Tuesday, August 31, 2021
What Should Mass Effect 4 Be?
By: Patrick Morris
The final world premiere to round out the night of the game awards 2020 was one that nobody saw coming. A new Mass Effect game that judging by the trailer looks to be a sequel to the original Mass Effect trilogy is one that holds a huge amount of potential. Despite my enjoying Andromeda significantly more than it seems most other people did I'm excited to be headed back to the Milky Way. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Mass Effect is the best science fiction property since Star Trek: The Next Generation and this continuation of the story in the Milky Way galaxy is a pivotal moment that will define the direction of the series moving forward.
For the most part there are two ways to write a story: you can either craft an interesting universe and populate it with characters or create interesting characters and write about the events of their lives essentially forcing the universe in which they exist to revolve around them.
It's no secret that Mass Effect has taken a lot of inspiration from other sci-fi properties, but none more than Star Trek. There are a lot of things that make Star Trek generally great, but if I had to nail down the single thing that the creators did right and continue to do right it's the fact that the universe has always been most important. Star Trek takes place in a universe that was created, then populated with interesting characters allowing for nearly infinite expansion. The fact that there isn't any one "chosen one" type character means that there can be significant stakes across multiple stories simultaneously. This one decision that was later expanded on significantly in the 1990's led to amazing subseries like TNG, Deep Space 9, Voyager, and even the Kelvin Universe, all providing their own unique flavor of Trek allowing fans to enjoy more than just one group of characters and stories.
Star Wars on the other hand appears to have had a significantly lesser influence on Mass Effect, which in my opinion is a good thing. From the outset Star Wars revolved around one family of characters and their immediate acquaintances. Because Anakin Skywalker was literally "the chosen one" we as the audience have become inherently conditioned to believe that nothing anyone else in the universe does can be of any significant consequence. And yet, after 45 years of that conditioning Disney has purchased the franchise and is aggressively expanding and I'm the one that is somehow in the wrong for not being interested in something I've been taught has no potential of having even the slightest impact on the larger universe.
So now moving on to Mass Effect. Despite the upcoming sequel being what looks to be a follow up to the original trilogy of games this is actually the fifth Mass Effect game. The seed of a spinoff series called Andromeda was planted back in early 2017 and unfortunately turned out to be a tremendous failure both critically and commercially. But playing the game for the first time four years after it launched I've actually really enjoyed the 10+ hours I've played at the time of writing. Andromeda is built on the amazing concept of exploration for the preservation of humanity that does a superb job of distancing the game from the original trilogy without appearing as though they're doing so for any negative reason. And the foundation laid with the Andromeda initiative is one that is ripe with possibilities for further story telling in that galaxy establishing a solid framework to build off of in subsequent sequels in the spin off series.
But with all that said what should the upcoming Mass Effect game be?
The single most important decision Bioware has to make in the development of this game is the fate of Shepard after the original trilogy. There is one ending in which Shepard lives and the temptation to bring Shepard back from the dead once again for a proper Mass Effect 4 is undoubtedly tempting but would be a huge mistake. By bringing Shepard back Bioware would be elevating him or her to a "chosen one" type character that from now on must be involved in anything of any importance in the galaxy. What makes Mass Effect great is the lore and how it is intertwined and exists without the help or necessity of a Christ figure. If Shepard must return then I hope it is in some extremely minor way that is either referential or a cameo at most.
From a story perspective I think it would be ideal if Bioware were able to find a way to start a new story similar to how they did with Andromeda but following the events of the galaxy after the Reaper war. Creating new characters and allowing them to grow with new objectives occurring in the wake of the Reaper war but still very different from the past games would do wonders for cultivating the potential of the series. And if possible it would be great to see a compelling story that isn't an apocalyptic dire situation, one more focused on exploration than combat. The possibilities are endless and one that I would love to see would be the connecting of the milky way and Andromeda galaxies and by proxy both series.
While we are on the topic of the Reaper's it's worth saying that I would love to see them make a return in a smaller role. I think it would be foolish to somehow continue to utilize the Reaper's as the game's primary antagonists but to encounter one in a side quest just to establish that there are still Reaper's in dark space would make for a really fun threat looming in the distance.
With four possible endings to the original trilogy Bioware will undoubtedly have to choose one to be canon as they wont be able to continue with the hundreds of possible permutations and the ending they should choose and based off the trailer I think they will choose is the destroy ending. Making the destroy ending canon would not only tee up a big reveal of more Reapers later on but also could set the stage for wiping the slate clean on the single most interesting concept in the Mass Effect universe which is the idea of synthetic life. If the destroy ending were to become canonical then it would have huge impact on the entire galaxy. Some people like Joker would be devastated but others like councilor Tevos would be thrilled as it was previously illegal to even research artificial intelligence much less develop it. While the other endings could bear some fruit the most potential is without a doubt in the destroy ending.
Overall Mass Effect 4 is a game that is near the top of my list of games that I am most looking forward to. If Bioware leans on the wealth of lore that already exists in the universe and respectfully distances this sequel from Shepard. Bioware needs to firmly establish this game as the first in a new subseries of Mass Effect to expand the universe of game's and make the franchise more akin to Star Trek than Wars.
Hot Take: The DualSense Sucks!
By: Patrick Morris
Since the release of the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X something that has been repeated over and over again is that the DualSense controller is the most "next gen" thing about the ninth generation of consoles. Before using the DualSense I would say that if Microsoft would just make an Elite Series 3 with the haptic feedback, resistive triggers, and gyroscope of the DualSense that would be the best controller of all time, but my mind has been changed. After getting my PS5 several months ago and using the DualSense for more than a hundred hours not only do I disagree with the positive consensus but I would even say that the DualSense is the worst new controller since the Dreamcast.
Quick disclaimer, I know that my feelings on and complaints about the DualSense are almost entirely subjective based not only on my feelings about the controller but also the shape and size of my hands. If it works perfectly for you making it your favorite controller ever that's great. But basically all reviews are subjective so let's just keep that in mind moving forward.
The DualSense is jam packed full of pretty advanced features but unfortunately the long list that is the feature set is almost entirely subpar. The touchpad that was almost never used on the DualShock 4 makes a return on the DualSense and thus far has proven to be nearly equally as useless. The built in speaker is another returning feature from the DualShock 4 that is proving to be just as pointless as it was in the controller's predecessor. The size of the speaker driver is constrained by the fact that it has to fit into a controller and the quality of that driver is compromised by the cost of production and the MSRP of the controller itself resulting in an obnoxious sound that always feels more gimmicky than additive.
Two of the headlining new features of the DualSense are the haptic feedback motors and the resistive triggers. Haptic feedback is great in theory and could be great in practice but even first party studios have been unable to shake off the heavy handedness required to communicate information with a traditional rumble motor that they have become accustomed to over decades of game development. As a result the finer feedback made possible by precision haptic motors placed throughout the controller is completely lost making a feature that should feel truly next gen feel more akin to a traditional rumble motor.
Resistive triggers were the prominent stand out when the new and returning features of the DualSense were detailed. In theory the potential that resistive triggers bring to the table is enormous, regrettably it seems as though that for now that potential remains theoretical. Trigger's are one element of every controller in which Sony has always struggled to compete in any meaningful way, but the triggers on the DualSense are excellent. Sony has clearly learned over the generations what it takes to make a great trigger; their shape cradles your finger, the travel distance and path are both finely tuned to be not too long but also not too short and to guide the finger in the perfect curve upon the pull. Where the triggers run into problems is in the resistance. Developers are able to implement different levels of resistance at different points of the pull but what final result ends up being is a well made and well executed trigger feeling significantly worse than it actually is by over complicating something that has been refined for decades. It's yet to be seen whether or not developers will be able to fine tune the way in which they use the resistive triggers to make them more effective but as they stand now they're an underbaked feature working in the detriment to the overall experience of the controller.
