Most Anticipated Games of Q2 2017

It is time yet again for another look into what the next 3 months of videogames hold for us, following up on what most certainly was a historic Q1. After sinking hundreds of hours into games like Zelda BOTW, Horizon Zero Dawn, & Resident Evil 7, it’s time to look forward and review what we have in store from April 1st through the end of June. Without further ado, here are my most anticipated games of Q2 2017:

1- Person 5

Release Date: April 4, 2017

After the huge success of Persona 4 and the PS Vita iteration Persona 4 Golden, the cult classic franchise is finally upon us and looking to start off Q2 in a big way. The JRPG is promising all of the familiar tropes that we have come to expect– you’re the new kid in the area just trying to make some friends and discovers he has the special ability to use Personas– and from there it takes off. I had the opportunity to play this last December for about a half hour, and it delivers on all the look and feels that we have come to love, with the addictive gameplay loop that will keep you going for hours (hundreds is more accurate here). Whether you are an old fan of the series, or a first timer looking to get on the hype train, Persona 5 promises to be a thrilling experience you won’t want to miss. 

2- Outlast 2

Release Date: April 25, 2017

Who’s ready to scream? Outlast 2 is finally here, following the huge success of the original’s debut back in 2014. The first-person survival horror game is set in a small village in the Sonoran desert, where you are separated from your wife in a helicopter crash. You are tasked to find your wife and to survive as long as you can, all the while catching as much of this craziness on your trusty camcorder (let’s hope he brought a LOT of batteries with him this time). Outlast 2 is already looking to be one of the scariest games of the year, and if it plays any similar to the original, it will give you plenty to lose sleep over. 

3- Prey

Release Date: May 5, 2017

Let me start this by saying, I was incredibly disappointed the day that they canceled Prey 2, the originally intended sequel to the 2006 cult classic. However, early previews have described their time with the game as Bethesda’s take on the Dead Space franchise, and now I cannot wait. You control Morgan Yu, trying to make his way off of a space station and escape a violent alien race known as The Typhoon, sound familiar? Blessing it as the spiritual successor to System Shock, players will be given the ability to craft weapons and even mimic everyday items found around the space station to help make your way off. The truth is, the original Prey was a blast because it was a game that didn’t take itself too seriously, and gave the player the ability to feel like a badass; so far the newest entry of the same name looks to be much of the same, only better.

4- Crash Bandicoot N sane Trilogy

Release Date: June 30, 2017

Whether you grew up playing the games or have never controlled the bandicoot for yourself, one thing is for sure: Sony is finally giving the fans what they wanted. The N sane Trilogy is composed of the first 3 entries in the series, Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back, & Warped. Remastered with updated graphics, PlayStation owners will get to re-experience the platformer since the last title had been released nearly 20 years ago. Crash will always hold a soft spot for me, since I can attribute these games in helping me learn the mechanics of basic games all those years ago. 

5- Tekken 7

Release Date: June 2, 2017

I will be the first to admit that I am not exactly “great” at fighting games, so I was a little questionable to put this game on the list. However, since it has been nearly 8 years since the previous entry, I thought it only right to highlight the upcoming title. With a focus on 1v1 combat, there are 2 new features being added to the game that will help shape a change in the flow of the game: Rage Art & Power Crush. The first of the two, Rage Art, will offer a new technique for each character that can damage up to 30% of a player’s health once their health bar is critical. The latter, Power Crush, will allow the player to continue dealing damage to their opponent even while they are being hit themselves. Needless to say, I cannot wait to get my hands on the game that pros were showing off at last year’s EVO tournament. 

My Most Anticipated Games of Q1 2017

First of all, I understand this is a different take on “Most Anticipated Games…” topic that so many like to do- but the truth is that by the end of March we will already have some serious potential Game of the Year candidates. When reviewing what we already know is set to release, unless I want to create a “Top 25” then I am going to miss something crucial. So instead I am going to follow up with this list at the beginning of each quarter to help keep things into perspective. Without further ado, here are my most anticipated games set to release by the end of March 2017.

1. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Release Date: January 24, 2017

I will be first to admit that it’s been nearly 8 years since I found myself excited to pick up a new entry in the Resident Evil franchise, but with Biohazard looking to take a big step back and re-evaluate what makes the name so special, I am once again ready to step back in the universe that haunted so much of my childhood. After the failure of titles like Umbrella Corp. or even the former Resident Evil 6, it appears that Capcom heard the outcry for less shoot em’ up action, and get back to their survival-horror roots. After having already completed the captivating demo that was originally released shortly after E3 2016, I have found myself spending more time booting up the new updates they have offered than I care to admit. Luckily, we don’t have much longer to wait in order to get our hands on the final product. The only thing left to question on this title, is if I want to try to play the game on the PSVR… *Yikes*

2. Horizon Zero Dawn

Release Date: February 28, 2017

After having spent some hands-on time with a demo build at PSX 2016, it is not difficult to see why Sony seems to be placing so much faith in the upcoming title. Horizon not only plays incredibly well, but with what looks like to be a captivating story from the mind that brought us Fallout: New Vegas, there is no doubt in my mind that we are looking at a new tentpole franchise for the PlayStation Exclusive lineup. While I only had about 10 minutes to spend with a vertical slice of the game, the skills, environment, animal AI, and Aloy herself were fleshed out and well polished. Every fight felt different depending on my approach and skill choice, which made running around looking for various elements a blast. For those of you with a PS4pro and 4k TV, this will be the game to show off to your friends- because every single moment in this world is gorgeous. 

3. Nier: Automata

Release Date: March 7, 2017

It’s definitely fair to say that there have been two different versions of Platinum Games; on one hand you have the fast paced bullet-hell style of the Bayonetta franchise that critically delivers, while on the other you have the dumpster fire that is The Legend of Korra. It’s almost incredible to think that both games came from the same studio. Needless to say, I was hesitant to test the waters with a demo for the upcoming Nier: Automata demo, however I had time to kill so I decided to see which rendition of Platinum showed up to the party. I am happy to report that not only does Nier deliver in the small portion that I have played, but I think this very well could be my favorite game to come from the studio yet. If you have not tried out the demo yet, I urge you to add it to your queue. The story looks unique, boss battles are epic, and the action is incredibly addictive when adding up your combos. Simply put: I cannot wait for this game. 

4. Mass Effect Andromeda

Release Date: March 21, 2017

What is there left to say about the greatness that is the Mass Effect franchise that has not yet already been said a hundred times over? With well more than 100 hours spent across 3 separate entries in the original trilogy, Andromeda has a lot to live up to. However, if there is one group that I have faith in to deliver, it is the folks with Bioware. From the small pieces that they have revealed and the promise of a clean slate for first timers to the series, everything looks like it’s in good hands. And let’s be honest, as long as there is a random dance club on some far off planet that you can show off your sweet moves, I will be happy. 

