Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Games of May 2014.

May is gearing up to be a very interesting month with earnest new IPs hoping to strike it rich and a massively-anticipated indie release, but I'll admit - the single game that excites me the most in May is one of the three ports coming to the PlayStation Vita, and it launches this Tuesday...

A pair of genre-defining brawlers from back on the PS2.  In HD.  On Vita.
March 6th - Vita - Hype-O-Meter : Day One.

In the opening moments of God of War, when he steps off the cliff to plummet into the clouds and Linda Hunt's authoritative narration takes over - "and Kratos cast himself from the highest mountain in all of Greece.  After ten years of suffering, ten years of endless nightmares, it would finally come to an end.  Death would be his escape from madness..." - I well up.  It still gets me, man, I admit it.

It catches me up in the soaring melodrama of this now-aged series, the tragic tale of its antihero and the grandness of these now-aged games.

God of War, one should note, started as Sony's rip-off of Devil May Cry.  The story goes, when (director) David Jaffe pitched the game to Sony, they replied that it sounded an awful lot like games that had come before, and that, “there’s nothing innovative about this at all,” Jaffe replied, “I don’t care about innovation. I care about fun. I think we can execute this better than anybody.”

And they did.

God of War made Studio Santa Monica's name, and their reputation.  Sure, it was Devil May Cry in ancient Greece with chain blades, but it was also beautifully, masterfully executed across every aspect, from art direction to technology to gameplay to pacing to design, and they blew subsequent expectations out of the water with God of War II in 2007 - a game that showed the PS2 continued to offer mind-blowing experiences while the "next gen" was still struggling to find its footing.

Artistically beautiful, viscerally violent, silky-smooth design - these games are approaching ten years old, and I'll grant I'm viewing their Vita re-released through rose-colored nostalgia-goggles, but the Vita's native brawler (Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus) doesn't grant me the grandness of God of War - a flavor I've long missed, and desired on the handheld.

And in two days, I won't have to.

May 9th
Bound By Flame - an action RPG.
PS4, PS3, PC, 360
Hype-O-Meter : Myeh.

Bound by Flame is from a French developer called Spiders, who don't have the best track record in the world.  They're the folks who made Mars: War Logs, Of Orcs and Men, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes and Faery: Legends of Avalon - and it's okay, I hadn't heard of half of those, either.

Bound by Flame seems to recall a bit of Kingdoms of Amalur with light, ineffectual-looking combat, while attempting to court the M-for-mature sexuality and dark tones of The Witcher, but I don't think I've seen a shred of gameplay for this title that made me sit up and care.  It's the type of game I'd love, but it also doesn't appear to be entirely up for the task.  Still - it'd be nice to be surprised.

May 13th (or 6th, if you're picking up the Vita slim bundle)
Borderlands 2, an open-world sci-fi co-op first-person-shooter random-lootfest RPG.
Hype-O-Meter : I strongly suggest you wait for reviews...

...not because Borderlands 2 is a bad game (it isn't) or because the Vita version only supports 2-player co-op (still cool) - but because you'll be hard-pressed to find a recent preview article that doesn't come direct from the PlayStation Blog.  When media were able to go hands-on with the title earlier in the year, technical troubles (1+ second freezes, a deeply unreliable framerate) and control issues were the concerns of the day.  Borderlands 2 was designed for a controller with clickable analog sticks and four shoulder buttons - which the Vita port attempts to overcome via the front touchscreen and rear touchpad - and if you've ever played an action game that uses the rear touchpad as an action button (in this case, melee and sprint), you'll know that it ends up constantly triggering, just by holding the Vita.

The excellent Killzone Mercenary overcame this by (1) being native to the Vita and (2) relying entirely on the front touchscreen for additional controls (though you could chose to rely almost-entirely on buttons).

That being said, issues like this may have been marked by Gearbox and sorted out in the time between the game's release and those months-old preview articles, and everything could work out just fine - but it could also be a bit of a disaster.   I suggest staying back, watching, and waiting for a review from a site you trust.

That being said, if Borderlands 2 - an open-world sci-fi co-op first-person-shooter random-lootfest RPG - works and runs beautifully on the Vita?  That would be totally awesome and I would buy it again just to transfer my Gunzerker over from the PS3 save (yes, it has cross-save!) and start up a NG+.

An isometric indie action-RPG.
March 20th - PS4, PC - Hype-O-Meter : Day One.

Out of all of May's releases, Transistor is the one I have the highest confidence in

From Supergiant Games, who made the exemplary XBLA isometric action-RPG Bastion back in 2011, Transistor follows a singer named Red who comes into possession of the mysterious, titular weapon. That's almost all we know, except for the setting (a techno-metropolis called Cloudbank) and a bit of the mechanics (Red pauses time to set up her attacks, draining her action meter, and then must evade enemies until it refills) - and, simply based on what Supergiant gave us three years ago..?

I'm in.  I'm down for whatever they do next.  Day one, baby.

A first-person shooter.
May 20th - PS4, PS3, PC, 360, One - Hype-O-Meter : I choose hope.  Day One.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is precisely the kind of game I'd usually advise against having faith in. It's yet-another reboot for the ancient Wolfenstein series (strike 1), it's being made by a studio without a single other game under its belt (strike 2) and it's a cross-gen title, so you can expect the One and PS4 won't exactly be pushed to their limits.  But... 

