Review Culture and How It Hampers Video Games

This is a seven out of ten game.

What image does that conjure in your mind?

Unfortunately, it probably doesn’t give you a great view. An OK game, likely plagued with bland segments and problems, that never really goes anywhere and isn’t worth your time. Movies and television suffer from similar problems but I feel that it is much worse in the game sphere…why is this?

To understand this, we have to go back to the advent of video game journalism. We have to look at reviews and how people consumed media. Video games appeared right when written media began to become a little less important. People wanted to know about how good or bad a game was but they didn’t want to really sit down and read an entire article about whatever the game was. People wanted a quick, concise measure about what to expect from a game. Writers saw this and knew the best way to capture an audience was to cut down the entire review into something that could fit into a single sentence. Thus, we moved to a system of numerical basis. We would rate out of five stars or ten points. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

Yet most video games cost more money (at least the console or PC versions) than your standard book or movie ticket. They’re pricey purchases by comparison. The counterpoint might be that video games offer longer experiences by default than a movie or book but a game is still a hard purchase for someone whose entertainment budget might just be a hundred dollars a month, for example. We’ve slightly moved away from this with things like Steam, the indie market and free-to-play games but your standard AAA title will still set you back a pretty penny.

This had the unintended side-effect of skewing the game’s review weight. When we think about games, our views on what a ten-out-of-ten game is versus a seven-out-of-ten game are further apart than the T-rex and the stegosaurus. A perfect game that cannot be missed versus a meh experience that might be worth a rental at best. In truth, this is a growing problem with metacritic sites as well.

Take, for example, Rotten Tomatoes. An aggregation of all reviews might sound good on paper but the line gets blurred when you consider not all movies fall under “flawless masterpiece” or “garbage we filmed for two hours”. Media that lands in the middle suffers the most because of this; a five-out-of-ten film or game can have redeeming qualities about it but we are too quick to dismiss it as not worth the time. Likewise, we praise things that hit the higher echelon of gaming too highly. That eight-star game might be decent but those glaring flaws ARE glaring flaws.

But how we respond to reviews also dictates an immense amount of what we consider a good or bad score. Jim Sterling recently gave the new Legend of Zelda the score you see at the top. By all means, not a terrible score, but the fact that it was not a perfect was seen as a besmirching of the series. People thought he was viciously attacking the franchise and spitting on what they thought a perfect game was…for an “It’s pretty good” review. It goes back to the point that we’ve skewed the review system too much.

So what can be done about this review system? Using my own experiences, Fortis Core uses a different brand of scoring; rather than stars or numbers, its recommended in the form of a “yes/no/maybe” system. It’s not perfect but it does encourage reading deeper when you get to the “recommend with exception” rule. The flaw there is that you might be pigeonholing games even deeper. I’d rather recommend/not recommend a game though. Giving it an arbitrary score might actually hurt a game I genuinely enjoyed.

Review culture has become too caught up in TL;DRs. We focus too much on the end result and not on the nuances. While it is understandable due to how reviewers often have to try a lot of games over a year with only a few hours for each, this style of reviewing has polluted the idea of the review. Good games are slipping through the cracks into the trash because the crack has widened. While I wish that we could take a step back and earnestly give each game the time and review it deserved, we live in a world that is increasingly concerned about the “now”, not the “later”. If you take one thing away from this; Don’t let flaws dissuade you. That seven-out-of-ten game might be perfect for you.

Power Rangers Movie Review

I know what you’re thinking: What, this isn’t a game! Why are you reviewing movies now? I’m making a special exception for Power Rangers because I grew up with the series and it was a defining point in how I approached a lot of media. It’s also where I still draw inspiration from. With that said, there will be some spoilers (with warning) near the end of the review.

As a whole, Power Rangers is a feel good movie. I left the theater happy. I enjoyed the time I spent on the movie and overall I felt it was a serviceable origin story. That shouldn’t be a spoiler, by the by. Power Rangers is the introduction to Angel Grove and the rangers. That said, there are some glaring flaws that I’ll go over but first would be what I liked…and there is a fair bit to like.