5. The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild

Release Date: March 3, 2017

If you had told me a year ago that I would be more excited for any other game than a new Mass Effect entry, I probably would have fought you- true story. However, since the gameplay of Breath of the Wild had been show cased at E3 2016, and the incredible trailer released for the Switch conference, my need to set off through Hyrule once again has become a real problem. The gorgeous art style, captivating story, new voice overs, and furtherance into modern RPG elements– I can already see every aspect of my life about to be put on hold for a while once this title hits my system. Whether you play this on your new shiny Nintendo Switch, or you blow the dust off of your WiiU, there is no reason why you should not play this game. Now don’t mind me as I go practice my Goron Dance in my green tunic. *Turns on some drums*

Starting Over for Destiny 2 Is the Best Thing That Could Happen to the Series

   Earlier this week, Jason Schreier with Kotaku reported on some rumors regarding Destiny 2. It’s worth reading the entire post—it’s not too long—but some of the highlights are that, one, the franchise will finally be coming to PC; and, two, Bungie’s approaching Destiny 2 as a completely new game rather than an enormous expansion pack as some fans were hoping, which means leaving old player characters, gear, and collectibles behind. While the former of these should come as welcome news to virtually everyone, the latter is naturally far more divisive among the Destiny community, with some fans over at the Destiny subreddit already pledging not to pick up the game if the rumors prove true. Others have already started a petition asking that Bungie reconsider their stance on the matter.

“Starting fresh in Destiny 2 . . . allows for a sequel that’s both novel and familiar, and I think that’s what most Destiny fans—whether we realize it consciously or not—are really clamoring for.”

   While it’s probably a safe bet to assume that Schreier’s lead is reliable, there’s next to no official word on Destiny 2. We know only that the game is currently slated for sometime next fall, which means that a lot can change between now and then, and even the most likely rumors should be taken with a grain of salt. Historically, Bungie has stated that their plans for the franchise span ten years, and it’s often been inferred by the community that character carryover would be a part of this plan. I can’t say I was particularly surprised, however, when I read Kotaku’s article, and while I empathize with my fellow guardians who aren’t keen on leaving their progress behind when Destiny 2 finally does hit shelves, I can’t help but imagine that it’s the best possible thing that could happen to the series. Starting fresh in Destiny 2 gives Bungie the opportunity to deliver a better experience, one in which they don’t have to worry about working around existing technical limitations or  balance concerns. It allows for a sequel that’s both novel and familiar, and I think that’s what most Destiny fans, whether we realize it consciously or not, are really clamoring for.

   I don’t mean to suggest that there isn’t a middle ground somewhere. Suggestions have been made that Bungie allow players to carry over their avatars—at least cosmetically—while leaving their stats, abilities, and items behind in an approach that would mimic BioWare’s with Mass Effect 2 in which players were able to import their characters’ appearances (along with certain diverging choices made throughout the first game) without carrying over any stats. But it’s worth noting that Mass Effect 2 popularly ditched the somewhat clunkier roleplaying system of the first game in favor of a more straightforward shooter, a move that was motivated at least in part to enable a more cohesive and well-balanced experience in the second game. That’s exactly what I’m hoping for with the next Destiny.

“There simply isn’t a weapon exotic enough, a Sparrow fast enough, or emote silly enough to dull the blow many hardcore players are bound to feel.”

   Schreier has a good track record with these types of leaks, which has sometimes made him the target of scapegoating by some overeager and anxious fans all-too-willing to shoot the messenger when the news is bad. He popped into at least one popular post over at Reddit where one commenter noted that Schreier’s name lent credibility to the rumors. Almost immediately afterward, another asked the journalist to plead to his source that any decisions regarding character carryover be reconsidered. Jason responded that his source assured him Bungie knew just how sensitive the decision would be for fans and that they were doing their best to approach it delicately.

   It remains to be seen just how delicately the issue can be handled (here’s to hoping it goes over better than that debacle with paid emotes leading up to The Taken King last year), and I doubt there’s anything Bungie could do to appease everyone. There simply isn’t a weapon exotic enough, a Sparrow fast enough, or emote silly enough to dull the blow some hardcore players are bound to feel. But the apprehension fans are expressing about starting fresh in Destiny 2 is misplaced.

   One of the primary driving forces behind player action in a game like Destiny is the sense of progress you feel when you find that next, better weapon or piece of armor, particularly so in this case because Destiny’s character progression (i.e., light levels) is tied directly to your equipment. Sometimes that gear is a means to an end—finally being able to take on the raid or improving your odds in Iron Banner, for example—but often it’s an end unto itself. After three years of collecting gear, grinding up light levels, and ticking away at countless quests and bounties, it’s natural to start thinking of these characters as investments of a sort, and within that context, starting fresh for the sequel effectively promises zero return on those investments.

“Destiny . . . isn’t a traditional game. Before it was ever announced, rumors were floating around that Bungie was working on a Halo-like MMO, and in some ways that description still holds up. “

   It’s a problem that isn’t necessarily unique to Destiny, but it is atypical for the bulk of popular game franchises. There likely isn’t a player out there expecting to see his or her progress from the past games carry over to Gears of War 4, for instance, and Call of Duty players are all too familiar with the annual recycling of their unlocked weapons and feats as each new game in the series is released.  The new iterations of these series feel familiar to their respective fans, they feature similar mechanics and the same skills required for player success will typically carry over, but they’re not seamless, contiguous expansions of their predecessors.

   It’s far more typical that when one of these games doesn’t differentiate itself heavily enough from the rest of the series,  the reaction from fans and critics alike is negative. Franchises like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and virtually every sports game series imaginable frequently take flack for IP milking, and it’s normally not enough to just slap on some half-baked new gimmick in a game (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and your tower defense minigame). Without showing some evolution in the underlying formula for these series’ successes, they start to feel stale. Those that are story-driven may get by simply as continuations of narratives that fans are already engrossed in, but eventually developers need to find some new means of differentiation. Battlefield One’s breaking from the modern shooter mold this year and going back to before basics by setting the game during World War I. Assassin’s Creed is taking a year off from its annual release cycle in an attempt by Ubisoft to ensure the next game is up to snuff after several recent near hits and misses. And it seams like every new sports game has some unique take on franchise or career modes to appeal to players who are interested in more than a mere roster update.

   Destiny, however, isn’t a traditional game. Before it was ever announced, rumors were floating around that Bungie was working on a Halo-like MMO, and in some ways that description still holds up. It’s foundational tech feels like a natural evolution of the mechanics and gunplay that made the Halo series so memorable fifteen years ago, but it borrows the social and character customization elements of action RPGs and MMOs to make for an experience that falls into a far less crowded niche.

“When Blizzard rolled out their sequel to Diablo in 2000, fans of the series voiced similar concerns as those of the Destiny community today. We didn’t want to leave our warriors, sorcerers, and rogues behind.”

   It’s drawn a fair share of comparisons to the Diablo series, and, as the Kotaku article linked above mentions, the game’s devs have been rather transparent about the inspiration they’ve drawn from Blizzard’s flagship aRPG. While they play very differently from one another, Destiny and Diablo take similar approaches to limited online multiplayer, pseudo-randomized loot, and character development. In both games, players essentially re-run existing missions on a regular basis, driven not by a new experience, per se, but by the potential for new or better gear and skill or talent progression.

