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Dénouement 2017: The Good Stuff

By Shamus
on Tuesday Jan 2, 2018
Filed under:
Video Games


A reminder that while I do arrange these best-of lists into numerical order and I do try to push my favorites to the top, you shouldn’t read too much into the placement of individual entries. If you handed me the titles from my 2015 list and told me to put them in order from worst to best, I have only slightly better odds at recreating my 2015 ordering than a random number generator.

Also, I’ve decided that once a game appears on this list, it can’t appear on a later one. I realize that games change significantly from Early Access to release to Major Updates Three Years Later and you could argue that the final form of the game differs from the original far more than any two subsequent Call of Duty sequels. You could make the case that it’s practically a different game now, so maybe it should be eligible to win again. But this would be boring. If games were allowed to win in multiple years, then Minecraft would have dominated from 2010 to 2014. If we go strictly by hours played, then Factorio ought to win again this year.

The No-Show List

The spelling of NIER will never not drive me crazy. Dunno why, but I want to spell it ANY OTHER way.

The spelling of NIER will never not drive me crazy. Dunno why, but I want to spell it ANY OTHER way.

Before I talk about the winners, here are some games I really wanted / intended to play this year but missed out because I procrastinated, forgot, was busy with other games, or didn’t discover them until the end of the year.

Nier: Automata – I saw this and dismissed it at first because it looked like a JRPG and I think I’ve lost interest in those. But everything I hear about this game makes it sound like something I’d like. It’s still at full price, but I plan to grab it in 2018 when it goes on sale. (Or if 2018 hits a dry spell. There’s no sense in buying it right now, since I’ve already got several titles I’m playing.)

Horizon: Zero Dawn – On one hand, it looks amazing and it’s gotten good reviews. On the other hand, I’ve really gone off collect-a-thon elements over the past couple of years. So I’m not sure. It’s not like we have an objective measuring system for how much collect-a-thonning a game asks you to do. “It’s not that bad”, says the guy who really enjoys item collection and has an incredibly high tolerance for it. “You don’t really need the upgrades”, says a chick who actually likes feeling under-powered because it makes combat more interesting for her. “You’ll barely notice it”, says a guy who isn’t tortured with anxiety over not running around the battlefield to harvest all the mook bones because he isn’t obsessed with optimizing his build.

Planet Coaster came out in 2016, and it’s still on my list of stuff to play. History repeats itself. In 2013 SimCity was a humiliating failure, and then Cities: Skylines swooped in and conquered the entire genre. This time Rollercoaster Tycoon was a disappointment, and Planet Coaster was there to capture the market. I don’t get the itch to play these kinds of sims very often, but the next time the bug bites I’ll be getting Planet Coaster.

Witcher III: Blood & Wine – I bought some Witcher 3 DLC last year, but then got sidetracked playing the main game content and never got around to the DLC. Oops. I hear it’s incredible.

Okay, let’s talk about the “winners”.

5. Wolfenstein II

I THINK BJ is supposed to look badass here, but he looks like he's about to cry. Is it just me?

I THINK BJ is supposed to look badass here, but he looks like he's about to cry. Is it just me?

All of my feelings regarding Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus can be summed up as: It’s a good game, but not as good as the Wolfenstein: The New Order. The bonkers gunplay is fun, but not as fun as Wolfenstein: The New Order. The story has a few good moments, but not as many and not as good as New Order. It’s got some interesting ideas, but not as interesting as New Order. And so on.

I probably don’t need to say much more right now. I’m going to spend about 9 or 10 weeks picking at this game and comparing it to its predecessors, so there’s no point in spoiling that series.

4. Night in the Woods

Yikes. I haven't seen eyes this crazy since Mass Effect Andromeda.

Yikes. I haven't seen eyes this crazy since Mass Effect Andromeda.

It’s interesting to compare Night in the Woods with Firewatch from last year. In my 2016 wrap-up I said:

In the real world, if you read a story about an axe murderer you don't instantly expect that you're going to meet the axe murderer in the next couple of days. But in the context of a story, the audience knows the ax-murderer backstory is there for a reason. As soon as Old Man Exposition begins jabbering about those ax-murders back in '79, we know our protagonists are going to meet one.

Both Gone Home and Firewatch employ a trick where they drop certain genre-specific cues into the story. This sets up a Chekov's Gun that is never fired. I liked this because it pulled me in and allowed me to experience the same emotional state as my character. I went through the story paranoid and wondering what sort of gruesome conclusion this was all leading up to.

This was the major complaint people had with Firewatch. (And to a lesser extent, Gone Home.) They felt the game created a build-up with no payoff. It made promises and then didn’t deliver. It fizzled out right when it should have been ramping up. I was fine with it, but some people weren’t. That’s how it goes.

So now we have Night in the Woods, a game that hints at supernatural elements and then clearly pays them off. And I didn’t like it.

I found the story of lead character Mae to be interesting enough to hold my attention. When we got to the third act and it sidelined her aimless journey towards adulthood to confront an elder god that’s been eating the town, I stopped caring. I get that the elder god is kinda a metaphor for the economic devastation the town is going through, but I didn’t care.

I have no idea why, but this is apparently the ONLY screenshot I took during my play-through!?

I have no idea why, but this is apparently the ONLY screenshot I took during my play-through!?

I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe I just like things that are boring, but I would’ve been happy to keep playing through the day-to-day nonsense until she hit some moment of clarity / growth / realization / revelation that enabled her to move on with her life, and for that transformation to happen against the backdrop of a mundane world.

I suppose part of the problem is that I’m probably a lot older than the main characters, the intended audience, and the developers themselves. When I was trying to break into adulthood it was 1993. It’s been awhile, and so I was experiencing her angst and uncertainty with a certain degree of nostalgia. When it came time to face off against the cult, I lost my connection to her story.

None of this should be taken as a criticism of the game. The developers made exactly the game they wanted to, and I think it worked for the intended audience. I’m giving the game a spot on my year-end list because I really appreciated the first two acts of this story and the chance to revisit the struggles of me-from-1993. That’s not something I expect to see in an artsy 2D game with this much platforming in it.

Next week I’ll be back with my favorites and we’ll give 2017 the shove. Happy New Year everyone.

Comments (123)

  1. Daimbert says:

    So, the bottom two games on the list of your favourites are both games that you found disappointing. This provides an interesting comment on 2017 [grin].

    • Crimson Dragoon says:

      I’d be more inclined to say this wasn’t a good year for someone with Shamus’ tastes. He doesn’t play Nintendo games, but this was the year that gave us one of the best Zelda and one of the best Mario titles to date. As he said in this very article, he doesn’t like JRPGs, so that cuts out Persona 5. And he didn’t play Nier or Horizon, which I would personally consider two of the best games of the year. All in all, I’d consider 2017 a fantastic year for video games, unless maybe you’re Shamus Young.

      • Thomas says:

        Yeah, there was a month where _4_ ‘best game of the console generation’ contenders were released. And those weren’t the only good games this year.

        It was a legendary year for console gamers who own certain consoles. And I guess the PC had PUBG (not a game up Shamus’ alley either)

        • Fade2Gray says:

          Yeah. I tend to be a very PC-centric gamer, but I noticed in retrospect that most of the games I really enjoyed were all on consoles this year. It was definitely a banner year for Nintendo. Four of my favorites (Zelda, Mario, Samus Returns, and Xenoblade 2) were all on Nintendo consoles.

      • Echo Tango says:

        I was going to ask if I was alone in thinking that Breath Of The Wild was poor game, but after some googling, it appears that I’m not. It’s a bland sandbox that doesn’t have a lot of meaningful difference in difficulty across the game. The story and characters are bland in the service of the sandbox – nothing can have a large impact on the story, because they don’t know what order you’ll do things in. From my half hour of the game at a friend’s house, I can see that the graphics are fairly generic, compared to Wind Waker, Zelda 64, or even other Nintendo products like Kirby. That’s before I even start comparing it to what smaller, specialized games like Rezrog, Firewatch, The Shrouded Isle, Darkest Dungeon, FTL, Slay The Spire, Oxygen Not Included, Don’t Starve, Enter The Gungeon, The Binding Of Isaac, Devil Daggers, Teleglitch, Crypt Of The Necrodancer, or They Bleed Pixels. In a world where the indies have better visual aesthetics and story, and (I’ve watched it somewhere on a YouTuber’s critique of the game) the other triple-A’s have better mechanics (presumably because they’ve specialized), why is this Zelda worth purchasing?

        • I haven’t played BotW, and based on reviews and my own personal experiences and tastes, I don’t expect I will unless someone thrusts it into my hands for $5. I don’t generally like that sort of game.

          But it still seems like a great game, one that if it shows up on someone’s Best of the Year list at the end I’m hardly offended or anything. The fact that I don’t think I’d enjoy it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great game for lots of other people. I enjoy things that most people would probably prefer to have their teeth pulled rather than play.

        • Christopher says:

          I’d say Zelda is worth purchasing if the part of Skyrim you loved was being given the freedom to go wherever you like. A sandbox game that’s an actual sandbox. Only instead of ugly Bethesda faces and animations, endless glitches, and jumping your way up mountains, you get a pretty anime artstyle, a ton of different interactive systems in terms of weather/fire/water/ice/heat etc, a few universal magical abilities, the ability to climb on almost every surface and a hangglider that allows you to traverse the world in a very fun and unique way.

          If you want an especially good story, better combat mechanics or what not, it’s absolutely not for you. But in my case, it was like someone took the parts of Skyrim I liked and then draped them in Nintendo polish and charm, adding actual gameplay improvements to the mix. That’s not something you can get from the hundreds of Ubisoft-style open world games out there, and definitely not from the indie scene.

          • Viktor says:

            “But in my case, it was like someone took the parts of Skyrim I liked and then draped them in Nintendo polish and charm, adding actual gameplay improvements to the mix.”

            Well, you just put my opinion into words. Though I would say that the combat is actually improved from TES. Not really difficult, other than bullet sponge enemies, but IMO your skill matters more in BotW than Skyrim, and the systems they do have work together really well. You’re certainly making more meaningful decisions during combat in BotW than you ever did in a TES game.

            • Droid says:

              I wanted to say that “better combat than Skyrim” is a low bar to clear, but, thinking about it: Is it actually any bar at all? Is there any game out there except other Bethesda titles that anyone can point me to that actually has worse combat? To be clear here, I specifically mean combat interactions, not including input latency, clunky controls or anything like that. Just the pure combat design (flaws).

              EDIT: Also no games that are bad by design or pure copypastas. I mean actual games that people take seriously.

              • Christopher says:

                I agree that the combat is better than every Bethesda RPG I’ve played, but as Droid mentioned, that’s a low bar(Off the top of my head, I would have to go to other western RPG developers like Bioware or Lionhead Studios to find combat that’s as bad as that). My point was that there are games with better combat systems out there if combat is the most important thing to you in games. Although there are certainly games with worse combat, too, that’s not where the big appeal of Breath of the Wild lies.

              • Eric says:

                My personal bias would put all turn-based and MMO-style combat systems below Skyrim by a wide margin.

                If we limit this to real-time action combat, I would point at Witcher 2, which went for a Souls-like hack-and-slash without any of the FROM Software polish. As an example, I found that rolling away from an attack actually INCREASED the damage I took because it exposed my back without giving me any i-frames, even though the animation seemed to be a full dodge. Witcher 1 was worse in a different way but it’s so old it shouldn’t compare; same for Jade Empire.