While the majority of the newly added features to the DualSense are all subjectively good or bad one stands out as anti-consumer. Adding a built in microphone to the controller not only makes for a worse pack-in chat experience but also the way that it's been implemented is Orwellian at best or both Orwellian and invasive at worst. Upon powering the console and controller on the microphone is on and listening by default. It's possible to change this behavior for the microphone to be off upon powering everything on but the fact that it's on by default requires action that a lot of player's wont take. Just in case you have a PS5 and want to change this setting, here's how you do that really quickly. Sony released a system update in October of 2020 after which players were met with a message that stated:
"We want PlayStation Network to be fun for everyone, which is why we have a Community Code of Conduct. Please be aware that voice chats in parties may be recorded and sent to us by other users. By participating in voice chats, you agree to your voice being recorded. When behaviors that violate the Community Code of Conduct are reported, PlayStation Safety will review the reports to check if there have been genuine violations. These recordings will be used only for safety and moderation purposes by PlayStation Safety."
To be clear I don’t foster any delusions of grandeur, I am in no way under the impression that Sony has any interest in the goings on of my life. But if they are to be believed the best case scenario would result in Sony policing the speech of the users on their platform that will almost certainly be enforced by AI review which as we all know never leads to stifling of the discussion of important issues or mistaken suspensions or bans. And worst case scenario all of that is true and additionally Sony is data mining conversations to sell that data to advertisers. The DualSense's integrated microphone is the single most disturbing part of the controller.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when implementing major new hardware features always becomes third party support. Regardless of how good any hardware feature is if it specific to one platform the odds of third parties embracing it are slim to none. As the industry grows publishers are increasingly looking to provide a standardized experience across all platforms. That combined with the fact that developers would have to invest money in developing minor platform specific features that wont radically change the experience leads me to believe that these features will be largely ignored by third parties in the same way the DualShock 4's touchpad and the Xbox One's haptic triggers were last generation.
Features arent the only problems the DualSense has, ergonomically the controller is a bit of a nightmare. I've been playing video game's literally since before I can remember but based off a lack of ergonomic design and radically different controller shapes my grip wasn’t solidified until I was playing the Nintendo Gamecube day in and day out. As a result of this my natural grip that I have to this day is with one finger up on the shoulder buttons on the left and two fingers up on the right. This was never a problem for me with any subsequent controllers until the Xbox one with the aggressive carve of the trigger. Fortunately the asymmetrical stick layout combined with the angle of the handles were able to overcome the difficulty of adapting my natural grip making for a very natural feeling hold…the DualSense doesn’t fare so well.
For a very long time the argument between symmetrical and asymmetrical sticks was seen as a personal preference but after nearly two decades the general consensus seems to favor the asymmetrical layout. While they may have been a PlayStation mainstay since the 90's, by continuing to insist upon the symmetrical Sony appears to be stuck in the past and unwilling to adapt. Giving the most naturally prominent position to the directional pad, an input that hasn’t been used as the primary movement system since the middle of the fifth generation, as opposed to the left stick Sony set the stage for ergonomic difficulty. The result of this decision is one that strains the left thumb to reach the stick rather than placing the stick in the place where the thumb naturally falls. If the dpad and left stick were to trade positions the thumb on the stick would be able to naturally work with the palm and fingers on the back to hold the controller more securily allowing the right hand more freedom to move between the right stick and face buttons.
Had the sticks been asymmetrical the handles wouldn’t have been a problem, but as they were symmetrical it made the handles suddenly stand out as a weak point. Historically controller handles are never either perfectly round nor do they have any hard edges. The handles on the DualSense are mostly round but where the tips of the fingers rest naturally there is a seam that is not rounded but instead features a sharp edge, and that sharp edge continues down the inside of the handle all the way to the bottom where it digs into both the palm and the pinky making the controller very uncomfortable to hold. Gone are the continuously round dull ended handles of the DualShock 4 replaced by something that is a significant step down in both comfort and functionality.
Aside from all of the issues with the feature set and ergonomics the DualSense has other shortcomings as well. The light bar introduced in the DualShock 4 was originally intended to work in tandem with the PlayStation camera for quality of life improvements like split screen orientation based off where players are seated in the room. No developers implemented those quality of life features or anything similar that used the light bar in any meaningful way, as a result it has been relegated to a thin strip of light surrounding the touchpad. While the sentiment around this change was sensible it is still a feature that is consuming battery life while providing no improvement to the end user experience. The PlayStation d-pad continues to be one of the worst d-pad's on the market, and the analog sticks still being not entirely concave means they still fall short of the Xbox sticks, also the ridges of the sticks could be much better. And finally the battery life is atrocious.
But the controller isn't all bad, there are a few good things to discuss and even a few things that are undeniably better than the competition. The share button has been significantly improved from the previous generation making screenshots easier for the masses and gameplay capture significantly more approachable and accessible. An internal battery is still the best way to go, while it may degrade over time it still will create less waste than disposable batteries and less hassle than recharagable's over the life of the controller. USB-C is reaching critical mass and charging via USB-C is something that, at this point, shouldn’t be praise worthy but I will continue to do so until every single device is charging via USB-C (looking at you Apple, Logitech, and Steel Series). And every single controller ever made from this point forward should have a gyroscope.
Despite how incredible everyone has been saying the DualSense is I cant help but feel as though it's one step forward and three steps back. Sony may have fixed a few problems with the DualShock 4 but they've created more problems than they solved. As the DualSense has fallen flat in so many ways I can only hope that Sony is working on some sort of analog to Microsoft's Elite controller that will fix these issues, I'll be there to buy it day one just to stop having to use the DualSense.
Good Job: A Commentary On Corporate Nepotism
By: Patrick Morris
In the rat race that is corporate America established practices have been perpetuating and increasing the severity of many institutionalized problems for decades. On its surface the game Good Job appears to be a fun wacky workplace comedy game without any significant depth. But when looked at more critically Good Job is much more than just a throwaway game. At first glance Good Job appears to be a silly game meant to entertain for a few hours but beneath the surface is a powerful commentary about nepotism in corporate America and how success is not determined by what you know but instead who you know.
The premise of the game is simple, the player character or characters (the game is playable in co-op) is the son of the CEO of a corporation working in the mail room. They are then given menial tasks that amount to nothing substantial with no oversight or time frame for those tasks to be completed in. As the player goes about completing their tasks the game keeps a running tally of the total cost of destruction to company property caused by the player. Despite this tally being kept throughout each level it never yields any results either negative or positive. And after every three levels the player is promoted and told to report to the floor above regardless of how they actually performed, the only determining factor being whether or not they completed the tasks assigned to them.
So how does such a silly funny game have so much more to it? From the moment the game begins it is clear that the player character was only hired because of their relation to the CEO. While it's unclear whether or not there was any interview process it is made very clear that the player really has no standards to meet and is encouraged to complete their tasks by any means necessary. The tasks the player is given are made up of stupid meaningless things like fix the internet, setup the projector, and gather everyone for a meeting. None of what the player is assigned is anything that would be considered productive work in a normal office environment but the player is given nothing but positive feedback when completing those tasks. All throughout the players career at their fathers company they are not only not warned against it but actively encouraged to show a total disregard for their coworkers and company property. Showing what is undoubtedly physical abuse to your coworkers is never reprimanded and strictly rewarded. At the end of each level regardless of their job performance the player is always given the highest grade possible and regularly promoted for, once again, doing the bare minimum of the world's easist job description.
Good Job makes for excellent satire of the current state of corporate America. All over our country bosses younger relatives or relatives of friends are benefiting from gross displays of nepotism despite constantly proving their own incompetence. While the tasks, reactions, and rewards of the game are meant to be hyperbolic it's a sad state of affairs when a cartoonish game is a much closer depiction of the real world than any cartoon ever should be. Good Job stands as a perfect example of how video games can bring to the spotlight issues that would otherwise be considered taboo to discuss and does so in such a irresistibly charming way that surely even Jeff Bezos would be disarmed.