   When Blizzard rolled out their sequel to Diablo in 2000, their fans voiced similar concerns as those of the Destiny community today. We didn’t want to leave our warriors, sorcerers, and rogues behind. We didn’t want to lose our top-tier weapons and armor. In effect, we didn’t want to feel like all the time we had spent playing the first game had been worthless, and, somehow, Diablo 2’s reboot felt like just that.

“Destiny is at its best when it allows and encourages players to enjoy actually playing, when the loot drop at the end of a challenge compliment it rather than define it.”

   At the heart of our apprehension both then and now, I think, is player motivation. The challenge and reward cycles of these games are at least potentially cyclical and addictive. At times—and vanilla Destiny suffered from this more frequently than it does currently—running the same strike or raid or story mission for the umpteenth time can feel a bit like dropping a coin in a slot machine. There’s no real joy to be derived from the play of the game when this happens; all that matters is the payoff in the end. It’s streamlined and efficient gambling, and when that’s the case, these games suffer.

   When Diablo 2 finally did launch, the vast majority of us forgot almost immediately about why we had been so worried to start over. We were too busy figuring out our kits, finding all new gear, and exploring unfamiliar maps to care anymore. For a time at least, we were able to enjoy playing the game again without fretting about the micro-gaming that many of us had devolved to in the first game. Like Diablo, Destiny is at its best when it allows and encourages players to enjoy actually playing, when the loot drops at the end of a challenge compliment it rather than define it. I don’t mean to argue that players shouldn’t continue to quest for specific items or goals, but I do believe that Destiny’s fans love the game not because of the light levels they’re able to achieve but because of the experiences it offers them along the way.

   By ditching our characters and progress for the sequel, we enable Destiny 2 to offer us entirely new experiences, and I believe that’s what every player really wants from the continuation of the series. We eat up new content in the game as quickly as Bungie can get it to us, and then we suck on the bones until every morsel is gone. The last two major expansions each provided healthy portions of new game, but inevitably the complaints will resurface that there just isn’t enough content in the it because how could there be? What’s there is just too good, and we don’t really want the ride to stop.

“In order for Bungie to really make something better, they need to feel free to rebuild Destiny from the ground up.”

   At the same time, Bungie has been restrained by the groundwork they laid with Destiny 1. The Taken King showed just how dramatically Bungie could re-write the rules of the game for the better, but the systems originally put in place by the vanilla release haven’t been gutted so much as tweaked and enhanced. Light levels, for example, work entirely differently than they did in vanilla Destiny, and the change has empowered players to customize their guardians with the gear and abilities that best appeal to them rather than shoehorning everyone into the same few weapons and armor that feature enough of an arbitrary stat to max their level. Even still, the stats and mechanics at the foundation of the game are fundamentally the same.

   In order for Bungie to really make something better, they need to feel free to rebuild Destiny from the ground up. They need to change the foundation. It’s an uncomfortable thought, maybe, because Destiny is already an excellent game, but its sequel has the potential to be something so much greater.

   The earliest footage I can remember seeing of Destiny made some ambitious claims that never really came to fruition. Bungie had plans for open worlds and space exploration that dwarf what we see in the current game. I remember feeling disappointed when I finally got my hands on it because of just how restricted the game world felt when compared to my expectations. The Tower, which had looked so alive and spectacular at first glance, proved shallow and cheap once you scratched the looping animated paint away from its surface. The people and robots sitting around fires, sweeping leaves, and talking with one another weren’t NPCs. They were furniture, just part of the environment. I wanted to interact with them, and I wanted desperately to explore the city below me.

   Like the rest of the game, I came to love The Tower for what it was, and I’ve since spent more than my fair share of time sitting down at the very edge of the place staring up at the Traveler illuminated by a pinkish sunset, listening to the chatter over the intercom and the sounds of ships coming and going. I expect Destiny 2 will bring us more of these kinds of experiences, but I’m hoping for something much deeper. By shedding the baggage—the good and the bad—of the first game, Bungie has a chance to offer us just that. 

The One Thing Missing from Rise of Iron

   If you haven’t already read our thoughts on Bungie’s latest expansion to their hit shooter, Destiny, make sure you check out Cole’s impressions here. In summary, Rise of Iron is really good. It adds more of everything that Destiny players love about the game without dramatically changing it in the same way that The Taken King did last year. I’m taking my time with the new content, but I’m loving every minute of it. Still, I’ve had this nagging feeling as I’ve been exploring the Plaguelands that something’s missing from Destiny, and the other day, as I let the title screen idle on my Xbox while I was doing some chores around the house, I pinpointed exactly what it was. It’s missing Marty O’Donnell.

“Rise of Iron’s theme is tragic and sweet and epic, evoking the heroic spirit of the fallen Iron Lords around whom the expansion’s story revolves”

   Destiny ranks up in my top three titles over the past three years in terms of pure time investment, but I burned out hard in the vanilla game. I picked up The Taken King last September after reading how heavily it had changed Destiny for the better, but I didn’t actually step back into the boots of my 20-something hunter until just a couple of weeks ago. As a result, I’m experiencing two expansions at once, and I’m blown away by just how much better Destiny is now compared to its state at launch. My hunter’s a sword-wielding, arrow-flinging badass, and there’s a wealth of compelling quests left ahead of me to complete. 

   It feels like a return to form for Bungie, who’s proved themselves again as masters of their craft. And yet, I’m reminded from time to time that this isn’t exactly the same studio whom I fell in love with fifteen years ago when Halo: Combat Evolved launched. My frequent visits to the tower, including the loading screens of my ship flying through space, evoke bittersweet nostalgia for me because those are often the places where Marty O’Donnell’s music most obviously returns to the spotlight.

   Don’t get me wrong, the scores composed by Michael Salvatori and crew for the game since O’Donnell’s surprising and abrupt termination are still good, even great. Rise of Iron’s theme is tragic and sweet and epic, evoking the heroic spirit of the fallen Iron Lords around whom the expansion’s story revolves. Likewise, I’ve had The Taken King’s soundtrack on non-stop repeat in my office the past five days, and I’ve grown particularly fond of the tracks “Regicide,” “Remembrance,” and “The Awoken.” Destiny’s always featured some of the best music in the biz, and that hasn’t changed as the game’s grown and matured.

   There are times, even, when the new scores feature rhythmic beats and motifs that conjure up visions of Halo for me, and I’ve found myself wondering how much of it may have been originally scored by O’Donnell (to which I assume Bungie still owns the rights) and how much of it is simply the result of his influence on the studio’s legacy. But for the most part, it’s changed. Destiny’s a different game now than it was, better in virtually every way, but it’s different. And Bungie’s different, too.

   O’Donnell had been one of the last remaining pre-Microsoft members of Bungie prior to his termination. The studio’s full of new faces now, with many of the veteran devs having gone one to form new studios, including Microsoft’s 343 Studios who are responsible for all things Halo. The same heart still beats at Bungie’s core, as evidenced by Destiny’s unsurpassed gunplay and absurdly grandiose lore, but they’re changing and growing and evolving as a studio, not always for the better and certainly not always for the worse. 

