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What happened to the modern military shooter?

After the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare there was a shift in the type of shooters that helped to define the last console generation.

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Call of Duty Nuclear Explosion

After the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare there was a shift in the type of shooters that helped to define the last console generation.

The battlegrounds of World War Two had been well traversed and space marines had begun to lose their appeal. Stories of past glories or battles against an alien horde were not engaging enough for this new generation, video games had progressed to the point where they could now begin to address current global concerns.

This was where Call of Duty 4 (CoD4) came in. At the time the game was ground-breaking. This was not as a result of the gameplay, as aside from a couple of instances CoD4  played very much the same as its Infinity Ward developed predecessor Call of Duty 2 (which marked the first time an Infinity Ward CoD was released on a console, and helped strengthen the Xbox 360 launch line-up). Even though the single player campaign was fairly short for a First Person Shooter (FPS) at the time, coming in at around the 7 hour mark, the pacing was spot on, the story did not drag, nor did it feel like you were being rushed from one location to another, even though you took control of multiple characters fighting in different locations around the world and even at one point reliving a event from the Cold War.

CoD4 included some of the most memorable moments from the previous generation and ironically did not succumb to the jingoistic hoorah that plagued not just subsequent CoD games, but also the other military shooters that it helped to spawn and continue to influence throughout that generation. The very start of the game played on current fears in the West of the continued instability in the Middle East and featured a very dramatic first person perspective of a public execution at the hands of a separatist militia that was adding to the unrest in the region.

Despite utilising real concerns held by many Westerners surrounding Western “intervention” in the Middle East the game unfortunately relied on having Russians play the main antagonists, and even though the Cold War had been over for almost two decades, the Russians were ultra-nationalists seeking a return to the height of Soviet influence. With the Germans no longer an easy go to villain as afforded by the nature of WW2 games, and unable to rely on a real Middle Eastern power to fill the role because it would be too current, the Russians once again became the default threat as if the 80s never ended.

However regardless of its utilisation of certain troupes, CoD4 used these to facilitate its wider narrative, one that was actually interesting for a military shooter, and even had the player guessing at what was to follow. Then there were the moments which caught everyone by surprise. The most notable was when the US Marine, that the player had been exploring this unnamed Middle Eastern state through, after having just made it to the safety of the helicopter, is caught by the sudden detonation of a nuclear device which demolishes the nearby city and brings the helicopter down near the outside of the city. As this is a video game some might have assumed that the Marine would walk out and start shooting at people within five minutes. However the game instantly destroys this misconception, with the player guiding the character out of the helicopter who stumbles whilst witnessing the ongoing devastation from the nuclear blast, the mushroom cloud still in the distance, ultimately succumbs to his injuries.

This marks the second time that a character in the players control has died, and there was nothing they could do about it. This enforces the importance of mortality; war in all of its various forms will result in people dying via devastating ways, for there is no “clean” death in war. Furthermore it brings to the attention of the player that they are not immortal. They may be used to seeing the supporting characters die around them, but when they die, they get back up again starting from a previous checkpoint. Instead CoD4 removes this safety net that players have become accustomed to. In a somewhat similar fashion to what viewers (and readers) of Game of Thrones  have come to expect, knowing that their favourite characters could be killed off at any moment.

The relationship with death that is present in CoD4 alters throughout the campaign and there is one mission that stands out due to its cold portrayal of killing enemy combatants. This mission has been brought up here at Thumbsticks before, this is because the mission (Death From Above) is significant in what is seen as the blurring between the depiction of war in video games and what takes place in reality. Death From Above represented one of the first substantial instances of Baudrillard’s theories regarding simulacra being applied to video games, and specifically military shooters.

CoD4_Death_from_above

During Death From Above the player views the mission from up above looking down at the ground via a screen displaying the action emphasised by heat signatures. The aim of the mission is to protect fellow soldiers as they progress through a heavily defended area. All the while the player takes out anything else that moves. For all they know they could be shooting at civilians at some point. But it is the cold distant killing from the player, coupled with the praise from a support character observing that the player had made a ‘good kill’ that highlights the uncomfortable fascination video games have with war. This is not a criticism of CoD4 as in further support of Baudrillard’s theory; the reality of war at times is not too dissimilar to the “fiction” displayed in this instance.

Wikileaks_helicopter

It is important to point out that irrespective of CoD4’s influence on modern military shooters, it was not the first, and what title has that honour is up to debate, but it is worth noting that the Battlefield series made the leap to the modern era two years prior to CoD. Unlike CoD, Battlefield 2 saw the Russians fight alongside the US and European Union with China and a Middle Eastern Coalition representing the opposing side, although as players fight as either side, due to the multiplayer only aspect of the gameplay, neither can be deemed the default antagonist. There was also the often forgotten Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, which was the first in the series to grace a console; it also marked the first inclusion of a narrative based single player which followed an outbreak of war between NATO members and China. Interestingly before CoD made the progression to the modern day Battlefield had already decided to make the leap to the future with Battlefield 2142.