Sony's Director's Cut Problem
By: Patrick Morris
Sony dominated the eighth generation of consoles by providing some of the best platform exclusive games ever made. Uncharted 4, Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, Ghost of Tsushima, the list goes on. And they're looking to continue that dominance into the PlayStation 5, getting started by borrowing terminology from the film industry and branding re-releases of some of their best games as "director's cut." Already this generation Sony has been hyper focused on their first party branding, adding a new marvel-esque intro screen before the main menu on all of their first party titles. The idea of introducing some level of standardization of terminology to the industry is a good one but the way in which Sony is doing it is not so good. When you really break it down Sony's new "director's cut" branding is yet another way of saying definitive edition and while I appreciate the attempt, their usage of the phrase as a means of reselling game's with minor performance upgrades to take advantage of the new consoles flies in the face of Microsoft's significantly more consumer friendly approach on Xbox.
Essentially what the whole director's cut branding on Sony games indicates is that this is a first party PlayStation game that is being re-released with additional content. Both Ghost of Tsushima and Death Stranding will be coming later on this year with an additional island to explore and more building mechanics respectively just to name a few. In the case of Ghost of Tsushima that additional content can be purchased independently of the director's cut but the Director's Cut also offers some content, like DualSense specific functionality, that is exclusive to that version of the game. In addition to making use of the DualSenese hardware the Director's Cut will also be able to utilize PS5 hardware like highspeed SSD loading and 3D audio.
Let's face it, Sony isn't re-releasing Ghost of Tsushima with added functionality that takes advantage of the PS5 for their health, they're doing it for money, but that doesn’t mean it's entirely negative. There are definitely some ways in which the PlayStation Director's Cut branding could benefit the industry at large. Relative to other medium's of entertainment video game's are just reaching adolescence and as such are still defining their identity. Were Sony's attempt to standardize the terminology for video game's to gain traction and begin to be used in the same or similar ways by other publisher's it could be another step toward the industry being taken more seriously in general and perceived as more than just a toy. But the term is helping in smaller scale ways as well, re-packaging these games in their Director's Cut form demands additional content in order to justify full retail price to consumers again. As a result there are games that previously may not have gotten any additional content getting that content to justify the price.
While there are a few good thing's coming as a result of this new brand initiative it's mostly bad. Arguably the biggest sin these Director's Cut releases are committing is in the term being extremely misleading. The director behind Death Stranding Hideo Kojima himself tweeted:
"A director's cut in a movie is an additional edit to a shortened version that was either released reluctantly because the director did not have the right to edit it, or because the running time had to be shortened. In the game it is not what was cut, but what was additionally produced that was included. Delector's Plus? So, in my opinion, I don’t like to call 'director's cut'."
With that in mind it becomes evident that this new term is nothing but an attempt to double dip on some of their most popular games.
The Last of Us originally released in 2013 on the PlayStation 3 and was then re-released a year later on the PlayStation 4 as The Last of Us Remastered. In a very similar way to how Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut will be utilizing the new hardware of the PlayStation 5 with DLC bundled in, The Last of Us Remastered was basically the same game that was already on PS3 with very minor improvements made possible by the PS4 as well as the Left Behind DLC bundled in. The difference then, was that there wasn’t evidence indicating that this would be something Sony would be continuing to do. The implementation of the Director's Cut branding combined with it being used in such quick succession from Ghost of Tsushima to Death Stranding leads me to believe that this wont be a one and done the way it was on the PlayStation 4. Having already gotten Spider-Man and now two more it's clear that Sony plans to use this branding more in the future.
What makes this new practice concerning is made infinitely worse when evaluated in the context of competition. With the exception of bundled DLC all the features of the Director's Cut version's of Sony's games are being added for free on Xbox. And that bundled DLC can be purchased independently by anyone that wishes to do so. Put simply: while Sony is charging $70 for new features Microsoft is giving those features away for free. And while Sony is most definitely not going to forgo the revenue they’ll be able to generate by selling their greatest hits again, they could still overcome the issue of the branding being misleading by resurrecting something old and leaning into the fact that these game's are exactly that, their greatest hits. The industry undoubtedly needs a standard term for an edition of any game that is sold in this way. Something like the Greatest Hits term Sony has used in the past or the more ubiquitous Definitive Edition would do an excellent job of communicating exactly what is needing to be communicated while avoiding the confusion incurred from the dedication to evoking a cinematic expectation.
Like I said before, I'll be buying Ghost of Tsushima and probably Death Stranding both again but I'll be feeling frustrated and bitter while I do. The Director's Cut branding is just another in a long list of ways in which Sony has proven themselves to be aggressively anti-consumer this generation. I'm thrilled to see the discourse surrounding the Xbox finally moving away from the terrible Don Mattrick "TV TV TV" days but I'm just as concerned that Sony has moved away from the "This is how you share your games on PS4" days and people haven't seemed to notice. Only time will tell if this initiative falls flat or if it becomes another mainstay in what seems to be the unstoppable juggernaut that is PlayStation despite their own attempts to shoot every foot they have.
A Rant About Appreciation
By: Patrick Morris
It's a simple fact of life that there is nothing that everyone likes. We all have tastes and preferences and something that might be my all time favorite is legitimately dogshit to someone else. Nobody is going to enjoy everythnig but simply not enjoying something does not make it inherently bad. Sekiro was a game that was exceptionally well received but one of the biggest conversations surrounding Sekiro upon its release was one of difficulty. Many people criticized the game for being too difficult and not having any difficulty options which based off skill excluded a lot of players from a significant portion of the game, myself included. Art can never and will never have universal appeal, and that’s actually a good thing; art is made to appeal to specific demographics and the rate at which audiences are increasingly expecting everything to be made to appeal to them is not only concerning but down right stifling and will undoubtedly become deadweight dragging down creativity.
Everyone's tastes are different, and that’s a good thing. Everyone's tastes are formed by their own lived experiences and as a result those tastes are developed for different reasons. To recognize and understand your own tastes is good but to understand what you don’t like and the specific reasons why in a calm and rational way is arguably just as if not even more valuable. Understanding why we dislike things allows us the opportunity to take inventory of those things and periodically reassess to determine if maybe our tastes have changed over time.
Even more important than determining if our own personal tastes have changed is understanding the validity and value of those things that we don’t like. Just because I don’t personally enjoy Game of Thrones doesn’t mean I'm incapable of recognizing and respecting the quality of the writing, acting, production value, and story telling. Everything about Game of Thrones reeks of quality but that doesn’t mean that I have to enjoy it, and just because I don’t enjoy it doesn’t mean it's not good.
Sekiro is an extremely difficult game and thanks to the fact that FromSoft made the conscious decision to not put in difficulty settings it will always be an extremely difficult game. The game is too difficult for me just like it is for many others and unfortunately a lot of people including critics from the media chose to hold that against the game instead of recognizing that it is a game that was made to specifically cater to a different audience. Far Cry 4, 5, and now Far Cry 6 have all faced a not insignificant amount of criticism for being unwilling to use their games as a platform to make a political statement. Many people who hold specific political beliefs wanted the Far Cry games to be a vehicle for a political message and were unwilling to understand that the developers weren't beholden to mold their games in any potential audience's ideologies. Recently EA's Battlefield 2042 came under fire for responding to questions of whether or not the game was a commentary on climate change by categorically denying that the game was in anyway intended to be political. Once again a portion of the audience was attempting to force a game to fit what they wanted the game to be rather than accepting it for what it is. My intention is not to say that it isn't okay to read into messaging of video games to find meaning deeper than surface level, what I'm saying is that when a game is not what the audience expects or in some cases practically demands it to be that audience is rarely willing to evaluate the game within the contet of what the developer's intended and appreciate it for what it is.
Personally I don’t enjoy turn based combat systems, but I am capable of appreciating that there are times when they are undeniably the best choice that can be made and enhance the overall experience. I don’t enjoy JRPG's but I recognize that some of the best received game's of all time have been JRPG's and rightfully so. I don’t enjoy crafting or building mechanics and games that feature those mechanics heavily are not particular enjoyable for me; but once again, that doesn’t stop me from understanding that game's like Minecraft and Fallout 4 have changed the entire medium for the better. Mobius Digital's Outer Wilds is a game that pushed me to the brink of quitting out of frustration with its intentionally vague solar system sized puzzle. It's a game that I absolutely don’t like. But especially after seeing how it ends I cant help but appreciate how incredibly beautiful the story and message of inevitability are.
