Well, it's another new year and time, once again, for another retrospective. This time around, we'll be taking a look back at the best games of 2010. As the start of a new decade, it was certainly an important year; and it also happened to be a pretty exceptional year for gaming as well, with some of the biggest releases, well ever. Please read on for a selection of the 12 most notable titles that 2010 had to offer.
Well, it's a new year and I'm back again with another best-of retrospective. This go round, we'll be taking another 12-year look-back, at the best games of 2009, and unlike with the last one, I'm happy to be able to deliver it in a more timely, and thus, sensible fashion. 2009 was another great year for games. But really though, aren't they all, just about? Let's just say, it wasn't any slouch. Please join me as I take a look back at some of the following reasons why.
Warning! There are MANY LINKS ahead. They will open in separate pages.
Well, it’s certainly been a while, hasn’t it? The last post I made here was several years ago now, and that’s pretty bad. It means I haven’t been writing about games and gaming and movies and music and all that nonsense for two [and a bit] years!
We-ll, it’s time to rectify that.Read more
Right now on the ol' Steam you can pick up the starter edition of Ubisoft's For Honor, 100% free. Best thing about this is that you're actually getting a product for free. This isn't going to suddenly make you pay for a full version down the line. You don't even have to install it if you don't want to. Just click the "install" button and Steam will register For Honor to your account so you can enjoy it whenever you like. Read more
Well this review comes in later than most, even if it is past due. My last Past Due Review was actually a year ago when I reviewed SUPERHOT. Then I decided to basically not play any games that came out in 2016 and instead opted to do nearly a years research of games from 2011 for the conceptual gaming awards I did for said games. But now it’s 2017 and we got front loaded with a lot of great games to choose from, all of which aren’t short by any means. So what does this Ubisoft shade throwing gaming blogger decide to do as a first big purchase of a title? Well buy an extreme sports game that came out last year in December of course.
Makes about as much sense as the daily news cycle I know. But regardless, I had heard great things about the game from the Gamers With Jobs Podcast that I frequent. Their description of the game was unlike any impression the few trailers I had both seen, and made fun of, at a short glance.
So when a free weekend offered me a chance to try it out, I did so. It was the third Ubisoft game I had played in a free weekend. Much like Rainbow Six Siege and Wildlands, my low expectations where more than exceeded. Unlike with Siege or Ghost Recon, both of which I have not purchased, I did not hesitate for a minute to purchase Steep after nearly two hours of time spent in its world. Why? Well that was a question I couldn’t answer myself, until I decided I needed to write about the game. Don't worry I'll tell you why, but first things first:
Steep is a game about exploring a mountain. Simple as that. The way in which you choose to explore the mountain is up to you. Whether that be alone, with friends, by ski, board, or sky. Being so focused on exploring, there is no need to be getting your adrenaline pumping the way the trailers and promo material would have you believe. Though that extreme stuff is there for those who want it, the mountain you travel upon doesn’t have a timer or a score you need to reach. It is just there for you to find new areas and paths for you to enjoy.
I'll discuss that more later. First, we need to give this game the proper Past Due Review treatment. Examine all of its facets and discuss the quality of the game's Modeling, Lighting, Level Design, and more. All in great detail. I'll start where I always do, with Animation quality.
As much shit as I love to give Ubisoft, their games have had a history of amazing Animations. It's never mattered what studio worked on the game. And Steep is no exception. Especially considering how all the character models have realistic proportions, its uncanny how natural the animations still feel. Many people would think that having a more stylized character to work with would make the job of the animator harder. In reality the more stylized a character, the more stylized their motions can be. So when those characters move in an exaggerated way we don’t question it. But we watch real people all the time, we know how they move and are more critical of their movements. Combine that challenge with having the strange ways our bodies behave while wearing constrictive boots or are mounted to a board, the animators had a really big hill to climb here to get these right. But every walk cycle, Idle Animation, Back flip, Front flip, and Fist pump show an incredibly competent understanding of motion. There aren't that many great key poses that stick out, but that is clearly intentional. The focus here is making those key poses blend more seamlessly with the overall movement. Being able to make these models move in such a way without tumbling down the uncanny valley truly is a remarkable achievement.