   Returning to Destiny these past few weeks has been both a familiar and new experience for me. At times I feel like I’m reconnecting with an old friend. At others, I’m forming a relationship with a brand new one. That’s never more clear to me than when I hear O’Donnell’s music juxtaposed with the newer scores. It leaves me longing for or mourning over a studio that will never exist in the same way it did fifteen years ago, but it also leaves me excited and elated for Bungie’s future.

   

Will You Buy the PlayStation 4 Pro?

     It has been exactly one week (at the time of me writing this) since the announcement of the PlayStation 4 Pro and new slimmer model of the standard PS4, and now that I have had ample time to analyze the conference, I still have a hard time understanding why? While I can wrap my head around the fact that Sony is attempting to future proof their product, which is now sitting at a staggering 40+ million sold into the market, I simply can’t grasp the focus on their messaging around the Pro. 

      Now, I understand that the past week has been a rather tough one for Sony. After The Last Guardian delay, bad PR from their halt on mods for both Fallout 4 and Skyrim Special Editions, and a rather underwhelming conference to show off the forthcoming consoles, picking on a couple poor decisions on Sonys part has been a popular topic over the last few days. To make myself abundantly clear: this is not my intent, nor the purpose of this article. 

…if graphical fidelity is as big of a concern as 1st parties are trying to make it nowadays, then why don’t we just all jump to PC…

     In the past days I have discussed this topic at length with other columnists as well as a featured topic on The Heads Up Display podcast, and to this point, no one can seem to give me a solid reason as to the reasoning behind the PlayStation 4 Pro. Or at least Sony’s messaging behind the product. I have played every console exclusive as well as the majority of 3rd party titles on my launch day PS4, and at no point thus far have I ever said to myself, “man this game does not look good”. Now for those of you screaming at your monitor, “then don’t buy it and stop complaining”, I simply pose this question: if graphical fidelity is as big of a concern as 1st parties are trying to make it nowadays, then why don’t we just all jump to PC where Ultra settings reign supreme?

    During the conference I found myself dying for information on how the PlayStation 4 Pro could improve the games themselves, not just how awesome they look on my 4K TV. Instead of Mark Cerny spending an ample amount of time showing me differentiating pictures via a twitch stream that isn’t even hosted at 4K quality anyway, let him talk about how the power of the Pro can fundamentally change the way games play. Show us how they are now able to fill the emptiness in the vast universe of No Man’s Sky with the increased GPU, how they can improve framerates and overall quality for the forthcoming PSVR, or how the upcoming Day’s Gone gameplay becomes all the more hectic when they are able to fill the screen with that many more ‘Freakers’. These are the facts and specs that will sell the Pro to the hesitant consumer such as myself. Now after all this, the 4K specs and HDR capability is just icing on the cake

     Now I present you with this question, Sony: if your aim with the Pro (which Cerny has confirmed in other interviews) is to go after the gamer that is more concerned with graphical fidelity, and more often than not later finds themselves on PC, won’t these players be more likely to wait for the Scorpio- which is already promising to be more powerful in virtually every way? You cannot win on graphical power alone, and this is why you must focus on how the Pro makes your (already) incredible games, that much better. 

     Enough from me, because those of us at The HUD wants to hear your opinion on the matter. Has Sony sold you on the PlayStation 4 Pro, and if yes then why? Or have they slipped up on this one and you are still unsure? Let us know in the comments below!

          

Remembering the Sega Dreamcast

   Seventeen years ago today, Sega launched its final and most powerful home console in the United States: the 128-bit Dreamcast. The forward-thinking machine had been on shelves in Japan for nearly a year at this point but had not yet enjoyed much success, and although it would go on to sell over 9 million units in its short lifespan, it was discontinued only 18 months after its stateside launch. Still, as the vanguard of the sixth generation of gaming consoles, the Dreamcast anticipated the future of online multiplayer and laid the foundation for an era of gaming that would give way to the world-conquering PS2 and the original Xbox.

   To this day, the Dreamcast remains my all-time favorite gaming console for reasons that aren’t necessarily easy to quantify. The system’s library was impressive, particularly given its short lifespan and less-than-stellar third party developer support, and titles like Sonic Adventure (both of them), Powerstone, Shenmue, and Skies of Arcadia are certainly major parts of why I remember it so fondly.

“The Dreamcast had something that . . . you don’t typically find in hardware: character. It had a soul.”

   And I can’t deny that nostalgia plays another role. It hit store shelves at a pivotal moment in my life when I was nearly 14 years old, and it was the first console that I had followed at every stage of its development from its original announcement to its launch. In some ways, the Dreamcast ushered me into a new era of my own life, one in which I was no longer a child for whom gaming was a reactive pastime, playing whatever looked good to me on the shelves at the local Hastings (the only place I could rent Sega Saturn games at the time). I was becoming a young adult for whom gaming and its surrounding industry was a passion.

   But my fondness for Sega’s hardware swan song is sourced in something more intangible and ambiguous than nostalgia. With it, you could tell that Sega was all in, they weren’t afraid to be innovative or unique. It was weird and quirky, but it was also cutting-edge. The Dreamcast had something that, for me at least, you don’t typically find in hardware: character. It had a soul.

“Online multiplayer was growing increasingly popular and accessible to PC gamers, but it little more than a daydream to those who exclusively played on consoles”

   To commemorate it, let’s take a brief look back at the hardware and games that made the Dreamcast special, from the days leading up to its launch to its untimely demise, as well as the legacy it left to benefit of gamers everywhere.    

   To appreciate the Dreamcast fully, it’s important to realize the state of the industry at the time. While Sega was still regarded as one of the major players in the console business, the console wars were no longer divided between Nintendo and themselves. Sony had won a decisive victory in the fifth console generation over both the incumbent hardware manufacturers, and Sega—whose 32-bit console more closely resembled the PSX than the Nintendo 64—had lagged behind them virtually every step of the way. The Saturn was more costly to the manufacturer, its dual-CPU architecture more difficult to develop for, and its sticker price was a full $100 greater than those of the Playstation. The Saturn had suffered, too, from a weaker marketing strategy, and despite launching in the US nearly four months prior to the PSX, it failed to capitalize on its own head start.

 U.S. Launch Model with Controller
U.S. Launch Model with Controller

   After the Saturn’s commercial failure, Sega seemed to have learned a number of important lessons about the industry’s new landscape. For the Dreamcast’s core hardware, they opted for components that were already available on the PC market in order to not only drive down costs of manufacturing but also to foster a friendlier environment for developers. To that same end, the Dreamcast’s operating system was based on a customized version of Windows CE developed by Microsoft with the intent of making porting PC games to the console simpler, and stamped on the front of the console were the words “Compatible with Windows CE” alongside the Windows logo, making it the first home console in the U.S. to feature a Microsoft brand name. The Xbox, which was already in development at the time behind the scenes and all but unknown to the gaming community, would later share much of the Dreamcast’s DNA, but we’ll discuss that later on as part of the Dreamcast’s legacy.