                • Nessus says:

                  That’s a great example IMO. I liked what Witcher 2 was wanting to do with its combat, but found the executiont to be janky and awkward. Aside fom the built-in timing problems mentioned, it also had latency issues, and clumsy, slow animations that literally (not figuratively) made Geralt look and play like he was fighting while drunk.

                  As much as we like to bag on Skyrim’s combat, it wasn’t actually “bad”, it just wasn’t good. It was middle of the road, functional but mediocre and unambitious combat for the time the game was released. It was remarkable in it’s unremarkableness, and even at the time you didn’t have to go far to find something better.

                  But that’s not the same as actively bad. You didn’t have to go far to find worse either. And with the proliferation of shit shovelware on Steam and PSN these days, it’s certianly no challenge to find worse now. I don’t know how anyone can actually claim otherwise with a straight face.

                  • Christopher says:

                    I’d day Skyrim’s combat was just good enough to drag in all the people that gave Oblivion and Morrowind a pass, like me.

                  • Sleeping Dragon says:

                    So it wasn’t just me! See, I’ve recently replayed the first Witcher game, then played through 2 for the first time (and am making very, very slow forays into 3 now, lots of distractions after all the winter sales) and when I started 2 I felt the combat was awful. I thought it was a matter of me being used to the first game and having to rapidly switch to something based on a very different mechanic.

                    As for TES, the combat in that series has always been somewhat bland (can’t speak for ESO), which is why I tended to initially play through the games on low difficulties for the sheer fun of exploring, discovering stuff and slaughtering everything without too much of a hassle. If I come back to it later I bump the difficulty up and use mods* to add various bells and whistles both to the difficulty and combat. The addition of Fus was probably the most fun thing I’ve seen in combat because it let me fling the enemies off things (bad for looting though).

                    *I seem to mention mods every time these games come up… seriously though, for me they don’t hold the appeal for long in their base releases.

                • Jeff says:

                  I’m probably confusing Witcher 2 and Witcher 3, but I’m pretty sure if someone is close enough to hit you when you roll away, you were supposed to evade/dodge back, not roll.

                  Witcher 2 combat was trivial for me though, I never attacked and just killed everything with ripostes.

              • Lars says:

                The Final Fantasy 15 fighting System is pretty bad. Holding Circle (Also the Run-Button) to auto-attack an enemy and give directions with the left analog stick to do … something different. Holding Square to auto-evade, as long as you have mana. To switch between these two needs seconds, because the attack animation has to be finished.
                Oh. And controlling the camera with the right analog stick is pretty hard, while you hold circle or square. So most time you doesn’t even see what the hell you are doing right now, or what the enemy does.
                To read that the FFVII Remake should inherit this combat system makes me sick.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          Breath of the Wild was one of the best games I’ve ever played that I forgot about two minutes after finishing it.

          It’s all empty calories. It presents a beautiful world and give a you some great tools to explore it, but once you get out of the momentary experience there just isn’t much there to it. There’s no depth to the mechanics, the world does nothing to sell the narrative, the quests and missions are paper thin, and the puzzles and dungeons were underwhelming.

          My level of engagement was really high when I had a shrine in sight or when there were still new zones to explore, but once I ran out of obvious leads it fell off to almost nothing almost instantly. I walked away from it with no lasting memory or impressions.

          • FluffySquirrel says:

            Some spoilers for BotW for anyone who’s not played it..

            The more annoying bit to me is the flashbacks to the past.. with all the interesting characters. It felt almost taunting by the end of it…

            I wanted to be playing *that* story. The story of a Link and a Zelda trying to earn their place as heroes of legend, not entirely sure whether they really want the destiny that they seemed to be stuck with, and ultimately failing. The one with all the cool interesting characters and personalities, who aren’t now all dead (or spirits or whatever)

            The story we actually got seemed incredibly basic in comparison and ultimately very unsatisfying. .. it’d have been much more interesting if they’d either done both in one game in a sorta ocarina of time past/present type thing, or just done the past and followed it up with a sequel set in the future. That might have been really interesting

            Ganon was also just a non villain really

            • Trix2000 says:

              Agreed on all of this. I loved the world that was built and the characters we saw in those scenes, but the vast majority of the game just didn’t do anything with them – it was all about setting and theme but no real ‘story’ to hang onto.

              I think the only reason I really enjoyed my time with the game is that, from a gameplay perspective, it was very unique and well-designed in a way to make almost any moment fun, with places to explore and challenges to overcome. Even just figuring out how to get some places took some thought and planning which was nice. The mechanics were clever and interesting to experiment with, with a TON of emergent gameplay that results.

              But once I ran out of obvious hooks to go to and explore, basically all I had left was to go fight Ganon, beat the game, and leave. I haven’t been back since, and I actually find I have little long-term attachment to the game. It was great as I was playing it, but the experience ended up being limited and not as memorable as I’d hoped.

  2. Duoae says:

    I didn’t play any of these titles but, speaking of the stories like Firewatch and Gone Home, I recently played and really liked Oxenfree.

    I feel the story structure sounds more like Night in the Woods but I enjoyed it as much as the other two titles above. I think the reason for that is because of the strong characters and their branching dialogue.

    I wonder if I would like Night in the woods. I must admit, the art style puts me off…

  3. Grimwear says:

    My problem with the recent trend of games like Firewatch, Gone Home, and even the Vanishing of Ethan Carter is that you don’t want to have the story spoiled for you but at the same time as Shamus put forward if it doesn’t meet expectations then you’re just left empty and in the case of Gone Home (for lots of people) angry. I mean reading the blurb on steam for Gone Home literally gives the idea of a supernatural type mystery where something isn’t right. And if I paid full price and then got an experience I wasn’t expecting I’d be pretty annoyed especially when it was sold one way. But there’s no real good way of telling people what they’re getting without ruining the story which tends to be the strongest aspect of these types of games. Gone Home is the worst offender in my mind because they’re clearly taking advantage of people’s expectations going in. Firewatch and Ethan Carter instead choose to remain extremely vague and simply say that there’s a mystery involved. That vagueness can cost sales though if it doesn’t create intrigue.

    I don’t know it’s weird since when we classify games it’s generally done through gameplay: Walking Simulator, FPS, RTS. Maybe for these games we need to take more from books and their use of sci-fi, fantasy, horor tags which are seen on some games but are not as common. But for the short narrative driven games like these would having those tags inherently be a spoiler? I don’t know the answer but I do know I ended up looking up spoilers for Gone Home first rather than buy it and I’m glad I did since I was going to go in wanting a thrilling mystery which I wouldn’t have gotten.

    • Bo says:

      I think it’s part of the artsy-fartsy developer arrogance package. In the same way that “intentionally frustrating” survival horror gameplay is still frustrating, an intentional letdown is still a letdown. The artiste’s cry of “that’s the point you cretin” soothes very few tempers.

      • Daimbert says:

        Well, the artiste’s cry works if they can point to something else that they used that letdown to achieve or that doing that helps them get their message out. So an example might be building something up as a supernatural evil only to reveal that, no, it was simply an ordinary human after all, especially if that human was presented as someone that you couldn’t conceive as being that evil. So there’s a letdown if you expected the supernatural story, but you can see, even in hindsight, that that was indeed the point and required to do what the artiste wanted to do.

        That doesn’t mean you have to like it, though. But it does mean that complaining that the work was bad or mistaken for having done that is a weaker argument.

        The problem, though, is that in too many cases they forget to do that last part and tie the letdown into something required to make their point. The letdown can be all the more frustrating if when they say what they were trying to achieve your immediate reaction is “You could have done it this way and avoided annoying me altogether”. And if there is nothing there that the letdown facilitates — as the artiste is simply aping those sorts of works but doesn’t get that that sort of subversion isn’t interesting in and of itself — then that response does come off as arrogance instead of as an explanation for what doing that did for the work itself.

        • Ander says:

          The way it’s advertised makes a difference, too. Yeah, Gone Home is not exactly the game it advertises itself as. Firewatch, on the other hand, does not make quite the same kinds of promises in advertising.
          In a different genre but similar vein, Doki Doki Literature Club! is technically what it advertises but not at all at the same time. What this game has going for it is the price (there is none), the intentional subversion, and that said subversion ramps it up instead of down. I was able to play it almost completely blind, and the only reason I expected anything was because Steam’s game page in my library oh so helpfully included a link to a news article whose very title gave away a bit of the twist. So, in this case at least, I would have loved not to know what I was getting into.

          • King Marth says:

            The only way to play Doki Doki Literature Club completely blind is to have someone else start it for you to skip past the content warnings. I think it’s quite intentional to have some idea of what’s really going on, precisely to give you that slow burn of waiting for the warned content to jump on you.

            While I enjoyed Doki Doki Literature Club, I feel a little of Seamus’s Night in the Woods complaint towards it. It’s actually quite a clever way to approach the topics of depression, self-harm, domestic abuse, and generalized alienation, all through the lens of known anime archetypes on the surface and a bit of depth underneath. People with mental illnesses are still people, and finding a place with friends where you can enjoy yourself is just as important as medication or therapy (both of which are intended as stepping-stones to help push through mental illness to make the changes in your life that the illness is interfering with). The meta nature does let it also examine existential dread and the lack of control you have when forces external to your conscious mind have a say in your thoughts and actions, but it’s harder to relate to someone with access to their world’s dev console than someone who has difficulty reaching out to others because they’ve been ridiculed for their interests too many times in the past.

        • Will says:

          So an example might be building something up as a supernatural evil only to reveal that, no, it was simply an ordinary human after all, especially if that human was presented as someone that you couldn't conceive as being that evil. So there's a letdown if you expected the supernatural story, but you can see, even in hindsight, that that was indeed the point and required to do what the artiste wanted to do.

          You just described every episode of Scooby-Doo ever written.

        • Dreadjaws says:

          This is exactly why I had a problem with Iron Man 3. If you haven’t watched the film, stop reading right now, as you need to have watched it to understand my point.

          But if you’ve watched it, as you know, the movie and marketing build up the Mandarin as the main antagonist, until it’s revealed the guy is a phony. He’s merely a drunken actor playing a role while the actual main villain, Aldritch Killian, pulls the strings from behind in order to divert attention away from his plans.

          The usual defense is that it’s a clever twist that you never see coming, which is techically true, but the problems start showing up once you put it under scrutiny. To wit:

          – Yes, you don’t see the twist coming, but that’s because they lie to you, to the point where marketing materials have scenes that are not in the actual movie.
          – They take a classic, major villain for the hero (pretty much the Joker to Iron Man’s Batman) and turn him into a joke. That’s bound to upset fans.
          – The real villain of the story is absolutely nothing special. It’s yet again another dude in a suit with a grudge against Stark (those are pretty much 95% of all MCU villains at this point). So not only there’s a setup for no payoff, but the replacement payoff isn’t even interesting enough.
          – The worst part is that there was a simple solution that would have left everyone happy: reversing the villain roles. Leave Aldritch Killian as the phony villain and make the Mandarin the secret mastermind. That way you play with the audience’s expectations (“Oh, it’s another guy who hates Tony Stark. Oh, well.”), you subvert them, surprise the audience and please the fans.