Speaking of those character models.
The character models aren’t offensive in anyway, but they aren't particularly special either. They are however a great vehicle for the many customization options made available. All these clothes and accessories are where the texture artists really get to show off their chops. The gear is also modeled quite well despite many of the accessories clipping through clothes quite often. But as far as the actual character models go, there really only appears to be different body meshes; one male and one female. The only difference between the six riders you can play as are the head models. But again, the customization options made available here all look great on the trail and are a much bigger focus than the body or facial rig.
I have a hard time determining what the best aspect of this game’s art assets are. The two I can never pick a winner between are Audio and Lighting. Usually lighting on a scale this large would tank performance or look cheapened by localized lighting being prioritized over distance shadows and the like. But here, the alps look nearly photo-realistic no matter what time of day you choose to ski under. The way light glistens off the snow ties in nicely with the way the powder looks when under shadow or the baking sun.
The development team may have picked a daunting task for their modelers as their first game. But seeing as how the Alps can be spotted from their offices, they ended up being the best team for the job. It turns out that when you visit the alps nearly every weekend to go skiing with your office buddies, you get a good idea on how to model a mountain or two. But don’t think they fell into the “realism over fun” trap. The developers themselves even stated how they did not prioritize having a map accurate representation of the topography of the Alps, and instead focused on designing a beautiful world that was fun to explore.
Snow has never before looked this great in a game. The way it perfectly parts to every subtle touch and creates snowballs that pile up while you carve power, is superb. The biggest negative I can say about the game’s particle effects are that many of these effects, powder on the ground excluded, are a little commonplace. But I understand the need to sacrifice some effect quality in order to achieve better performance. If I have to trade better weather effects for the best damn snow I've ever traversed outside of a real world scenario, then I can’t complain.
Audiophiles, this game was made for you. I honestly feel like the audio engineers must have shoveled snow into a truck, drove it back to a giant audio recording studio, brought in some gear, and went to town. Every foot step is met with the pure sound of snow being slowly compressed under the weight. Boards and skis slide over powder as it escapes the pressure by flowing out of the higher side. Never have I heard such natural sounds captured so, well, naturally. And it doesn’t end at the gear or equipment’s rustling and impactful noises, the calls from the wild sound just as impressive. [wolf sound] You are only doing yourself a disservice if you don’t play this game a pair of high fidelity headphones. The sound of powder being broken up in my path may be one of the most trance inducing things I've heard in years. You can't help just feeling an overwhelming sense of peace and relaxation.
A big part of that sense of peace comes from the game's score. Not its fun pop-song filled soundtrack, but its original score. Composed by the Zikali Collective, a music production group who dedicate themselves to making images speak, the Score of Steep is as great at being grand as it is at being understated. I'm seriously considering taking this music with me the next time I get to actually go skiing in real life.
There isn't a nice enough art asset in the world that could save a game if it didn't play well. So let's jump into the meat of what makes Steep, Steep.
Game Play Mechanics
I really wasn’t expecting any kind of depth from this game. In all honestly I mocked the first trailer when it appeared at last year's E3. I had just presumed it was Ubisoft making yet another horrible decision among a series of bad ones. But Steep does manage fairly well at managing five different modes of travel through its world. Because as I said, this is a game about exploration. So let’s talk about all the tools Steep gives you to do just that.
Before I do though, I feel a desperate need to take the time to say how god damn refreshing it is too play a game that lets you have access to all of these mechanics the instant you load the game for the first time. Unlike many other titles from the publisher, there is no experience or tutorial gate locking these options away from you. Just pick one and learn.