I want to be as clear as possible that I'm not trying to preach from atop my high horse, I am just as guilty of this as others. The point of this video is to emphasize how we can all be better and more open minded and accepting of things that we don’t necessarily enjoy. Of course this isn't to say that games shouldn’t be open to legitimate criticism, I'm simply suggesting that audiences should be more mindful of appreciating quality in things that aren't made for them rather than demanding that everything cater to them. We must be willing to prepare the child for the road rather than preparing the road for the child.
The Designed for Xbox Initiative
By: Patrick Morris
Phil Spencer took over as the head of Microsoft's Xbox division in March os 2014. With each major announcement since the Xbox has increasingly resembled a simplified prebuilt PC. First the introduction of backwards compatibility, then mouse and keyboard support, and now the simplification of utilization of specific display technologies. As Microsoft continues to close the gap between console and PC gaming their new Designed for Xbox monitor initiative makes yet another previously PC feature more accesible to console gamer's on Xbox making high fiedlity gaming more attainable to the masses than ever before.
Recently Microsoft announced that they would be partnering with display OEM's to add branding to the packaging of specific displays that are capable of utilizing all the new features in the ninth generation Xbox's, that branding is simply called "Designed for Xbox." When seeing a "Designed for Xbox" sticker or badge on a display the consumer will be able to assume that that particular display is capable of a whole myriad of things the most important being supporting a 120hz refresh rate, 4k resolution, some form of variable refresh rate (probably AMD FreeSync), HDR10, and Dolby Vision. About a month after the I got my Xbox Series X I decided to bite the bullet and spend good money on a new TV specifically for my gaming setup. Combing through the pages and pages of spec sheets looking for which TV would check off all the boxes on the Xbox's screen settings page while also trying to be as budget conscious as possible. I landed on the 48" LG CX as it was capable of all of the technological advancements in the Series X and got a glowing recommendation from Linus over at Linus Tech Tips.
But I wasn’t the only consumer that has had difficulty figuring out which display would be just right for my new Xbox. Since the launch of the new consoles thousands of console gamers have had to familiarize themselves with specs like refresh rates, HDR certifications, pixel response times, and AMD FreeSync. And this entire process is made even more difficult by the fact that at least two of the features the Xbox is capable of are mutually exclusive! Pro tip, if you know your display is capable of Dolby Vision but for whatever reason it's grayed out on your Xbox, that’s probably because you have AMD FreeSync enabled. Those two features are a one or the other type of arrangement.
When you are choosing between those two make sure to check if your display is capable of HDR10, if it is then you should use HDR10 and FreeSync because while HDR10 is quite as good as Dolby Vision the prospect of having that AND variable refresh rate outweighs Dolby Vision alone, anyway back to the video.
So is this "Designed for Xbox" initiative going to be a success? I think so. I play mostly console games for the same reason I use an iPhone, they just work. They don’t involve any tinkering like overclocking a CPU, GPU, or display, I know I'm never going to run into hardware or software compatibilities, and I will certainly never be missing a driver. Simply put: I'm fully aware of how stupid I am so I use the hardware that suits me. Apple themselves proved this exact concept roughly 15 years ago with their Made for iPod program that later developed into MFI indicating a product was made to be used with either iPod, iPhone, or iPad. And a quick trip to any amazon questions section or hardware specific subreddit will prove that the general public is still disinterested enough in technology that a "Designed for Xbox" sticker will clear up a ton of confusion.
With all the variables in displays "Designed for Xbox" is a concerted effort by Microsoft to streamline and simplify the consumer's shopping experience, and that is always a great idea that almost always leads to increased success. Even though this wont apply to me personally as I already went through the process of combing through those spec sheets it will undoubtedly make higher fidelity gaming more accessible to a wider audience on Xbox, which could potentially lead to a higher standard of expectation amongst gamers when discussing gaming on Xbox.
Game of the Generation
By: Patrick Morris
I know I'm a little late but I've been thinking about the eighth generation of consoles for the past few months in an attempt to narrow down what the best games of the generation were. It was an incredible seven years, you could even call it an embarrassment of riches. From the start of the generation with game's like Ryse: Son of Rome, Sunset Overdrive, and Resogun all the way up to the very end with the likes of Ghost of Tsushima, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Spiderman: Miles Morales the last generation has been one full of memories. But when it comes to naming the top ten of the generation some tough choices have to be made.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak, a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLaw Morris 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. Like you might have guessed today we will be discussing my top ten games of the last generation. So without further ado, let's get to it.
In a generation full of excellent new IP's it became increasingly difficult to standout. But with an excellent premise and the promise of nearly constant giant robot dinosaur fighting, standout is exactly what Horizon Zero Dawn did. With an intriguing story, compelling leading character, and Shadow of the Colossus like Combat all occurring within one of the most beautiful game worlds I had ever played in, Horizon Zero Dawn proved that the PlayStation 4 had arrived.
As a kid I used to play a lot of video games with my sister who is two years my senior. No matter how good I got, no matter how much I practiced, she would still beat me at Mario Kart 64…while playing with her feet. I never forgot that and have poured dozens and dozens of hours into nearly every subsequent Mario Kart release since, but none more than Mario Kart 8. Personally I consider the Switch the follow up to and continuation of Nintendo's handheld line while the Wii U was the final installment of their home consoles. So that being the case, the Wii U is technically a part of the eighth generation of consoles and therefore the original release of Mario Kart 8 qualifies for this list. The best of what the series has to offer in tracks, music, and creativity, combined with the return to more narrow courses amping up the signature chaos, and the introduction of the game breakingly fast 200cc mode, Mario Kart 8 is the richest Mario Kart experience ever; and with the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch making it portable it's not only the richest experience but also the most complete package to date. It's rare that a developer makes a game so good that a significant portion of the audience empathizes with them for having to follow it up, but to whoever it is out there that is making Mario Kart 9…godspeed.
It's not often that we get to see a franchise completely reinvent itself and even less frequent is seeing a franchise do so multiple times. But with Breath of the Wild Nintendo has completely reinvented Zelda for the second time. Changing the game and at the same time raising the bar for what an open world can be by making every surface climbable Nintendo poured an entirely new foundation for the series based off the original blueprint. For the first time since the original game Nintendo let the player off the leash to run in whatever direction they wanted. While it may have come at the cost of a more cohesive and involved story a series of fully realized combat, exploration, physics, and environmental systems made Breath of the Wild the best addition to the series in more than ten years.
Of the biggest properties in the world Marvel is one of the biggest, and at their core is the most recognizable superhero in the world, Spiderman. When given the opportunity to choose from Marvel's stable of character's to center their next video game on Insomniac's Ted Price tells the story as though it wasn’t a discussion of which character they would choose but one of why they had already chosen Spiderman. Marvel's Spiderman masters the locomotion of the web slinger while placing him in what is the closest to a one to one recreation of New York City ever created in a video game making the player really feel like Spiderman. Intentionally seperating their itteration of Spidey from the Marvel Cinematic Universe or really anything else that has come before allowed Insomniac the freedom to make it their own in a way that was essential to making the game work. Excellent writing combined with top tier acting and the best gameplay of any Spiderman game ever had me more excited about Spiderman than I had been since I was 13 seeing Spiderman 2 in theatres.
In space no one can hear you scream, but in my small bedroom in my tiny apartment my then girlfriend now wife heard me scream several times as the Alien in Alien Isolation emerged from the vents at the most inopportune times. Since the inaugural outing the Alien franchise hadn't returned to it's horror/thriller roots until the 2014 game that is the closest thing to a direct sequel to the original movie both in spirit and story. Alien Isolation's utilization of a unique AI system for the Alien that learns from the player's previous attempts circumvents the most common pitfall's of the survival horror genre by making the Alien's behavior wholly unpredictable with the exception of a handful of scripted sequences. Through intense tension buildingand sparing usage of jump scares Creative Assembly made Alien Isolation the Alien sequel I had been waiting for since I first saw Alien when I was 10.
