Devil May Cry 5 - title

Devil May Cry 5 is a lot to take in. It's a very weird game, that may be a bit overly-complicated, and which might be starting to suffer from a degree of "Kingdom Hearts syndrome".

It's a tough game to review. The core gameplay if fantastic, but almost all of the supporting features and production surrounding the gameplay is ... "odd" if we're being generous; or "bafflingly stupid" if we want to be overly critical. As such, this review is going to come off as unduly negative because I have a laundry list of complaints and "what the fuck?"s to go through. Long story short, the game plays very well. It's peak Devil May Cry and a satisfactory follow-up to Devil May Cry 4. Now read on gor all the weird shit.

Who are these new characters? What is their relationship? The game doesn't allow us to get to know them at all before throwing us into the action. In the case of V, we're given control without any real clue who he is, where he comes from, why he has monsters from the first game as magical animal sidekicks, what his relationship with Nero is... anything. The non-linear mission and story progression seems designed for no other purpose than to hold back information for a "surprise twist" that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

By the fourth mission or so, I was betting that V turns out to be Vergil, back from the dead ... again. Was I right? Is the story that predictable?

Tutorializing multiple characters means the training wheels stay on for a long time.

The fact that the game has to re-tutorialize a new character only four missions in (and then again a few missions later) means that the training wheels stay on for a long time. It feels completely unnecessary though, because V's controls are basically the same as Nero's (which are basically the same as Dante's): triangle for melee attacks, square for ranged attacks, L1 for a limited-use super attack, circle for long-distance grapple/teleport attack. The only real mechanical difference is that V can only kill enemies by using his special action assigned to the circle button.

Strategically, V plays very differently because he's basically a squishy mage or summoner. He hangs back, avoiding damage, while his minions do all the actual fighting. This does have the downside of putting V very far away from the action. I had trouble judging distances in this game in generally, but it's especially problematic when V (and the camera) is standing around half a city block away from the actual fighting. Is Shadow close enough to use [R1+BACK ATTACK]? Can't tell. Which direction do I need to press on the stick to make Shadow execute that attack, since it's relative to Shadow's position and not V or the camera? Also can't tell. Not that it really matters anyway, as I don't have direct control over Shadow's movements, so I just have to push the button and hope Shadow is in proper position for the attack to land.

V is far away from the action, making it hard to see what's going on, and encouraging button-mashing.

I think Capcom really should have fundamentally re-thought how the camera should work with V, rather than sticking with this boilerplate over-the-shoulder, third-person action cam. Perhaps more cinematic camera angle similar to the first Devil May Cry would have been more appropriate? Or the Raptor News broadcast angles used in DMC? They could have kept the action as the focal point in the center of frame, with V off on the edges. Alternatively, the camera could position itself on the far end of the enemies, pointing towards V.

Cinematic camera angles similar to DMC's Raptor News broadcast might have been welcome for V.

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Civilization VI: Gathering Storm - title

It's refreshing to see a video game (of all things) take seriously the second greatest existential threat to civilization (after nuclear weapon stockpiles), while governments (particularly here in the United States) fail to even acknowledge that it's real. I was honestly a little bit surprised to see anthropogenic climate change be the focus of an entire expansion to Firaxis' Sid Meier's Civilization VI. Firaxis has been playing very "politically correct" with the game in its past two iterations. Civ IV, if you remember, included slavery as a mechanic that allowed players to kill population in exchange for a production boost, and it included leaders like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zadong. Civilization III allowed collateral damage from city sieges that would kill population, destroy infrastructure, and potentially reduce wonders of the world to mere ruins. Civilization II allowed democratic congresses to overrule the choices of the player. And Civilization: Colonization actually required you to draft citizens from your cities into soldiers to fight wars.

Politically sensitive concepts like slavery, and characters like Joseph Stalin, have been in Civ games before,
but Civ V and VI have played things very safe and controversy-free with most of their content.

Civilization V and VI have dialed back from such concepts and leaders, as well as other "politically sensitive" topics in favor of diversity, inclusiveness, and a more rose-tinted vision of human history that tries to pretend that things like slavery, colonialism, opium wars, and the Holocaust didn't happen. I get it. They're going for a more optimistic vision of humanity that celebrates our achievements while overlooking the incalculable amount of [often unnecessary] suffering that came at the expense of many of those achievements.