   Four-player splitscreen multiplayer titles such as Goldeneye and Perfect Dark had proven wildly popular on the N64, and Sega took the cue to include four controller ports on the front of the Dreamcast. The controllers themselves resembled the Saturn’s analogue “3D controller” that had been included with copies of Nights: Into Dreams complete with spring-loaded triggers, a joystick in the top-left and a digital directional pad, and an ABXY button diamond layout on the right. Taking another card from Nintendo’s deck, vibration packs were made available for the controller, and a second port was included to enable the simultaneous use of one or two memory cards and/or a single vibration pack per player. The controller itself matched the aesthetic of the console, but was not particularly well-received at launch as comfortable to use.

 Controller with VMU
Controller with VMU

   The Dreamcast’s memory cards, called Visual Memory Units (or VMUs), were particularly unique to the console. In a way, the VMU summarizes everything that made the Dreamcast such a special platform. It was innovative, weird, and iconic. Each VMU featured a colorless LCD screen along with a directional pad and four rubber buttons (two game buttons in addition to a “mode” and sleep buttons). Minigames could be downloaded to the VMU from within Dreamcast titles and played on the go when the memory card was removed from the controller. While plugged into the controller during regular play, however, the VMU served as a personal LCD screen for the player that could display information to the player such as hit points, a minimap, or (most frequently) an animation of dubious practical value. More traditional memory cards were released for the console that could be used to simply store save game data, typically with improved storage capacity over the VMU, but I always felt there was something unsettling about seeing a Dreamcast controller in play without its LCD screen .

   The VMU was an unorthodox approach to memory cards, but the inclusion of a 56k dial-up modem (33.3 kbps for the original Japanese line) was perhaps the more surprising hardware choice Sega made for the Dreamcast. Online multiplayer was growing increasingly popular and accessible to PC gamers, but it little more than a daydream to those who exclusively played on consoles, and private internet access was not yet so ubiquitous in the U.S. as it is today. The modem itself was modular in order to allow for future upgrades as dial-up connections gave way to broadband services. To coax unfamiliar gamers online, Sega rolled out SegaNet, its own internet service, along with an official QWERTY keyboard peripheral that plugged into one of the four controller slots.

   Full support for the VMU and online integration was hardly universal across Dreamcast games, with first-party titles naturally being the more likely to take advantage of the consoles unique features, but they were integral to the Dreamcast’s charm. The console itself was designed with a pleasant and playful aesthetic that would later seem out of place when set beside other sixth-generation consoles (the Gamecube being the notable exception). It wasn’t bulky. It didn’t look particularly intimidating or powerful. And it certainly didn’t resemble a DVD player. The Dreamcast looked like fun. 

“During the five or so days that I had my rented Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure, I refused to power down the system and lose my save game.”

   It’s difficult to remember a time when it was the norm for consoles to release dramatically earlier in Japan than in the United States, but in the late 90s, it was still a fact of life. Leading up to its Japanese launch on November 27, 1998, Sega felt confident that the Dreamcast would perform well locally. Recognizing that Saturn sales had suffered due at least in part to the absence of a proper Sonic the Hedgehog title for the platform, Sonic Adventure, the series’ first official entry into 3D platforming, was promoted heavily and promised as a launch title for its successor. Domestic pre-orders for the Dreamcast were promising, and it seemed all but assured of success.

   Unfortunately, the Japanese launch did not go as smoothly as planned. Hardware shortages plagued the early line of consoles, and Sega was forced to halt pre-orders. Sonic Adventure narrowly missed the launch date, leaving launch-day buyers with a paltry four titles to choose from, only one of which was well-received: Virtual Fighter 3, a console port of the wildly successful arcade fighter. In spite of the fact that the entire launch stock had sold out by the end of the day, the Dreamcast failed to gain the install base that Sega predicted they would need to remain relevant when Sony’s next-gen console launched.

   Despite its disappointing launch in Japan, Sega of America had just under a year to build up hype for the console’s planned September launch. Peter Moore—who would go on to oversee the Xbox and Xbox 360 with Microsoft—took up the reigns as Sega of America’s president. Moore was determined to recapture the energy and magic of Genesis-era Sega, and spearheaded efforts towards making the Dreamcast’s launch a success. Sega of America worked closely with Midway Games to bolster the number of titles that would be available at launch, four of which were to be published by them.

“What was impressive about the Dreamcast’s catalog of games wasn’t so much the sheer number of titles that were released in such a short time, it was just how many of them were utterly unforgettable.”

   They also formed a partnership with Hollywood Video in order to offer an unorthodox special. Prior to the system’s official launch date, each Hollywood Video received a number of consoles to rent out along with a handful of games that had already been localized for U.S. gamers, including Sonic Adventure. The only problem, I can tell you from personal experience, was that Hollywood Video did not have any VMUs available for rent. During the five or so days that I had my rented Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure, I refused to power down the system and lose my save game.

   Thanks to the efforts of Moore and Sega of America, the U.S. launch for the Dreamcast, which occurred 9/9/99, 17 years ago today, was far more successful than it had been in Japan. The console itself was well-received by fans and critics alike. The launch lineup of games was significantly stronger, too, with more than a dozen titles to choose from right off the bat. 

   While third party support for the Dreamcast would dwindle not long after launch, its game library blossomed quickly over its one and one-half years life span. But what was impressive about the Dreamcast’s catalog of games wasn’t so much the sheer number of titles that were released in such a short time, it was just how many of them were utterly unforgettable. I’ve highlighted a selection of my personal favorites below, but this by no means a comprehensive list. 

   The U.S. launch lineup was particularly strong even when compared against the more successful consoles that have launched since and included multiple titles that would remain iconic to the system throughout its life. Not all of the 13 launch games were masterpieces, mind you. Blue Streak, the survival-horror game and would-be Resident Evil competitor released to mixed reviews, and Midway’s Dreamcast port of Mortal Kombat 4, Mortal Kombat Gold, both lacked polish and showed more glaringly the faults already inherent to the popular arcade fighter (I adored the game anyway, but I was a diehard fan of the series at the time). When compared to the modern gaming landscape, it’s particularly fascinating to note that five (including the brawler Power Stone) of the launch titles were fighting games, one of which became an instant classic and one of the “killer apps” for the Dreamcast.

Sonic Adventure

   Sega’s spiky blue mascot had appeared on the Sega Saturn in spinoff titles and Sonic Jam, a collection of the Genesis titles, but an official Sonic the Hedgehog title in the core series hadn’t been released since Sonic and Knuckles in 1994. Sonic Adventure was therefore hotly anticipated, particularly so as it marked Sonic’s entry into true 3D gaming. Mario 64 had shown the world just how excellently a classic platformer could be transitioned from 16-bit sidescroller to the third dimension, and Sega fans were eager to see how their own beloved series would fare.

   Sonic Adventure was a game whose value was, much like the Dreamcast itself, far greater than the sum of its parts. Featuring a six playable characters, full voiceover, a virtual pet game that carried over to the VMU, and a fishing simulator (I’m dead serious), Sonic Adventure was a hit, and it would go on to be the console’s top seller. And since it was intended to showcase the best of the Dreamcast’s system features, Sonic Adventure also included an online portal where players could upload their best level clear times to compete with one another, read announcements from Sonic Team, and download Choa (the aforementioned virtual pets) cloned from other players and uploaded to the community.