For EA and DICE (the creators and main developers of the Battlefield series) modern combat was just one era that could be explored, and that the series had the flexibility to go where it wanted to. The expedition into the future was short lived, as shortly after the release of CoD4 (and therefore only coincidentally) saw the series return to modern combat, albeit with a twist. Bad Company and its sequel focused more heavily on a single player narrative (whilst still maintaining the excellent multiplayer) as well as introducing the destructible environments the series is now known for. What set these games apart was that they featured a comedic tone that would not be out place in most blockbuster action films as well as avoiding the gritty nature present in CoD4 and other subsequent military shooters.

This theme continued into the sequel, although this was to be another shooter series that fell foul to the troupe of having the Russians play the antagonists, but then again Bad Company did not spend much time focusing on the why, rather instead on the antics between the titular Bad Company. At this point in the Battlefield series gameplay was still at the core for decisions regarding the style that a new title would take. This was particularly evident with Bad Company 2 which featured the updated Frostbite engine that now allowed for entire structures to be demolished once the supports had been destroyed. This added to the notion that the player was no longer safe behind cover, for now an entire building could go down with them still inside. The decision to focus on enjoyable gameplay scenarios was further reinforced by the Vietnam expansion (although not the first time that the series has gone to Vietnam) that built upon the excellent multiplayer experience and applied it perfectly with the setting resulting in what is still a unique experience.

This approach unfortunately did not last, as despite the relative success found by Bad Company and its strong fanbase who consider it to be one of the best of the multiplayer console shooters, it was never enough to get anywhere near the number of sales that the multiple CoD games were generating. An attempt to change this situation came a year after Bad Company 2: Vietnam when Battlefield 3 was released, a game which was an effort by EA to directly compete with the CoD franchise. However instead of building upon the unique gameplay features afforded by the Frostbite engine which were evident in the Bad Company games, they instead tried to beat CoD at its own game. Whilst the multiplayer was mostly the same, albeit with maps that allowed for less destructibility than Bad Company but was considerably larger, the single player was an absolute travesty. Say what you will about the overly bombastic approach that has defined CoD since the original Modern Warfare, at least the core gameplay was retained and still provided an enjoyable experience. BF3 on the other hand would take control away from the player as much as possible so that they could witness another over-the-top spectacle which they have no control over, aside from the poorly implemented Quick Time Events (QTEs).

The BF3 single player felt like a culmination of everything that was wrong with the modern military genre of shooters. The story was dumb, irrespective of its serious self-important narrative that was doing its utmost to try and present an intriguing mystery, one that was waiting to be unveiled by looking back through the events that led to the protagonist being in his current state of detention. This was perpetually interlaced with unnecessary militaristic jargon which became more infuriating by the unwavering jingoism from all involved, foregoing any sense of rational thought in their actions.

The CoD series can be criticised for its pro-military stance, but it often has an internationally diverse cast to detract from the more gung-ho approach of the US missions. Yet BF3 failed to acknowledge this and went all out confusing military shooters with having to unabashedly praise the military as heroic figures that can never do any wrong regardless of circumstance.

Call of Duty was not the founder of the modern military shooter, but it undoubtedly helped to popularise the genre. Meanwhile the Battlefield series, which had attempts at the genre prior to Call of Duty, failed to understand what people liked about Call of Duty (although one cannot criticise the sales numbers for BF3 or BF4) and created a tedious and bland experience, that would be forgettable were it not so bad. However it was not until the launch of Spec Ops: The Line the following year that highlighted the shallow nature of games like BF3 and the underlying problems that exist with modern military shooters.

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Despite studying Politics at Undergrad and then War Studies at Master's level, James managed to write multiple essays relating to technology and more importantly video games.

Features

How much will the PlayStation 5 cost?

Details of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are slowly filtering out, but how much will they cost?

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PlayStation 5 cost
Sony / Thumbsticks

A new video game generation begins later this year with the release of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Details of both consoles are slowly filtering out but how much will they cost?

Microsoft revealed the Xbox Series X at The Game Awards 2020 and has been drip-feeding information ever since. Sony has been more tight-lipped about its new games system, the PlayStation 5. We have a general understanding of the console’s technical capabilities. We’ve glimpsed the potential new DualShock controller. We’ve even seen the rather funky devkit, but that’s about it. The only official information has come via exclusive reports from Wired, a logo reveal, and the tantalising empty official PlayStation 5 website.

All of this means that it’s hard to determine exactly how much the PlayStation 5 will cost at launch. We’ll keep this page up to date with the latest official information, but here’s what we know so far, and what we can infer.

