My friends and family have always found that video games and board games are always good go-to gifts for me during the holiday season (which for us, starts in the fall, as my partner and I both have birthdays in September and October). 2020 was a bit different, however. For one thing, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that we weren't able to get groups together for tabletop gaming nearly as often as we used to. The pandemic didn't stop us from tabletop gaming altogether, but we restrained our play to being with only a few regular players, and even then, played mostly 2-player games in order to avoid having multiple house guests at a time. We even sometimes wore masks while playing, just as an added precaution.

It wasn't that I didn't want new board games (or expansions to games I already have); rather, we just weren't sure when I'd ever be able to play them. For example, I did receive the new Crusader Kings board game by Free League Publishing. Hopefully, I'll have an opportunity to play it sometime soon, and be able to write a review for it to go along with my review of the video game.

But video games were not a hard purchase because of the pandemic. Sitting at home and playing video games is, after all, one of the best and safest pass-times during a pandemic. Rather, the big video game releases of this fall came with a lot of baggage or circumstantial reasons why I wasn't enthusiastic to buy them.

Lack of games didn't sell me on a PS5

First and foremost is the biggest of the big new releases this year: the new consoles. I've never been an XBox-player, so there was no interest in a new XBox to begin with. I am, however, interested in the PS5. But I wasn't rushing out to buy one because I'm not going to buy a new console if there aren't any exclusive new games to play on it. And since I wasn't rushing out to buy one, supply problems meant that it only got harder to find one. Honestly, I was surprised that the PS5 seemingly sold so well considering that there just wasn't all that much to play on it. My lack of enthusiasm for the new console meant that even though my partner considered trying to buy one, she eventually decided against it.

The only 2 games on PS5 worth playing are not worth buying a new console.

The big releases for the PS5 were the Demon's Souls remake and Miles Morales. So far, they are the only 2 games worth playing on the PS5, which is why I saw them bundled together with the console at multiple retailers and resellers. I was interested in both, but not enough to drop $400 on a new console -- especially not during a time of economic uncertainty. I'm sorry Sony, but if you want to sell me on a new console, you got to have something better than a remake of a game from 10 years ago (and 2 console generations ago) that I already played the hell out of back in the day, and a sequel to game from 2 years ago that looks like it's mostly just more of the same (and which is also available on the last-gen console anyway). Every other big release for the PS5, from Assassin's Creed: Valhalla to Cyberpunk: 2077 was also released on other platforms, so again, there was no need to rush out and buy a PS5 to play these games -- which I wouldn't have done anyway because both of those games have their own baggage, which I'll get to later in this post.

I only bought a PS4 because of Bloodborne, and the PS5 has so far lacked a similar console-selling exclusive. Maybe they'll have one eventually. Maybe if Elden Ring were a PS5-exclusive, I'd be in more of a hurry to secure myself a console. But as far as I know, that game is set for release on PS4 and will also be available on PC, so I don't need a PS5 in order to play it, the way that I needed a PS4 to play Bloodborne.

WARNING:
The following contains sexual content that may not be safe for work or children, including descriptions of alleged criminal behavior at Ubisoft, and a screenshot from Cyberpunk 2077 that contains nudity. Reader discretion is advised.

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Ghost of Tsushima - title

I don't recall the last time I played an open world sandbox game through to the end credits prior to writing a review for it. Usually, I've made my decision about the game long before credits roll. If I like the game, I usually stop before it becomes too tedious, finish up my review, move on to something else, and I rarely ever go back to finish these games. That was the case with Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, Shadow of Mordor, and others. Ghost of Tsushima is a rare instance of me actually liking an open world sandbox game enough that I couldn't stop playing.

One of the sad ironies for me, as an amateur critic, is that I usually play a game longer if I don't like it -- sometimes all the way to end credits. As was the case with Assassin's Creed III and Shadow of War. This is because I want to find out if there's anything late in the game that might redeem it -- even if in some small way.

In this regard, Ghost of Tsushima is a rare exception. I was enjoying the heck out of the game and wanted to see how it ends before I commit to a review. It wasn't even a case of me rushing through the main story just to get it over with (as is the case with many bad open world games). In fact, I completed all the side missions (including the mythic missions), liberated a majority of the occupied towns, and found a majority of all collectibles. I might even play some of the epilogue. So I can say without reservation that I like this game! And it all begins with the presentation.