Obviously the focus of the game was put into these two modes, and while their controls are very alike, there are some subtle differences. So first let's talk about the similarities. First off the game is much more like Skate than Amped or SSX. What I mean by that is there a bigger focus on control over the board or skis, and less focus on the character on top of the board. The left analog stick will control the front of the board, while the right stick controls the rear. So you need to be able move both in the correct direction relative to what you’re trying to do. Your right trigger primes your character to jump when held, and jumps when released. Obviously this brings the character into a state where tricks and flips can be attempted and the sticks and triggers change slightly to reflect this. The important thing to do though is make sure you manage both ends of that board at the start and end of a jump, or succumb to one of the most common activities you’ll encounter in Steep, falling. Don’t feel overwhelmed by those controls though, they truly are easy to learn and hard to master.
My first thoughts about this system were that clearly this would lead to horrible camera angles since you never get to control it while on the board. But surprisingly after nearly 20 hours of play I have never run into a single camera issue in any of the game's modes.
For those of you who do want to get your adrenaline pumping, this is what where you’ll find the best methods for doing so. Not much complexity to the controls in this mode, just the use of the left stick to control direction and speed, with the right stick for quick dodging left or right. It’s where you choose to start gliding that makes this mode, and the level design stand out. The wing-suit is also great for traveling quickly from one point to another, and as long as you don't need to go uphill, it will work wonders for you. But of course it's more than tempting to find a rocky cliff or tree crowded area to traverse through. And it’s in those area’s you will find yourself trying hard to beat the game's challenges or just challenge yourself.
Speaking of going uphill, this is the mode that was made for that. In addition to being the most relaxing and easiest mode of travel, paragliding is the only one that can use winds from the mountain to gain height and reach places you may not be able to otherwise. It’s major downfall is that it is hard to be accurate about where you want to go or land. But nothing else really comes close to being able to float high above the gorgeous landscapes of the world below.
This fifth method of travel tends to have much less use than the previous four, and is certainly the slowest. But if you ever get stuck in a weird spot, or need to reach the top of a hill that’s too close for paragliding, walking does the trick. Hell, maybe you had enough extreme spots for the day, but you still want to hang out around the world. Well, taking a run across the top of Mount Blanc may just do the trick. It’s really more a convenience factor that this mode is even included for those rare moments where walking is needed. And again, it makes the animation quality of this mode all the more impressive since they are so rarely seen.
These modes can be accessed at anytime with the press of a button, no messy menus or convoluted control schemes. Which makes it easier to just explore the world, earn experience, and complete challenges. All of these systems present a fairly comprehensive place for you to explore the world in, unlock new aesthetic gear from challenges, and discover where your favorite mountain pass is.
Level Design/ World Design
Speaking of the Mountain, these developers really went all out on making sure the four main methods of travel are applicable to anywhere you could find yourself. The level design team also went to great lengths to ensure that fun paths won out over authentic embodimentism. The level design in Steep, while based off of the Alps the team lives by, is by no means an accurate recreation of the mountain region. Instead the developers made the right call by insuring this game had well crafted areas you can navigate in interesting ways. So many games these days, including many Ubisoft titles, forgo the game being designed well in favor of accurate depictions of the real world. But in my mind I would definitely prefer fun mechanics over a true representation of the Alps or Mount Denali.
Yeah I bet you must be as surprised I was to learn this game had anything resembling a story, let alone something as existential and reflective as the narratives within Steep. Along with challenges and locations, you unlock Mountain Stories while playing Steep. This is where the comparisons to games like Journey or Abzu come into play. The mountain stories are usually specific stories or tales from the spirit of the mountain, often told from the perspective of a specific mountain summit.
These are told to you with excellent narration as you Ski, Board, Glide, or Even Walk along to a point or points of interest in the area. Sometimes you are to follow or accompany an apparition who either represents the mountain or someone who once rode the path long ago.
All of these stories are both great stand alone 10 to 15 minute adventures, as well as unique pieces of history that help build out a greater familiarity with the terrain than you would find in any other sports game. The stories are so plentiful and so artfully done that they alone are honestly worth the price of admission.