In a statement from Sony’s Q3 FY2019 Consolidated Financial Results briefing, chief financial officer Hiroki Totoki has given the clearest indication yet to Sony’s approach in pricing the PlayStation 5. Speaking via translation, he said:

“What is not very clear or visible is because we are competing in the space,” Totoki says, “so it’s very difficult to discuss anything about the price at this point of time and depending upon the price level, we may have to determine the promotion that we are going to deploy and how much costs we are prepared to pay. So it’s a question of balance, and because it’s a balancing act it’s very difficult to say anything concrete at this point of time, but when I said smooth transition, we mean that we will definitely choose the optimal approach and that we will try to have the best balance so that we will be profitable in the life, during the life of this product.”

So let’s unpack this statement a little. Totoki-san’s opening line refers to the competitive space the PlayStation 5 will be part of, and by that, he means the next Xbox. It’s a clear statement that Sony is watching how Microsoft will position and price the next Xbox (or Xboxes) Indeed, it could be that Sony is waiting for Microsoft to make the first move and set the ballpark price range. (Just like Microsoft did with the Xbox One X, a mid-generation refresh that, with the benefit of going second, is more powerful than Sony’s PS4 Pro.)

Sony is surely keen to repeat the mistakes of the past and avoid a price variance similar to that between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The Xbox 360 launched with two models, priced at $299 and $399, in 2005. A year later, the launch PS3 models were priced at an eye-watering $499 and $599. Shuhei Yoshida – previously Sony Worldwide Studios President – admits this price disparity was a huge mistake, calling it horrifying. It certainly contributed to the PS3’s sluggish launch in the West.

Sony had greater success with the PlayStation 4, mostly by having a clearer consumer proposition, but also by undercutting the price of Microsoft’s Xbox One – which bundled a Kinect sensor nobody really wanted – by $100.

When Totoki speaks about a “smooth transition” he’s likely referring to making customers comfortable, by aligning with the PS5’s price to existing hardware – namely the PlayStation 4 Pro, which launched at $399 in the US. This certainly fits in line with PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan’s comments about the desire to transfer customers from the PS4 to the PS5 “at a scale and pace that we’ve never delivered on before.”

PlayStation 5 system architect Mark Cerny is on the same page. Following the console’s 2019 announcement in Wired, reporter Peter Rubin confirmed via Twitter that Cerny said: “I believe that we will be able to release it at an SRP that will be appealing to gamers in light of its advanced feature set.”

Totoki also speaks about the PS5’s profitability, which is an indication that the console’s price will – initially, at least – start at the higher end. After all, Sony can always reduce the price to stimulate sales, but can’t go in the other direction.

So based on what we know so far, we predict the PS5 will cost more than the PS4 Pro and will be released at $499 in the US and £449 in the UK.

For one thing, this is bang in the middle of Sony’s historic pricing strategy for PlayStation consoles, when adjusted for inflation. The original PlayStation, costing $299 in 1995, would cost $500 in today’s money. The PS2, also priced at $299 in 2000, would be a bargain $445 in today’s money. The PS3 is the outlier – its $499 price tag in 2006 translates to $630 in today’s money – with the PS4’s 2013 price of $399 translating to around $435 in 2020.

The PlayStation 5 coming in around $500 makes sense, both in terms of its position in the market above the mid-generation, transitional PS4 Pro, and with respect to Sony’s pricing history for PlayStation consoles.

PlayStation 5 at a glance

  • Release date: Holiday 2020
  • Estimated Price: $499 / £449
  • Specifications: 8-core AMD Zen CPU, AMD Navi GPU, custom SSD, 4K Blu-ray player
  • Features: Improved loading times, ray tracing, 4K performance at 120Hz, haptic DualShock controller

Follow Thumbsticks on Flipboard, Facebook, Google News, and Twitter for more whimsical predictions on the future of digital entertainment.

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10 essential Nintendo Switch accessories everyone must own

The Nintendo Switch is an amazing combination of handheld and console. Here are the extra accessories and bits of kit that you’ll need to make it perfect.

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dangerous to go alone nintendo switch accessories sandisk
Nintendo / Thumbsticks

The Nintendo Switch is an amazing combination of handheld and console. Here are the extra accessories and bits of kit that you’ll need to make it perfect.

1. A really big memory card

Remember when the Nintendo Switch launched, and people were worried about the number of games available? Firstly, that’s true of all consoles. And secondly, that seems a little redundant now there are over a trillion games on the eShop.

The Nintendo Switch comes with a modest 32GB of internal storage, and not every game comes on a cartridge. (Even some games sold in boxed, retail format still just include a code to redeem and download the game.)

So if you want to buy download, store, and play all of those lovely games, you’re going to need a really big micro SD memory card. Now take the size you’ve got in your head, and go bigger. Then go bigger again, just to be on the safe side.