●   Bottom line: The first true Sonic game since the Genesis proved that the series could flourish in the third dimension. Its sequel would go on to perfect the gameplay formula before the series dove nose first into mediocrity.

●   VMU Minigame: Chao Adventure

●   My favorite memory: Playing through the game on a rented console without a memory card and refusing to hit the power button until I had seen Super Sonic

 

Power Stone 

   There’d never really been a fighting game quite like Power Stone, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything that resembled it since, although I’ve always lumped it in with games like Super Smash Bros. more than traditional fighters. Players chose from one of 10 fighters and duked it out with up to three other opponents in an open arena that allowed for free-roam, three-dimensional movement. Items and weapons would appear throughout the stage sporadically, and these could be picked up and used to gain the upper hand on enemies. The eponymous power stones could be collected, too, throughout the course of the match, and collecting all three—whether by picking them up as they appeared or stealing them from your opponent through brute force—transformed your fighter into a super-powered version of him or herself who could unleash ultimate attacks that were often difficult to defend against or dodge and could be game-winning. 

●      Bottom line: Power Stone was addictive fun with a colorful anime aesthetic and an arcade feel that combined near-unrestricted 3D movement with random and often hilarious weapons; its sequel released the following year would expand on the formula for even more fun.

●   VMU Minigame: NA

●   My favorite memory: My best friend commenting on “Gypsy Dancer” Rouge’s fighting abilities. I knew what he really meant.

 

Soulcalibur 

   If there was one game you were expected to own with your Dreamcast, it was Soulcalibur. The weapon-based fighting game had already been a hit in arcades, and it was ported exclusively to Sega’s console just in time for the U.S. launch. Soulcalibur wasn’t just a great fighter or even a great launch title, it marked a turning point in the history of home console gaming. The game looked and played better on the Dreamcast than it had in arcades, really driving home the power and potential of the Dreamcast and the future of console gaming. The Soulcalibur series has seen success (sometimes to varying degrees) on every major console since with an expanded cast of characters that has included the likes of Spawn, The Legend of Zelda’s Link, Darth Vader, and Yoda, but none of the games since have blown my mind quite the same way that the original Dreamcast port did. 

●      Bottom line: The Dreamcast’s first killer app, Soulcalibur ushered in a new era of gaming where consoles no longer had to play second fiddle to arcade cabinets.

●   VMU Minigame: NA, but it featured delightful character animations for each fighter during the main game

●   My favorite memory: Landing my first throw as Kilik against my friend and watching that bo staff rebound off his shattered spine

“Despite the successful U.S. launch and the overwhelming number of masterpieces released for the Dreamcast over the following 18 months, Sega saw the writing on the wall when Sony’s monolithic Playstation 2 launched”

   I’ve highlighted just three of the Dreamcast’s launch games, but I hope I’ve demonstrated the strength of the lineup. It’s rare with any major console launch to find even one game that could stand stand up as one of the console’s greats years afterwards, but the Dreamcast is still fondly remembered for these titles and those that followed in their wake not long afterward. Capcom’s Resident Evil: Code Veronica would launch to critical acclaim the final February, and although third party support would begin to dwindle soon after, with the more powerful PS2 due the following Fall, Sega kept the Dreamcast’s library strong with first party titles such as Skies of Arcadia, the bizarre Seaman, Shenmue, Crazy Taxi, and the very well received 2k line of sports titles, which would later be sold to 2K games upon the closure of Sega Sports.

   Despite the successful U.S. launch and the overwhelming number of masterpieces released for the Dreamcast over the following 18 months, Sega saw the writing on the wall when Sony’s monolithic Playstation 2 launched the following fall. It’s likely the move saved Sega since they remain a prominent and influential third party publisher and development house to this day, but there’s no denying that the company is dramatically different today than it was in the 20th century.

   But the Dreamcast left its mark on the gaming world permanently, and its influence seems obvious even today on Microsoft’s own console line. The Xbox controller still bears a striking resemblance to the Dreamcast controller—the original even featured two memory card slots, although they proved mostly redundant—although it’s no longer as unwieldy as it’s spiritual predecessor. Microsoft console also provided a home to some of Sega’s more unique first-party releases intended for the Dreamcast. Shenmue 2, which never saw a Dreamcast release in North America, launched exclusively for the Xbox in 2002, and Panzer Dragoon, a series that had always felt like the Saturn’s flagship, diverted to the Xbox with Panzer Dragoon Orta in 2003.

“The Dreamcast may have failed to take the world by storm, but it certainly left its mark.”

   The Dreamcast proved that online gaming could work in the console space, too, but it wasn’t a concept that instantly resonated with Sony, who invested very little into online multiplayer until after Xbox Live launched in 2012. While Sega had offered a unified online multiplayer service, SegaNet, Sony left online support to game developers. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 launched in 2001 and was the first game with online multiplayer support to appear on a non-Sega console, although connecting to the game’s servers required the use of a third-party modem connected via USB. Xbox Live more closely mimicked and expanded on the SegaNet model, and by the end of the console generation it had become the exemplary model for online multiplayer on home consoles (and influencing, I’d argue, PC online play, too).

   The Dreamcast may have failed to take the world by storm, but it certainly left its mark. In the wake of its demise, Sega demonstrated that they could continue to hold relevance in the industry solely as a software developer and producer, and, no longer restricted for the sake of their IP’s integrity, their most popular franchises found life with other platforms.

   Here’s to the Sega Dreamcast, that forward-thinking, little machine. It may not have been made for this world, but it made the world a little bit better in its short time.

 

Does the Nintendo NX Stand a Chance?

 Photo Cred: ReviewTechUSA
Photo Cred: ReviewTechUSA

Early last week, eurogamer.com released a story that according to credible sources on their end, Nintendos upcoming platform codenamed the NX, will indeed function as the handheld/console hybrid that has been rumored for a while now. Furthermore, they have also gone on to say that the console will support both downloadable games, as well as classic styled cartridges.

     Since this news broke, it has been chaos across the board amongst Nintendo fans, with those taking sides for those in favor of the concept as well as those against it. Regardless of whether or not the platform turns out to be something different than expected, or does fall in line with the classic Nintendo move of aiming at a “new way to play”, one thing is for sure: Nintendo is going to have one hell of a time trying to regain the message. With the NX having already been confirmed for March of 2017, I have to wonder when Nintendo is planning to get in front of the speculation and tell its fans what the NX actually is. With TGS around the corner, and a busy fall for triple-A titles, I can’t understand what Nintendo is waiting for since they are only risking being drowned out by market noise the further into the year that they go. 

      Nevertheless, the NX will be announced at some point, and Nintendo will attempt to fulfill our gaming wishes as they lay out the roadmap for the upcoming platform. While we have already covered the NX in previous articles in which we discuss what the console should be, we have not discussed the hurdles it will need to overcome if it turns out to indeed be the hybrid console we are now catching wind of. As expected, the Internet forums are filled with why the console will fail, however I want to offer the idea that if done right- the hybrid could actually succeed. Before you continue reading (if I haven’t already lost you), clear your mind of all previous assumptions and judgments of a console like this, and let’s consider the possibilities in front of us. 