So to see Anthropogenic Global Warming not only be included -- but to be the headline feature -- is surprising. I mean, I don't think it's a politically or culturally sensitive topic, nor should it be to anyone else if we lived in a rational world. It's the reality that we live in -- plain and simple. Nevertheless, it's a brave and important gesture from 2k and Firaxis. Anthropogenic climate change is certainly the second greatest threat to human civilization after our frightful stockpile of nuclear weapons -- or maybe an asteroid impact, but that is exceedingly unlikely to happen. It's an issue that needs to be a part of the cultural conversation, and it is perhaps the biggest price that we (as a civilization) are going to pay for the hubris of our unsustainable growth. It's a problem that every nation in the world needs to face, and solving that problem should be part of any game that attempts to simulate or systematize modern politics.

Anthropogenic climate change is one of the most serious problems threatening real-life civilization.

That is why I'm rather disappointed that the actual implementation of global warming in Civilization VI: Gathering Storm is a bit lackluster and un-apocalyptic.

The greatest existential threat to civilization is civilization

Climate change in Civilization VI: Gathering Storm just doesn't seem to be quite as devastating [globally] as it is in real life. Basically, raising the global temperature will have three effects.

  • Increases the frequency of weather-related disasters,
  • Melts polar ice caps,
  • Floods certain coastal tiles.
Many disasters are trivially managed by leaving a builder or two (with 1 charge) to repair pillaged tiles.

The melting of the polar ice is actually a benefit, as it provides easier routes for naval units if canals aren't available or useable. The other two will cause problems for every player, but I've found them fairly easy to manage (at least on the Emperor difficulty that I usually play on). Disasters will typically pillage tile improvements and districts, but a severe disaster may also outright remove improvements, and may even kill points of population.

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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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Red Dead Redemption 2 - title

Once again, Rockstar is absolutely abysmal when it comes to its tutorials. It gets the very first one right, by displaying the prompts on the bottom center of the screen, below the subtitles. That's for the basic movement controls that should be common sense. Once it gets into the more complicated and esoteric stuff that isn't intuitively obvious, it falls back on the tried-and-failed method utilized in Grand Theft Auto V of printing a tutorial prompt in a tiny black box in the top corner of the screen, during the action of the game!

Even if you are lucky enough to notice that there's a tutorial tip while you're in the middle of a horse chase or shootout, it's still hard to read and decipher the tiny text and button icons. There's no option to use a larger font or to rescale the UI if you're playing on a less-than-huge TV. Rockstar, listen, I'm playing the game on a console, from my couch, with a wireless controller, ten or so feet away from a 46-inch TV. I'm not 14 inches from the screen. Use a readable font!

Tutorial prompts appear in tiny, hard-to-read black boxes in the corner of the screen,
often in the middle of an action sequence, in which your attention is on something else.

We did buy a much larger TV over Black Friday, so the UI is now much easier to read, and my girlfriend might even go back and play games like Monster Hunter: World and Assassin's Creed: Origins now that the TV is big enough to read the damned text on the screen.

It doesn't help that there is no way in-game to review any of the tutorial prompts that you may have missed, nor is there any way to view the controller mapping. There's a "Help" section in the pause menu that does contain a large amount of information, but that only helps if you know what you're looking for. If you couldn't read the tutorial prompt because you were busy in a gunfight or horse chase or whatever, then you're not going to know what you're even supposed to be looking for if you try to look it up. It's like opening up a dictionary, but not knowing what word you're trying to define. The controls for this game are very complicated, with lots of buttons being overloaded to multiple, context-sensitive commands, and with certain commands requiring that you hold multiple buttons. I'm constantly forgetting the controls for fist-fights, and I can never remember the dive/roll button for the life of me. It would be very nice to be able to pause the game and double-check the controls if you're coming back to the game after having not played for a few weeks or months, or if you come across a mechanic that hasn't been tutorialized or practiced yet.

It's hard to make out what many of these icons are supposed to represent.

This is further exacerbated by the use of tiny icons that are still hard to decipher on the 75-inch TV -- and were impossible to read on the 46-incher. Seriously, if you're playing on anything less than a 60-inch TV, you need hawk eyes to be able to read this stuff! Often, I would see one of the horse icons above my mini-map flash red with some un-discernible icon, and I had no idea what this icon meant. It was over the horse's health icon, and kind of looked like it might be a steak, so I tried feeding the horse, which did nothing. Besides, why would Rockstar use a steak icon to indicate that you need to feed a horse? Horses don't eat steak. After some digging online, I discovered that this icon maybe means that my horse is dirty, and I need to brush her or run her through water to clean her.