          No defense is strong enough when you can easily point to a gigantic area you forgot to wall off.

          • “It's yet again another dude in a suit with a grudge against Stark (those are pretty much 95% of all MCU villains at this point).”

            Iron Man, as much fun as he may be as a character, kinda poses a problem in the Marvel universe in general and the MCU in particular, which is that, especially once they pull the reactor out of his chest, there’s no longer any barrier to anybody becoming a superhero-level power in the world. (Even when he’s got a reactor in his chest, it’s obviously not going to be that difficult just to make it external, which, after all, they do in the very first movie.) So it’s actually kinda hard, in my opinion, to explain why after several years there aren’t literally hundreds of suits flying around with Iron-Man-level capabilities, with the trendline clearly pointing towards “millions” in the not-too-distant future. The first movie at least tried to make it look like an engineering challenge, but that only holds for so long.

            • Joe Informatico says:

              I think the filmmakers are well-aware that the MCU doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny, but superhero stories in general don’t hold up to close scrutiny. That’s why they try not to interrogate their premises too much. That kind of scrutiny is best saved for standalone deconstructive works like Watchmen and the Mark Gruenwald Squadron Supreme miniseries, not ongoing superhero stories.

          • Jabrwock says:

            What might have been better would have been to “Usual Suspects” it. IM finds Mandarin, finds out he’s just a drunk actor, and it’s the dude in a suit with grudge who’s the real villain.

            The twist is, Manderin wanted Iron Man to think that, and was actually the one pulling the strings. So while IM was off chasing the other guy, he’s free to get on with his plan, safe in the knowledge IM was chasing a red herring.

            • Dreadjaws says:

              That’s pretty much what everyone was expecting after the reveal.

              “Oh, I see… He’s only PRETENDING to be a drunk actor. Soon he’s gonna reveal even to Killian that he was the mastermind all along… Yup, any minute now… Aaaaany moment…”

          • ehlijen says:

            I guess it’s because I never read any ironman comics, but I liked the Mandarin reveal in Iron Man 3.
            I didn’t feel being lied to because any lie the movie told was in character. The fake Mandarin was pretending to be real within the story, so of course it’s a lie.
            But even so, there were subtle hints to his real identity in just how theatrical he was at all times. We only saw him in scripted videos, after all, and there were a few references to theater and drama, all suggesting a performance rather than reality.

            And maybe the movie shouldn’t have dated itself the way it did, but when it came out, terrorists using scripted video messages to make themselves appear more frightening to the western population than they by and large really were was part of the zeitgeist. Making the Mandarin part of that was no different than making the Joker a modern gangster in Suicide Squad (in principle, the execution varied greatly in effectiveness).

            • Matt Downie says:

              As someone who was largely unfamiliar with The Mandarin (he just seems like a ridiculous stereotype to me), I enjoyed the twist too.

              I was more bothered by Batman Begins that had a similar twist with Ra’s Al Ghul, who I did have some affection for as a character.

      • Liessa says:

        I agree. I saw an LP of Gone Home on YouTube, and while I was amused by the way it subverts some of the traditional ‘horror’ tropes, I can imagine being very annoyed if I’d bought the thing under the impression that it was actually a horror game. It’s not using the subversion to make a point as Daimbert describes above; it’s basically just saying “ha ha, tricked you, aren’t I clever?” I haven’t played or watched Firewatch, but from what I’ve read it sounds like that was even more of a frustrating letdown to many people.

        (Incidentally, I should note that there’s so little ‘game’ in Gone Home, you can get pretty much the full experience just by watching it. Some people think that this is cheating the devs out of a sale, but I have very little sympathy for this point of view. If you want people to actually play your game, you should make something that can’t be experienced vicariously just by watching a YouTube video.)

        • Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Here’s my nuanced view on something you just said:
          I don’t think watching Let’s Plays is immoral. Perhaps there needs to be some kind of a more advanced arrangement in terms of commercials and who gets paid by whom, based on the format, but I don’t think they’re “bad” per se. I DO think that asserting a game isn’t “worth” your money because you sucked all the entertainment out via a recording IS very bad though, morally. I could easily get all the entertainment value of John Wick out of it by watching a recording or youtube vid or cam stream or whatever. Does that mean John Wick isn’t “worth” money? No, that’s some bullshit man. Be an adult, responsible consumer. Realize that art basically doesn’t get created without funding, so don’t resolve to leach off of things or be a free rider if you can get away with it. And I hear the counterargument coming, “oh the game wasn’t interactive ENOUGH, so it’s okay for me to enjoy it through a free recording” but… no that doesn’t work at all. Is it okay to torrent all your movies because they weren’t interactive enough? Streams and Let’s Plays should, imo, be transformative works. You should be there for the personality or insight of the streamer and what that adds to things, rather than just wanting to see the entire story of Gone Home without paying anybody for that.

          • Destrustor says:

            I have a bad case of rarely finishing the games I play, and in most cases the games I watch as LPs I would absolutely never buy, play myself, or even come close to finishing.
            Sometimes I’m curious to see the storyline play out in a game or genre I don’t even like. Horror games can have interesting stories, for example, but I have no interest in ever playing one for any reason. I don’t like the stress, I don’t like the helplessness inherent to horror games, and I would most certainly stop well before the end regardless.
            Let’s plays are the only possible way I would ever experience these sorts of games, and knowing this I would never buy them in the first place. Me watching someone else play those games isn’t costing the developers any lost sales since they’d never see my money anyway.
            And yeah, usually I watch videos where the players are involved and interesting in their own way, so the game is only responsible for half the entertainment I get from them. I feel the game’s dues were already paid by the let’s players as accessory to them creating the content.
            There’s also the issue where I’m curious about a lot more games than I have the time/money to invest in playing myself. With my job, my basic living maintenance, my hobbies, and all the games I do play (while listening to said LPs,), let’s plays are how I experience about 90% of all games I do experience. There’s no way I could ever have the time, money or interest to play all of those myself.
            Should I dump all my money into buying games I’ll never play as compensation for watching someone else play them? Should I refrain from watching these games entirely? Should I abandon my hobbies, my job, my sleep, or something else to have the free time to dedicate to playing the massive amount of games I’m mildly curious about?
            None of those seem really feasible or desirable, even in moderation. Does it suck that I leech entertainment out of those games for free? I guess so. I can understand that, even. But the thing is these people would never get my money regardless, so I don’t know. Is the inevitable immoral?

          • Liessa says:

            To clarify: There was absolutely no chance of me ever buying Gone Home, before or after watching the LP. ‘Walking simulators’ like GH are simply not the kind of thing I enjoy playing, and any mild enjoyment I might get out of the storyline would definitely not justify the price as far as I’m concerned – therefore I don’t feel that I’ve cost the devs a sale by watching an LP instead. It’s a similar case with other genres I don’t play – for instance, I enjoyed the Spoiler Warning playthrough of Assassin’s Creed 2, but it’s not the kind of game I’d ever buy for myself. If I’m watching an LP and find myself thinking “wow, I’d actually like to play this” – which has happened, on occasion – I’ll simply stop watching then and there and go buy it.

            The reason I don’t have much sympathy with the ‘lost sales’ argument for GH in particular is that I think the devs are cheating potential buyers by advertising it as a ‘game’ in the first place. It’s closer to a movie or graphic novel, and by complaining that people are getting the full experience just by watching a video, the devs are essentially admitting this. Most game devs have no problem with LPs because they realise that watching a video of their game is in no way the same thing as playing it, but if the only difference is a few clicks here and there, one has to ask why they’re selling it as an ‘interactive’ experience when it clearly isn’t (or not in any meaningful sense).

            (BTW, I realise the ‘what counts as a game?’ debate has already led to a million Internet flamewars here and elsewhere. I don’t intend to hijack Shamus’ article by restarting it here, but that’s my view and it’s not changing.)

            Obviously the case is different for movies, because those are marketed and sold on the basis of being a passive experience. That, to me, is the essential difference here, and why I’d feel guilty about watching an entire movie on YouTube but not a ‘game’ like GH.

            • Shoeboxjeddy says:

              As stated before, I don’t think checking out an LP is immoral. No moral judgments here on that aspect, I’ve watched plenty of game playthroughs myself. I DO think it’s messed up to say “it wasn’t worth X dollars.” It’s worth whatever the dev says it’s worth, it’s not really the business of a free rider to make a value judgment. Along the same lines, I disagree with “it should have been more X”, as a bystander at best and a profiteer at worst (the viewer of the LP), the dev should DEFINITELY not have to listen to that kind of criticism from them. It’s like people who watch a Youtube vid and then review bomb a game. If you want to leave negative feedback, you need to have actually had an experience with the real product, not second hand viewing. Playing something fresh IS different from a narrated experience of someone else playing it, even from the most simple game. It just is.

              To clarify, watching the game qualifies you to critique the story, absolutely. But since you didn’t PLAY it, critiquing the play of the game seems pretty ignorant to me. It’s like critiquing the taste of food without… tasting it.

              • Liessa says:

                Games are not worth ‘whatever the devs say they’re worth’, they’re worth whatever people are prepared to pay for them – that’s pretty basic economics there. And since the amount I’d be prepared to pay for Gone Home is £0, regardless of whether I could see it on YouTube or not, that’s precisely what it’s worth to me personally. Of course, this may vary for other people – if you feel the gameplay experience in GH is worth the devs’ asking price, I agree that you should go ahead and buy it.

                However, this brings me on to my next point regarding gameplay – there was none that I could see. ‘Gameplay’ to me suggests a challenge of some kind, but I think there was maybe 1 very simple puzzle in the whole of GH, with the rest being just wandering around a house and looking at stuff. I’ve played enough 1st-person adventure games to know how this feels, and that it would not be enjoyable or interesting to me without some sort of mental or physical challenge to overcome. You say it ‘just is’ different to actually play it, but I genuinely disagree – I felt I’d seen everything GH had to offer just by watching the video, and simply being the one to move the mouse and press the keys would not enhance my experience in the slightest.

                I agree that you shouldn’t review a game you haven’t played, as reviews are supposed to be a guide for people who might actually want to play it. However, as far as discussion is concerned, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say “this is not a game and shouldn’t be marketed as such” if you’ve seen enough of it to make a judgement. Nor is it unreasonable to criticise devs for their hypocrisy if they make a ‘game’ that’s essentially a movie, then complain that people are choosing to watch it rather than play it. They can’t have it both ways: either the game is a fundamentally different experience if you’re actually playing it (in which case, people are not getting the full experience just by watching an LP) or it isn’t – in which case it’s not really a game, is it? ‘Interactive movie’ or ‘interactive novel’ would be a better term.

                • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                  Comments made in no particular order. The devs care less that their game is being called a movie and more so that people are stealing it. I’ve never heard people saying “well yes, I pirate movies… but they’re just movies so it’s okay.” I’ve heard a lot of excuses, but never that one because it is stupid. Because walking sims are generally short and generally don’t have exciting or challenging gameplay, it’s true that a video does a better job of capturing the experience than for a game like Devil May Cry, as an example. But it’s NOT THE SAME. I’m playing Doki Doki Literature Club and the game is basically a book that you have to click to advance and sometimes make decisions that the game overrides but that experience ISN’T the same as a book. When something freaks me out and I stop advancing or agonize over a decision, that is different from watching a streamer do it.