What’s Great: Actors, Action and Acts One and Three

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From left to right: RJ Cyler (Billy), Naomi Scott (Kimberly), Ludi Lin (Zack), Becky G. (Trini) and Dacre Montgomery (Jason)

Perhaps the greatest praise I have for the movie is that all the actors were quite enjoyable. One of the biggest fears in making a movie like this is that even if the story is great, the actors might not be. Thankfully, everyone is enjoyable to watch from veterans to newcomers. If I had to pick out a single MVP, however, that would go to RJ Cyler as Billy Cranston. RJ brings life to this character and makes him the heart of this movie, creating someone we’re genuinely invested in seeing and someone who the viewer adores. Even characters who don’t get enough screen time in my opinion like Zack (Ludi Lin) or Trini (Becky G.) do their part to give depth to their character. I doubt I even need to praise Bryan Cranston (Zordon), Elizabeth Banks (Rita Repulsa) or Bill Hader (Alpha 5) for having great performances….even if one is a wall.

Another great part of the movie was the action. One of the biggest flaws with modern cinematic action is that it’s often messy and hard to watch. Thanks to the suit colors and the action mostly taking place in daylight, there was rarely a part where I was confused as to who was hitting what. The zord fights as well were a joy to watch, bringing large-scale battles but not-so-hectic fighting that I could be absorbed in the sheer size of the brawl. The weird designs (“Alien Dinosaurs” as the director puts it) are also not so problematic when you can’t really tell that the mastadon has six legs.

As you’ve likely gathered, the first part (which plays like Breakfast Club meets Spiderman) of the movie is wonderful at introducing us to characters and making us see them at their low points. It makes the third act (which is the big budget battle you’d expect) all the more enjoyable when we see how far the heroes have come.

What’s Not Great: Tone and Twos

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Everything young-me wanted…barring some caveats.

As you just heard me praise the first and third act, you’re probably wondering “What about the second?”. Unfortunately, the second act is a nosedive into boredom. Not much of note happens and it’s quite the long section of the movie, at least mentally. We see some aspects of the rangers coming together and Rita growing stronger but nothing holds weight. It’s slow, it’s boring. Sure, it makes the third act all the more welcome, yet it doesn’t excuse the build up. The last thing a movie like this should do is bore you.

Along with this, the movie suffers some tonal inconsistency. I didn’t laugh all that much (but your humor may vary) and occasionally the jokes would come out of left field. It’s hard to chuckle at a particularly funny joke when our heroes are suddenly in life-or-death situations. It didn’t happen ALL the time but when it happened, it felt pretty damn bad. Perhaps in the future the second act can be improved when we don’t have to focus so much on the coming together aspect but that’s for spoiler territory. Hell, cut the second part of the movie out and extend the first-and-third acts to fill it. Perfection.

On the whole, Power Rangers was a good movie. Is it unskippable? No. Is it unwatchable? No. A movie like this is where metacritic and aggregation sites fail because it’s not AWFUL but it’s not the second coming of cinema. If you like the power ranger/super sentai series, you’ll enjoy this. If you don’t, you might enjoy it once but I’d wait for a home release. Overall, it’s a good first movie…let’s just hope something comes from it.

VERDICT
Worth a watch but nothing revolutionary.
Would recommend in theaters for fans. DVD for non-fans.

Spoiler City

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LAST CHANCE TO TURN BACK!

EVERYTHING BELOW THIS IS SPOILERS. MOSTLY MISCELLANEOUS THOUGHTS AND CRITICISMS.

 

 

 

Elaborating on the second act: There are no morphed or team fights until the very end. It’s also the weirdest, “rushed” part of the movie with Zack and Jason getting into a fight only for it to never be referenced or even talked about ever again. I understand that build-up needs to happen but even Ironman, one of the hallmarks of the hero genre, had scenes with him as Ironman before the finale. Had the rangers had scenes where they were not fighting as a group but still in costume, the second act could have been more lively.

