Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Games of March 2014.

Well.  This is gonna' be crazy-awesome.

It's as if November decided it wasn't content to wait for Spring, Summer and Fall to roll around before it got back down to its preferred business, and just shoved March out of its usual (half-decent) slot to, instead, bring us the noise and the funk eight months early.

March 2014 is bursting at the seams with major and very-likely-incredible releases, to the point that every single week from the beginning to the end of the month has one game I absolutely must buy - far too many to actually play, I'm afraid - but as far as problems go, it's a good one.

Let us begin.

March 11th - PS3, 360, PC - Hype-O-Meter : Day One.

Obsidian Entertainment have long been a respected if not entirely eminent developer of western RPGs.  These are the folks who gave us the espionage RPG Alpha Protocol, the Fallout: New Vegas (which was way better than Bethesda's Fallout 3), and the largely-awesome but actually-unfinished Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2.

More often than not, Obsidian's RPGs are specifically brilliant and generally not-quite-there in terms of polish or endings(KotOR2). They're a developer with a masterful sense of why gamers actually spend time in RPGs, and are particularly gifted at compelling writing and world-building.

As a general rule, video games based on pre-existing properties suck.  For every Witcher or Arkham Asylum there are literally thousands of egregious titles that are only generously described as games - but The Stick of Truth feels very separate from the countless missteps of such adaptations.  South Park creative talent Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been heavily involved in The Stick of Truth's development, writing and voicing the entire game - they even dedicated a three-episode arc last year to introducing the premise of the tSoT, with the notable snippet of dialogue:
"Preorder doesn't mean shit, m'kay?  When you preorder a game you're just committing to paying for something some assholes in California haven't even finished working on yet.  Y'know what you get for preordering?  A big dick in your mouth."
I've had Obsidian's dick in my mouth for months now, and I can't wait for my reward.

March 4th
The Walking Dead : Season 2 Episode 2 - A House Divided - a story-driven adventure game.
PS3, 360, PC, MAC
Hype-O-Meter : I'll day-one it, but I won't play it any time soon.

The shine is off the apple for Telltale this year - after they blew our socks off with the affecting narrative of Season 1 in 2012, we sort of ignored that their games were technically-shoddy, with unreliable framerates, long loads and the combination of both mucking up your quicktime events.

The fact that Telltale's technical problems persist in Season 2 and their new serial The Wolf Among Us is becoming harder and harder to ignore... but I don't care.  Like millions of others, I fell in love with Clementine in Season 1, and I'll be damned if I abandon her now.  The girl's growin' up badass.

March 11th
Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky - a JRPG.
Hype-O-Meter : If there were nothin' big coming out this month?  Yes, I'd buy it.

But there is a lot of huge stuff coming out this month.  Atelier Escha & Logy should have waited until like, July, when nothing is happening, and I would've happily given it a shot.

The Atelier games are lovely, light-hearted, bubbly little JRPGs about beautiful people having pleasant lives and going on adventures with their lifelong friends.  They're just happy and nice games, and given the enjoyment the eminently adorable Totori provided on my Vita, I'd be happy to check this next installment out.  But no, March is too busy. On the 11th, for example, I'll be picking up...

An action-RPG.
March 11th - PS3, 360, PC - Hype-O-Meter : Day One.

Dark Souls II is the most important game of March for many, many gamers.  The franchise - between the incredible Dark Souls and its similarly stellar spiritual prequel Demon's Souls - has achieved legendary status in its short lifetime on the PS3/360 generation, for good reason.

These games offer the most rewarding gameplay and the thickest, most soaring atmosphere you will ever find in a video game.  Period.  Dark Souls, in particular, was a pure-bred masterpiece, and one of the single best games of the past ten years. With beautiful, tragic and minimal narratives, wonderful music (and wonderful silence), the Souls games are in a class by themselves - no matter how hard other action RPGs try to compete.

They're hard, don't get me wrong.  Incredibly hard - but on the other side of that supreme challenge is the inestimable satisfaction you'll feel when you overcome the impossible.

A multiplayer FPS.

March 11th - 360, One, PC - Hype-O-Meter : I probably wouldn't even like it, but I want it.

Titanfall is the Xbox One's great white hope and an interesting narrative all its own.

Once upon a time there was a development team led by Jason West and Vince Zampella at Electronic Arts.  They assembled the genre-defining military shooter Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (2002) before leaving for Activision.  At Activision, they led a team named Infinity Ward, building Activision's similarly-WWII-themed Call of Duty brand with solid titles until, in 2007, the success of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare shot the developer to superstar status and turned Call of Duty into a yearly blockbuster of previously-unthinkable levels.  The games went on to make billions every year, regardless of whether or not Infinity Ward actually developed them.

In 2008, Zampella and West left Infinity Ward in a storm of PR-speak.  Word around the industry was that the Infinity Ward crew was displeased that Activision had held back the well-earned and ridiculously lucrative royalties Infinity Ward was due for Call of Duty's success behind a smokescreen of technicalities, the entire studio was disgruntled and the top dogs were chatting with other publishers to see if anyone else would be interested in rewarding their talents.  It's known that EA fired Zampella and West, but the best part is that, after their firing, about half the studio followed them - lead designers, programmers, top dogs who'd been with the studio since the beginning - and together, they formed Respawn Entertainment, an independent studio whose first game would be published by chief Activision rival Electronic Arts.

Expectations were, naturally, high for the studio.  At E3 2013, on Microsoft's stage, Respawn unveiled Titanfall. 