                  In the case of Gone Home, it’s a 3 dimensional space you explore. Maybe you choose to go upstairs first. Maybe you sit and listen to the music for a longer time because you like it. Maybe you focus on the mystery aspect and try to “solve” it as fast as possible, disregarding ambiance. That’s the gameplay portion of the game and it will affect how you absorb it. You won’t be discovering unique content that other players wouldn’t, but you will be discovering it in your own way, at your own pace. Unlike a book or film where the pace and discovery are controlled by the writer or director. You see gameplay as “challenge” other people argue it involves a fail state, but that’s all a distinction without difference. There isn’t actually a category of “enough gameplay for this to be more of a game than a movie” because as is obvious after a minute of thinking about, it’s completely arbitrary. If Gone Home had added a sudden forced DDR section, it would have more game type play… but it would probably have been really bad. Like how Red Dead Redemption feels the need to send you 200 guys to shoot any moment there’s a lull. Selling fake tonics to people? Kill 200 guys. Crossing a river? Kill 200 guys. Herding cows? The ranch is under attack, kill 200 guys!

                  Similarly, the length. Some people say it’s okay to watch walking sims for free because they’re short. But long doesn’t equal good. If instead of 15 interesting things to find, Gone Home added 200 trivial things that didn’t add to the plot, it would take longer but be horribly worse.

                  Finally, the price. When I said “the game is worth whatever the developer says it’s worth”, I meant that it’s their ability to pick the price and to offer sales and the consumers’ right to decide when the price is right. Which, in the case of Gone Home, they frequently do offer sales. By saying, “it was always going to be worth 0 to me” you’ve once again stated in firm terms that you’re not a consumer of their product and they should not listen to you.

                  • Liessa says:

                    The devs care less that their game is being called a movie and more so that people are stealing it.

                    But this is just what I’m saying: if GH genuinely was a game, it wouldn’t be possible to ‘steal’ it just by watching an LP. Games are designed to be played, not watched; therefore watching an LP of a real game will not give you the experience the devs are asking you to pay for. It’s like saying you can ‘steal’ a car just by looking at a picture of it – sure, you may get some enjoyment from looking at pictures of cars, but you’re not getting any of the functions the car was actually designed for. If you can get (largely) the same experience by watching GH as by playing it, it’s not a game and the devs have only themselves to blame for portraying it as such.

                    I'm playing Doki Doki Literature Club and the game is basically a book that you have to click to advance and sometimes make decisions that the game overrides but that experience ISN'T the same as a book.

                    I’m not saying that walking sims / VNs are exactly identical to movies or books, but nor do I think that having a bare minimum of interactivity is enough to make them games. What you just described sounds very much like the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books I used to read as a kid. I wouldn’t say these were exactly the same as ordinary novels, but I wouldn’t call them ‘games’ either, and they’re definitely a lot closer to the former than the latter. ‘Walking sims’ like Gone Home generally don’t even offer you any choices regarding the storyline, making the interactive elements even less important.

                    You see gameplay as “challenge” other people argue it involves a fail state, but that's all a distinction without difference. There isn't actually a category of “enough gameplay for this to be more of a game than a movie” because as is obvious after a minute of thinking about, it's completely arbitrary.

                    We’re just going to have to disagree here, because to me this distinction is absolutely fundamental to the difference between games and… well, everything else. I acknowledge that there are borderline cases, but as far as I’m concerned, the less of a challenge the game poses to the player, the less of a game it becomes. I don’t regard the ‘exploration’ parts as gameplay in themselves, more like… well, simulation.

                    If Gone Home had added a sudden forced DDR section, it would have more game type play… but it would probably have been really bad.

                    I agree. I’m not arguing that GH would automatically be improved by the addition of gameplay, just that it isn’t a game and shouldn’t be described and marketed as such. It needs a different term, like ‘interactive movie’, to accurately describe the experience you’re getting from it.

                    When I said “the game is worth whatever the developer says it's worth”, I meant that it's their ability to pick the price and to offer sales and the consumers' right to decide when the price is right.

                    I fully agree that the devs have the right to charge what they like, but that’s irrelevant to the point I’m making. I’m certainly not saying GH is worthless just because I personally wouldn’t buy it, or even that the price is too high – that’s for the market to determine. What I’m saying is that selling it as a ‘game’ is misleading to potential buyers, therefore I don’t have much sympathy when the devs complain about lost sales from LPs or negative reviews from pissed-off customers.

                    I honestly think it would be much better for everyone if ‘interactive experiences’ like GH and Firewatch were removed from stores such as Steam, and moved to their own website called ‘Walking Simulators, Visual Novels And So On’ (you might have to work on the name). People who want actual games wouldn’t have to worry about non-games clogging up their storefront, and those who like interactive movies/novels/etc. wouldn’t have to deal with review-bombing from people who think they shouldn’t be there.

                    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                      Again, comments made as they come to me, not in the order of your comments.
                      “I honestly think it would be much better for everyone if “˜interactive experiences' like GH and Firewatch were removed from stores such as Steam, and moved to their own website called “˜Walking Simulators, Visual Novels And So On' (you might have to work on the name). People who want actual games wouldn't have to worry about non-games clogging up their storefront, and those who like interactive movies/novels/etc. wouldn't have to deal with review-bombing from people who think they shouldn't be there.”
                      Um… this comment strikes me as terrible. Games (that I happen not to like) should be forcibly removed from Steam (which happens to be the most popular storefront for software on the internet) to some new, completely untested store instead. People who want “actual games” (here I am just throwing in a comment that my side has actually already won this debate despite the opposite being true) wouldn’t have to worry about VN’s or walking sims “clogging up” the storefront (by being quality products that I am not interested in), they’d just have to worry about the 90 metric tons of OTHER shit actually clogging it up by being blatant rip offs or asset flips. People who like (the genre I don’t like and am currently trying to define out of existence) wouldn’t have to deal with review bombings from people who think they shouldn’t be there (aka, 12 year olds or people with the thinking capacity of such).

                      So Visual Novels and walking sims should abandoned their already successful and accepted place amongst other genres of games in a commercially viable storefront so that piss babies who can’t understand the basic concept of “not every thing is for every person and that is okay” will feel better? That’s… genuinely awful, person who is otherwise having a reasonable discussion on this issue.

                      This reminds me of all the shit takes of “that isn’t REALLY an RPG” or “you CAN’T call THAT game a Rogue-like”. It’s always some pedant trying to piss all over other people’s well established and understood conversation to be “technically correct.” Try not being a word dictator first. Video games and interactive software are currently synonyms. Trying to declassify things from video game status is not trying to be more accurate, it’s trying to remove them from the conversation because of a personal preference against them.

                      Going back to LP’s, I think for many games, a responsible consumer would treat them like Rifftrax. If you want the Rifftrax for Twilight, you need to buy or at least borrow Twilight to consume it. I’m not saying you need to buy every single game you watch an LP of, nobody has infinite income. But if you find yourself watching every popular walking sim on an LP… you need to start buying some of these things. You’re clearly interested, support the art form in some way. Try a Humble Bundle for a cheap way to do so.

                    • Joe Informatico says:

                      So to be clear, the hundreds of shitty shovelware and asset-flip games aren’t cluttering up the storefront on Steam (an online retailer that also sells videos and productivity software i.e. things that are clearly not games), but “walking simulators” are?

                    • Liessa says:

                      @ Shoeboxjeddy: So you talk about a ‘reasonable discussion’, yet in the same breath you dismiss people who disagree with you as ‘piss babies’? So much for avoiding a flamewar like I mentioned earlier. If you actually want a reasonable discussion, you could start by not insulting people just because they feel equally strongly on the other side of the argument. Some of us have put just as much thought into this as you and come to very different conclusions, to wit:

                      Games (that I happen not to like) should be forcibly removed from Steam (which happens to be the most popular storefront for software on the internet) to some new, completely untested store instead.

                      This is what I’m trying to get across: it’s not just about my personal preferences. There are plenty of genres I’d never touch (racing, for example) and will still happily describe as games, but I honestly think walking sims, VNs etc are a different type of product altogether, not just a separate genre. I realise my comment probably comes across as flippant and dismissive if you do regard these types of software as games, but for the most part I was quite serious: I genuinely think they’re not ‘actual games’ and shouldn’t be sold on gaming sites. I accept that many people disagree, but I’m not going to apologise for having a strong opinion and stating it bluntly.

                      You also seem to be assuming that I see these things as low value and/or not ‘worthy’ to be sold on sites like Steam. That’s not the case; I acknowledge that they’re popular and successful, which is exactly why I think they’d do fine on a separate store that caters to them specifically. At the very least, Steam could put them into a different category (called ‘interactive stories’ or some such?) to help avoid confusion. I don’t support reviewing games you haven’t played, but I do think people have a right to be annoyed if they bought what they thought was a game, but is arguably closer to a movie or CYOA novel. This certainly doesn’t make me a ’12 year old or person with the thinking capacity of such’ (yeah, I realise you were referring specifically to deliberate review-bombing, but still).

                      (BTW, where did I suggest I didn’t have a problem with asset flips and rip-offs? I absolutely do, it’s just not really relevant to what we’re discussing here.)

                      This reminds me of all the shit takes of “that isn't REALLY an RPG” or “you CAN'T call THAT game a Rogue-like”. It's always some pedant trying to piss all over other people's well established and understood conversation to be “technically correct.” Try not being a word dictator first.

                      Well, I couldn’t really say without going into specifics, but there probably are some games that you would call an RPG and I wouldn’t (or only barely). Again, I’m not going to apologise for having a stricter definition than you. I make these distinctions because I think they’re helpful and useful for people looking to buy and play the games, not because I’m a pedant or a ‘word dictator’.

                      But if you find yourself watching every popular walking sim on an LP… you need to start buying some of these things.

                      Well, here I actually agree, but the only one I’ve ever watched myself is Gone Home. I’d seen various articles and discussions about it and just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. If it hadn’t been available to watch on YouTube, I’d simply have ignored it.

                      @ Joe Informatico: “aren’t cluttering up the storefront” – well, obviously they are. No argument there. Steam has plenty of problems, of which this is only one (and far from the worst); it’s just the one we happen to be discussing at the moment.

                      Regarding videos etc.: fair enough, but they’re not being sold as games, which I do think is important. As I said to Shoeboxjeddy above, just making them their own separate category would be a great help. A better filtering system would help as well – I’d love to be able to filter out all visual novels, for example, but Steam only allows you three ‘don’t show me this’ tags and I’ve used them all up on other things.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      I genuinely think they're not “˜actual games' and shouldn't be sold on gaming sites.

                      And there are people who genuinely think that any game that has zero multiplayer shouldnt be sold on gaming sites because only when you interact with another person you are actually playing a game.Should we listen to them as well?Or how about those people who think only games from current year should be sold because old things belong in the trash?What about people who genuinely think that about casual games?And if you think Im over exaggerating,Jim Sterling made a bunch of videos simply reading comments made by those people.

                      You may genuinely think whatever you want,it does not automatically mean you are correct,or the majority.