Zack and Trini get the least screen time with their problems, albeit they’re fleshed out to a satisfactory degree. I did wish that we could have seen something deeper, especially with Trini being sexuality-questioning and how Zack’s living in squalor and taking care of his mother. It might be good for future storylines but hey, who knows. Billy’s autism is also pretty realistic; He’s not having fits and he’s not an obvious token. He just doesn’t get sarcasm or humor. In terms of how you could handle autism, this is definitely not a bad way to do it. Jason and Kimberly’s kiss got cut. Guess there was enough backlash to warrant that.

While I like the suits, I would have loved to see more of the weapons. Jason gets his power sword but nobody else gets anything. No power axe, no power lances, nothing. Maybe in the next movie we’ll have a scene where their weapons combine into a giant cannon. Feels like you could have had the second act fights mostly be martial arts and build up act three to using their powerful weapons all together.

I’m also not totally sold on the megazord design. We don’t even really see it combine; The rangers are just shoved into a pit and suddenly it’s formed. I hope in a future movie, the megazord is broken/destroyed and they have to remake it in a style more befitting the original megazord. Although, out of all the designs, the megazord was the only design I really had problems with. I could even understand Goldar’s design as a mass of gold made from Rita’s powers.

The original theme from the 1995 movie is used once. Personally, while I would have liked more of it, they used it at the perfect time as the zords charge toward Angel Grove. If I had to put it at ANY other time? I’d have added it when the megazord was formed to really drive home that “This is when we come together and kick ass” part. If I had to be earnest, I’d rather have the theme used all the time or once/twice in a really befitting situation. Consider this me being content.

Krispy Kream’s product placement was hilarious as the place where the zeo crystal rests (Yes as in PR: Zeo). The problem was the tone 180’s all of a sudden with Billy’s death at the hands of Rita. Good god, way to utterly swing something at a breakneck pace. It’s funny, sure, but damn if it doesn’t come at a time that really screws with the movie tone as I referenced above.

As you might have guessed, cinematic universes are all the rage and Power Rangers is no exception. The mid-credits end (as well as the beginning with Rita) shows us that the Green Ranger is on the horizon with Tommy Oliver in detention. It also explains his gold chestplate, as Rita’s power seems to be gold manipulation. Considering Saban has a SIX (!!!) movie storyline, I’m very surprised that they’re going so deep after just one movie.I’m also curious if we’ll get suit/costume changes befitting seasons, where rangers get outfits in the style of Power Rangers Zeo or In Space.

No Bulk and Skull. Movie. FIX THIS.

Orisa: Setting a Dangerous Precedence

In terms of new characters, Overwatch has so far made some really interesting unique additions to the game. Both Sombra and Ana brought new things to the game and, whether they were viable or not, both brought things that weren’t originally in the game. I was quite excited for the next one.

Unfortunately, Orisa has not piqued my interest. In fact, she makes me worry for the future of Overwatch’s hero design if she becomes a standard among the cast. To understand my frustration, we have to go back to League of Legends and the earliest days of Riot’s design. It’s only in understanding their missteps that we can move forward.

Perhaps Riot’s biggest blunder in my mind was the bloat of characters in seasons one and two. During these seasons, Riot pumped out a new character almost every other week. It was impressive that only a handful came out so pathetically bad that there wasn’t any real problem with them existing, save for the space they took up.

But this problem was compounded by these additions not bringing new things to the game. They didn’t reinvent or introduce new concepts. They didn’t bring many new skills or ways to play. In many ways, the design of Riot was an incredibly safe cookie-cutter that was only changed by what you put into the mold rather than the mold itself. To go with the analogy, Darius might be an oatmeal cookie to Garen’s chocolate chip…but they’re both still cookies.

This is also partially why Riot has to make large-scale class reworks: The similarity problem has gotten so bad that those who are on top outshine those who aren’t in almost every category. The sins of the past have caught up to Riot and now they’re scrambling to fix this. Moving back to Overwatch, there are some similarities and differences to how they operate.

For one thing, Overwatch is taking their time with character releases compared to old Riot. Riot moved to this format as well, which means you don’t have to worry about roster bloat as much. However, this also means that a bad release will sit on the player’s mind for a while, much like what Orisa is doing to me right now. It’s not flawless but I see it as better than the alternative. The more important issue is Orisa’s kit and why I’m so disinterested in her as a playable hero.