You can buy micro SD cards that are specifically designed for Nintendo Switch, but really, just make sure you get one with high-speed access. The minimum you’ll want is 10MB/s sequential write speed, so that’s Class 10 (C10) in standard SDHC/SDXC cards, or Class 1 (U1) or better in UHS cards.

2. A quality case

One of the joys of the Nintendo Switch – and even more so its smaller sibling, the Nintendo Switch Lite – is that you can play it anywhere. On the sofa. In bed. On the toilet. In the garden. The opportunities around the home are excellent.

But it’s the opportunity to take your Switch further afield – on the bus, on the subway, on a plane – that’s really exciting. But that’s also where your console faces the most risk.

You might scratch the screen taking it in and out of your bag. You’re more likely to get bumped and drop it on public transport. You don’t (well, most sane people don’t) take their mobile phone out without a case and a screen protector, so why would you do the same with your Switch?

Get a good quality case – Nintendo makes official ones, but Hori stuff is also great – to keep your Switch safe. You’ll often get a screen protector included, so it makes sense to use one of those, too.

3. A Flip Grip

One of the neat things about the Nintendo Switch’s handheld form factor is that, unlike TV-only consoles, you can play games in portrait mode. (Or as Nintendo calls it, Tate Mode.)

From Zen’s brilliant pinball tables to Ojiro Fumoto’s Downwell, there are loads of games that make use of Tate Mode. But if a game isn’t playable with touchscreen, then playing in Tate Mode with Joy-Con controllers can be more difficult. Some games will allow you to play with a single, docked Joy-Con, while others will require you to stand the Switch on its end and used detached controllers.

With the Flip Grip, an accessory from Fangamer and notable video game historian, Jeremy Parish, this is no longer an issue. The Flip Grip features a pair of rails to attach a pair of Joy-Con, and allows you to safely position your Nintendo Switch between them in Tate Mode. It’s so simple, it’s a wonder Nintendo didn’t think of it.

4. A power bank (and a good quality USB-C cable)

If we have one criticism of the Nintendo Switch, it’s that battery life in handheld mode can be a little short. (Though this is slightly improved in the Nintendo Switch Lite.)

What’s noticeable is that games which particularly tax the hardware – everything from Skyrim and Doom to Nintendo’s own Breath of the Wild – cause the battery to deplete even faster.

If you’re within reach of a plug socket – or at least, a USB port – then that’s not such a big deal. Grab a long USB-C cable, plug your Switch in, and keep going. But if you’re on the move and your battery runs low, then you’ll need a power bank to keep playing.

But the Nintendo Switch is finicky about which power sources it will use. Finding the right gear can be a costly game of trial and error. As featured in our list of essential video game websites, Switch Chargers will help you find power banks and cables that are compatible with your Switch.

5. Extra Joy-Con controllers

It seems counter-intuitive, given the Switch’s handheld form factor, but some of the most fun you’ll have with Nintendo’s latest console is with family and friends.

The design of the Switch and its pair of Joy-Con means you can easily enjoy two-player games with no extra hardware. This was illustrated beautifully with launch title, Snipperclips, and games like Yoshi’s Crafted World, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Pikniku have driven the point home.

But things are even better with four players. (Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Party, and Smash Bros. Ultimate, Overcooked and Overcooked 2, Kirby Star Allies, Party Golf… the list is extensive.)

To do that, you’re going to need extra Joy-Con controllers. That is an extra cost, but it has the added bonus that you can add more beautifully-coloured controllers to your collection.

6. A Joy-Con charging station

If you’ve got more than one set of Joy-Con controllers, but only one Nintendo Switch console, you’re going to run into a charging problem. To try and make sure your Joy-Con are all charged, you’ll need to implement some sort of charging schedule. Maybe a rota? Take it in turns to swap the controllers around, treat it like another household chore?

(That problem is exacerbated if you’ve only got a Nintendo Switch Lite, whose “Joy-Con” aren’t detachable, so there’s no way to directly charge additional sets.)

Or you could buy a Joy-Con charging station. You can get them in different sizes, depending on the number of Joy-Con you need to charge – and if you’ve only got two, you can get a charging grip that also doubles as a controller – but it’s a really simple and tidy way of keeping on top of your battery problem.

7. A Nintendo Switch Pro controller

The Nintendo Switch Joy-Con grip is a simple solution to a simple problem: How does one use both JoyCon as a single controller if their Switch is docked?

It’s also a simple solution ergonomically speaking, however. It’s not the most natural size or shape for a controller. It feels weird for a short time, and can lead to fatigue during longer sessions. But it comes bundled with your console so it’s basically free. Can’t argue with the price tag.

