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Friday Night Rant: Cross-Gen Titles Are A Drag

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[Disclaimer: The Friday Night Rant is just that, a rant. It contains extemporaneous remarks which are not to be confused with this site’s journalism or editorial opinions. It is meant to be an entertaining take on the industry and may be divisive in nature.]

People keep saying how great the launch lineup for the next console generation is. I have to tell you I’m not all that impressed, and since most of the big name titles are cross-gen games I think the new consoles will make a less than impressive splash.

While Killzone: Shadow Fall and RYSE: Son of Rome may have the chops to give us a peek at what the new gaming systems may be capable of I think most gamers are firmly focused on picking up games like Call of Duty: Ghosts, Watch Dogs, and Battlefield 4 as their first next-gen experiences.

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So, what’s that going to look like? Not so great as far as I’m concerned. Call of Duty hasn’t had enough engine upgrades to bring it even close to the visual fidelity of late gen games of the current generation. Sure it has kept a wonderfully smooth 60 frames per second but unless you’re watching an uncompressed clip of it running on a top shelf PC the game just keeps looking more and more dated. That game needs a new engine and pronto, you’d think all those billions of dollars would be enough to fund one but it would seem there’s no incentive to make it any better.

We recently got confirmation from Ubisoft that the much anticipated open world hacking title Watch Dogs will be locked in at 30 frames per second. Not only that but they can’t confirm the visual fidelity, which tells me that even on the most powerful console hardware available it will likely top out at 720p. So hey, remind me again why we pay for new consoles? Perhaps there’s some hanky panky going on here. Maybe they don’t want to make any version better than any other not to discourage sales on current gen hardware. Maybe the new hardware just isn’t as good as we had hoped. Maybe it’s too much to hope that open world or sandbox games will actually improve at all. Bottom line: I don’t think these developers are really trying to capitalize on the power of the consoles anywhere near as much as they keep saying in the media.

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Battlefield 4 is looking to amp things up to 60fps but again sitting at an ancient 720p resolution. Didn’t DICE always make it clear that their game was the best looking military shooter? Sure the Frostbite 2 engine looks a lot better than what’s happening in Call of Duty but we’re all looking for a substantial leap here. Does any of this inspire confidence in people? Maybe it doesn’t matter because, after all, we can probably expect games that aren’t cross-gen to do a lot better as they come in later but I think the fewer impressive differences we see at launch the longer it might be for the generation to get off to a good start. With pre-orders very high going into the launch season the last thing we need is people seeing very little difference between the generations as they soak up their internet media and watch early adopters play their games.

Lemme tell ya, if you want to make a splash on the new consoles you have to make sure the people who spend an extra $400-$500 are getting the better experience they deserve because these are the people who are going to, or not going to, buy the sequels to these games. Multiplats may never have the same quality that exclusives do but if you can’t even get your big budget big sellers running at 1080p and 60fps from the get go then what is it exactly that makes these games next gen?

For how long these consoles have been in the making I think one could reasonably expect both a better performing class of cross-gen games and a bigger selection of actual exclusives (not obvious timed ones that are really multiplats waiting to happen).

 

David D. Nelson is a polymath with a BA in English working as an independent writing and editing professional. He enjoys gaming, literature, and a good hat.

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198X Review — A Nostalgia Trip Without a Destination

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198X

Some short stories feel more like chapters—snipped out of a larger work—that struggle to make sense on their own. 198X represents a translation of that ethos to video game form. As a result, the game feels unfulfilling, though that does not detract from the overall quality on offer. Ultimately, the player’s appraisal of 198X will depend on whether they place more stock in story or gameplay because while the former leaves much to be desired, the latter will be a hit for anyone with fond memories of the 8- and 16-bit classics.

In the framing and overall structure, 198X is decidedly modern, but everything else pulses with a retro vibe. At its core, the game is a compilation, weaving together five distinct experiences under the auspice of a story of personal development. From the Double Dragon-infused ‘Beating Heart’ to the turn-based dungeon RPG ‘Kill Screen’, each title feels slick, if a little undercooked. Those old-school originals could only dream of being as smooth as these throwbacks. However, the two-button input methodology results in the games feeling just a touch too simple, though their brevity—each clocking in at a maximum of 15 minutes (depending on the player’s skill level and muscle memory)—makes that less of an issue than it might have been. If more depth is present, it is hidden well, as the game lacks any sort of tutorial to guide players. Nevertheless, the stellar presentation goes a long way towards papering over the cracks.

The pixel art aesthetic of 198X is staggering. Each of the worlds that players make their way through is pitched perfectly to fit the mood it evokes. From the grungy brawler of the first game to the more melancholic mood of the open-road racer, the screen is drenched in lavish colour and far more detail than one might expect from such a seemingly simple art style.

Easily a match for the visuals is the audio. The in-game sounds of a car engine or bone-crunching strike are low-key, which allows the music to come to the fore. Those tunes are all from the electronic genre, simple, yet layered with enough depth to not feel tedious or tiring. Easily overshadowing all the rest though is Maya Tuttle’s voice-over narration as The Kid. Her tone is one of pervasive resignation that works to reinforce the same mood within the script.

That melancholia will surely strike a chord with anyone who has grown up on the fringes. The Kid speaks of once loving and now hating the Suburbia of their childhood, where memories of happiness collide with a contemporary feeling of entrapment. The words and lines are powerfully evocative—made even more so by the connection between the gameworlds and the prevailing emotion at that point. The problem is that they amount to nothing. The story comprises of these snippets—these freestanding scenes of life lived lonely—that never coalesce into anything. The Kid may find an arcade and speak of finding some sort of home and a source of strength, but it goes nowhere. The game ends just as things start to get interesting. Setting up for a sequel is no sin. Plenty of other games and media products—from Dante’s Inferno to Harry Potter—have done just that. However, to be effective, such first parts need to offer a story in and of themselves, not just the promise of a story to come, and that is where 198X falls apart.

With each game in the compilation being a straightforward, one-and-done affair and the overarching narrative feeling like a prologue at best, 198X is wafer-thin. The presentation is simply remarkable, and the package has enough variety to be worth a look, but the unmistakable impression is that something is missing.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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