In the endless pursuit of player engagement open world adventures have become common place, and in the last generation there were very few open worlds that measured up to Sucker Punch's feudal Japanese setting of Ghost of Tsushima. The fact that the story of Ghost of Tsushima is the weakest aspect of the game and it still manages to pack an extremely emotional punch several times speaks volume to the quality of the game. Stellar combat, excellent map design, and graphics so good it would be more believable if I were told the game was being played on a PlayStation 5 than a PS4 all combine to make for one of the best console exclusives not only of the generation but of all time.
Virtual reality has been on the mind of gamers everywhere for literally decades. It wasn’t until 2020 with the release of Half-Life Alyx that the narrative surrounding VR finally getting its first "killer app" started to change. But VR already had it's killer app that millions of players had made the mistake of playing on a TV. Resident Evil 7 was a thrilling survival horror game that was easily a contender for game of the year during a year in which it was forced to compete with Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn. By bringing Resident Evil back to its roots Capcom was able to recapture the magic of the origins of the franchise and then strapped that experience to their audience's face. RE7 was the first game that proved that VR technology is finally ready for the big stage while restoring faith in and reinvigorating a classic series.
Leaks have become a given in the video game industry and they are almost always better conceptually than the actual game ends up being. A game living up to the potential of the leaks is a rare occurrence but a game exceeding that potential is almost unheard of. Rumors had been swirling of a God of War sequel taking place in a Norse mythological context for years and the game finally released in 2017. Molding a known quantity into a more character focused human story God of War did an excellent job of growing with its audience and developing into more than the hack and slash action game's it descended of.
I love the X-Files, I love the Twilight Zone, I love vaguely connected universes, and I love Alan Wake…so I really love Control! From the moment the game began Control forced its audience to question what was actually going on around them and allowed them to unravel an impossibly large yet well contained mystery requiring multiple playthroughs to really understand. Over the course of two Max Payne games, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break Remedy has evolved from a good studio making unique games to a sleeping giant just waiting to be scooped up by Microsoft or Sony. Control's action, environmental story telling, and story draw from the best of Uncharted, Infamous, and Bioshock to make a game that rightfully places Remedy amongst the industries giants like Naughty Dog, Insomniac, and Rockstar. Control is equal parts enthralling, terrifying, and fun and it would have been my best game of the generation if it werent for those pesky outlaws.
Before we get to the best game of the generation I want to call out some honorable mentions. While they might not have made the final top 10 list Smash For and Ultimate, Ori 1 and 2, Rocket League, Overwatch, Doom, Doom Eternal, Hitman, Prey, Titanfall 2, Apex Legends, Resident Evil 2, Link's Awakening, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales are all games that absolutely branded my brain with their memories and are deserving of nearly the highest praise I can give. If you havent played these games do yourself a favor and go snatch them up right now, you can thank me later.
On occasion I will react so strongly to a piece of media that it will literally bring tears to my eyes, Return of the King, Miracle, Avengers Endgame, and the Last of Us all come to mind. But in my entire life no piece of media has made me burst into tears the way Red Dead Redemption 2 did. I've heard and understand some of the criticisms regarding the game being more hand-holdey than previous Rockstar games, and I think that for many that is a legitimate criticism; but to me the caliber of story that was being told earned quite a bit of forgiveness in that respect. While the gameplay was great the overwhelming reasoning for Red Dead Redemption 2 earning the number 1 spot on this list was its character focused story telling. Witnessing Dutch's descent into madness as he chases the bigger and bigger score and seeing Arthur slowly come to the realization that he has lost Dutch and he owes it to those around him to challenge Dutch's authority at opportune times to get them out of a bad situation was beautifully tragic. The cast of characters, the story told, and the setting in which it takes place all add up making Red Dead Redemption 2 the new gold standard in narrative story telling in video games making it an easy choice for my game of the generation.
So there's my list. What games made your short list for game of the generation and what made you enjoy them so much? Let me know in the comments down below! I'll be back next time talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games.
Mass Effect 3 Review
By: Patrick Morris
Mass Effect is a trilogy that started strong and somehow finished stronger. Mass Effect 3 is a nearly perfect final chapter that sets a new high water mark for the series as a whole. This epic conclusion provides an outstanding level of finality on both a grand and more granular scale in a way that few games that came before it had and even fewer have since. After the proverbial dust settled Mass Effect 3 stands as the high point of the series in gameplay, story telling, and subplots making for an incredibly gratifying end to a trilogy that will go down in history as one of the all time greats the medium has to offer.
The game opens on the reunion of Shepard and Captain Anderson and wastes no time in getting straight to the action, after two games of build up the Reaper war has finally arrived at earth. When it becomes apparent that Earth will be ground zero on which the Reaper war will be won or lost, Anderson makes it his mission to stay on earth and establish a resistance while Shepard once again takes command of the Normandy in a quest to broker an alliance of all the races of the galaxy to fight the Reapers. The feeling of finally uniting the galaxy is what truly sets Mass Effect 3 head and shoulders above it's predecessor.
Plot has always been the bread and butter of the Mass Effect games and the third entry is no different. Where Mass Effect 1 focused on the relatively smaller scale conflict between Shepard and Sovereign, and Mass Effect 2 was more of a character driven drama, Mass Effect 3 is the culmination of the ground work laid by it’s predecessors making the expansion of scale feel properly earned. Meeting Javik on Eden Prime to learn about the Prothean's and their war with the Reapers does an excellent job of putting a face and much needed mannerisms to what had previously only been spoken of legends while effectively maintaining their mystique, and simultaneously raising the stakes of the war. And later on in the game Shepard's encounter with the Leviathan provided a backstory to the Reapers and explanation of the catalyst of this ongoing conflict.
After gathering as many forces of the universe as the player deems necessary they are treated to a brief cutscene of the initiation of the attack to take back humanity's home world. This scene stands out as a pivotal moment that will largely determine the player's enjoyment of the entire trilogy; will it be a triumphant climax to three game's worth of paragon work or a lackluster sign of a galaxy divided as humanity is left to stand on it's own as the result of a renegade Shepard? For my first playthrough I got to experience the former climax which ilicited emotions on par with or even exceeding the similar moment in Avenger's Endgame. The story and emotions are bolstered by the utilization of revisiting settings and the unexpected return of some of the best characters from the first two games. That perfect mixture of new and old led to me doing something I havent done since Red Dead Redemption 2 and saving the party mission for last to have one final send off with these characters. Mass Effect 3 feels like it's own unique experience but also the ultimate nostalgic victory lap as you savor what at the time audiences were sure would be their final moments in this universe.
And those moment's were priceless. With as strong as the main plot of Mass Effect 3 is, it's the subplot's that propel it to that level of excellence. The idea of uniting the galaxy to fight as one against the Reaper's is an extremely romantic one but the destination would be nothing without the journey. The subplot's of Mass Effect 3 are not as personal as it's predecessor's character centric one's, but they demonstrate how those character's have grown. Garrus no longer being a lone wolf vigilante driven by revenge and instead embracing his status as a force to be reckoned with for the Turian race, and Grunt getting in touch with his Krogan roots and making up for lost time by leading a squad of Krogan warriors against the Rachni, are just two examples of the character growth shown in Mass Effect 3 being a direct result of the loyalty missions of Mass Effect 2.
The major subplot moments of Mass Effect play out like the best episodes of Star Trek while also progressing Shepard toward her end goal. The Krogan genophage subplot that has been a point of tension between Shepard and the Salarian's since the first game and the choice to side with either the Krogan's or the Salarians is one that presents moral ambiguities with either outcome. That combined with Mordin's sacrifice to cure the genophage makes for a better subplot than many game's main plots. In a similar vein to see the Quarian conflict with the Geth from a different perspective and come to the realization that while Tali'Zorah's good hearted nature is not representative of the Quarian's as a whole led to me be significantly more understanding of the Geth and their actions. Ending that subplot with Legion's sacrificing himself for the survival of the Geth after long questioning whether or not he had a soul left me questioning what the idea of having a soul means.