Leveling and Upgrade Systems
Traveling around the world, unlocking new drop zones, and doing tricks to earn points all give you experience. Completing the various challenges around the mountain also earn you experience. When you level up you gain access to higher drop zones and more challenges. So even if you never want to do a single challenge you can still gain experience to reach new zones more easily. Doing certain types of activities, be them in challenges or not, also help build up your career profile. Based on how you play Steep, your profile will grow to represent what kind of player you are. There’s not any benefit to playing one style over another, but you at least get see what kind of play-style you gravitate too.
Map and Menu Layouts
Like a lot of games designed for controllers, the way you navigate the menu and map is abysmal without a mouse. I can not overstate the importance of having a mouse nearby to switch to if you get this on PC, and I feel so bad for you console guys. Thankfully the game seamlessly switches between a controller or a mouse just by using one or the other, even through a Steam Link so you can still play on the couch.
That huge detail aside though, the menus are generally well laid out. With only a few strange hiccups in the workflow from menu to menu. Unfortunately one of these hiccups is in the way you manage your cosmetic gear and riders who wear them. You would think that since your reward for getting silver and gold medals tends to be this equipment that it would be imperative to make sure accessing and equipping these rewards be fast and simple. Nope. Instead it's quite backwards for something that you’ll want to access quite often.
Working your way around the map also requires a mouse to not feel like you’re poking at holes in the dark. And even with a mouse it certainly isn’t the most intuitive system for looking at the world or fast traveling. You will get used to it fast enough, but just because you become familiar with the way something works doesn’t mean it couldn’t function better.
Despite having a few major issues in the map and menu systems, Steep truly is a gem of a game that deserves to be remembered. As I said earlier, even if this game was nothing but Mountain Stories I would be giving this a glowing recommendation. Add in the incredibly thoughtful Level Design, varied game modes, and the countless challenges you end up with a game that really does have something for everybody. Or if you’re like me you’ll end up learning to love just about everything you can do in its own right. I had picked this up to find out what could be so abstract and thought provoking in a game about extreme sports, and ended up also loving the extreme sports. Some days I just want to find a sunny slope and cruise down it at my own speed, and other days I want to try to dive through as many cliffs as I can in a wing-suit. In a world where we hardly ever see skiing and snowboarding games nowadays, it’s refreshing to see one that really carves out a name for itself, while still delivering on what fans of this nearly ancient genre would enjoy. I bought this game after only trying it for 2 hours on a free weekend. And it was for one simple reason, the game is honest. Yeah it didn't have honest trailers, but the game itself never tricks you, it doesn't pretend to have a soul, it doesn't gaod you into playing the game with false rewards or carrot chasing mechanics. Steep is what it is, and it shows you that. Faults and shortcomings included. That kind of honesty has been missing from games for quite some time now.
Obviously this game needs more love than it’s getting. Ubisoft doesn’t take a lot of risks with their AAA titles, and Steep's low sales is the reason why. But it really is of no fault of the game or its developers. I like to reward good work and unique ideas, so of course I love Steep. Play it, try it if you can. I'll see you on the mountain.
Who's your designated WRUP driver this weekend? It's me.
So don't get too drunk [on games] or I might have to throw you out of the car. :P
A couple of things before I write the WRUP.
I'd like to thank all of you for showing up and reading our stuff across the last 1,000 posts. Yeah, we're mainly about WRUP and Gameclub at the moment, but we appreciate that you come here just to unwind.
Secondly: Good God, Shadow of Mordor is grindy. Anyhow, that's it from me, what's the rest of the team playing? Read more
So I had actually written a pretty long rant about this game but I decided I better rethink some points and make it something people can read instead of just a bunch of frustrated garble. Read more
It happens every year. Every year, without fail, at around this time, "real" news [and I use the word in inverted commas, because really - game releases and hints at game releases aren't really "news" at all. They're - at best - terrible product placement] drops right off the radar.
