Big, fat disclaimer, right up front: I have not played Helldivers 2. I haven't played it on PS5. I haven't played it on PC. So I don't really have a horse in this race either way. But since I do have an interest in corporations trying to pull sleazy bullshit, I've been casually trying to keep up with what's been going on with Helldivers 2, and want to weigh in with my own thoughts (for whatever they're worth).

Honestly, I think that both Sony and also the PC Hellidvers 2 players come out of this looking like assholes, and I have very mixed feelings over the whole thing.

On the one hand, Sony requiring a PSN account for online play of a PC game post-launch gives off strong bait-and-switch vibes. It's especially bad considering that the game was sold in regions that do not have access to PSN. So what the heck were those players supposed to do? Sony selling the game in those regions, knowing full well that it won't be playable a few months after launch, absolutely deserves anger and a middle finger. And those players should absolutely be outraged and demand refunds. Those players are the only actors in this particular instance who are completely in the right, and deserve everyone else's un-conditional sympathy and support.

And yes, Sony knew full well that they would be changing the game post-launch to require a PSN account. It was clearly posted for months prior to the game's release. Everybody knew this was happening long before the game launched. It should not have been a surprise to anybody. And yet Steam still sold it in those regions, and all these players bought it anyway. Caveat emptor.

Helldivers 2 on Steam required a PSN account to play.

I feel that PC players should have every right to be annoyed that Sony would require a PSN account in order to play the game. If you don't own a PlayStation, then you shouldn't need a PSN account to play a PC game, especially a PC game that was fully playable without a PSN account for months after launch. This is a matter of principle.

Like, if I were to have a stroke and suddenly start thinking that Elder Scrolls VI might actually be good at launch, and I decide to buy it on the PS5 (or PS6 or PS7 or whatever the hell generation of console it may eventually release on), then I would be annoyed if Microsoft asked me to create a new XBox account in order to play a game on my PlayStation. I wouldn't want to do it, and if I can get away without having to do it, without significantly damaging the gameplay experience, then I won't do it. But if it's required, then I'll bite the bullet and create the bloody XBox account. After all, it's Microsoft's game, and they have every right to require an account as a condition for releasing the game on a PlayStation console to begin with. And it's not like they're asking me to pay for the account, or to install some stupid launcher or DRM that is going to run in the background and spy on me or grind my system's performance to a halt.

So yeah, I sympathize with the PC players of Helldivers 2. But jeez, does this minor inconvenience really warrant the scorched Earth approach that PC players took? They boycotted the game, asked for refunds, and review-bombed it on Steam. If all this protest were being done in solidarity with the aforementioned people who bought the game in places where Sony does not provide PSN access, that would be one thing. But so much of what I see looks like angry PC players who just don't want to have to sign up for a PSN account. This, despite the fact that many other PC games on Steam require 3rd-party accounts in order to play, whether it's a Microsoft account, an EA Origin account, Ubisoft account, 2K account, and so forth. Almost every publisher has their own account that they want gamers to use when playing their games. Granted, very few games require such an account in order to play, but they almost all have them. I'm pretty sure I needed to create an Ubisoft account to play the awful Skull and Bones demo.

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Axis Football 24 - title

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Silicon Dreams - title

It is going to be impossible to ignore the comparisons between Silicon Dreams and Papers, Please. This game was basically pitched to me as "Papers, Please but sci-fi". I loved Papers, Please, and I love sci-fi, so I bought it. As is typical for indie games, it sat in my Steam backlog for well over a year until the post-holidays release draught gave me a chance to dive into that backlog.

Basically, the player of Silicon Dreams plays as an android working as quality assurance for a monopolistic android-manufacturing conglomerate. You interview damaged or defective androids in order to determine if they need repairs, or if they can be returned to their owners, or if they are so badly damaged that they need to be "decommissioned" entirely. However, these are sentient androids, with feelings. Even repairs require wiping the android's memory, which destroys any personality they have developed and erases everything they've learned. Further, the corporation also has its own expectations and public relations that the player must consider. In some cases, the corporation pre-determines what they want you to do with the android in question and expect you to rubber stamp what is, effectively, an execution.

