Watch_Dogs - Header

The Talk – Watch_Dogs

Watch_Dogs – (PS3, PS4 (Review system), 360, One, Wii U, PC; Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft)


I missed most of the uproar surrounding Watch_Dogs at release. I didn’t get it until a few months after release, when I first got my PS4, and so most of the issues that I think existed had been fixed by then. And so, it feels like I’ve had more of an insight into what Watch_Dogs was supposed to be, instead of what it was at launch when it was a good few patches away from where it probably should have been. Because that’s how AAA releases normally work now. But nonetheless, back to Watch_Dogs. I’ve really enjoyed Watch_Dogs. If it wasn’t for The Crew, this could actually quite possibly be my GOTY from what I’ve played this year (suck on that, Last of Us Remastered).

I’m sure I probably sound a tad delirious now, and many of you are probably looking at your imagined version of how I look with a full-blown People’s Eyebrow. But bear with me; Watch_Dogs is a really great crime sandbox game that doesn’t feel too much like its main competitor in the serious crime sandbox genre. And I lived through the post-San Andreas time where that was the game to copy, so I know what games feel like when they try to really emulate the old Big Steal Car series. Watch_Dogs doesn’t feel like that. It also doesn’t really feel that much like Assassin’s Creed. As much as people give Ubisoft Montreal flak for having a ‘consistent feel’ to their games, I don’t necessarily get it too much here.

If I was to compare Watch_Dogs to anything, it’d probably actually be the more recent Splinter Cell games. Yes, this is an open-world crime game, and yes, you drive around and you do your fancy hacks and things, but there’s a solid heft of the game centred on your ability to use stealth and guns, and it feels more like Sam Fisher than Altair or Ezio. And when you consider how damn good Conviction and Blacklist were, it’s a pretty solid compliment to this game. Certainly, once you get to have a decent armory, the gunplay truly becomes oh so satisfying, like when I blew through a scene in one of the final missions with my grenade launcher and machine gun like an action movie star, or when you use your [different-name-for-bullet-time] skill to pop off a load of silenced headshots. It makes the game a damn good third-person shooter, to start with.

Watch_Dogs - Alley Shot

Is there Crime in this Alley?

But obviously, shooting isn’t the only thing to the game. As much as I focussed on playing through as Aiden Pearce, the Shooty-Man Vigilante, and doing all the side missions that’d let me do that, there are plenty of cars and car side missions. The driving here is hardly up to a Burnout Paradise snuff, but it sits comfortably enough alongside Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto; it’s not bad, it has some realistic handling but you can still whip a car round with ease. It fits the bill basically. There’s also a decent variety of cars and bikes, if that’s what you’re into as well.

I don’t remember people really calling the gameplay into question too much though. It was more the aforementioned topic of Aiden Pearce, aka Shooty-Man Vigilante, and how the story of the game wasn’t really up to much. In real terms, the story isn’t that great; it’s a pretty trope-ridden vigilante revenge story that hits many of the usual revenge beats while also justifying you running round with a big gun shooting people and hacking things. But I’m happy with that in an open world crime game because hey, at least it’s not another story where a criminal starts from the bottom and climbs his way up or out of trouble. Aiden isn’t a particularly fantastic protagonist either, but he plods along quite fine and thankfully Ubisoft Montreal made it glaringly obvious that he’s not supposed to be likable, and I’m sure some of the other characters could have been good if they’d have the time to really develop who they were; Iraq, Maurice, Quinn, the antagonists and secondary characters are generally pretty solid, if majorly undeveloped.

Watch_Dogs - Iraq

Iraq, looking all cool

 

As cheesy as it is to say though, Chicago is the real stand-out character in the game though. The world is pretty packed with things to do, and as a lot of things don’t necessarily appear on your map but just pop up as you travel, it gives the city a feeling of being more alive than a lot of games achieve. Obviously, I’m aware the crimes are scripted and there are only so many of them, but it does help to give you some immersion, like the roadside events in Red Dead Redemption. There are also a huge number of more traditional side missions and collectible-missions (you travel and solve situations to collect an item, then eventually do a mission to finish the set), as I mentioned before, so its pretty easy to just get stuck into the world. Also, as cheap and gimmicky as the hacking may seem on the surface, there is something satisfying about being in a city where you can just pop a bridge to jump over, or flick the traffic lights to cause havoc, or walk around people-watching and peeking in further.

The city, and the game at large, also looks incredible. Sure, it ain’t no GTA V level of pretty, but few things in this world are, lets be honest. The atmosphere the game creates is very much a sort of modern urban noir setting, what with all the dark nights and rain and technology every where. I’d be lying if I didn’t kind of want a Blade Runner game that handled the atmosphere similarly. The audio design and the game’s own soundtrack work really nicely in that tech-noir style as well, though the music they chose for your free-roaming soundtrack leaves quite a lot to be desired there; I actually probably would have been fine throwing out the rule book on this one and not having that in my open world crime sandbox this time, and just getting more of that game soundtrack music.