                    • Liessa says:

                      *Shrug* I think I’ve given perfectly good reasons to support my point of view. If any of those people want to come here and argue for their own definition of a ‘game’, I’ll happily debate them as well. As for being in the majority, obviously I can’t prove anything one way or the other, but clearly there are many people who think the same way as me – otherwise this debate wouldn’t still be raging here and elsewhere.

                    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                      Piss babies was a specific reference to someone who would “review bomb” a game for simply being a genre they didn’t prefer and I stand by that description. First of all, review bombing is generally a sign of being a child because 0 star game reviews are RARELY written above a fourth grade level. Second, many review bombs are carried out by people who didn’t even bother to BUY and then PLAY the game first, and anyone who does that can fuck right off. I guarantee that anyone rating Gone Home 0/10 on Metacritic without buying it and saying “This is a ghey movie, it’s not even a game! Saw it on Pewdiepie, it’s shit!” is both impossible to have a discussion with and not even worth talking to in the first place. Hence… piss baby.

                      You seem at least articulate, although this latest point is pretty unreasonable and even ruthless if you gave it some SERIOUS thought. You’re essentially saying that the success of the Indy devs behind stuff like Gone Home and Firewalk is undeserved because of some pedantic argument about word definitions. You’d rather they be exiled from the store than for you to expand your incorrect definition of a word. And Walking Sims ARE categorized on Steam, that’s the really stupid thing about your argument. There are various tags on these games that make it exceedingly clear what they are! Here are the tags from Gone Home on the Steam store page. “Walking Simulator” “Short” “Indie” “Exploration” “Story Rich” “Interactive Fiction” “Mystery” etc. In what way is that confusing, misleading, or any other weasel word you want to throw in there? For you, this is a picky word debate, for the devs, it’s their livelihood. OF COURSE I think you’re being unreasonable and cruel.

                    • Shamus says:

                      Okay. We’ve reached the point of the argument where we’ve got anger and name-calling. Time to call it quits.

                      Let’s talk about something else.

                    • Liessa says:

                      You seem at least articulate

                      Oh gee, thanks, how generous of you!

                      You're essentially saying that the success of the Indy devs behind stuff like Gone Home and Firewalk is undeserved because of some pedantic argument about word definitions.

                      No, that’s NOT what I’m saying, and I’m running out of different ways to try and explain what I actually mean – especially to someone who has the nerve to accuse other people of childishness while throwing around insults and flames like confetti. Honestly, I think we’re done here.

                    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                      “No, that's NOT what I'm saying, and I'm running out of different ways to try and explain what I actually mean ““ especially to someone who has the nerve to accuse other people of childishness while throwing around insults and flames like confetti. Honestly, I think we're done here.”

                      I understand your basic point. Since, in your view, Gone Home isn’t technically a “game” it shouldn’t be sold on a “game platform” like Steam. You want it segregated to another place where it can be sold, you don’t think it an unmarketable product. However, I have a large number of bones to pick with this concept from an “existing in the real world” perspective, which your argument does not.

                      Problem 1: Gone Home IS a game, you are not the decider of what games are.

                      Conceding a world where somehow we have allowed you to decide for everyone what a game is and isn’t, we arrive at…

                      Problem 2: Steam already sells things that AREN’T described as games by the developers or consumers. These include movies, television, game adjacent services (streaming sticks to turn a TV into a computer monitor), and productivity software (think spreadsheets). So you have already misunderstood what Steam is, on a basic level. It is not solely a game store, so regardless of whether Gone Home is a “game”, it has a home on Steam.

                      Since we’ve already conceded the first point, let’s say Steam has decided to throw out all non-game products and the profits from them, solely to satisfy fussy people (the spit take this should produce should really be obvious to you here).

                      Problem 3: There isn’t a competing service that does what you describe. It would have to invented. So in a real sense, you want to drive them off the market. This is like saying “close the homeless shelter. Don’t put the people using it on the street though, instead they should use a new building of my description that doesn’t exist.”

                      Hopefully these issues will make it clear why I’ve viewed your proposal with open hostility. It’s not a generous suggestion and it does not solve an actual problem, merely an invented “issue.”

        • CloverMan says:

          Personally, I think that “walking simulators” are GREATLY improved by interactivity. There is a reason why Half-Life 2 style “cutscenes” are so popular, interactivity increases immersion manyfold. So saying that watching games like Gone Home or Her Story on YouTube is “just as good” as playing them is doing games as a medium a massive disservice.

          • Liessa says:

            Fair enough, and if that’s the case I can definitely see why you’d want to buy it rather than just watch it. However, I personally didn’t feel I was missing anything significant by merely watching GH, as I explained in my reply to Shoeboxjeddy above.

            • Echo Tango says:

              If a game is simple enough in mechanics that it doesn’t need to be a game, then…they should have spent the time making a book, film, etc.

              • Sartharina says:

                Books lack visual and auditory engagement. Movies are railed to an extremely limited window and pace.

              • Naota says:

                But you can freely look around, move, and experience the content of a walking sim at the pace (and order, if the game is anything but relentlessly linear) of your choosing. That’s already a substantially different experience than reading a book, or watching a film. Even a first-person film wouldn’t allow you to actually “be there” as an entity in the world, so much as watch it through someone else’s eyes.

                Whether or not you consider a video-game-like medium with no mechanical challenge a video game, it’s still very much its own experience apart from the ones you’ve mentioned. That means it’s a valid use of the medium.

                For the same reason, you could easily take the “plot” of an escape room event at a public fair and make it into a video, but it would never compare to the event itself, because the core appeal of an escape room is that you’re physically present – that there is no barrier of abstraction.

                Better yet: a video of someone getting through a hedge maze versus solving a hedge maze in a game versus escaping a hedge maze in real life. The “plot” and mechanics are the same, but one version is stimulating and fun, one is arguably tedious, and one is absolute torture.

                • Daimbert says:

                  Well, considering that I have done both physical escape rooms AND the “Escape the Room” video games that inspired them, I’d have to say that your idea that the key is “being there” seems dubious, to say the least. The key to those things is the “play” itself, and the interactivity … which is the difference between watching someone else solve puzzles and solving them yourself. The difference between the video games and the physical rooms is generally that there are different puzzles that you can do in each medium, and also that it’s easier to make it a co-operative experience in the physical escape rooms than in the video games, just because communication is easier. But as someone who likes both, there’s not much difference between the two, and certainly nothing that ties directly into “You’re physically present” other than that if you’re physically present you can interact with things in a different way.

                  This ties, then, into how you make these things, and things like Gone Home, an actual game. Take the Zero Escape games, which I have just finished. The key to getting this kind of gameplay in a game, it seems to me, is that these sorts of interactions have to be justified in some way, and be in some way necessary to the game experience. For games, a lot of them simply use those things as a way to, well, introduce gameplay to an actual game. The Persona games are a typical JRPG story with turn-based combat, Catherine replaced the combat with a climb-the-tower puzzle game, and Zero Escape replaces that with escape the room sequences. But all of them have some justification for why that’s happening.

                  Zero Escape is particularly important here, because we can compare the first two games with the last one — Zero Time Dilemma — and see that the last one DIDN’T justify the gameplay as well as the other two. In the first two, you have to go through the escapes because it is part of the game; proceeding through them is the only way to escape, and you will literally die if you don’t go into the rooms and then try to or escape from them. In Zero Time Dilemma, that’s not the case; depending on which fragment you watch, you end up needing to escape from rooms, but you end up waking up in them with no idea why or if you even went into them. That hurts the game, as the rooms seem to be something welded onto the story to keep that gameplay in it without having any real purpose in the game.

                  I think that the criticisms of Gone Home are along those lines: the walking simulator part doesn’t seem to add anything to the game or the story itself. There’s no real gain from the player picking things up themselves when it comes to the story; you could indeed have done that game as an FPV movie and nothing of consequence would have been lost, which makes people ask why they bothered to do a game like that at all. And if it’s just the insane amount of interactivity, then the game should be seen as more a tech demo than an artsy game … and that sort of interactivity has been done in other adventure games before (Riddle of the Sphinx, for example, which at least had the added bonus of letting you explore the pyramids in a way that you couldn’t otherwise).

                  • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                    Regarding Zero Time, the previous game in the series established that some sort of mysterious trap in a constrained location led to a worldwide catastrophe. It was explicit in the way the story was written that the finale of the series would be figuring out what happened and then how to stop it in that scenario, so I feel like it was entirely fair play the way they did that.

                    • Daimbert says:

                      Yes, but they still could have tied the escape rooms tighter into the narrative, like the other games did. Given the overall structure of the game, demands from Zero to find something in that room when they awakened, or hints that they needed things from certain fragments would have gone a long way towards making the escape rooms crucial to the game. Given the Decision mechanism, they could have easily made the decisions you made of what to do in those rooms far more directly relevant, or even the result of the rooms itself, with the hint “You need to enter this room to retrieve an X. This will allow you to make a decision. “, with the decision mattering to the outcome of that fragment and/or story. As it is, the escape room ends up being “We’re locked in here for some reason and want to get out. This may or may not trigger a decision (it usually does). The decision might matter but it often leads to a game over as opposed to us finding out something important”. This definitely led me to the conclusion that the escape rooms were there to provide the standard gameplay, and not as critical story/narrative elements.

                      (Of course, the fact that I finished the game skipping the escape room fragments helps with that impression (although I admit that I cheated and used a walkthrough for the passwords, but justify that on the grounds that I would have done that anyway [grin])).

                  • Naota says:

                    Immersion is the gain you mention. The format of the game is to uncover a story by exploring an environment – that is, making the decision of where to go next, where to look, and what to do. Even if there’s no challenge, there is control and a sense of place. The intent is to bring you as close to the character and world as possible, and let you experience a story by picking up and looking at objects – not just to “tell a story”.

                    None of this survives the transition to a video. You might as well say that looking at a photo of a place is the same experience as being there because you can see the same objects.

                    • Daimbert says:

                      But interactivity doesn’t necessarily make things more immersive. In fact, it can make things LESS immersive if it serves to separate the player from the character. In the case of Gone Home, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that for some people the fact that for one of the first times in their gaming career they were able to interact with absolutely EVERYTHING caused them to explore interacting with things whenever they entered into a room, just to see what they COULD interact with, which is a completely different mindset than the character would have, or the player should have to really get the experience.

                      Again, I think the complaint that many people have about Gone Home was that the interactivity add enough to the game to make it worth going through, and that the experience is essentially equivalent — at least for them — to watching it. You can’t defeat that through generalities because they are talking about how it was used in that SPECIFIC game, and we all know that specific cases can fail to implement even established general principles badly enough to lose all potential benefits from those principles.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      This largely depends on the type of the story.For example,books are generally good for telling stories with lots of details about the world,inner monologues,etc.But if you want to tell a fast story about people shooting bullets at each other while explosions level buildings all around them,youd better make a movie.No matter how good your word smithing is,an action movie is generally better than an action book.Its also the same reason why you cant really film silmarillion,regardless of how much you praise that story.

                      For video games,this usually translates to stories about exploration.Yes a movie(or a book)can deliver a perfectly fine story where the main character explores shit,but never can they reach the same level as a video game where you personally explore shit.Therefore,the immersion of a video game where you explore shit will always be bigger than the immersion of a video of someone else exploring shit in that video game

                      .If the game does not immerse you in that exploration,then watching a video of someone else doing all the stuff will definitely not immerse you,but if a video of that game immerses you,then chances are playing the game first wouldve immersed at least as much,but probably even more.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            There is a reason why Half-Life 2 style “cutscenes” are so popular

            This sentence breaks my heart.Not that I dont like hl2.On the contrary,I think its an amazing game.But its also a sequel,and the original did those things as well,and is also a better game,at least for me.And while Im happy that so many people praise the sequel,Im still sad that it overshadowed the original like that.