Why? Because some PR drone way up on high has decided that nothing can leak out prior to E3. And that results in what fans generally call "lots of slow news days." While that's a problem, E3 - and shows like it - have a far bigger issue that I want to tackle.
They're pageants. Read more
Please note: This article is LITTERED with links. They will open in a new window and will take you off-site.
Now that four-in-February is behind us, I thought I'd take some time to look into games that I'm at least a little curious about for the calendar year of 2016. I have divided my choices into three broad sections:
Things that will almost definitely be with us in the near-future or before the end of 2016.
Things that might make it into 2016, but you never know.
And, finally, things that I'm totally worried about. Sometimes with good reason.
So, let's take a look and see, shall we? Read more
The Division, Ubisoft’s latest open world extravaganza launched yesterday and we are finally sinking our teeth into the gameplay experience. Ubisoft decided to not release the game to the press early with the logic being this is a multi-player experience and without adequately populated servers it would be hard to judge the quality of the final release product. Originally intended as a full-fledged MMO before being scaled back and given the shaky starts to the last few Ubisoft products that involved large scale online components (The Crew and Assassin’s Creed Unity) this was a risky proposition on their part.
For the most part it appears to have paid off, there were two betas leading up to release that were highly populated (Ubisoft provided numbers showing six million users during their open beta). For the most part, so far, the servers have remained stable. I’ve experienced a couple of instances of queues getting onto the server and one crash where I had to drop out of the game and log back in (luckily it returned me to my party which was at the final boss in a mission). Other than that the game has been fairly solid over the course of gameplay starting at 5am and ending at 10pm on launch day.
The gameplay itself is nothing new, none of the core mechanics changed between the betas and release the only change being the unlocking of crafting and higher level powers as well as access to more quests. The game itself is a mashup of Gears of War cover mechanics, Assassin’s Creed open world play with toned down parkour and Destiny loot cycles. Nothing is new in this game but that’s not entirely a bad thing, the gaming community is often caught up in the cycle of reinventing the wheel. Ubisoft have iterated on their own already-refined technology, applying it to a larger palette.
While the Snowdrop engine has been shown to be capable of some beautiful graphics, the level of detail has been dialed back. However, the Xbox One version is still getting some of the best visuals in a game to date. This is made obvious during the very first moments of gameplay.
After a brief cinematic you are shown your character’s face reflected in a car window, you have a handful of customization options available (not nearly as many as traditional MMO gamers would appreciate or even offered by the closest cousin of this game Destiny) you still get an opportunity to make your character feel your own and it’s done in a way that is unique compared to the generic “generate your character” screens found in many other games. Once past this introduction you play out a handful of scenarios in possibly one of the most elegant tutorials I’ve seen in years. Playing in a sliver of Brooklyn you get to learn the core mechanics of gunplay, map traversal and interface management before being dropped into the hell on earth that is post Dollar Flu Midtown Manhattan.
The gentle start in a controlled environment allows for familiarization with the core concepts of how things work in The Division. As I mentioned earlier, the game is a third person cover shooter similar to Gears of War. In fact the entire mechanic may have been ripped out of one of the Gears titles with even some of the triggers for movement aping those titles. You have two traversal buttons with A attaching yourself to cover and B using a navigation button. Tap A to attach to whatever cover you are next to or point your character at a spot of cover and hold A to sprint and slip into cover. B lets you leap and vault over and around cover keeping your character moving. Shooting is likewise similar to the Gears series with certain scope attachments allowing you to slip into first person zoomed shots. You have the ability to combine three weapons with one of the three being a dedicated “sidearm” slot the other two are entirely up to you based on your style of play.
Once you are dropped into Midtown Manhattan you are presented with a near 1:1 representation of the city stretching from just south of Central Park to 14th Street. For those thinking this is a small area, the 1 to 1 ratio makes this a rather vast playground which includes landmarks like the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall, Times Square and the Flatiron Building as well as neighbourhoods like Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. Having recently visited the city the attention to detail in capturing some of these landmarks is amazing. While not perfect it’s still very impressive and truly felt like I was visiting the city not just some generic urban centre. What makes this even more impressive is you have access to much of the complicated and maze like New York subway system as well as the ability to access many of the buildings in the city.