This is not a promotional still! Nor was it taken with the included "photo mode".
This is just what the game looks like!

You have to see it to believe it

Ghost of Tsushima is not necessarily the most technically impressive game that I've played. Games like Red Dead Redemption II and The Last of Us Part II have had better facial animation, lighting, textures, and/or draw distance. But where Tsushima lacks in technical capabilities, it more than makes up for in aesthetics and artistry. The environments are beautiful, and the weather effects (especially wind effects) are second to none. Whether it's fields of vividly-colored flowers swaying in the wind, or ocean waves crashing on a sandy beach, or the plum trees on a rocky mountain dropping their blossoms into the breeze, or a thunderstorm threatening over the horizon, or a shinto temple towering over a forest of golden trees, there is something pretty to look at no matter where you go.

Screenshots do not do the game justice. You have to see it in HD motion to appreciate it.

I'm not normally one to gush over a game's graphics, but Ghost of Tsushima really stands out for its environmental design. Over the crest of every hill, it seemed a majestic screenshot opportunity awaited me. Picking just one or two to highlight in this review was a real challenge. Even the best screenshots that I could capture do not do the game justice. You really have to see it in high-definition motion (without the compression of an internet stream) to truly appreciate it.

I haven't seen weather effects this good since [maybe] The Witcher III.

This game is perfect as a virtual vacation during the travel-restricted social-distancing of the COVID-19 pandemic. Or at least, it would be, if not for the densely-packed sandbox content making it so that I can't take 10 steps without running into an ambient encounter of some kind. I could be trotting along on my horse through a forest lit with the golden glow of a sunset beaming through the canopy, with the serene ambiance of the wind harmonizing with the background music of Japanese flutes. But I can't enjoy this serenity for more than 5 seconds before a pack of Mongols shows up, the flutes give way to battle drums, and it's back to the swinging of swords and showers of blood.

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Could there be good news on the horizon for Konami's flagship franchises?

Last week, I started seeing an increasing number of websites, videos, and social media posts reporting on several new rumors regarding the Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, and Castlevania franchises, which currently are owned by Konami. Konami famously destroyed its credibility as a video game publisher a few years ago when its management had a public feud with Hideo Kojima that resulted in Kojima leaving the company, and the cancellation of the much-hyped Silent Hills game that was teased by the viral P.T. demo exclusive to PS4. Konami then went on to release critical and financial duds in Metal Gear: Survive and Contra: Rogue Corps, and further hindered its public perception among fans of its prestigious video game franchises by releasing a glut of slot and pachinko machines based on the IPs.

It seemed that beloved franchises like Metal Gear, Silent Hill, Castlevania, and Contra were doomed to a slow and painful death at the hands of Konami's ineptitude.

Team Silent back for a reboot?

Rumors started surfacing earlier this year that Konami is working on one or two new entries in the Silent Hill franchise. My initial reaction was that Konami had butchered Metal Gear and Contra with shit games over the last two years, so it was Silent Hill's turn to be dragged through the mud. Castlevania would probably be on deck for the next trainwreck. I took the rumors of new Silent Hill games as unmitigated bad news, expecting to see something along the lines of Silent Hill: Book of Memories and Metal Gear: Survive. However, over the past couple weeks, new rumors have been spreading that have opened up the far-fetched possibility that a new Silent Hill game might not be disastrous after all.

First up was the rumor that Konami might be inviting some of the creative leads from the original Silent Hill game to design and develop a reboot of the original, or a soft reboot of the series as a whole. It started out with rumors that original creature designer Masahiro Ito would be working on a new Silent Hill game, and has since extended to the inclusion of Keiichiro Toyama and Akira Yamaoka (the original director of Silent Hill, and the series long-time music composer and sound director, respectively). The latest rumors suggest that this trio (and possibly more original Team Silent members) are working on a next-gen reboot of the series.

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Where can the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Thanos? My vote is for Doctor Doom to be the next overarching big baddie now that Disney owns Fox (and the Fantastic Four license). Thanos already successfully wiped out half of all life in the universe, and despite the Avengers gaining access to a time machine, they did not undo any of that! How do you up the stakes going into the next phase of Marvel movies?