Unfortunately while these and other subplot's have the potential to offer the highest highs the game has to offer they can also be completely missed based off the players actions and choices from the first two games. But this is counteracted by allowing the player to construct an artificial save import at the beginning of the game by indicating the choices they made rather than importing an existing save. Overall the subplots are the meat and potatoes of the first two acts of the game, and by taking the player on a tour of familiar locations with some old friends Bioware elevated a comfort food to something that can easily be in consideration for some of the best moments of an entire generation of gaming.
Gameplay in Mass Effect 3 is at an all time high for the series. Movement, shooting, and other combat are all more fluid and dynamic than ever before. But the non gameplay systems are improved as well. The skill tree has been improved significantly allowing for more granular levels of player choice that changes and compliments the moment to moment combat in a truly meaningful way. Choices made in the skill tree like whether to improve the effectiveness of one's own shields or the recharge time of the entire squad's shields and whether to boost an individual's damage or area of effect allows for different investment in different characters making the choice of which squad mates to take on any particular mission more variable than ever.
But Mass Effect 3 doesn’t improve upon it's predecessor's in every way. Dialogue options have been significantly simplified when compared to the first two games, to the point that that simplification works to the game's detriment. Mass Effect featured dialogue options in which the paragon and renegade choices were clearly defined but the game existed in a significantly more morally gray area in which even choosing nothing but paragon choices could lead to an undesired outcome. This system was streamlined in the sequel to make time for the significantly increased quantity of content. Despite the decreased complexity of dialogue options in the sequel, the first two games conversations still give the player enough rope to hang themselves with in a lot of pivotal conversations throughout if they're not careful.
Dialogue options in Mass Effect 3 feel as though they’ve been boiled down to strictly paragon and renegade. This adjustment to the straight forwardness of the dialogue is understandably necessary as the developers were in the process of wrapping up a 100+ hour epic with dozens of different possibilities and bringing them all to a somewhat similar and logical ending point. But it also resulted in this threequel being the only game in the trilogy in which I never struggled to get the desired outcome out of any particular conversation. For example, Samantha Traynor is a character with which a primary romantic relationship can be formed; but that relationship is built off nothing but paragon choice after paragon choice. All the subtlety and nuance involved with previous romantic options like having to be more assertive with Ashley or more compassionate with Liara is gone. All this led to the highlights of the story shifting from being the choices I was making in the first two games and how those changed the plot to the actual substance of the paragon plot in the third game, making me feel like less of an active participant and more an enthralled observer.
The one time this pattern of straight forward dialogue is broken occurs after all the different possible storylines have been forced through the regrettably necessary decision tree bottleneck. During the conversation with the catalyst as the three, but secretly four, options became apparent to me none of them felt purely paragon or purely renegade and each one had their own distinct downsides. I have always been opposed to the idea of wielding a weapon that I have deemed too powerful for my own adversaries and so philosophically the idea of the control ending felt hypocritical. But on the other hand I have always avoided when possible the act of forcing an important choice on anyone else thereby circumventing their own free will, and so the idea of synthesizing was morally questionable to me as I would be left thinking about the organics who had no interest in being any part synthetic and their counterpart synthetic organisms. And of course I'm against genocide so the idea of sacrificing all synthetic life to destroy the Reapers felt contrary to the themes and character's that had rung most true to me as I played. The final choice of which ending Shepard would execute on felt like a truly no win scenario and morally gray enough to stand up to any of the most complex decisions of Mass Effect 1, it's just a shame that such an ambiguous and dissatisfying decision had to occur at the very end of the trilogy when finality was needed most.
After six weeks of playing nothing but Mass Effect and binging the entire trilogy I cannot think of a better way for Bioware to have ended such an intense epic. Despite the oversimplification of the dialogue system the best gameplay, story, and subplots of the entire trilogy make for the best overall Mass Effect experience to date. What seperates good science fiction from truly ground breaking science fiction is when the creators pose a question or make their audience think in a way they never have before and Mass Effect 3 does exactly that. Having been raised an atheist the idea of a soul was one that was always closely tied to religion and therefore something I never believed in; but Mass Effect 3 made me question what it is that makes a soul and led me to believe in the idea of, not one gifted from god, but one that is developed as the emotional essence of an individual and what makes us more than electrical currents being moved through organic matter.
When I started giving games review scores I was planning on working on a twenty point scale from 0-10 in half point increments. Then I have Mass Effect a 9 and I stand by that score. But after Mass Effect 2 improved upon it's predecessor in almost every way I had no choice but to give that game a 9.5. Now having played Mass Effect 3 and seeing that while it isn't a 10 it is definitely better than Mass Effect 2 I am forced to break my scoring system and give Mass Effect 3 a 9.8/10.
Genki Shadowcast Review
By: Patrick Morris
Getting burned funding a kickstarter one time was enough for me to pledge to never fund one again. But when Genki announced their new Shadowcast the only thing that kept me true to my word was the fact that what they were promising sounded too good to be true. The potential of an HDMI to USB-C converter that allows the user to use any capable computer as a display for virtually any HDMI device with no noticeable latency and functions as a capture card for use as a creative tool or simply a means of fitting into a smaller than usual space left me feeling like someone was trying to sell me a bridge. But after it was successfully funded and became a real product instead of just an idea in someones head I was willing to spend the $45 to pick one up. After hours of testing across three different hardware configurations I am happy to say that the Genki Shadowcast is in no way snake oil as it delivers on all the kickstarter promises that I was so skeptical of just a few short months ago.
The focus of the marketing and the general feeling of using the device both left me with the sense that the Shadowcast is really primarily a means of using a computer display as a way of playing consoles on the go. Genki has definitely delivered on the promise of no added latency making the Shadowcast a smart purchase for several different groups of people that may have demand for such a device. That combined with the added capability of using the Shadowcast as a basic capture card for game capture on the go or adding a DSLR to a larger at home streaming setup makes for a feature set the likes of which can easily compete with the capabilities of several of Elgato's devices all rolled into one. The Shadowcast also features seamless Streamlabs OBS and OBS integration to allow players with a pre-existing preference for one streaming client over another to roll the device into their existing workflow with relative ease. The feature set delivered by the Shadowcast would be impressive in a single device four times the price, but at the price Genki is offering it is downright stunning.
But who is the Shadowcast really intended to be used by? The demographic that immediately comes to mind is obviously those who travel a lot for work. The reliability of having an entirely self contained console gaming setup on the go without having to rely on anyone else's hardware is definitely tempting for many of those travelers. It's ironic that in almost all of Genki's marketing the Shadowcast is presented as a means of playing Nintendo Switch while traveling as the Switch is really the only console that doesn’t become infinitely more portable with the introduction of the Shadowcast.
On their website Genki lists the recommended technical specifications for compatibility with Shadowcast as a discrete GPU of an Nvidia GT630 at minimum. In my testing I used the Shadowcast with intel integrated graphics, a discrete AMD Radeon VII GPU, and an M1 macbook pro. Throughout all my testing across three different hardware configurations I never experienced any perceivable degradation in quality or introduction of increased latency. The Shadowcast performed flawlessly on all three hardware configurations allowing for a more than playable experience.
Those who will benefit from the use of a Shadowcast are not people that have a comfortable living room or desk gaming setup. The people that stand to benefit the most are without a doubt people who travel a lot for work, college kids, and parents who don’t wanna be bothered to buy their kid their own TV. Obviously people who do a lot of traveling will be able to benefit from the use of the Shadowcast because it will allow them to bring along a console of their choice, I cant help but think that the Xbox Series S would be absolutely perfect for this, and just setup for a few hours of gaming when getting back to the hotel at night. College kids, particularly those living in the dorms, will be able to bring their console gaming setup into the dorms with relative ease. And parents will finally have the option to buy a Shadowcast and tell their kids to play the consoles on their laptops instead of using the TV all the time.
