t have to think twice about it.
But what concerns me about this choice that players make at the end is the ramifications it will undoubtedly have on the future of the franchise. The Coalition is going to have to choose one choice to be canon and despite my liking Gears 5 the least of all of the games thus far I'm still invested in my choosing Del and watching Marcus' heart break when he realized his son was dead. To me the fourth act of Gears 5 was the most enjoyable because not only was it back to classic Gears style gameplay but it was also an exciting finale that I have come to expect from games in this series. Had that choice been written for me and I wasn’t left to worry about whether or not The Coalition would be honoring the choice I made Gears 5 could have ended on a similar high note to the one it began on. But that choice lingers over the fourth act like an office chair full of old farts that puff out whenever anyone sits down.
Overall in all my Gears of War excitement this summer it ended with a whimper. I completely respect The Coalition for taking an established IP and attempting to inject some new life into and modernize it in a way but almost everything they did fell flat and left me yearning for the Gear of old. If you have gamepass then sure go ahead and play Gears 5, if you're a massive Gears of War fan and you just cant get enough, well then you’ve probably already played Gears 5, but if you’ve never played Gears before and you're looking to get into the series, well…look somewhere else because this aint it chief.
So now that this script has gotten way out of hand and is way longer than I was intending it to be why don’t you tell me what you thought of Gears 5 in the comments down below. Don’t forget to see everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next week talking about Luigi's Mansion 3 if I've finished it by then so until then just go play some games.
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