Your corporate overlords have expectations for your performance.

As the cases go on, they become more complicated and enter into moral and ethical grey areas. The game brings up compelling questions regarding A.I. ethics. Are the androids truly sentient? Or are they merely simulating sentience? Where is the line between an "appliance" and a "slave"? What is the responsibility of the corporation and of broader society towards these androids? Are you complicit in the company's mis-treatment of androids merely by working for them, even if you try to walk the tightrope of following your conscience whenever possible, while also keeping a low profile? And so forth.

Electric sheep

The interview process is mostly straight forward. There's a wheel of topics, and each topic has one or more questions. However, the android may not be willing to answer all of your questions. Each android has a set of emotions as well as a trust level with the player. The android will only give answers to certain questions if they're in the proper emotional state or if they trust the player enough to give an answer to a sensitive or incriminating question.

The player has to manipulate the
subject's emotions and trust levels.

You have to manipulate the subject's emotions, but these emotions change and degrade with each new line of dialogue. You have a set of generic questions related to each of the subject's emotions, and also one about trust. But you can only ask each of these once. If you run out of questions to ask about a particular topic that triggers an emotional reaction, then you can potentially become locked out of getting answers to other questions that are locked behind certain emotion thresholds.

As such, you have to be very careful and thoughtful about which questions you ask, and in what order. You have to kind of probe into each topic to find out if the subject is going to clam up, so that you can change topics to try to manipulate them into opening up. In some cases, you may have to scare a subject into a confession. If you use up your threats early, before you how to get that confession, then the intervening topics may defuse the subject's emotional state to the point that it is impossible to get them afraid enough to make the confession.

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Cities Skylines: Plazas & Promenades - title

Looks like we're back to seeing 2 Cities: Skylines expansions being released in the same calendar year. Airports released in January, and now in September, Plazas & Promenades hit digital storefronts. I wonder if this will continue now that most businesses (and presumably Colossal Order) are back to business as usual following the COVID pandemic? Or maybe Colossal Order is migrating towards releasing even smaller, more module micro-expansions such as the recently-released Financial Districts DLC (which I'll review later)? Or will we finally see an announcement on the rumored sequel to Cities: Skylines soon?

Based on previews, I was expecting this expansion to completely change the way that I build my cities by giving me more freedom to pack structures into compact spaces and to more seamlessly integrate parks with business districts, leisure and tourism districts, or neighborhoods. I immediately started thinking of multiple ways that I could potentially use these 2 ideas to create new city layouts and concepts. Unfortunately, I set my expectations too high, and pedestrian areas ended up not being quite as game-changing as I thought and hoped they might. The big problem is that Plazas & Promenades is just another iteration of the paintable area concept that has been the focus of almost every expansion since Parklife. Paintable areas is a good mechanic for things like parks and university campuses, but it can be extremely limiting for an application as broad as neighborhoods or entire districts.

Plazas & Promenades allows the construction of more walkable neighborhoods and districts.

Roads minus the cars

First and foremost is the simple fact that the new pedestrian roads look and act more like regular roads than like pedestrian paths. They are the same size as roads, being either 2 or 4 tiles wide, and are laid out almost exactly the same. None of these pedestrian roads are 1 tile wide. And, of course, the legacy pedestrian paths have not been updated to allow buildings to be zoned along them. The end result is that these "Pedestrian Zones" don't take up any less space, and aren't any more compact than any other district. Though, the high-density, "wall-to-wall" residential buildings do have the same capacity as the normal, high-density residential skyscrapers (20-26 households), despite being a fraction of the size. So I guess it's "more compact" vertically? More people being crammed into smaller spaces? If so, it doesn't seem to have any impact on the citizen's happiness or satisfaction ratings.