Nintendo’s even more simple (but predictably, quite expensive) solution is the Nintendo Switch Pro controller. It’s basically a standalone Switch controller, modelled after the Xbox layout – sorry, Sony, but even Nintendo agrees that your thumbstick position is inferior – but it’s an essential purchase if you’re going to be playing in docked mode a lot.

8. A decent stand

The kickstand on the back of the Nintendo Switch is a little flimsy, to say the least. For something that’s designed to be a road warrior, it’s a surprisingly feeble piece of plastic. (And yet another reason why you want a good quality case.)

If you’re going to want to use your Switch in tabletop mode, then you can use the built-in stand. If you’re careful. But if you get a separate stand, you’ll not only find it more stable, but you may be able to charge your Switch while you play. (Something that the built-in kickstand doesn’t allow).

Pretty much any mobile phone or tablet stand should do the job, but keep in mind that not everything with a built-in USB-C port will charge your Switch. Some third-party “docks” have also been known to brick consoles, so keep Switch Chargers in mind when you go shopping.

(Nintendo also offers an official adjustable charging stand, while the Wii U gamepad stand can come in handy if you’ve got one kicking around.)

9. A nice case for your games

There’s a real disparity in the size of physical, retail releases of Nintendo Switch games. The box they come in is massive compared to the game cards, for starters. (And that’s if they come with a game card at all and not just a code. Often they don’t come with manuals, either, or anything else to justify the size of the box.)

Other than them fitting nicely onto a bookshelf, there’s no real reason why they should be the size they are. And then, there’s no real reason to keep your cartridges in the boxes.

But they’re small. Easy to lose. Can be trodden on or snapped. Nintendo even had to make them taste foul to try and prevent people from eating them. You can pick up a sturdy little case for peanuts, and they even come in funky designs.

10. Ring Fit

This is a late entry to the list, bumping Nintendo Labo kits off the bottom (sorry, kids!) but the Ring Fit – and its associated game, Ring Fit Adventure – is a genuinely brilliant bit of kit.

Nintendo has long tried to get us to be more active. From walking to hatch Pokémon to Wii Sports to Wii Fit, the oft-wholesome developer and publisher seems to genuinely care about our health.

And with Ring Fit, this is Nintendo’s best effort at video game-powered fitness yet. From Ring Fit Adventure’s main RPG quest to standalone workouts, you’ll always be able to fit in a quick session. The controller might look weird, but the combination of resistance, stretching, and holding positions really works. And as with everything Nintendo, you can start on a super-friendly difficulty, then crank it up to genuinely challenging levels as your fitness improves.


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Check out the rest of our Essentials lists, and don’t forget to follow Thumbsticks on FlipboardFacebookGoogle News, and Twitter.

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10 useful video game websites everyone should bookmark

If you play video games, these ten websites will help you get the most out of your favourite pastime.

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10 really useful video game websites
Ubisoft

If you play video games, these ten websites will help you get the most out of your favourite electronic pastime.

Enjoying video games often means more than just playing them. Sometimes you need help choosing a game to play. Sometimes you need assistance if you’re stuck on a tricky boss battle. And sometimes you’re just curious to know how many copies of Wii Music were actually sold.

Here are ten extremely useful websites that every video game enthusiast should bookmark.

1. HowLongToBeat

In these days of digital discounts and continual sales, it’s all too easy to build up a library of unplayed games. HowLongToBeat is a useful tool that tells you how long – on average – a game takes to complete. It’s a genuinely helpful guide in choosing what to play next, particularly if you tend to avoid either very long or very short games.

For example, the completion time for Pokémon Sword and Shield is currently listed as 25 hours for the main story, 36 hours for the main story and extras, and 83.5 hours for full completion. A smaller title, such as Untitled Goose Game, is 3 hours for the main story, 3.5 hours for the main and extras, and 5 hours for full completion. Figures are also broken down by platform and play style. Anyone can submit their play-times and contribute to the site’s database.

Link: https://howlongtobeat.com

2. The Video Game Atlas

The Video Game Atlas is the largest collection of user-submitted screenshot maps on the web. The site’s coverage is heavily skewed towards older games, recalling the good old days of printed maps in magazines. For that reason, it’s a great tool for retro gamers. So, if you’re revisiting Batman Forever on Super NES or Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on Sega Genesis, The Video Game Atlas is the place to visit. A word of warning, however. The site is endearingly old school in design, so it’s best viewed on a desktop.

Link: https://vgmaps.com

3. Games Finder

Games Finder is a recommendation site to help players find games similar to those they like. For example, search for Portal, and you’ll be recommended games like The Stanley Parable, QUBE, Swapper, and Tag, among many others. The site doesn’t cover every game out there, but as its recommendations are curated by a team of editors, the quality is generally high. If you want to match a game on gameplay, mechanics, genre, or narrative theme, it’s worth a visit.