But developer Machine Games was founded by ex-Starbreeze folks, who worked on The Darkness and Riddick.

But it's a cross-gen title that uses the id Tech 5 engine - the thing that let Rage run at 60FPS and have such gorgeous skyboxes - which is very open to scaling, and may run just beautifully on your new-gen machine.

But it's... it's Wolfenstein, man.  The first FPS I ever played was Wolfenstein, and, I'll be honest, I'd love to love that old friend again.  I want it to succeed.

But watch this trailer,

and tell me that doesn't look like fun.  Plus, access to the Doom 4 beta!

Three cartoony stealth-platformers from the PS2.  In HD.  On Vita.
May 27th - Vita - Hype-O-Meter : Day One.

Between the God of War Collection, Persona 4 Golden, The Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and Sly, I'm about seventy-five percent of the way towards having all the PS2 games I want on Vita (still waiting on Odin Sphere and Okami - fingers crossed!)

The Sly games are where Sucker Punch (inFamous) really cut their teeth, going from a surprisingly-capable game with Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus to one of my all-time favorite titles with Sly 2: Band of Thieves.  Things went a bit too deep into minigame territory in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves (though it had the best story in the bunch), but who cares?

Where else can you leap from beautiful purple Parisian rooftops as an anthropomorphic, cel-shaded cat-burglar raccoon, run along a power line grabbing collectibles, bouncing off awnings and picking the pockets of evil salamanders?

Nowhere, that's where.  It's worth noting that if you love the platforming of inFamous, you'll find a similar flavor of freedom here - but keep in mind that inFamous and inFamous 2 represented the culmination of a ten-year education on platforming for Sucker Punch, and Sly represents them finding their footing.

Still, day one.  Lookin' forward to it.

An open world action game.
May 27th - PS4, PS3, PC, 360, One, Wii U - Hype-O-Meter :  I'll roll the dice.  Day One.

Ubisoft have gotten in the habit, the last few years, of drowning the media with dozens upon dozens of trailers, previews, extended gameplay clips and the like - few of which I find worth posting.  It all ends up forming a... dull roar that sounds something like desperation, when the game that comes out on the other side is Assassin's Creed III.

You can't really count on Ubisoft Montreal to be consistent in their execution, as the studio consists of 2,300 employees and multiple teams.  Who knows if the folks that brought the secret sauce to Assassin's Creed II worked on Watch Dogs?  There's no way to tell, and the game's delay from its expected release last fall could be taken as a strike for the game, or a feather in its cap.

Watch Dogs could be a good example of that famous Shigeru Miyamoto line, “a delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever."  But let's not forget, a delayed game can still suck (see: Thief), and the delay itself may indicate some real core problems with a title's design - issues that are unlikely to be resolved in eight months.

It may also, simply, indicate that Ubisoft want Watch Dogs to be their next Assassin's Creed (they do), and are willing to pull out all the stops in terms of cost and time to ensure they release a game that's grand enough to spawn a franchise.

...which, let's be honest, isn't that encouraging either.  I mean, the first Assassin's Creed game was pretty bad.  No, there's no trusting Ubisoft - they made AC: Revelations, after all - but there's always reason to give 'em the chance.  Assassin's Creed II, Brotherhood and IV: Black Flag are all good reasons to remember that Ubisoft Montreal can, and regularly do, provide us with exemplary, genre-defining experiences that carve out their own identity in the populous space of modern gaming.

Like Nintendo, reviews for every major Ubisoft game all seem to be very supportive, regardless of the game's actual fun factor - so just as with AC III and IV, there's no way to know if Watch Dogs - a modern-day open-world magnum opus about a hacker who turns modern technology and connectivity into an omnipotent weapon of his revenge - will be one of the good ones, or one of the bad ones.

But there's enough reason to hope.

May 27th
Mind Zero - a dungeon-crawling RPG.
Hype-O-Meter : Not my cup of tea.

Mind Zero is a dungeon crawler a'la Demon Gaze or Etrian Odyssey, from Acquire and Zero Dev, the team behind Class of Heroes.  It's garnered comparisons for Persona, as it has its heroes calling upon their powerful MIND avatars to deal specialized attacks, and takes place in both a nightmare world and modern-day Japan.

Part of me wants to buy it just to support Japanese RPGs on Vita in North America - but I'll wait for Orishika to do that.  Finally...

May 30th
Mario Kart 8, the ubiquitous and immortal kart racer.
Wii U
Hype-O-Meter : No.

Mostly 'cause I don't have a Wii U, but also because I never really cared for a Mario Kart game after the first one - but every console generation gets one, and today's kids, whose parents have been kind enough to deny them a PS3, 360, PS4 or One - will be thrilled to have something to play on their Wii U, I'm sure.

That sounded less snarky in my head.  Sorry.  It's Mario Kart in HD - that'll be cool.

* * *

Also dropping this month are Mario Golf World Tour (3DS), Kirby Triple Deluxe (3DS) and Drakengard 3 (PS3), but I certainly won't need 'em.  Any month that brings great-looking titles to both my PS4 and Vita is a winner, in my books - and May will be cool for the God of War collection alone (unless they muck it up a'la Jak & Daxter, but the PS3 versions were good!)

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