Lore-wise, it makes sense for Orisa to have the kit she does. She’s the invention of an eleven-year-old genius who looked to the heroes she worships and copied much of their skills. I was guilty of this as a child as well, making carbon copies of Power Rangers because young me only knew what worked, not how to innovate the concept. The problem comes when you consider Orisa as an introduction to the game as a whole and not as something that exists in the universe as a living, breathing addition.

Orisa does not innovate.

Yes, she does things in different ways comparative to others, but she does not have any truly “new” mechanic to her. Perhaps the most interesting thing about her is the damage reduction/CC immunity spell but even that is quite similar to Zarya’s bubble or Torbjorn’s molten core. More importantly, when you compare Ana and Sombra, both brought tons of new things to the game. Sombra was an invisible, hacking offense hero who could disable heroes with strong abilities. Ana was a healing sniper who could boost up the power of her allies while also negating healing.

If you ask me, Orisa does not bring enough new to the table to justify her inclusion. No matter how interesting as a character she might be, she doesn’t really bring a fresh look to the table. What strikes me more than anything is that Orisa’s kit can be described in a pretty quick, singular word: Rushed.

Designated as an “anchor tank” (A tank that leads the charge and holds the line.), Orisa is meant to be a replacement for Reinhardt in certain situations. When you consider that, the situation with Orisa’s kit feels even more compounded; Was Orisa a character that was lovingly handcrafted to bring fresh life to Overwatch and to expand the roster with a new, fascinating hero or was she a character quickly rushed out the door to create someone who could stand toe-to-toe with Reinhardt so that he’s not the go-to tank in every situation?

My main fear when it comes to these situations is that this won’t be an isolated incident. Sure, Orisa isn’t a stellar release comparative to the two we had before in terms of gameplay, but overall we can chalk her up to just a meh release. What’s more concerning is if Blizzard is going to take her as a model of what a character should be. Blizzard could very well use Orisa as the model for solving problems of over-picking a hero; instead of buffing, nerfing or finding a work around for that hero, Blizzard could opt to make a similar hero of a similar role with just enough differences to warrant another inclusion.

Of course, not everything about Orisa is bad. I’ll likely play her a bit if I want a ranged Reinhardt or if I get some cosmetics for her. I like her character and while I don’t like the kit, I dig the lore reason surrounding it. There’s always the idea that maybe I’m just worrying about nothing. Maybe this article is simply the fears of someone who saw a similar thing happen in another game and doesn’t want to see Overwatch go down the same path. Consider this doomsaying or criticizing if you will, I merely wish to air my concerns with Blizzard when it comes to a new hero.

The beginning to a disappointing trend or just one not-that-interesting kit? Hopefully Blizzard proves me wrong in the future.

A Word Moving Forward

When I started writing this website, I wanted to make a ton of good articles and write a bunch of really great, thought-provoking/discussion-producing stuff. I also wanted a fairly often standard of writing articles. Something like one-to-two articles a week. As it turns out, I was waaaaaay too boastful of my own skills.

While I like writing articles, I’m not producing the quality I’d like on a two-a-week basis. With that in mind, I’m going to be reducing my article output by around one every two weeks. However, I hope to make these articles overall better written with a more concise point.

For anyone who really enjoyed my writing, sorry I couldn’t keep up the pace. Please be patient with me and I hope to write better, longer and overall more interesting pieces of work in the future.

Thank you.

My Time with Hacktag

Original Article on Fortiscore. Check it out here!

It often feels like co-op games are a dying breed. More and more often, we’re given games with PvP or extremely competitive situations where even cooperation is made in favor of smashing someone else’s team into the dirt. You can imagine my excitement when I was invited to test out Piece of Cake’s new game, Hacktag, at GDC.

Before I played, I briefly sat down with the CEO and Co-CEO of Hacktag to learn about their game. To them, there wasn’t really a game you could play with two people, especially a couples game. They wanted a challenging but co-op game for the both of them to enjoy (and even yell at each other about. Something I found both pretty funny and oddly adorable).