The overall user experience of the Shadowcast is stupid easy. After downloading one simple app directly from the mac app store if you're using a mac, the device is literally plug and play. Just plug everything in and start enjoying your console experience on your laptop. The Genki Arcade software designed to run in tandem with the Shadowcast offers some customization but doesn’t get as in depth as other game capture software's ive used. Genki Arcade allows the user to elect whether they would prefer to prioritize performance or resolution and while there is a noticable difference in both a lower resolution doesn’t directly impact my ability to literally play the game whereas increased input latency does. So after playing around with both for a few minutes I opted for prioritizing performance. The app also has fairly persistent buttons for recording gameplay and mic audio making the Shadowcast a great entry level capture card for any aspiring content creators by providing simple high quality gameplay clips.
Overall the feature set that the Shadowcast provides all for $45 makes it difficult not to recommend. If you or anyone you know fall into any one of the demographics I described earlier or could see yourself using it even just a few times for any of the many functions it offers I definitely recommend it. Whether youre traveling and just looking for a quiet way to unwind at your in laws or youre a 12 year old looking to start your first youtube channel the Shadowcast will deliver in a big way.
Mass Effect 2 Review
By: Patrick Morris
Mass Effect 2 exceeds the extremely high bar set by its predecessor in almost every way. The sequel stands as arguably the perfect second part of a three part story arc while also creating its own identity to stand on its own as a distinctly different game from Mass Effect 1. If the theme of the first game is optimism in the face of certain defeat the theme of Mass Effect 2 is despair and the long term effects of despair on the human psyche. Mass Effect 2 strikes out on its own with a radically different tone allowing players to experience a more sinister side of the existing universe, but still feels as though it belongs all the while amplifying the good and trimming the fat of the first game making for a perfectly rounded part 2 of an epic trilogy.
At its core Mass Effect 2 is a character driven drama. Accounting for the intensity of the bond built between the player and the characters that make up the crew of the Normandy in the first game, it's natural that the player feel somewhat resistant towards building relationships with their new crewmates at first. But the remarkable absence of weak links in the chain quickly overcomes any hesitation. The personal motivations and back stories of nearly all the characters are enthralling achieve their goal of endearing the new cast to the player in a slow but lasting way. One of the very few ways in which the game makes a small misstep is in the characters the game pushes on the player early on. Including Jack, Mordin, and Grunt as three of the first four members of the squad that are to be recruited makes for a slow opening act. Mordin's arc gets great eventually when arriving at Tuchunka but initially doesn’t stand out as anything remarkable. Grunt's acquisition mission is one of the weakest of the entire game with unimaginative combat and afterwards player hesitancy can result in not even recruiting Grunt. And Jack's entire character feels as though she was developed by a focus group of edgy middle schoolers and what they thought was cool in 2012.
After acquiring such a massive crew of new characters the developers clearly make the assumption that the player will need time and individual interactions in order to build a bond similar to that shared with the alumni of the first game, the answer to this was loyalty missions. Giving each character their own specific time with the player to explore something of personal importance to them in order to earn that character's loyalty achieved precisely the intended effect. Each loyalty mission allowed for me to get to know the characters and appreciate their individuality to a significantly greater degree. Being allowed to be a part of Grunt's rite of passage, assisting Miranda in finding and protecting her sister, and representing Tali as she is on trial for treason makes you feel like you are the commander of the Normandy and these really are your crew that have asked for your help. With the exception of Jack and Jacob every loyalty mission took me from being somewhat lukewarm on the character's to feeling like they are a fully realized individual with their own history and motivations.
After recruiting all of the main crew the more minor characters stand out as well. Commander Bailey, and of course Captain Anderson are some of the most enjoyable. Anderson's father figure relationship with Shepard continues to develop especially well if he is assigned as a member of the council at the end of the first game. And Commander Bailey plays a significant and touching role in Thane's loyalty mission by relating to Thane and his motivations as a father and helps Shepard better understand Thane's feelings. While not as impactful as Anderson or Bailey but Oriana, Keiji, and Kolyat all enhanced the emotional depth of the main crew members during their loyalty missions. It shouldn’t come as any surprise but even the minor characters in a character focused drama are excellent.
Not all elements of the game are best in class however. While the character relationships are the games biggest strength the main plot is it's biggest weakness. The mystery's surrounding the primary antagonists of the game known only as the collectors and the actions of the private militia known as Cerberus are intriguing, but without major payoff's occurring in this entry of the story it ends up feeling like treading water. Despite the underwhelming resolution's to these mysteries it's somewhat understandable, as the middle part of a trilogy typically functions as the connecting tissue between the intriguing beginning and the finality of the end making a less than stellar story more forgivable. From the outset it was clear that the collectors would somehow be connected to the reapers making the progression through that particular plot one of the less exciting story elements the game has to offer. But the impunity with which Cerberus operates and the insecurity the player is made to feel in their interactions with the Cerberus boss the illusive man make for more intriguing B plot that unfortunately is left to be resolved in the final chapter of the trilogy. Where the main story was the driving force of the first game it takes a back seat to the character's and even the mystery of the B plot in this sequel.
Also the human reaper at the end of the game reeks of 2010 corny.
When setting out to develop a sequel to what is arguably the hardest hitting sci-fi property since Star Trek: The Next Generation hit television in the mid 80's one of the greatest challenges was undoubtedly differentiation and the single most differentiating part of Mass Effect 2 is tone. Where Mass Effect was full of optimism and exposing the player to the best things the galaxy has to offer Mass Effect 2 takes a much different approach. The sequel explores a much more grim and seedy underbelly of what was previously such a plucky and perky universe. Bioware made a conscious choice to shift the tone of the series and that choice is justified by the inexplicable despair being experienced by so many as the galaxy is ravaged by the collectors. The story and ultimate results demanded that shift in tone and the developers made the right decision to move the series away from a major part of what made the first game so successful. While the tone is more of an acquired taste in this sequel it all culminated perfectly and was made worth it by the finale.
The suicide mission that functions as the game's climax and is appropriately labeled as such is one of the best finale's of any video game I have ever played. This being a 2010 game I was unable to entirely avoid spoilers and was aware that there would be a suicide mission coming. As a result I was careful to complete all the loyalty missions as I was sure that would be the deciding factor in who did and didn’t die. Prior to starting the suicide mission I was convinced that the game would push me into a position so dire that without the loyalty of my crew members they would abandon me potentially leaving us weakened to the point that I could lose everyone. Upon arriving at the collector base it very quickly became very apparent that what I had prepared a plan for couldn’t have been further from what the game actually had in store. When it became clear that my plan of action would not be working I made the decision to just play through the suicide mission and make choices as my extremely paragon Shepard would, the best crew member for the job regardless of how likely I thought it would be that they would die…even Garrus. When all was said and done I only lost Jack and Kasumi and both of those were a result of having not made enough upgrades to the Normandy. But with each choice the game left me distraught and forced me into a state of mental paralysis and a feeling of decision fatigue that no other game has ever been able to make me feel.
Mass Effect 2 is an absolutely stunning part 2 of an incredible trilogy. Amazing character, interactions, subplots, and world building are more than enough to make up for somewhat lackluster story resulting in me being on the edge of my seat the entire time. Against all odds Mass Effect 2 somehow manages to outpace its predecessor and raise the bar for what the medium is capable of in the genre of science fiction. 9.5/10.
The True Successor to the 3DS
By: Patrick Morris
Starting in 2017 Nintendo made one of the biggest comeback's in the history of the video game industry. Despite how genuinely awesome the Wii U was, when it came time to hang it up the console would go down as an unprecedented failure. But after the failure of the Wii U and the success of the 3DS Nintendo's first hybrid console has left audiences in a perpetual state of debate as to whether the Switch is primarily a handheld or home console. In my opinion Nintendo's primary focus is fairly clear as the Switch is the final realization of something the company has been working towards for nearly 30 years. For whatever reason people have just assumed that the Switch is Nintendo's continuation of their home console lineup, but when taking everything into account it appears as though the Switch is more of a successor to the 3DS than it is to the Wii U resulting in a significantly easier prediction as to what Nintendo will be doing next.