     While many have said that they want to see Nintendo get back to “true console gaming” (whatever that means), we have to accept that after more than a decade of experiments (with some succeeding beyond expectations *cough* Wii *cough*) Nintendo obviously has no interest in trying to compete in the same space as Sony and Microsoft. I know it’s a hard pill to swallow, but life immediately gets better once you do. Now that we have all that out of the way, here are three moves that could really change the way that majority of people are looking at the forthcoming announcement, and bring back those that have lost faith in the Nintendo brand.

1.) Offer Solution to the Console/Handheld Separation

This seems the most obvious, but if you are going to give us a portably console, then make sure everything is on there. Offer the solution so that both past 3DS and DS games, along with the new games such as Zelda: Breath of the Wild, are both supported on the platform day 1. No longer will we have to see the audience split on where they want to play tent pole franchises like Smash Bro’s, but instead all can exist on one platform and on one network. Now you don’t have to try and coordinate with your friends where they will buy the upcoming Mario Kart, since it will all be on the same box.

2.) Offer all the Classic Titles & Make them Affordable (Dammit!)

While the WiiU was promised to offer this feature, it has been an incredibly slow rollout of Nintendo classics- and all at a premium price. I understand that Nintendo probably organized this gradual rollout to help fill the long periods without major game releases- after all 3rd party support is almost non existent on the platform now- this cannot be an issue on the new system. If they come out saying that there is a back catalog of 150+ games with 20 more being added every month of Nintendo Classics from every era, then that will get the public’s attention. Just look at the response of the NES Classic Mini announcement- the demand is there, all they need to do is act on it.

3.) Work w/ 3rd Parties & Indie Studios alike

What is probably the most important aspect of the upcoming platform, is for Nintendo to re-establish the faith that they once had with outside developers. If it is one thing that the WiiU taught us, it was that Nintendo couldn’t succeed on their internal dev studio alone. While I think the reality of us getting a new Zelda, Mario, and Metroid in the first year of the consoles life cycle is looking more and more promising with each passing month as the WiiU is left out to die with no software- this could instead turn out to be what the PlayStation Vita had always aspired to be. Imagine being able to move from Zelda: Breath of the Wild to an indie title such as Severed in a matter of moments, and all on the bus ride to work- that is a future that I could live with.

Regardless of what the (hopefully near) future brings, Nintendo has got a lot of speculation and hype to live up to now. It’s time to get out in front of it all, and let the fans know why they should be excited for the upcoming platform. I have every ounce of faith in the house that Mario built, and their ability to stir things up and blindside us with some great announcements- all they need to do now is remind us why Nintendo is a household name.

Top 5 Choices of the Fall 2016 Lineup

1.) No Man’s Sky

When I first saw the teaser trailer for this game back in December of 2013, I remember thinking 2 things: what is the point to this game, and when do I get to play it? In the nearly 3 years that has passed since that time, although I still remain a little shaky on what the main purpose of the game is, the light at the end of the tunnel on when we get to play it is just around the corner: August 9th, 2016. Regardless of my hesitation on whether or not it will provide a gameplay loop worthy of hundreds of hours spent exploring the universe, I cannot shake the feeling that this will be the type of game that you have to experience for yourself in order to understand. I hope it can live up to the expectation that has been built over the years, and luckily we won’t have to wait long to find out.

2.) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Although Deus Ex: Human Revolution did not exactly set the world on fire when it first debuted on the previous console cycle in 2011, it was still a game that I thoroughly enjoyed playing, despite its shortcomings. While I don’t expect this iteration to break the mold and set the series on fire (although that’d be awesome), from the gameplay that I have seen thus far, the level of polish and Eidos Montreal’s commitment to the lore of the universe has made me incredibly excited to continue Adam Jensen’s story. This is going to be one of those games that most will end up buying during a flash sale at the end of the year due to the busy fall lineup, and end up loving. For me, I am looking forward to seeing how the studio reacted to fan feedback, and if they doubled down on what made the first so special when it releases on August 23rd, 2016. 

3.) Final Fantasy XV

After nearly a decade of development hell, title changes, and entire staff alterations, Final Fantasy XV is finally set to release on Sept. 30th, 2016. Of all the games that are hitting shelves this season, this is far and away my most anticipated. Stunning Titan battles, revised battle system, and a story that promises to be the most captivating since Final Fantasy XI, please take my money. Although it has already proved to be a very different approach to the series from the classic turn based combat system that made the franchise a household name, Game Director Tetsuya Nomura understands the faults in the recent titles and what is on the line with the launch of the forthcoming title. At this point, I highly doubt that no matter how good this game is, it will not be able to justify a 10 year dev cycle, however I cannot wait to experience what they bring to the table.  

4.) Titanfall 2

The day that I heard Titanfall was an Xbox One exclusive and that an open beta was being held, I immediately went to my local GameStop to pick one up. I knew that Vince Zampella and Jason West, minds behind Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, founded Respawn Entertainment, and this was their first attempt at a blank slate. From the reveal trailer at E3 2013, I knew that this was going to give shooters the shot of adrenaline that they needed. I was thoroughly pleased with my purchase and time spent with the game, however I believe due to the lack of single player content and story, it caused the community to move on quickly. Titanfall 2 is already looking like it will address the issues that players had concern over in the predecessor, and giving us more frantic twitch shooting action that we loved so much in the first. With a very busy season for the FPS genre, it is going to be interesting to see if Respawn can carve themselves out their own piece of the market. Regardless, we are going to find out when it hits shelves on Oct. 28th, 2016.

5.) Watchdogs 2

After a somewhat shaky launch of the original Watchdogs due to visual expectations set by the reveal trailer, Ubisoft is hoping to knock Watchdogs 2 out of the park. With the gameplay reveal during the conference at E32016, it is vastly apparent that they are doubling down on the ‘Mr. Robot’ themed world and giving us more of what made the first memorable. During my play through of the original, despite its flaws, I enjoyed the open world and the constant feeling that I could plug into and manipulate anything. Luckily, from what I have seen of the sequel, I have a lot to look forward to. One thing is certain, it is going to be interesting to see how it is recieved by the community, and if this offers the franchise the legs that it is looking for to become the next tent pole in the deep Ubisoft lineup. We will have to wait until November 15th, 2016 to find out. 

GTA V: Be Calm and Shoot On

Be Calm and Shoot On

     As an angst-ridden teenager, my older brother and I owned a PS2.  We had a variety of games at our disposal, but one game rang true to our state of minds at the time.  That game was Grand Theft Auto 3.  Some of my favorite memories involved my brother and I spending sleepless nights challenging each other in who could get to a five star wanted level the quickest.  It was amazing at how quickly our little characters could commit full-blown terrorism, and how much fun it was to wreak absolute havoc in ‘Liberty City’.  Now, since that time Rockstar games has released several other installments into the GTA franchise.  The latest of which is Grand Theft Auto 5 and although this game is already almost 2 years old, it is still probably one of my most abused games.  The insurmountable hours poured into this game is astonishing even to myself. 