Thus was born Hacktag: A co-op game where two hackers are in charge in infiltrating organizations based on real-life corporations such as news stations and pharma companies. At a glance, everything is pretty stylized; Every agent and person in Hacktag is an anthropomorphic being based on some real-life creature. Wily cats, clever foxes and more are all represented here. You’ll be able to customize your character with a variety of clothes and races too. With the alpha, I slipped into the shoes of a cat-person with some pretty nifty clothing. Our target? Some valuable data in the corporation.

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Agent View…

Missions are divided into three types: A mass data-collection where you and your partner have to run around gathering a set amount of info, a mission type where you have to get to one major piece of info from a heavily guarded area, and finally a mission where you have to sabotage and hack your way through a series of tough challenges. You can customize special skills as well, though these are small benefits and won’t greatly impede new players versus old players. For the demo, we played a data-collection type twice…for a major reason.

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…and the Hacker view!

Hacktag is, interestingly enough, an asymmetrical co-op game. One player is the agent running through the real-world area of the corporation, ducking behind desks and quickly tapping computer screens. The other takes control of an agent hidden miles away behind a computer desk, hacking through the lines. It’s a fascinating change of pace and quite enjoyable, as the two play similarly enough to not get new players lost but enough to keep things fresh between the two modes.

Bérenger Dupré (The Co-CEO) and I played through the mission, with him tapping phones to distract guards while I’d run past and disable firewalls for him. Another major feature is that there is a slight element of competition in who can gather more data. It’s not enough to make you forsake your partner (as that’s a game-over for both of you) but it’s enough to make you pause and swipe some data before getting their door open.

The game uses hacking in a variety of minigames, where both players have to match lines, complete button sequences and rapidly tap. I was told there would be more to come in this department, so I can’t imagine these getting old anytime soon. Playing through both sides, I found myself greatly enjoying the world and gameplay as I helped my partner escape out of locked rooms, distracted guards and more while he disabled firewalls and bugged out security programs.

Of course, longevity is a questionable thing and boy does Piece of Cake have you covered. Hacktag will have online and couch co-op, along with a five-hour story campaign for each of the three corporations. In addition, there will be weekly challenges to beat the studio as well as a seed/procedural-generation system where you can share levels with your friends and foes.

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This only happened once or twice. Promise.

Perhaps the highest praise I can give this game is that, during my playtest, Bérenger took a moment to gather some data while I was being chased by an angry security system that caught me trying to sneak past it. “Ugh you JERK!” is what I said, but despite this, I still wanted to help. This wasn’t a co-op game where a partner acting selfish hurts you both and provokes spite. No, it made me think of smarmy, sarcastic hackers exchanging quips and one-liners while they had a love-hate relationship from movies and television shows. Piece of Cake Studios has done something amazing with this game and I really cannot wait to play it again with a friend of mine in the near future.

Hacktag is currently on Steam Greenlight, with PS4 and Xbox One support in the future. I highly recommend you give it a go, as co-op games of this caliber should be supported and loved. Even if you exchange some harsh words with your friend who skulked with data while you nervously paced in a prison cell.

All pictures credit to Piece of Cake Studios.

On Thematic Unity and Galio’s Rework

Understandably, a lot of people are upset about Galio's change in terms of (if nothing else) color design and model design. What we have to make note of, however, is that thematic unity is something Riot has been trying to achieve for a while now with reworks and model updates. So, real quick, let's go over some examples:

Noxus

Noxus, from an aesthetic point of view, has very dark and often muted colors. Swain’s cloak might be green but it’s not a bright, neon green or a brilliant jade. Rather. it’s muted and reflects Noxus. Noxian champions have dark, permeating colors.

Ionia

While Ionia has more color variation, colors that stick out are often soft pastel colors that mix with the darker or lighter shades. It reflects Ionia’s nature as a peaceful place that prides itself on balance and duality. (Bright pastels vs. basic colors.)

Rather than tug out more pictures and bloat the page, some quick additions:

  • Shadow Isles: Ghostly teals and blacks. Made to look horrific and spooky.
  • Piltover: Muted colors and lots of industrial greys/browns.
  • Zaun: Whatever you find in the gutter.
  • Freljord: “Cool” colors that are darker and reflect the icy climate.
  • Shurima: Brilliant and bright golds/silvers.