Well, introducing a multi-verse seems like the logical next step.

It's so logical, in fact that Marvel didn't even seem to hide the idea in Far From Home's marketing. The second trailer, which I think premiered within a week of Endgame's release, pushed the multi-verse idea hard -- as well as spoiling Tony Stark's death for anyone who hadn't made it out to see Endgame within that first week.

It's all spoilers from the next paragraph on. If you haven't seen the movie yet, then I recommend it. It's good! Not Into the Spider-Verse good, but Far From Home is one of the better Marvel movies, and Mysterio is totally awesome.

The Far From Home trailer spoiled the multiverse and death of Tony Stark within a week of Endgame's release.

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Resident Evil 2 - title

Getting started with this game was rough. First of all, streaming the game initially seemed to be blocked by Capcom, which sent me down an internet rabbit hole of trying to find a work-around. If I couldn't stream or capture gameplay, then it would be awfully hard for me to get decent screenshots -- let alone any video for possible YouTube content. I even Tweeted @AskPlaystation whether I could get a refund, so that I could instead purchase the game on Steam (where I knew I'd be able to record footage). @AskPlaystation never responded.

It was moot anyway, since the next day, I found that the problem was only associated with having High Dynamic Range (HDR) enabled in the PS4's settings. After disabling HDR, I was able to stream the game and capture video footage as normal. Of course, the game's colors didn't look so good -- but whatever, I could live with it. I guess this is a glitch. Maybe Capcom will fix the HDR streaming issue at some point in the future? I can't imagine that they deliberately disabled streaming with HDR, but left it enabled when HDR isn't being used.

You'll need to disable High Dynamic Range (HDR) on the PS4 if you want to stream REmake 2.

But even when I got the streaming and capture functionality working, I lost another night having to troubleshoot my PS4's network connectivity. I kept getting a DNS error. My PS4 has had internet connectivity issues off and on for years, so it might just have a bad network card. Or maybe my ISP is throttling it? It's hard to tell. The console regularly connects to the router and obtains an IP, but then fails to connect to the internet. Or it can connect to the internet, but fails to connect to PSN.

After several hours of troubleshooting, I had to manually enter the DNS addresses of my router's second and third DNS as the PS4's primary and secondary DNS, then sign out of the PSN, then boot up the PS4 in safe mode, then run a database rebuild (which took a few minutes), then reconnect to the PSN. That seems to have worked ... for now. We'll see how long the fix lasts...

In any case, these streaming and network issues cost me the first full weekend with the game. I'd have to play it on weeknights after work instead. Hopefully the game's quality would make up for these early frustrations...

I have adapted much of this review into a video critique on YouTube, if you'd prefer to watch a video.

The failure of REmake2's "hardcore" save system

Years ago, in the early years of this blog, I wrote an opinion piece called "The Genius of Resident Evil's classic save system". In that blog post, I wrote about how the way in which classic survival horror games (and Resident Evil in particular) limited the player's ability to save actually helped to amplify the horror atmosphere, while simultaneously facilitating open-ended exploration and creating the genre's trademark resource-management gameplay. I love the old Ink Ribbon method of saving, and I was thrilled that the brilliant REmake maintained these old systems to excellent effect. Other games like RE7 and Alien: Isolation also brought back more traditional survival horror save systems, but without the added complexity tying it to a consumable item (at least not by default).

Unfortunately, REmake 2's save system doesn't fare so well. By default, the game apparently uses autosaves and checkpoints, and you can manually save at typewriters without an Ink Ribbon. It all works similar to RE7. However, you can play on "hardcore" mode (which is available by default) to get an experience more similar to the original save system. Except, it doesn't work as well. In fact, it seems to be fundamentally broken.

It would be nice if the game would use Ink Ribbons from the item box,
rather than having to put it in your inventory, then put it back in the item box after you save.

Part of the reason for this is that the "hardcore" mode also doubles as the game's "hard" difficulty. On the "hardcore" mode, there are no autosaves or checkpoints, and you must consume an Ink Ribbon to save at the typewriters (just as in the original release). However, enemies also have more health and deal more damage, and resources are more scarce (Ink Ribbons apparently replace ammo pickups in certain places). This screws with the balance of the game such that the manual save system becomes less viable for a first-time playthrough.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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