     As a game franchise that has been around for nearly two decades, I know I’m not alone in feeling a weird sense of comfort in playing this notorious game.  Of all the mainstream games that have been released in recent years, I feel like this game gets a lot of controversy surrounding it’s violent and explicitly sexual nature.  These aspects don’t necessarily bother me, however I will agree that this game really glorifies the idea of being a criminal.  Whether or not that’s a bad thing, I feel is entirely up to the player and they should really be the ones to use discretion in deciding if it’s a type of game that they want to expose themselves to.  Despite the polarizing opinions on this game, a lot of players enjoy this game.  Does that mean we are all innately bad on the inside?  Or is there something else that keeps us drawn into this notorious game franchise.

     With the latest installment, Rock star Games has effectively combined three different types of games into one.  Like all Grand Theft Auto’s, GTA5 has the typical RPG mode in their main “Story Mode”.  The story mode follows the same cookie cutter gameplay that Rock star has used for nearly all of their previous installments.  The difference this time around is you won’t stick with the same character that you get introduced to in the beginning.  One thing that is new with GTA5, is that Rock Star has also opened up an “Online Mode” for players to access.  This allows them to roam around an online version of Los Santos, while seeing other players run around as well.  You can interact with them as friends, or engage in some PVP.  Although this part of the game has never appealed to me personally, it’s a nice touch for players who enjoy a more MMO aspect to their games.     

      In this same Online Mode, however, you are also able to engage in a racing style game.  In typical Grand Theft Auto fashion, players are encouraged to steal cars in order to get around.  For the online experience, you can steal a nice car and take it to one of the many customs shops to make it unique to you.  You can repaint it and even tune it to your hearts content.  Once you have the car pulled together, you are then able to enter in races found throughout the city with other players in order to gain experience as well as in game currency to further put towards your ride.  This aspect of the gameplay side is probably the most fun, especially if you have your friends online; the more people that are involved with the race, the more ridiculous it ends up becoming.  Rock Star did a great job weaving this aspect into their online experience and I hope that they continue to do so with future installments.

     Unlike other open world RPG’s, this game has a very unique gameplay mechanic that has been around for as long as I can remember.  Whether you’re running around in old Liberty City or shooting up modern Los Santos, you are constantly faced with a morality decision.  At any given moment the player could choose to steal a nice car, shoot up a store for extra cash, or go on an all-out killing spree just for the sake of entertainment.  However, by doing so you’ll increase your ‘wanted’ level and, eventually will have the whole city after you.  Morality decisions are abundant in many modern day RPG’s, however the GTA franchise really was the first to test the waters with this type of consequential gameplay.     

     With this aspect of consequence, it almost makes the players feel like they are that criminal character.  It’s truly exciting when you can go steal that super nice car from some unsuspecting NPC, which then triggers the city’s police force to chase after you. If you lose them, then great! But if you do get caught, you simply get taken to a night in “jail”.  For most individuals, that does not happen in real life.  It’s this taste of living in a world where there’s no major consequence for breaking the law, which really keeps people coming back.

      I’ve found that the moments I crave a really good GTA run, are the moments that I feel the most stressed.  Bad day at work?  Go steal a nice car and take the cops on a joy ride a few times.  Stressing out about money?  Go on an innocent killing spree down a random street to make in game currency.  You guys get the point.  This game is a healthy escape for you to just be, well, bad without dealing with any of the real life consequences that come with it.  It’s a great outlet for all of that negative energy that we all experience in our day-to-day life.  I really urge you all to give it a shot the next time you feel pent up over something bad that has happened in your day.  Take a deep breath, and just remember to ‘Be Calm, and simply Shoot On’.

      So what do you think?  What has been your favorite part about GTA 5 thus far?  What are some of the things that you dislike about it?  Do you feel like this game has helped you over the years, or caused you more stress?  Let us know if the comments below!

       Gamer Tina

Dear Nintendo: This is your time to shine…

Dear Nintendo,

This year’s E3 was a blast. A month later, and still the multitude of games being released in the near future have me scrambling to figure out how I’m going to make enough time for everything I want to play. But there’s also something else that has been keeping my attention, and it’s not so much what was announced, but rather, what wasn’t announced. While Microsoft and Sony had strong showings this year, announcing new titles left and right; you showed up with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Now, while I enjoyed and am thoroughly excited about this release, I couldn’t help but feel your effort was underwhelming this year. And with the looming threat of Sony and Microsoft’s new console iterations set to contend with your upcoming console, the NX; I was expecting more of a presence from you. And yet, I believe Nintendo is in the best position to surprise everyone and become a contender in the console war once again.

Now before I go into what my hopes are on what you have planned, I must confess I rarely play Nintendo games. I’ve repeatedly bought, played, and sold multiple 3DS’s and my WiiU is put away in the box in which it came. While you will always be synonymous with home console gaming, to me, you have become background noise to the loud progressions of Sony and Microsoft. Now, you’ve responded to these competitors in the past by introducing new ways for the public to enjoy games; being the first to fully utilize motion controls. But rather than finding a different avenue than Sony and Microsoft, maybe it’s time to learn from your competitors to improve your overall product. Not saying they are better! But rather I think you can take bits and pieces from them and improve yourself for the better old friend. That’s perhaps the whole reason I’m writing you. To tell you the truth, we need to catch up with the rest of the gaming community and it needs to start with your hardware.

The major reason my WiiU remains in its box is due to the lack of third party support by game developers. More often than not, triple-A titles are released on your competitor’s consoles and you’re left high and dry. Simply, all of this comes down to your hardware not being able to run the same games as your counterparts. The WiiU wasn’t built to support what third party developers are making, and therefore you were left in the dust. But now, you have a great opportunity to finally come out swinging and provide the power that gamers and developers are used to at this point. By securing this vital aspect of your new console, you can begin to rely on what has always been your strength throughout your lifetime, your first party games. 

The major reason I still own my WiiU is because of the unique experiences that only Nintendo can offer. With the release of the NX, we have the potential to see modern iterations of some of the most beloved franchises in gaming. We’ve already glimpsed at the new Zelda game, but that is only one of the many series you have at your disposal. You have to capitalize on these and pump out some new content to feed our nostalgia. Modern updates to these classic franchises with current gen visuals is enough to have fans reinvigorated in the Nintendo brand. While I understand you have to protect these brands, that doesn’t mean we can’t see new versions of Metroid or Mario. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel- but instead polish and install new features, so I want to buy the wheel again.

I believe with the support of third party developers as well as your genre defining first party games, the NX can be the perfect place where a gamer’s nostalgia and wonder can coexist harmoniously. You have the experience. You have the opportunity. I know the majority of buzz is surrounding the PS NEO and Project Scorpio, but that just means you will take your potential fans by surprise. Take solace in the fact that everyone wants to see you succeed, and we will be celebrating when you do. But to reach that success again, you must catch up with our needs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Sincerely,

                                                                                                Joe Fatani