Similarly, in base camp, there are three icons in the top right corner that are tiny and un-discernible. They are supposed to represent the camps supplies: food, medicine, and ammunition (I think), but damn if I could tell which one is which. The glut of articles and forum topics explaining just what these icons mean tells me that I'm not the only one who had this problem.

Living in the game world

Once you get through the tutorials and start playing the game proper, you'll be rewarded with a massive, immaculately-detailed, and well-realized world that feels like a living, breathing place. Unlike many other open world games and RPGs, Red Dead Redemption 2's simulationist design truly provides a feeling of living within this world. There's a bevy of context-sensitive animations that make everything feel so organic and life-like, and which really help to immerse the player in this gritty, realistic setting.

The game world is immaculately constructed and detailed.

I've seen plenty of complaints about these time-consuming, laborious animations on the internet, and at first, I thought that I was going to loathe having my time wasted. I was all ready to draft up a review complaining about Rockstar being arrogant and over-indulgent. But as I played the game more, I have to say that I came to love them...

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Axis Football 18 - title

This is the one indie football game that I was most looking forward to. Unfortunately, it is also the one that ended up being delayed almost to the point of irrelevancy -- at least on consoles. The game did see a PC release on Steam in September, but the console versions had to wait until much longer. The XBox One release didn't make it out until after Thanksgiving. The PS4 release had to wait even longer, not seeing a release till after Christmas! I was trying to hold out for the PS4 release, but the college season was coming to a close, the NFL was well into its second half, and I was jonesing for some football gameplay. I ended up buying the Steam version when it went on sale (only a couple bucks off) for Black Friday.

Many football fans probably gave up on the season long before Axis Football showed up on storefronts.

If they want to be successful in the future, Axis is going to need to make sure that they get their game out on time! In fact, they should probably follow Canuck Play's Maximum Football and try to release before Madden hits shelves, and thus capitalizing on the period of greatest excitement and anticipation for the football season. Being delayed until after Thanksgiving on consoles surely hurt Axis' chance at success. I'm sure Lions, Bills, Raiders, and ... yes ... UNLV fans have long-since given up on the football season and may have also lost interest in playing football video games.

I still hope that Axis sees decent sales on all platforms. Hopefully, Axis has learned lessons about the certification and release process so that they can get their game out on time next year. Hopefully they can also spend less time going through certification, and more time working on ironing out the rough edges on this game. Axis is definitely a more feature-complete product than its direct competitor (Maximum Football), but its on-field gameplay might lag a little behind Maximum in some areas. And both games are light-years behind Madden.

Third and long

There's a screen-shake to accompany tackles and make the action look more visceral. It's ironic, however, when this shake accompanies a tackle animation in which the tackler didn't actually collide with the runner. Simply grazing a defender can often cause the runner to fall to the ground. This can sometimes happen with a couple yards of separation between the tackler and runner, and sometimes even with the tackler on the opposite side of a blocker. I also see defenders shift through blockers, such that the blocker is behind the defender, yet the blocking animation continues as normal.

Runners are frequently tackled without actually colliding with a defender,
or the defender phases through the runner and misses the tackle.

The game also lacks a robust set of catching animations for receivers, or swat animations for defenders in coverage. Many passes feel like a crap shoot because the receiver and cover man both stand there waiting for the ball, and it could be a completion, and interception, or a drop, without any real appropriate animations playing to accompany the action. Players don't seem able to jump or dive for passes. They just kind of put their arms out, and the ball either hits them (in which case, it's still random whether it's caught or dropped), or it misses.

There's also no blocking or block-breaking animations. Linemen and defenders just kind of magnetically attack to one another until the block is broken. At that point, the defender just kind of steps away from the lineman with there not really being any indication that the two of them had ever interacted at all. There's no hand-swatting, or jostling, or swim / rip moves, or anything.

Receivers and defenders don't put much effort into catching or swatting balls in the air.

More generally, the game is in desperate need of a better locomotion system. Players don't feel like they have much weight. It takes a moment for a player to get up to speed, but once at top speed, they can cut, change direction, and go in circles without much (if any) loss of speed or momentum. In general, players feel like they're skating rather than running. Axis' controls feel less jerky and more fluid than with Maximum Football, but Maximum's players at least feel slightly more tethered to the ground.

Even though the on-field play has a lot of problems, at least it is never taking control away from me in order to play scripted animations. Aside from the crap shoot that is catching passes, I always feel very in-control of my player, and most mistakes are on me.

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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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