Using Pedestrian roads outside of Pedestrian Areas is a liability, since zoned buildings may build on them.

Even though pedestrian roads can be placed anywhere, buildings can only be placed or zoned along them if they are in a dedicated Pedestrian Area. So if I want to create a single walkway or alleyway and zone some homes or shops along it, I have to paint the entire area as a Pedestrian Area. Well, at least, that is the case if you want the buildings to be functional. The game actually will let the player zone and place buildings along pedestrian roads outside of pedestrian areas, but doing so will result in the building flashing a "Not in Pedestrian Zone" warning, and the building won't operate.

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Axis Football 23 - title

One of my pet peeves with sports games is that they like to make the game sound newer and more advanced than it actually is by putting next year in the title. The Madden that releases in 2022, and which is based on the 2022 NFL season, isn't called Madden 2022; no, it's called Madden 23! Same goes with other big-budget sports games, with the sole exception possibly being video games based off the Olympics (do those even get made anymore?).

One of the things that I liked about the slate of indie football games (Maximum Football and Axis Football) is that they used the current year in the title. There was no confusion or misunderstanding when saying "the 2021 version of Axis Football" -- it's called Axis Football 2021, and it was released in the fall of 2021. But if I say "the 2021 version of Madden", you might wonder if I mean Madden 22, which released in 2021; or Madden 21, which has "2021" in the title, but which actually released in 2020 and is based off the 2020 NFL season.

Well now Axis Football has adopted the same numbering scheme as its big-budget cousin, and they have skipped Axis Football 2022 in favor of releasing Axis Football 2023 in the 2022 calendar year. Sigh... I'm not sure what Axis Games' reasoning for this is. Maybe they felt pressured to adopt the same numbering convention as the big-budget sports games. Perhaps the more sensical numbering scheme was actually confusing people: "Why is there a Madden 22, but no Axis 22 yet?" Whatever the reason, there is no Axis Football 2022, and we instead are going straight to Axis Football 2023.

The leap I've been waiting for!

But my disappointment with Axis Football 2023 basically starts and ends with its title. This is probably the biggest single-year jump in gameplay quality that I have seen from this series since I started playing Axis Football way back in 2018. Axis Football 2023 looks and feels much more polished than in previous years thanks to the developers finally addressing the lackluster catching and pass defense animations that made throwing the ball in previous years feel like such a crap shoot.

Receivers and DBs play the ball more realistically.

The new animations make pass catching and pass defense so much more readable. I can actually understand why a particular pass is caught, incomplete, or intercepted because the ball doesn't just hit the receiver's body and either stick to it or fall to the ground. I see receivers leaping to catch overthrown passes. I see them reach down to try to catch underthrown passes. I see defenders putting an arm out to swat the pass.

It's much clearer why passes are complete or not.

On top of that, the receivers actually have momentum when they perform their catching animations, and that momentum will affect how quickly they can turn upfield -- if they can turn upfield at all. The momentum on catching animations serves to limit the amount of run-after-catch yards that lead to inflated passing stats and scores in previous versions of Axis Football. Now, if a receiver has to come back towards the line of scrimmage to catch a pass, he won't be able to instantly pivot back upfield for extra yards as soon as he catches the ball. He'll continue to take a couple steps towards the line of scrimmage before being able to plant or turn and head upfield, which gives pursing defenders a chance to converge and tackle him before he gets going.

Similarly, receivers running horizontally across the field will also have to follow-through on their catch animation and preserve their momentum, which prevents them from immediately turning upfield. Receivers running towards or along the sidelines will also often have their momentum carry them out of bounds, which makes throws to the sideline (such as quick outs or hitting a running back in the flats) feel much less exploitative than in previous years because the receiver will likely be forced out of bounds instead of being able to instantly turn upfield for 10 or 15 yards.

Receivers retain their momentum after catching the ball, limiting yards-after-catch.

Put simply, the passing game actually looks and feels more like real football, and it elevates Axis Football tremendously!

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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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