Timing is everything and it's still a measure we use to predict product releases to this day. The NES reigned supreme for six years from 1985 to 1991. Then came the SNES for 5 years from 91-96. After that we got the N64 for five years from 96-01 followed by five years of GameCube from 01-06. Nintendo's revolution became a phenomenon taking the world by storm from 06-2012 only to be replaced by the stellar but underappreciated Wii U in 2012. Then in March of 2017 less than four and a half years later the Nintendo Switch hit the market. The life span of the Nintendo home consoles averages roughly 5 years and 2 months. From 1989 through 1998 the Gameboy was the dominant force in the handheld market. Replacing the Gameboy in 1998 was the Gameboy Color that would enjoy a significantly shorter time atop the throne from 1998 through 2001. From 2001 through 2004 the Gameboy advance and it's subsequent itterations were what Nintendo had to offer for on the go gaming and then from 2004 through 2011 the DS absolutely trounced the hugely successful PSP only being replaced by the 3DS in 2011. Across five handhelds and nearly 30 years the average life span of a Nintendo handheld comes out to just about five years and seven months. Seeing as the 3DS was released in february of 2011 and the Wii U was released more than a year and a half later in November 2012 Nintendo's handhelf lineup was more due for an update than the home consoles.
Furthermore Nintendo has a long history of making radical changes to their home consoles from one generation to the next. From the more traditional experience of the GameCube, to the highly approachable motion based Wii, to the hybrid asymetrical Wii U Nintendo hasn’t provided a largely similar experience to it's previous generation since 2001. Radical change is the name of the game for Nintendo's home consoles and while yes, the Switch can be considered a radical departure from the Wii U, it's even more a continuation of a tried and true handheld experience. Since 1989 Nintendo has been iterating on and fine tuning the core experience first found in the Gameboy. With each new handheld the experience was largely improved but still familiar. And that tradition continued from the 3DS to the Switch and was even further cemented with the introduction of the Switch Lite.
And with the overwhelming success of the Switch, Nintendo has finally achieved a goal to which they have been working toward since the days of the Super Nintendo. In the early 90's Nintendo released the Super Gameboy, an SNES cartridge with the hardware of a Gameboy inside and a slot for Gameboy games allowing players to play their Gameboy games on the TV in their living room. There was a similar product planned for the N64 that was never released and then during the GameCube era Nintendo released the Gameboy Player, an attachment for the Gamecube that allowed players to play Gameboy Advance game's in the living room. Nintendo's focus and success has always been in their handheld consoles and even during the hey day of their most successful console ever the Wii they were still selling more DS's than they were Wii's. Considering the reliable success of their handheld lineup in the context of the volatility of their home consoles it's only natural that Nintendo try to move that handheld success into the living room. And that's exactly what the Switch is. The Switch is a handheld first, one descended of the original Gameboy with a design mentality derived of the Super Gameboy and the Gameboy player; a handheld that is designedd from the ground up to be played on the TV.
So now the question of what comes next from Nintendo? It's one that has been asked countless times in discord servers, on podcasts, and without a doubt on playgrounds all over the world. Well when asking that question through the lens of the Switch being the successor to the 3DS it becomes significantly more clear than when looked at as the successor to the Wii U. Nintendo has been working toward this goal since the early 90's. It has been a focus of theirs for years and now that they’ve finally achieved that goal it's only natural that they will iterate on and experiment with it. Whatever the next console from Nintendo Is I have little doubt that it will be something very much in line with the Switch.
Sony's Shady Behavior
By: Patrick Morris
Alright going to try to keep this one as short as possible. After God of War 5 got delayed I felt like Sony was dipping back into one of the strategies they used in the lead up to the PS5 release that was a big difference maker in what pushed me to play more Xbox than PlayStation this generation. It's only natural that people do some of their best work when they're backed into a corner and Microsoft is fighting like someone who has been backed into a corner, but instead of rising to the challenge I think there have been plenty of signs that Sony is putting more work into appearing as though they are rising to the challenge than they are actually working to rise to that challenge.
Basically this entire article is going to be calling Sony out on some of their recent behavior and I know how rabid fanbases can get so I just want to put out a quick disclaimer: if I were to make a rough estimation I would say I played at least four times as much PS4 as I did Xbox One last generation. I own both the Series X and a PS5 and I have played both quite a bit. So I'm not some Xbox fanboy shitting all over Sony I'm someone who enjoys video games on all platforms and is concerned with calling Sony out on some recent shady behavior.
In late May 2020 Sony's Jim Ryan said "We have always said that we believe in generations…We believe that when you go to all the trouble of creating a next-gen console, that it should include features and benefits that the previous generation does not include. And that, in our view, people should make games that can make the most of those features." Sony was very concerned with making it crystal clear that their first party developers would be moving from the PS4 to the PS5 fairly quickly and there wouldn’t be many cross generational released. This was, of course, in response to Microsoft's very loud messaging that every single game that worked on the Xbox One would work on the Xbox Series and they would be continuing to support the Xbox family of consoles for years to come. Sony and Microsoft were utilizing very different strategies and Sony wanted that to be known.
What carried the PS4 to its monumental success was the killer first party exclusives. Game's like Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, Spider-Man, Ghost of Tsushima, and depending on who you talk to The Last of Us Part 2 were some of the best games of the generation and without a doubt what compelled many gamers to buy a PS4 over an Xbox One. Understandably Sony wanted to keep that momentum going into the next generation. So the strategy became bringing those first party exclusives front and center. And that's exactly the play they ran over and over again during the PlayStation events in the back half of last year.
Starting at their June event Sony gave us our first look at Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Horizon Forbidden West at their big PS5 reveal event. All throughout the video presentation and in the subsequent posts across various social media websites Sony failed to mention that both games would also be coming to the PS4. That important tidbit of information was left buried in the post on the Japanese PlayStation blog. Also included in that June event was the first trailer for Gran Turismo 7 with a "PlayStation 5 Exclusive" watermark in the corner. And just recently Sony confirmed that Gran Turismo 7 will also be coming to the PS4. Then they doubled down on their strategy of either hiding or in some cases blatantly lying about platform exclusives at their September event. The show opened with the world premiere trailer for the hotly anticipated Final Fantasy 16 and at the end of the trailer after the title card the words "PlayStation Console Exclusive" with the the PlayStation logo filled the screen. It was shortly found out by internet sleuths that Final Fantasy 16 was in fact not a console exclusive, at least not in the way Sony presented it as such. On SquareEnix's own website the asterisks reads "not available on other consoles for a limited time." Again, I have no problem with Sony paying to have Final Fantasy 16 as a timed exclusive for the PS5, but what I do have a problem with is them presenting it as though it will always be a console exclusive.
And the hits have just kept coming, the latest of them being God of War 5 and new information surrounding the development of Horizon Forbidden West. Sony Santa Monica confirmed recently that God of War 5 has officially been delayed to 2022. Let’s all be honest with each other, anyone that thought that game was coming in 2021 when it was first announced was foolish and to still believe it up until the delay was official leaves me actually wondering if you are truly delusional. The delay of God of War wasn’t a problem, it was the uncertainty introduced by the juxtaposition of the context of the announcement occurring during a PS5 showcase presentation paired with Sony's previously stated commitment to generations and total ambiguity of whether God of War 5 would be exclusive to the PS5. But with the announcement of the delay also came the announcement of the PS4 version of the game and once again Sony had misled their customers into thinking a heavy hitting exclusive would be a true PS5 game.
Now before I wrap up in case I haven't made it absolutely crystal clear I have no problem whatsoever with cross generation games. In fact, some of my favorite games of all time have been cross generational and I love to discuss which was the better version of the game. What I have a problem with is Sony intentionally hiding information that will undoubtedly effect someone's purchasing decisions and in some cases out right lying about platform exclusives to make their console seem more appealing. It comes as no surprise to me that Sony wouldn’t want to abandon more than 110 million PS4 owners that they could potentially be selling software to, and I would never fault them for that, they have to be allowed to make money if they are going to continue to deliver some of the best games we have ever played. Had Sony not leaned so hard into their messaging about believing in generation's all of this would be a moot point, but they did lean, they leaned hard. What I have a problem with is the fact that their ambiguity feels intentionally misleading in an effort to sell consoles. It feels as though Sony is working harder to look like the PS5 is a great console to buy than they are at actually making the PS5 a great console to buy, and that is not a consumer friendly practice.