        • Syal says:

          Firewatch’s ending also contradicts itself.

    • kunedog says:

      I paid full price for Gone Home and really liked it. But you’re still right, and my experience was kind of a perfect storm that’s not likely to happen again (and I don’t like any other walking sim).

      First, it was the first walking sim I ever played, so the gameplay really was something new to me, and the implied (but never realised) horror story maintained the tension throughout the game. I bought GH immediately on Chris’s recommendation after the Diecast post linked his video and suggested avoiding any spoilers. Now that I know how (most) walking simulators function, that trick is used up.

      Second, I’m at almost exactly the right age to find trapper keepers and the SNES, etc. nostalgic. In fact, I’m a little younger than the sisters, so GH’s artifacts and audio logs are what I saw all the “cool” older kids doing more than myself.

      Third, OCD. The “fridge” video was truth in advertising. There’s an incredible amount of detail in the setting (probably more than I’ve ever seen) and I pored over all of it, picking up every book and can of vegetables. Pretty sure it took me over seven hours to finish it, which I doubt is typical.

      Shamus’s plane joy ride analogy from the Diecast makes sense. Gone Home worked on me, but it was lightning in a bottle (or a novelty, flash in the pan, fad, whatever). I’ll never play it through it a second time, and I haven’t cared about a walking sim since.

      • Zekiel says:

        Why is Gone Home a “walking simultator”? Its more a “picking-things-up-and-fiddling-with-them simultator” – you spend more time doing that (well, I did anyway). I think there is plenty of interactivity in the game and I couldn’t imagine enjoying it anywhere near as much if I were just watching a LP.

        (Each to their own, of course.)

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        As a completely other side of the coin I fell in love with the genre. I have rather eclectic taste in games but as much as I enjoy a grindy RPG, or a survival game where I scrounge for resources, or an open world action game where I succesfuly clean the map of activities one by one I still favour games as storytelling devices first. Walking sims tend to play up the story, they do not have the filler bits that can feel like work even if I enjoy the overal sense of progress, they are usually short enough that I can do them in one sitting, which is something I’m coming to appreciate more and more with my limited gaming time and also means I can get the whole buildup and resolution in one go, not loosing the emotional investment over the days when I don’t have time to get back into the game.

        I can absolutely see why many people don’t enjoy them. We can also split hair about the levels of interactivity and the definitions of the medium like people do in the other branch of the comment thread. Bottom line is “video game” is a term that is broad enough it’s borderline useless and people come in with very different expectations, for me walking sims (the good ones at least) are something I treat myself to between the other games I play.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Where was Gone Home falsly advertized as a spooky/supernatural mystery? I see a lot of people online (even right here, above me in the comments) complaining that the game was a let-down because of the expectations that it set up. However, in the launch trailer, and in the blurb on Steam, it seems to be advertized pretty plainly. That is to say, you’re a teenager who’s come home to an empty house, and needs to figure out what happened. I’ll just quote (most of) the Steam description, since it seems pretty mundane in its writing to me:

      You arrive home after a year abroad. You expect your family to greet you, but the house is empty. Something’s not right. Where is everyone? And what’s happened here? Unravel the mystery for yourself in Gone Home, a story exploration game

      Interrogate every detail of a seemingly normal house to discover the story of the people who live there. Open any drawer and door. Pick up objects and examine them to discover clues. Uncover the events of one family’s lives by investigating what they’ve left behind.

      I suppose the “seemingly normal” part is where they set you up to expect the supernatural. That seems small enough, that it might have been a typo or holdover from an earlier draft. Everything else just seems boring and mundane, except the parts of the game where the protagonist is spooking themselves.

      • Grimwear says:

        I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse them of false advertising but I would say they knew exactly what they were doing. If I were watching a movie, tv show, or reading a blurb on the back of a book where a girl shows up at 1 am to an empty house and “something’s not right” and you examine things “left behind” it implies sinister overtones and a true mystery. Now I and clearly a bunch of other people immediately jump to supernatural most likely due to the ever common haunted house scenario but murder house is also appropriate. If I had 100 guesses I never would guess that the “mystery” was simply they were on vacation. If I was told that my response would be, “That’s not a mystery.”

        Now the question is what’s deemed a mystery? If you’re satisfied with simply something to figure out then pretty much any game can be a mystery. It’s so vague as to be meaningless. The common usage for mystery are generally used for crime, murder, supernatural, and theft (who stole this priceless gem?). But ultimately this once again falls down to organization and how steam has next to none. If Gone Home were a book I would never see it in the mystery section, or the fantasy section since if it were and I bought it and there was no “mystery” or supernatural aspects I’d come back annoyed that they were putting it in the wrong section of the store. It would be in general fiction and that’s fine let it be there but for steam tags aren’t super useful as a whole and for me personally I read the side blurbs which in this case play to the audience’s expectations.

        • Naota says:

          You don’t even need to go so far as to itemize what things count as a mystery genre reveal: that something important happened is enough. A mystery withholds important information for greater effect. If the information isn’t important, there was no point in seeking it.

          A vacation isn’t important. It’s saying after an hour of meticulous investigating that a priceless museum piece is missing because it’s on loan to another museum.

          • ehlijen says:

            Granted I only read the plot synopsis, but ‘they went on vacation’ strikes me as a rather simplistic and insufficient summary of what did happen. And even if it were true, that’d leave open the question of why the family went on vacation instead of greeting their daughter home, so clearly it wouldn’t be the actual answer to the mystery.

            • Ander says:

              Well, “Why is the house empty and semi-stripped down?” is a more comprehensive question but it doesn’t necessarily engender intrigue. “It's saying after an hour of meticulous investigating that a priceless museum piece is missing because it's on loan to another museum,” is a pretty good way of putting my feeling to the truth. I enjoyed GH, but if it works at all, it works a character piece rather than a mystery.

              • ehlijen says:

                That’s still not a fair summary or a satisfying answer.

                “Why was the piece missing from the museum when a VIP guest was scheduled to inspect it that day?” is a better summary from my limited understanding, and “it’s on loan to another museum” doesn’t answer that fully. Why was it on loan despite everyone knowing that it was needed that day? That is a mystery and GH does answer it, from what I can tell.

                If I came home from a long time away from home and none of my family were there to greet me without warning me ahead of time, I’d be pretty damn curious.

    • Duoae says:

      My problem with the recent trend of games like Firewatch, Gone Home, and even the Vanishing of Ethan Carter is that you don't want to have the story spoiled for you but at the same time as Shamus put forward if it doesn't meet expectations then you're just left empty and in the case of Gone Home (for lots of people) angry. I mean reading the blurb on steam for Gone Home literally gives the idea of a supernatural type mystery where something isn't right. And if I paid full price and then got an experience I wasn't expecting I'd be pretty annoyed especially when it was sold one way. But there's no real good way of telling people what they're getting without ruining the story which tends to be the strongest aspect of these types of games.

      I don't know it's weird since when we classify games it's generally done through gameplay: Walking Simulator, FPS, RTS. Maybe for these games we need to take more from books and their use of sci-fi, fantasy, horor tags which are seen on some games but are not as common. But for the short narrative driven games like these would having those tags inherently be a spoiler?

      This is my opinion on this post so don’t take what I’m saying as gospel but do I disagree on several levels:
      I’m not saying you’re wrong for feeling this way but I think you are making several logical fallacies probably borne out of a long time of experiencing a certain type of media (i.e. games that mainly focus on mechanics).

      First off, I’ll address the last point directly since it seems that no other reply to your post did so.
      It is a common enough trope in writing to subvert the genre expectations… Firewatch and the other games didn’t invent it!! They took that from various stories in film and literature. What you’re complaining about here is saying basically, “There are plenty of books listed as horror which subverted the genre expectations* and ultimately shifted from the expected genre but either, a) I didn’t read them so didn’t notice or b) didn’t mind the subversion. But I’m going to apply a different standard to games, anyway.”

      Am I reading that right? ‘Cause that’s what’s written.

      *I remember a thriller from a semi-famous american author about an escaped, murderous psychiatric patient and the book built up that promise until the last few pages of the last chapter when it was revealed that the “patient” was actually the woman’s lover who was trying to save her from being locked in the hospital (I think her car broke down in a storm or something and he was mauled by a dog so his breaking and walking were all messed up so to her mind, sounded like a murderous killer)

      I can’t remember any movies off the top of my head (apart from Iron Man 3 that was mentioned above – which I enjoyed more than 2 and I think the whole thing would have been better focussing on the deception instead of the unstable super soldier thing but I’m obviously in the minority here).


      Going back to the first point:
      I can’t remember how many times I’ve been thoroughly disappointed by a game’s content and mechanics. We see people complaining about this subject on the internet *literally* every day with flame wars erupting around particularly disputed opinions.

      I mean, what? You expect a story in a game that focuses on story as mechanics to be held to a higher standard than the gameplay in a game focussed on mechanics? Should there be a spoiler warning on game mechanics now?*

      *Actually, I guess developers already covered themselves with this based on the whole “online gameplay experience may change” disclaimer in every online game – but only for online games.


      Personally, I think that enjoyment of media is down to a personal thing and this is why people’s discussion on whether a game is “worth it” for them at a given price is such a complicated conversation.

      This also bleeds over into the reason why spoilers are such a hotly-contested issue. For the people who value story as much or more than mechanics, having that spoiled is way more damaging to the enjoyment of their money spent than a game where you find out that you can get a gravity gun which you’ll use a million times during the game duration and probably grow bored of after two small expansion packs.

      However, this is, at least somewhat, mitigated by having non-story mechanics within a given game. For games without this, there is literally nothing else to “save” the game.

      For me, match-3 games are devoid of any redeeming mechanical features and for the first one I bought, I was immediately disappointed I’d spent my money on something so vacuous and pathetic. Thankfully, they’re cheap. So, for the price of a coffee and muffin, I could shrug it off. For other people, they’re a mecca unto themselves and make huge amounts of money for their developers… (something I’ll never understand).

      On the other end of the spectrum, I got burned on several games in the early 2000s based on pre-reviews/reviews or whatnot and paid full price (when I was a poor student without disposable income) for games that I spent maybe one or two hours with. (Off-hand, I only really remember Perimeter and Red Faction 2) There’s nothing really wrong with those games but, based on descriptions and critique, I thought there was something there that was not. You (and others) may disagree… that’s the power of opinion! :)

    • Groboclown says:

      Oh wow. I completely forgot about Ethan Carter. That was definitely one of my favorite games this year. The story wasn’t longer than it needed to be, and it gave me some genuinely interesting gameplay moments that I hadn’t experienced in a long time.

      Additionally, I don’t think that “spoiling the story” would spoil the game experience. That said, spoiling the gameplay elements, I think, would spoil the game.