At E3, it was announced that Titfanfall would be coming "exclusively to Xbox platforms in 2014" - which turned out to mean Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.  It quickly became apparent that what the Respawn boys meant was that it would be coming "exclusively to Xbox platforms in 2014," and that, as far as they were concerned, the deal was for timed exclusivity - the PRspeak they rattled off in the following weeks all but confirmed it.

Then, at an Electronic Arts shareholders meeting, it was revealed that Electronic Arts had made an agreement - without West or Zampella's knowledge, if their tweets are to be believed - to secure Titanfall's exclusivity to Xbox, period.  The narrative then changed, with Respawn and industry insiders insisting that Titanfall 2 will be on PS4, but Titanfall can't be.

Microsoft bet big on this one, and given their core demographic, it's very likely to pay off. Titanfall looks phenomenal.

Okay, so imagine Call of Duty on great big maps that are designed on two fronts.  They are a latticework of hallways, buildings, wall-runs and rooftops for the fleet-footed pilots of the titans, who can all double-jump via jetpacks and dash across walls - it's an incredibly mobile FPS when you're on foot.

Each multiplayer match is not populated merely with human players, but a contingency of AI foot soldiers who serve as MOBA-style cannon fodder, permitting even inexperienced players to assist their team and build themselves up - and helping your team reduces the cooldown timer on calling down your Titan.

The Titans are gigantic bipedal pilot-driven tanks with three classes currently announced - the all-rounded Atlas, the heavy Ogre and the agile Strider - all towering over the pilots they fight with and against.  And really... it just looks awesome.

On a technical level?  No, it looks okay.  It looks fine.  I think it's sub-HD on Xbox One... lemmie check on that... it's 780p - but that won't matter to the folks who see commercials for it, and it likely won't matter when you throw down with a controller in hand.  Those who've played it insist it's fantastic.

On a personal level, I don't much mind that it's not coming to PS4 - multiplayer shooters aren't exactly my wheelhouse, and if this were another Call of Duty game I would've ignored it entirely - but... c'mon.  The titans reach out and grab you when you approach with their gigantic metal hands and place you gently inside the driver's compartment.

That's awesome.

March 18th
Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster - a PS2 JRPG, reborn.
PS3, Vita
Hype-O-Meter :  I'm actually enjoying FFXIII-3, so I might grab this for my Vita.

Final Fantasy X and its sequel occurred when I was giving precisely zero shits about RPGs and JRPGs in particular, so I know nothing about it.  I think it has like, a sword-gun?  And I think the main character is some sort of sci-fi soccer player?  And I think a lot of people argued over whether or not the system for levelling up your character was good or not.

Either way, seems the game was good enough to get an HD remaster.  Maybe I'll grab it if Vita games ever start appearing on discount shelves.

Tactical espionage action.

March 18th - PS4, PS3, One, 360 - Hype-O-Meter : Day One.

The Metal Gear Solid games have gotten progressively more detailed and complicated over the years, and I anticipate Ground Zeroes - a prequel of sorts to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - will be no different.  No one's quite sure what, precisely, the game will be, aside from being open-world, and involving stealth, but I'm expecting something akin to the tanker chapter from MGS2 - a massive gameplay slice you can spend a great deal of time in before the game proper launches.

A new core Metal Gear is not a minor event.  Revengeance was a minor event.  This is The Next Thing in the franchise that has defined stealth for the past two decades, designed by a man who brought the genre to the forefront in 1987, and then never stopped working on the franchise.

Day one indeed.  Y'know what?  Let's throw the Snake Eater theme song out there.  Dig it.

March 18th
Yaiba : Ninja Gaiden Z - a zany brawler.
PS3, 360, PC
Hype-O-Meter : this goes in the Lollipop Chainsaw/Shadows of the Damned/Killer is Dead pile.

...which is to say I'm curious.  It looks fun, man.  Any game with this opening cutscene has my attention, and it was directed by Keiji Inafune, who knows his business quite well.  Like Atelier, I'd be happy to give Yaiba some of my time and attention - but lord knows I won't have enough to go around in March.

Open-world platforming, third-person shooting action.
March 21st - PS4 - Hype-O-Meter : This is why I bought my PS4.  Day One.

Sucker Punch secured my affection with the sublime Sly Cooper titles on PS2 (Sly 2 in particular), and I was more than a bit standoffish when they announced inFamous instead of just rolling in to an HD Sly title.  I ended up buying the first inFamous only because it came with access to Uncharted 2's multiplayer beta, and ended up feeling so bad for ever having doubted the developer.

inFamous, with its ultra-slick, comfortable blending of Sucker Punch's well-honed 3D platforming and sharp, expressive third-person shooting was the most pure fun I had with my PS3 until inFamous 2 came along with far-better narrative presentation, writing and performances from its cast.  The games came to define excellence in gameplay, for me, with their wide-open worlds just begging to be clambered across, flinging yourself from rooftops, soaring over streets and spitting elemental powers from your fingertips.  Lovely stuff.

I am, in my own selfish way, very happy that one of the first big exclusives for the PS4 post-launch is inFamous - this game is why I bought my PS4, and I cannot wait to put hands on it.

* * *

Annnd... that'll do.  March is a beast.  We're also getting BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma and The Witch and the Hundred Knight, but I've spent too much time on this post and I'm going to play more Thief.

G'night everybody!  South Park in two days!


  1. March sounds like I will have a lot of spare time for the gym. it too late for me to pre-order Second Son?!