Link: https://gameslikefinder.com

4. VGChartz

VGChartz compiles game and hardware sales data from around the world to create a highly pleasurable numerical rabbit hole. There are regional, weekly, and annual charts to explore, and many games have a detailed sale history breakdown. The site is also a useful source of screenshots and release information. VGChartz is also a reminder of why Nintendo continues to make Kirby games. Kirby Star Allies on Nintendo Switch – a game that literally no one thinks about – has sold over 2.5 million copies since release. Crikey.

Link: http://www.vgchartz.com

5. Switch Chargers

There’s a place at the top table reserved for the folks that run Switch Chargers. The Nintendo Switch is a console that is easy to love, but its highly-specific requirements regarding power and charging can cause headaches. Switch Chargers breaks everything down into simple guides that cover everything from Power Banks and USB chargers to cables and car adapters. It also features useful explainers on how Switch consoles are actually powered, and on how to avoid bricking your system. It’s an essential site for Switch owners.

Link: https://switchchargers.com

6. Gamefaqs

Gamefaqs has been running for 25 years and needs little introduction. It remains the go-to destination for text FAQs, cheats, and achievement listings. The message boards are also worth visiting if you have a specific question about a particular game, with assistance offered by a remarkably polite and friendly community of contributors.

Link: http://www.gamefaqs.com

7. Achievements and Trophies

Speaking of achievements and trophies, here are two sites for the price of one. If you care about earning magical meaningless numbers on Xbox and PlayStation consoles, the long-running XboxAchievements and PlayStationTrophies have all you need to know. Don’t let that 2018 copyright date – or the intrusive ads – put you off, both sites are frequently updated with the latest achievements and trophy information.

Links: https://www.xboxachievements.com / https://www.playstationtrophies.org

8. OpenCritic

Everyone’s a critic nowadays, so the saying goes. Review aggregation sites are nothing new, but our pick for the best goes to OpenCritic. As well as aggregated ratings, OpenCritic lets users interrogate its game review data with score distribution charts and other useful filters. You can also look at particular publication – like Thumbsticks, for example – and see the titles it has reviewed, the average and median scores, and the percentage of games it recommends. It’s also well presented and easy to use. Hardly a given for sites of this nature.

Link: OpenCritic

9. Virtual Gaming Library

The Virtual Gaming Library (VGL) is probably the most impressive database of video games on YouTube. The channel features playlists for all major platforms and a variety of game genres. Most impressive – and almost hypnotic – are the  VGL ‘Project’ videos. Each one features a 10-second clip from every title released on a particular gaming platform. It’s a sublime work of effort and execution.

Link: VGL on YouTube

10. ESRB Game Ratings Search

Clear your throat, lower your voice, and all together now: “M for Mature.”

Knowing more about the content of a game you are playing is important, particularly if you have younger family members. The ESRB issues video game ratings in North America and has a comprehensive database of every title released on major platforms. Each title is listed with an age rating, content descriptor, and a breakdown of interactive elements such as online gameplay. For example, the listing for Teen-rated Astral Chain says:

“In some areas, characters drink alcohol and weave/stumble with slurred speech; one mission requires players’ character find liquor to obtain information from a drunk character. Characters use the word “drugs” in dialogue. The words “sh*t,” “b*tch,” and “a*s” also appear in dialogue.”

The database can be accessed worldwide and is full of useful information. There’s also an app available on iOS and Android. European readers can also access the PEGI ratings database.

Link: ESRB / PEGI


Of course, the secret best video games website is Thumbsticks, so thank you for reading our news, features, guides and reviews. Please stay in touch by following us on Flipboard, Facebook, Google News, and Twitter.

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Large, open-world video games are a sprint, not a marathon

If you can get to the end of a long video game with the wind in your sails and enthusiasm still in your heart, then that’s an achievement in itself. But it shouldn’t be so difficult. Games shouldn’t feel like work.

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Bilbo Baggins going on an adventure
New Line Cinema

“I’m going on an adventure!” Shouts a young, excited Bilbo Baggins, running down the path from Bag End into Hobbiton village and beyond.

He, a homebody hobbit who has never left the Shire, has been recruited by a wizard to serve as the rogue in a party of warrior dwarves. It’s literally the most exciting thing that has happened in his life and – down to the Dungeons & Dragons party composition – is a stirring setup for the main questline of an RPG.

Fast forward six months and Bilbo has walked almost 1,000 miles in a little under six months. He’s been starved, weather-beaten, and exhausted. Over the course of the journey, Bilbo is attacked by wolves, goblins, a giant spider, a corrupted hobbit with an evil MacGuffin, and a literal dragon. And he’s nearly eaten by trolls.