  4. Rack says:

    I despise collectathons and got on with Horizon: Zero Dawn. I went out of my way a few times to get all the upgrades but it was a very small proportion of the game and it feels more like hunting than traditional Assasins Creed mapsplat. I hoovered up items as I was going but it didn’t feel like that was too onerous as most of my attacks were short range. If you hate collecting ammo in FPS though you might be best leaving alone as that’s quite a big part of the game. What was annoying is you have to collect healing herbs to heal up and that does feel like map splat.

    • Echo Tango says:

      What makes the herbs feel like an artificial thing put down on the map? From what I’ve seen of the game, the robo-animals all seem to exist in ecosystems, to the extent that you might be able to guess what type of robo-animal to expect in a given environment. Are the plants just droppped on the map arbitrarily, regardless of environment?

      • Trix2000 says:

        Not exactly. You can find them anywhere, but they come in a number of different varieties/appearances and they tend to match the environment they are put in – with white ones in snowy areas and bright red tall ones in the grasslands/jungle. I think they looked fine.

        Also, agree with the other sentiments that Horizon’s collecting is actually pretty light and reasonable (heck, I 100%ed them and I usually don’t bother with that). You can easily skip them too, if you like, but there’s little reason to and they don’t take up too much focus – the story and quests are really the meat of the game, IMO.

        I say it’s entirely worth checking it out.

    • Geebs says:

      I second this. Horizon is a long way from UbiSoft levels of map-hoovering. You could easily get through the game playing only the story missions, but most of the sidequests do have enough plot to be enjoyable anyway.

      The core dinosaur-hunting gameplay is brilliant, edge-of-the-seat stuff and definitely worth the minor open-world scavenging elements.

      @Echo Tango – the herbs are actually placed according to some pattern, it's just that collecting them is not particularly interesting to begin with and soon degenerates into a chore.

  5. Arumin says:

    I don't get the itch to play these kinds of sims very often, but the next time the bug bites I'll be getting Planet Coaster.

    Just an heads up, Planet coaster is 75% off for this winter Steam sale.

    Also, don’t bother with the three licences DLC’s (Munsters, Back to the future or Knight Rider) unless you are a fan of the show and want those cars as gocarts in your park.

    The two DLC packs (spooky and adventure) are very much worth it tough. they give a ton of extra content. And with the sale going on now, you can get PlanCo with the two DLC packs for less then the normal base price.

  6. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    Nier Automata has been on sale quite a few times on both Playstation and PC, if you’re serious about checking it out, you might want to hop on that.

  7. I too wonder how much I’d like Night In The Woods. I somehow managed to go into Gone Home with zero expectations or preconceptions and quickly worked out that it had no intention of paying off on the OMG SPOOPY! aspects. After that I just trundled around hovering up the plot keys and audio logs and learning the (sad) stories of the house’s various inhabitants – it became a somewhat interactive book. It did have the effect of triggering the “game analyst” side of my brain though – I became much more aware of the various tricks the designers were using to try and make me believe the spoopy stuff, which made it fail even harder – a horror equivalent of Shamus’ cascading story failure. Luckily, because I’d had no preconceptions and because I’d picked the game up in some Steam sale or other, I was not terribly put out by any of this.

    • Echo Tango says:

      How much does Gone Home actually try and make you believe there’s supernatural stuff going on? I always got the impression that the protagonist thought there was spooky things, but that she was presented as an unreliable narrator (because she’s a teenager, and scared). Maybe I’m no good at subtlety? I’ve seen many films with aliens, ghosts, mystery, magic, chainsaw murderers, suspense, genetic mutants, werewolves, vampires, and horror, and nothing I saw in Gone Home made me think the devs wanted me to share the protagonist’s belief that spooky things were happening.

      • You’ve picked on some things I didn’t mention ‘cos I didn’t want to randomly write an “article in a comment” about GH. :) (Do I need to do spoiler warnings for GH? There are going to be spoilers below.)

        Quite a lot of the spooky stuff *is* more about the perceptions of the people in the house. In particular the bits about the previous owner of the house and the ouija board stuff is more about how the sister and her GF view the house – it’s the last vestiges of make-believe played by two teens on the cusp of adulthood and more srs life choices – joining the forces, going to college, losing (or keeping?) a lover. None of the parents’ story beats made reference to any spookiness that I can recall – they’re too busy being all caught up in being a failed author or having an affair. IIRC, we don’t really get any commentary on what the protagonist herself thinks about any of the spooky elements. Game stuff that I noticed were the creation of a “typical” creepy atmosphere through the use of sound and lighting, stuff like flickering lights, seemingly glitchy tech, that light that cuts out the moment you find that secret passage covered in newspaper clippings. The devs really did seem to want the player to be creeped out.* There was also the fact that, although horror tends to require a certain level of powerlessness of the protagonist, GH’s protagonist felt too powerless for the game to contain any honest level of threat whatsoever without becoming a completely different game to the one that it was quickly clear that it was going to be. And once I realised that, I rolled my eyes a bit at any spoop and got on with noodling about with whatever plot-locked door was between me and the next bit of exposition. As an aside, part of me would quite like to rail about how blind all these people must have been to the other people they shared a house with, given ALL the very personal information littered around the place, but my own personal experience suggests that such willful ignorance is, actually, not that improbable.

        *I was going to try and draw some comparison with the Shalebridge Cradle level in Thief 3, but…. that actually does pay off on the horror promise, in spades. Even so, although I knew that the entrance/exit section of the level was in fact devoid of physical threat, I still crept through it on the way out and flinched at every flicker and sound – I’d been very thoroughly and effectively traumatised and shaken up by the meat of the level.

      • Zekiel says:

        Tangentially, I remember a very good article on Rock, Paper, Shotgun about the father’s story in Gone Home (which you have to really dig and pay attention to understand all of). One of the takeaways of the article is that the house really is haunted in a metaphorical, non-supernatural meaning of the word.

  8. nobb says:

    I didn’t know i wanted this but the tough of you analyzing Nier in excruciating details in a series of 24 articles really make me excited.

  9. Cilvre says:

    I’m currently on my 3rd playthrough of Nier: Automata, and I really hope you are able to pick it up and get as absorbed into the story as I am. I’m looking forward to a potential series on it. :)

  10. Canthros says:

    NieR: Automata is … something. I picked it up on a Steam sale a while back, in part because of what I saw when Josh was livestreaming it, ages ago.

    The combat’s not super demanding (especially on easy, which is A-OK by me, but YMMV), and the story (so far) seems less smart than it thinks it is, in typical JRPG fashion. Getting around the world is pretty tedious, especially before fast travel becomes available. Designs on the main characters are … probably exploitative. Graphics and level design are at least a generation behind the times.

    On the other hand:

    I finally started playing it last Friday (after listening to the Giant Bomb folks discuss it on their end-of-year list podcasts). Between the tail end of two weeks’ Christmas vacation, the weekend and the holiday, yesterday, I put in around 30 hours over four days, running down Route A and finding as much of the weapons as I could in the first pass (I know I had some quests still active when I finished the route’s main story, though). I don’t think I’ve done that with a game in a long while. I’m also looking forward to starting Route B (i. e. New Game+) tonight, and hope to make it through C before burning out/giving up. That’s a lot of time commitment for me, since I’m still putzing around in Guild Wars 2 and Warframe for anywhere from an hour to three hours an evening.

    It’s interesting. Partly for things I’ve heard about, but haven’t gotten to.

    • Naota says:

      Worth mentioning: Route C is in fact a complete curveball that subverts your expectations. It doesn’t start the story over like with B, but continues forward after the seeming end of the game from A/B – after which there are hours more game with completely new story content, levels, and bosses.

      • Christopher says:

        Considering he listened to the Bombcast’s GOTY podcasts, I guess he’s already been spoiled on that bit.

        Are you having fun with it, Canthros? I don’t hate it like Dan/Abby did, but I also think Alex’ love for that game is something that’s only gonna happen to a few people. Especially now that the hype’s picked up, dragging in people that normally wouldn’t even consider playing it.

        • Canthros says:

          I am enjoying it, but I’d definitely agree that Alex oversold it a bit. (OTOH: I’ve only done Route A, and all that stuff apparently picks up through B & C, so …) I’d say a substantial chunk of what I’m getting from it is something like nostalgia, as I think the basic structure is very much a classical JRPG. In particular, I don’t know if I’d recommend it at full price, but if it hits $30, I’d say it’s probably worth checking out, if you think it looks interesting.

          It’s impressive for the degree to which is is really committed to its thing, but the philosophical navel gazing seems like fairly rote anime/JRPG philosophy 101 BS. Mostly. It’s still impressive the way so much of what’s there in the story seems to be in service of that set of ideas, though. Level design and game mechanics are mostly more of a wash, though the brawler + bullet hell thing it’s got going is at least novel.

          I’d wager Abby was revolted by the main character’s design and the way the game handles that (e. g. that one especially crass achievement!), which strikes me as fair. That stuff borders on or (in the case of the achievement) crosses the line into being gross. If I was particularly bothered by that, having stuck in my face for basically the entire game would be pretty revolting.

          • tengokujin says:

            It’s amusing to note that you can get the second version of the crass achievement in Route B.

            Not gonna say any more :p

            • Canthros says:

              I’ve heard. I don’t think being equal opportunity really excuses crassitude, and I don’t think the game is well served by the inclusion of that stuff, even if I find it fairly ignorable.

              • Naota says:

                The achievements I agree, but do people really find 2B’s design in particular to be exploitative? She wears about as much clothing as the typical Witcher character (or more, in some cases), and achievement aside it’s not like the game does much to sexualize her within the context of its cutscenes or story beats. Bayonetta this is not.

                I mean, you could ask why future androids fight in heels and classy ball outfits, but…

                • Canthros says:

                  It looks like EGL fashion to me, but it’s not terribly far from, say, a ‘French maid’ costume. (And, then, there’s A2, who is unkempt and basically in her underwear.) I don’t have any trouble seeing how it would be offputting. I’m surprised you do.

                  • Naota says:

                    I’d agree with that; in fact I think you nailed it with the EGL fashion comparison (which I didn’t even know existed until just now).

                    To me though, that’s just… a fashion. It’s not any more an exploitation than DMC Dante’s red leather jacket with no shirt underneath, and nobody takes serious exception to that. Both are designed to look cool and stylish for their respective genre before all else, and like a lot of fashions for young, good-looking people involve a bit of sex appeal, but neither game goes far beyond that (again, achievement aside). They’re more or less serious stories about defying fate and fighting successions of increasingly large and bizarre bosses.

                    If anything, Dante’s the closer to having outright cheesecake scenes of the two. So why the double standard?

                    Edit: A2 I can see, but by the same token I’ll raise you an entire chapter of Boxer-Briefs Jake in Resident Evil 6.

                  • The Rocketeer says:

                    “Basically in her underwear” is, I think, factually underselling it. I waffled back and forth for a while on whether A2 is actually wearing anything at all and, eventually, concluded that, aside from a scrap of sheer fabric that serves as a négligée, she isn’t; those large black sections of her body seem to be contiguous with the lines that are clearly gaps between her artificial flesh. That’s to say, she’s totally naked and the exposure of her black subdermal “case” after God knows how long without maintenance just so happens to look like tight leather or spandex clothing. Because anime.

                    • Naota says:

                      Hey, featureless robot frame underneath your skin that’s exposed from decades of exposure to harsh conditions could technically be considered under-wear.