Ubisoft have given us a really impressive sandbox to play in but what do you do once you are there? Well there are a series of core story missions that advance your game and move you forward in the plot (a middling techno-drama that you would expect from a Tom Clancy novel) as well as several events that pop up around the city like storming a rioter base, rescuing hostages or hunting down a bounty on a criminal. As you complete these events you earn resources you can use to add improvements to your home base all the while leveling up your character allowing access to more powerful equipment and abilities.
There are a couple of standout features that really make this game engaging, the first is the seamless match making. The various missions or quests that you have scattered around the city are best tackled in a group. Having a handful of team mates really allows for some fun tactical thinking and it’s always nice to have somebody there to revive you should you be gunned down. You can very easily search for a team or join an existing team right from the map and you are teleported to the start area once you join the team. The next compelling twist on the open world multiplayer pastiche is the Dark Zone, this is an area of the city which was so badly hit by the Dollar Flu that it is an Escape From New York style city within a city walled off and with no rules. This area holds the hardest missions and the greatest rewards but it’s also open season where not just the environment but also the players may be out to get you. I’ve previously experienced this during beta and it was quite the challenge. For the most part players obeyed the Golden Rule but every once in a while a pack of wolves would gun you down. The exciting challenge of this is when they did you would lose XP (Dark Zone XP is tracked separately from that of the main game) and the Rogue Agents (as they are called in game) would be able to steal your loot. The only way to get your loot out of this heavily infected area is via pick up locations scattered through the Zone which is basically announcing to everyone around you AI foe and Rogue Agent alike that you are there ripe and ready for the plucking.
This led to some great emergent gameplay during the beta where I would help other players fend off AI opponents as well as the occasional rogue agent. The only real down side being in a hot firefight if you are not good at checking your targets you may accidentally be marked as Rogue. When you do go Rogue a bounty is posted on your head (increased based on your kills) and it’s open season for all non-Rogue agents to hunt you down and kill you. There’s not a lot more satisfying than catching the guy who shot you earlier and getting a little well-earned vengeance.
This is where Bungie really need to take note, this game most closely resembles a third person cover based version of Destiny. Destiny’s largest problem has been party match making, missing from many of the missions and the jarring load screens where you sit in space waiting for your team to all load into the map. This kind of break in gameplay doesn’t exist in The Division and matchmaking never took more than a handful of seconds during these early days. Additionally the entire conceit of PvP (aside from the Sparrow Racing or the House of Wolves event) in Destiny always felt jarring and out of place for the in universe fiction that they set up, for the most part the PvP just seems separated from the gameplay proper with little reason to exist outside of padding. The Dark Zone region of The Division gives players an actual compelling reason to put themselves at risk and also a real tangible reward for “going Rogue”.
Where the game is failing in these early hours is the one area that they are least able to tweak at this point which is the setting and the story. While the setting of a vibrant and varied city like New York with its near photorealistic representation is visually stunning it also makes for a very grounded in reality game. This means your character model can mix it up with some cool urban threads but at the end of the day he or she is wearing a hat, a scarf, a jacket, a shirt some pants, boots, gloves and a backpack. Hardly the Space Armour of Destiny with its Future filigree and glowy bits. The same applies to your guns, so far aside from a DLC sawed off shotgun that you can use as a sidearm everything seems sort of "generic gun". Yes you can customize and modify the guns with attachments which are reflected in game as well as apply different paint schemes to them but in the end they all blend together without any of the character you find in other games like Destiny or even the Call of Duty games with their over the top character customization and “future weapons” found in the last two entries.
This early into the game, it’s hard to judge how well The Division will fare, but it’s certainly a fun ride so far. If you enjoy post-apocalyptic scenarios like The Road or Escape from New York this may be the game for you.