So now we get to Demacia. Demacia, as a country, is a “holy” place. Bright whites and complimenting colors like blue, gold, etc. It’s where you think a paladin would be born. Current Galio looks like this:

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Now, does that really fit Demacia?

Before people go “well duh” hear me out: His colors are a teal blue and muted gold. He doesn’t look like a statue carved to fit with Demacia’s architecture nor the general style of how Demacia makes things. When you put him in a line-up with Garen’s bright blue/silver, Lux’s sparkling white and Jarvan’s gleaming gold? He stands out as the outcast. Even Poppy, who is more a visitor, represents Demacia better even if she’s trying to emulate Demacia rather than actually emulating it. (Hence why she has some gold/white but it is muted comparative to Garen/Lux/Xin/etc.)

In addition to this, people are focusing too much on Galio from the perspective of our world. In a fantasy setting, the idea of a gargoyle/stone colossus would look a bit different form our definition. While Galio does have aspects of a gargoyle, he does have more Demacian-centric things about him; Gold highlights, angelic wings, white marble instead of stone, so on and so forth.

All that said, I do think Galio should have a chroma or something to better mesh with his original color design. But if you really compare to those who are meant to be his city-state peers and allies, this Galio makes far more sense as a Demacian golem than the current Galio.

Multiple Versions: Archaic Mechanic or Useful Expansion?

Since picking up Pokemon Sun for my trip next week, I started thinking about how some game companies still do multiple versions of a single game. I felt the need to dig into this and to further explore if this system is something archaic or something that is still necessary.

As an Archaic Mechanic

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Perhaps the biggest criticism one can make about games with multiple versions is that they’re no different than the board game example I linked above: The same game sporting one-or-two unique features and a handful of cosmetic fluff that doesn’t warrant the price tag of an entirely new game.

Pokemon in particular is pretty bad with this; When you consider the differences between Sun and Moon, the most you can attest is that there are a handful of different pokemon in each. Sure, there are some mechanical nuances such as starter gender or otherwise, but the games are fundamentally the same.There are rarely unique mechanics that you can find in either that don’t carry over.

To further exacerbate this issue, these games are often sold at the same price. Meaning that sometimes if you want to catch an extra ten pokemon to complete your pokedex, you need to either find someone to trade with or drop another forty on the same game. It’s no fun to have to buy the same game twice for minute differences…

As a Useful Expansion

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When done correctly, different versions can serve as impressive expansions or differences that make the two games truly unique, even if they use the same mechanics. The perfect example would be the two fire emblem games. Despite having the same mechanics, each path is radically different.

Conquest is the more traditional, harder route. Tough maps, limited gold/experience and overall more traditional fantasy units. Birthright features easier maps, the ability to grind and units inspired by the nation of Hoshido, which in turn is heavily inspired by ancient Japan. These two games, while similar, offer radically different paths and gameplay despite using the same core gameplay.

But most importantly: The other edition won’t set you back by much. Each additional story path (including a third not pictured) will set you back only a fraction of the cost of the core game. Meaning that your initial purchase can remain your initial purchase. Any content you miss out on is merely an entirely different game with different rules, maps and units that you have to work with.

Earnestly, it strikes the feelings of an old RTS expansion pack: Additional content at a reduced price that radically changes the game.

My Take

In earnest, there are things you can’t really replicate. The necessity multiple versions creates where you have to find friends to trade and communicate with. The requirement that you’re going to have to step out of your game to finish everything, if you’re a completion. The need to check a list before your buy one version in case you’re missing something important only one copy provides.

When done well? I think it’s fantastic. But I do think that most versions these days are not really worth keeping around. Doubly so when games like Pokemon often create a third, “best” version that has everything you missed from the opposite version and more. Versions and editions are not something conducive to gameplay anymore, something that we don’t truly need to worry over.

While I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for these games, take the two versions and slap them together. I’d feel far more confident buying “Pokemon: Eclipse” than I would buying either Sun or Moon.