Bilbo is, understandably, worse for wear from the experience. The enthusiasm he held at the start wanes quickly, and often, he wishes he could quit, or had never started the journey at all. But he trudges on because he’s made the commitment. The investment. He’s already wasted so much time on it. He wants to see it through.

The Hobbit, then, is the perfect metaphor for large, often open-world video games.

The Witcher 3 Geralt Roach dragons

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to love about labyrinthine RPGs and expansive open-world adventures. They are one of the most popular genres of video game. The Netflix-powered resurgence of The Witcher 3, four years after its original release, just shows how much the audience love any big games it can get its hands on. Perhaps it’s a value for money thing, or just the desire to eke as much play-time as possible out of each world.

It’s also this desire for more content that has led to the proliferation of repetitive radiant quests, and ultimately, the live service model that is so prevalent. The result is that large, open-world video games are not great respecters of our time. The games themselves can take hundreds of hours to complete, while quests last as long as (and feel akin to) a full day at work. Trying to arrange a group of working adults for regular co-op stints is an exercise in futility.

The net consequence is that players often run out of steam, and bounce off big video games, before completing them.

The “shame pile”

People refer to it as the “shame pile”. It’s quite different from the more shame-neutral “backlog”, which consists of games you’re yet to play (but you totally intend to). The “shame pile” is filled with the games you’ve started but never finished. But we shouldn’t feel ashamed! Not finishing video games is nothing to be ashamed of.

In some cases, I’ve deliberately left games unfinished. My Courier, for instance, is entombed on an Xbox 360 in my garage. He waits, stoic, at the Hoover Dam. Yes Man is at his disposal. All the Courier must do is instruct Mr House’s AI servant on how best to clean up the Nevada Wasteland. But I don’t want him to. I love the world of Fallout: New Vegas so much that I don’t want it to end.

That sort of thing is the exception, however. Most of the games on my “shame pile” are unfinished simply because I’ve run out of steam.

Sometimes, you can pinpoint the precise moment it happens. (Hello, Grand Theft Auto V’s spectacularly underwhelming submarine heist.) Occasionally, you can look at a calendar and see at a glance which shiny new game displaced the incumbent. But more often than not, it’s a combination of repetition, lack of forward momentum, and length of time played.

GTA V submarine

Fallout 4. Final Fantasy XII through XV. Grand Theft Autos IV and V. All of the Elder Scrolls games, from Daggerfall to Skyrim. A bunch of Assassin’s Creeds. And all the rest that don’t immediately come to mind. That’s thousands of hours invested into games that would probably take thousands more to actually complete. And none of them will be.

Some games – either helpfully or mockingly, depending on your point of view – provide a completion percentage to let you know how close you got. Or didn’t get. I can see at a glance that I am 37% of the way through Red Dead Redemption 2, for instance. That’s probably still 40-50 hours of solid effort over the span of a couple of weeks, roaming around a remarkable frontier at a languid pace, but at this moment in time, I can’t see myself going back.

Enthusiasm has waned. The memory falters. Even if I did go back, at this stage I’d have no idea what I was doing, or why.

The antidote

If you can get to the end of a long video game with the wind in your sails and enthusiasm still in your heart, then that’s an achievement in itself. For my part, it’s a madcap dash to complete before I hit the wall. But it shouldn’t be so difficult. So exhausting. Playing games shouldn’t feel like running a marathon.

You could avoid playing long games, for one thing. It wasn’t a conscious decision that I can recall making, but I’ve become aware that I do tend towards shorter games now, in my dotage. I let the younger members of the team take the review codes for big games, preferring to spend three hours with an indie gem than 30 with an RPG. That’s not to say long games don’t come into rotation, but I don’t gravitate towards them as I once did.

And not every big game is off the menu. There are some games that, with a few quality of life improvements and a little bit of respect for your time, are accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Even tired old folk with no energy and no free time. (Like yours truly.)

The Witcher 3, for instance, offers handy plot recaps when you load the game. (Hello, Netflix recap.) You could have spent hours, days, weeks, months away from Geralt and his adventures. In other games, this is fatal to continuity. I’ve started Final Fantasy XIII three times. Not because I particularly loved it, you understand, but because I wanted to try and finish it. However, each time I came back to it, I could not for the life of me remember what was going on. It’s all just a confusing mess of crystals and people and crystals that used to be people. The Witcher 3 is no less complex a tale, but the bard’s recaps make returning to the game after a break a realistic possibility.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, gets around the problem by not really having a story at all. That’s not to say there isn’t an overarching plot – recover memories, release the Divine Beasts, defeat Ganon, free Princess Zelda – but it’s not central to actually playing the game. You can skip it altogether if you’re good enough. It’s possible to walk straight to Hyrule Castle in your underpants and beat Calamity Ganon with just three hearts.