      • Canthros says:

        Yeah, most of the plot twists and things are pretty well spoiled for me, at this point. The Giant Bomb folks talked about it in some detail. I’m looking forward to seeing Route C, but I think Route B is going to be a bit of a slog in places. Second chance at some quests and things, I guess.

  11. Darren says:

    My boyfriend and I both didn’t really like Horizon. It’s beautiful, the world is well-realized and follows its own internal logic well, and the minute-to-minute gameplay is solid, but the open world structure is as stale as a week-old baguette. And my boyfriend actually likes Assassin’s Creed, so it’s not like we’re both just anti-open world or anything.

    Didn’t help that Breath of the Wild was in some ways the inverse, ditching much in the way of compelling plot, character progression, and enemy variety but effortlessly besting Horizon in terms of making the world fun to explore.

    • Christopher says:

      Horizon is interesting, but yeah, I had about the same experience. I had fun with it for a good 20 hours or something, but I got tired way before the end. It’s got some really amazing parts, like the graphics and the worldbuilding(the main reason I think it’s Shamus’ taste really). But I can’t remember a single piece of music, and I think the characters themselves aren’t anything to write home about. The exploration is also a disappointment in a year in which Breath of the Wild came out. The gameplay changes significantly on higher difficulties. On normal you can slop your way through, and it gets easier as you go along. That didn’t help with my boredom. But I’ve been watching a streamer go through it on Ultra Hard, and it entirely changes your amount of resources, enemy aggro range, how your whistle/stealth kill combo works(It’s no longer as overpowered) etc. And it looks like a much more engaging game to play. It’s gonna be an interesting game to read about once Shamus gets to it.

      Night in the Woods is so close to home for me it’s not even funny. Some aspects aren’t familiar to me, like an old industry town on its last legs or how everyone’s expected to be Christian instead of… well, not, like around here- Pretty secular country. But the core experience really hit home and I thought it was a pretty cathartic game. I think Rutskarn mentioned it didn’t make him more depressed, and I’ll sign off on that. But yeah, I agree. The cult stuff wasn’t too great. I think you should just reveal the supernatural bits at the start, Persona style. No need for all this mystery box bullshit where you’re either getting a scooby doo plot or a very unrelatable supernatural turn in your grounded drama. Just say right up front that not!Chtulhu is involved.

      Nier Automata is… Well, it’s gonna be interesting to get your take on that too. For me, the story ended up not really living up to my expectations, and I think the gameplay is a boring, repetetive pain. But there’s a lot of heart and strong theming in there, the character design is very nice as long as you’re into anime and I think the story works very well emotionally, if not logically. Worth a shot!

  12. Somniorum says:

    I actually just finished Night in the Woods last night – I had similar feelings to Shamus. Overall I rather liked it, but the twist was kind of… okay. I didn’t *hate* it, but it fell a bit flat for me. To be honest, it… kind of felt to me that the devs had been hinting at something weird and spooky in trailers without, perhaps, completely working out how it would manifest, and because they’d kind of put so much into a supernatural element being part of the game (when the rest of the game went in a rather more mundane-but-good story of small-town hardships and a woman coming to terms with her adulthood), they ended up just kind of… awkwardly slotting that bit in. I don’t hate the game for doing it or anything, and maybe I’m totally wrong about how it happened, but it seems dissonant with much of the rest of the game, to me (especially considering some of the conversations you may possibly have with Angus late in the game, which I suspect reflects the skeptical viewpoint of at least some of the authors of the game).

  13. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    Just a word of warning, if you do get Nier: Automata on PC, get the FAR mod (Fix Automata Resolution) and a controller. It can be played with mouse and keyboard, but some of the controls (mainly the dodge) are not optimal.

  14. poiumty says:

    I don’t think you’ll like Nier: Automata very much. The world is nonsensical by design, and a lot of details are hidden in side content that is not in the game and hasn’t even been revealed until… recently. For almost a year-old game.

    Night in the Woods seems like it’s made for a niche that I’m not in, since I didn’t go to college in another town nor do I have massive nostalgia for the before-college days. Sadly, if there’s one time I do have nostalgia for it’s the one where I had enough space in my schedule to play these kinds of games.

  15. tengokujin says:

    Re: NieR: Automata

    While I was playing this game and being occasionally frustrated with the systems, I thought to myself, “Shamus would hate this opening. The entirety of it is an un-checkpointed gatekeeping mechanism that you need to play over from the beginning if you fuck it up.” … I might have played it three times because I was getting the dodge timing down and kept getting killed at the final boss (and I refused to turn down difficulty from “Normal”). I think I ended up burning 2-3 hours because of that :p

    At least the difficulty is adjustable in the game options and game mechanics, on the fly. Chips that customise your “UX” include Auto Attack, Auto-Fire, Auto-Evade, Auto-Program (special attack from your Pod), and Auto-Weapon Switch that are equippable in Easy mode. The various difficulty modes go from Easy where you can equip the aforementioned chips, Normal where the auto-play chips are unusable and the game plays like some action RPG, Hard where lock-on is disabled and enemies hit harder and have more HP, and Very Hard where one hit can kill you.

    Also, fun fact: you can gain your in-game trophies by actually doing the achievement or buying them with in-game currency.

  16. Syal says:

    I feel compelled to link The Dark Id’s screenshot LP of the original Nier. That’s the main thing that got me interested in Automata, and it feels odd to talk about a sequel without talking about the first entries. (Even if it’s just a spiritual sequel, which I have no way of knowing because I just now started Automata.)

    • Thomas says:

      Isn’t Automata a spin-off from one of their endings from Nier? Either that or they’re _both_ spin-offs of a Drakengard ending

      • Cilvre says:

        Automata is based on the 5th ending of Nier: Gestalt. I didn’t read more about the original until i was done with playthrough B and i feel like that was the best time to read more and learn the lore more.

        • The Rocketeer says:

          Both versions of NieR, both Replicant and Gestalt, which was the only version released in America, have four endings”” although, at one point much earlier in development, there was to be another, somewhat different branch of the game which would culminate in an additional, final ending (bringing the game up to Ending E, as with the five main endings of Drakengard and Automata).

          Automata could, and inevitably would, branch from any of NieR’s endings; what changes there are between the four endings don’t actually affect the world events which lead to Automata. Even the scant direct references there are to the events and characters of the first game found in Automata aren’t enough to piece together what ending is considered to have transpired, which I take as a conscious choice not to elevate any of the endings above the others; they’re immaterial to the second game’s continuity and would have no meaning whatsoever to anyone who hadn’t played the first game and had some sort of emotional investment in its very character-centric narrative.

          The endings of Drakengard, meanwhile, all encompassed massively different events and outcomes; NieR picks up from Ending E, specifically. Drakengard 2 (which Yoko Taro didn’t work on, and which I don’t think he cares about) progressed from Ending A. Drakengard 3 was a prequel to Drakengard that presumably branched from a bad chili-induced nightmare Yoko Taro had about a terrible game.

  17. Duoae says:

    I think people need to understand that it’s okay to not like or be disappointed in a piece of media/art. At the end of the day, these things are essentially disposable pieces of entertainment and are supposed to elicit some sort of response in the consumer. (I’d also argue that it’s possible [and fine] to dislike and feel cheated by a perfectly usable tangible goods item – such as a TV – but that is a little different sort of discussion.).

    Whether that’s literal art in a museum, film in a cinema or at home, a book/game you pick up from the blurb on the back, a review, social consensus or a friend’s firm recommendation… ultimately, it’s my opinion that the consumer bears the responsibility for how they respond to the art in question (outside of flaws such as bugs – e.g. I have a book which was the first half of the book printed twice between the covers and missing the last half. It was quite a confusing experience until I figured it out [it didn’t start the reprint on the first page]).

    This is how we come to the concept of a value judgement.

    i.e. Is the item you paid for, worth what you consumed as a function of your response to it.

    As some examples:

    1) I dislike Destiny. I put god-knows-how-many-hours into that game. Even though I paid for the first two expansions, I quit after the first one and never went back. In my opinion, even though I spent a minimal amount of money per hour played with the game which, in theory should make the game “worth it”, it did and does not. I think I overpaid for Destiny and that a lot of the time I spent with it was wasted entertainment especially when it was the equivalent of watching Cheers reruns in 2017 (not a bad series and had some great characters but society, comedy and the value provided by the show for me is diminished as opposed to watching it in the 1990s). or, and this may make you laugh, watching a common, famous show like CSI in a foreign language (e.g. Spanish or Italian) which I do not understand.

    It’s just something I do/did to pass the time but didn’t really enjoy and feel like I was getting value out of the time spent doing it…

    2) I hated Dan Brown’s books and stopped, literally, at the end of each first chapter of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code (I didn’t even bother with the third book). Each time was a loaned copy from a friend after they raved about them. I did however, enjoy the movie of the Da Vinci Code. For a comparison, I loved Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.
    Everyone in general society appears to love Brown’s writing style but the reason eludes me…

    3) I hated Gravity (the movie). I felt it was the schlockiest dreck/nonsense I’ve ever watched and am even more bemused by its critical and commercial success than that received by Brown’s works (above). It’s one of the few movies where I felt that I wanted the time back and someone to have paid me for that time on top of that… Of course, I’m sure people will probably say something along the lines of, “You just didn’t get the themes of the movies.” A claim I doubt they would make of Brown’s works. I did get the themes, I just thought the plot, pacing, acting, characters and content of the movie were all threadbare. Without the amazing visuals, this movie wouldn’t even have made a blip in a B movie genre and would have been featured on MST3K…

    All of these were “accurately” described to me beforehand (without spoilers) but I still felt disappointed by the content of the art.

  18. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I find it interesting that you have something to say about niers name,but not the silly hzd.No matter how good that game is,it still has the worst title of them all.

  19. Cinebeast says:

    Looking forward to the rest of the list!

    For me, game of they year has to be a tie between Breath of the Wild and Persona 5. I am a die hard Zelda stan, so of course I loved the former, but I’ll be the first to admit it was lacking in a fleshed-out story compared to previous games. P5, on the other hand, is bursting with personality. It’s a massive game, so much so I doubt I’ll replay it, but I’ll never forget my time with it.

    Night in the Woods is right behind those for me, though. I’ll agree that the first two acts of the game are better than the last, but unlike Shamus I still found myself invested in the finale. I played the game twice through back-to-back so I could catch all of the exclusive scenes, and I’ve watched several playthroughs of it since then. I think it’s a wonderful game.

    Mario Odyssey is the best Mario game I’ve played in years, maybe in over a decade. I zipped through the main campaign and loved every minute of it. Even the best Mario game isn’t going to be my favorite thing ever, though. I’d put it at #3 for the year or something.

    What else…

    Final Fantasy 15 technically came out in 2016, but I didn’t play it until last year, so I’ll count it. I enjoyed my time with it, and I’m glad I finished it, but there’s no denying the game’s incomplete. It sits with me the same way Metal Gear Solid V does — a fractured masterpiece. If given more time and money, it could’ve been a fantastic game.

    I also played a good 20 hours of Horizon, but I ultimately gave up partway through the story. I think because I’d just played Zelda, maybe I was burnt out on open world adventure games. It’s a good game, though. I might go back to it in the future when I have more time.

    Here’s hoping 2018 has more in store.

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