This lack of focus on the narrative allows Breath of the Wild to be played in bitesize chunks. To be conquered piecemeal. To be tackled months apart, and all with no ill effects to continuity or your ability to jump back in. It’s surprising more games haven’t followed this example, but there’s a design purity to Breath of the Wild that requires extreme restraint, made evermore rare by the expectation of open worlds stuffed to burst with content.

how long to beat the outer worlds

And if you’re Obsidian – the developer of Fallout: New Vegas who totally didn’t just make their own Fallout game (in SPAAAAAAACE!) without Bethesda’s involvement – you could just buck the trend completely. How did they do that? By making The Outer Worlds really short.

Beautifully short.

Mercifully short.

It’s a revolutionary idea, but it just might work.

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Features

Is Journey to the Savage Planet worth playing?

Journey to the Savage Planet is a comedic sci-fi adventure and the first game from Typhoon Studios. Is the journey as good as the brochure suggests? Here’s what the critics think.

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ourney to the Savage Planet
Typhoon Studios

Comedic sci-fi adventure Journey to the Savage Planet is the first game from Typhoon Studios. Is the trip as spectacular as the brochure suggests? Here’s what the critics think.

Journey to the Savage Planet is a new exploratory action game from Typhoon Studios. With its tongue set firmly in its cheek, the game takes inspiration from all manner of sources, from Metroid and BioShock to the works of Douglas Adams. The end product is a beautiful space adventure with a satirical edge.

Obsidian Entertainment’s recent RPG hit, The Outer Worlds, took a similar approach to some acclaim. Is Typhoon’s debut as successful? Can a video game be funny? Here’s our pick of the game’s reviews.

Journey to the Savage Planet review round-up

Videogamer

“What we have is a first-person sci-fi adventure-platformer, with—but not focussed on—shooting, all about exploration and gathering materials in an open, but manageable, world that lasts under fifteen hours. If we didn’t have the luxury of time, we might call it Every Man’s Sky.”

7/10 – Review by Josh Wise

The Guardian

“One of Savage Planet’s more notable achievements is communicating a sense of scale and freedom in a game that is only a fraction of the size of most open-world contemporaries. It tickles the part of your brain that yearns for distant horizons without demanding a huge chunk of your life, unlike Skyrim or Breath of the Wild.”

3/5 – Review by Rick Lane

Polygon

“The existential void of late capitalism isn’t new thematic ground for games these days, but that hasn’t prevented Journey to the Savage Planet’s creators from finding new angles from which to stare into the abyss. The exploding ugly-cute alien creatures, the interstitial commercials, my AI overseer, or even just the way my character flails his arm around for a slap attack all plant a smile on my face throughout the 15 hours or so it takes me to complete the game.”

Recommended – Review by Jeffrey Perkin

GameSpot

Journey to the Savage Planet adopts the classic Metroidvania formula and executes it wonderfully, presenting you with an ever-growing arsenal of tools that are satisfying to use and feed into the game’s inherent focus on exploration.”

7/10 – Review by Richard Wakeling

RockPaperShotgun

“The Savage Planet is solid. It swooshes you along a parade of poppable aliens, proffering up nooks and crannies to explore along the way. It’s still a pleasure to be in, still sumptuous and appetising. You will see rocky islands floating high above you, and then you’ll be on those rocks, and then you will feel accomplished.”

Not scored – Review by Matt Cox

GamesRadar

“More than anything, Journey to the Savage Planet reminds me of Rare circa Conker’s Bad Fur Day. It’s bright, cute, colorful, and endlessly charming. AR-Y 26 is filled with adorably boggle-eyed creatures as well as ferocious predators, and there’s a dark silliness to it all that plays into its Dr. Seuss aesthetic perfectly.”

4/5 – Review by Austin Wood

PC Gamer

“Humour’s famously subjective, and perhaps your own experiences of the comedy here will be like watching a friend do karaoke while you’re mid-dental examination, but I doubt it. Pitch-perfect live action commercials for sci-fi gubbins punctuate your forays into the planet, aping the frothing sales pitches of ‘80s toy commercials and instructional videos, and I grew to actively look forward to Kindred CEO Martin Tweed’s next video communication with me.”

84/100 – Review by Phil Iwaniuk

Other publications

  • Destructoid – 85
  • Eurogamer – Recommended
  • IGN – 6/10
  • VGC – 4/5
  • USGamer – 2.5/5

Title: Journey to the Savage Planet
Developer: Typhoon Studios
Publisher: 505 Games
Release date: January 28, 2020
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4


Visit our new releases section for more on this week’s new Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch video games.

Thumbsticks needs your support

We hate to ask, but global advertising revenues are the lowest they've ever been. It's killing the online publishing world. If you found this article interesting or entertaining and you want to support quality games writing, then please consider supporting us via Patreon, buying us a coffee, or subscribing to our newsletter.


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