Watch_Dogs - Street View

The streets are alive, with the sound of engines

As a balance to how glowing my review may sound, it is wholesale worth noting that this is a game that certainly still has problems, both with itself and with context. Aiden Pearce and the story, as I said above, aren’t that great; Aiden feels fairly generic and distinctly unlikable in almost all he does, and I quite happily replaced him in my head with “The Punisher but with a magic phone”, and particularly during the first three Acts (so a good 60% of the main missions), the story plods along at an awfully slow pace. Its not so much that gameplay is locked for all that time, thankfully, but the missions drag the story out and it does feel incredibly padded for the sake of gameplay time. More often than not, the hacking system also feels very superficial; while it may be satisfying to do things with hacks when you’re in the moment or farting about in the world, it is essentially a one-button trick that gives the game a small amount of seperation from other similar games. As such, this game feeling different to things like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row is more because of small odd things, like how the gunplay feels more like something in a Tom Clancy game or how the world seems designed to make it harder for you to just outrun the cops on roads but also harder for you to face them (as you are penalised for killing or injuring police officers on foot, but can totally let them hit bollards at high speed with no problems).

There’s also all the contextual issues with the game. There was the justified controversy over some of the things the game shows about people on the street, almost like trivia about them, which had the potential to show up messages about sexuality and things; obviously, that is something a lot of people are justified in worrying about, as its something they are personally fearful of that is being used casually and frivolously with no real discussion or reason.

There’s the fact that Aiden Pearce is never shown to be a good man, as he kills fairly indiscrimanetly and tries to get revenge like a wrecking ball throughout the story, yet is still worshipped on some level by the people in the city and the story never really handles it any better than going “Well, he’s an anti-hero and he’s dealing with crime”; even that ignores the fact that you could quite happily do even worse to the people of Chicago in the open world if you wanted to, and the only thing stopping you is if you don’t feel like letting your totally unimportant status bar go into the red. I mean, I’ll take people hamfisting dialogue like “Aiden, YOU’RE the bad man really” over how Grand Theft Auto practically hero-worships people far worse, but nonetheless, its not a very good handling of the themes. If you’re going to try and do the techie Punisher, try and at least copy the good morality-questioning stuff from the Punisher too.


I guess if I’m going to compare this to anything, it’d be The Saboteur, but reverse it. Watch_Dogs is a game that has the basic stuff that makes an open world crime game work really well, but it lacks that spark to truly make it its own little classic, which is very much the opposite to how I felt about The Saboteur, a game that stumbled constantly but ever redeemed itself on the small things that it, and only it, did as they were so well done. Watch_Dogs could be my GOTY if only because the basic stuff works so well, and is so well-made, that I can’t say I’ve put the same time in with a game this year and gotten so much enjoyment and such back, but its no testament to this game being perfect or some outstanding masterpiece of games. 


 

Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.

So You Don’t Have To – 50 Cent: Blood On The Sand

50 Cent: Blood On The Sand (PS3, Xbox 360; Swordfish Studios; THQ)


You know when we have discussions about the bizarre ways in which the games industry went about trying to make money in the 00s? You literally cannot ignore either 50 Cent game then. Because yes, THQ made two 50 Cent games. The original game, 50 Cent: Bulletproof on PS2 and Xbox, must have sold enough for THQ to think “You guys know what we need to do to keep making profit? We need to go back to 50 Cent, famed rapper, and ask him if he wants in on another game” and then to actually go through with that logic. Which is incredible. It is wonderful to remember a time when the games industry was that irreverent a place that a 50 Cent game was considered a good tactic to get sales and make money, as opposed to now where its just ‘put zombies in it’ or ‘make sure it has multiplayer modes’.

Back to the actual game at hand, I just want you to picture in your head what kind of game you would expect when the title character and main hero is 50 Cent, and where 50 Cent has likely had some involvement with game design and development. Just take a moment to really imagine that and build some personal expectations and all that. Now, I’m going to actually tell you, in as straightforward a way as I can, the actual opening premise of Blood On The Sand. 50 Cent and the assorted members of G-Unit (who star as co-op characters for a buddy to play as!) are performing a concert in an unnamed location within the Middle East, and following the most raucous and rocking of rap shows, Fiddy and his homies go to the show organiser to collect their payment. The organiser is in the unenviable position where he has to tell a group of rappers that he does not have the money to pay them, leading to a hand around his neck and guns in his direction, but he does have a diamond-encrusted skull to pay them with; literally a person’s skull, covered in diary like a bad piece of gaudy furniture in a goth’s house. Now that the plot has taken this odd Indiana Jones-esque swing, we follow our daring hero in a truck where he repeatedly says that the streets of Brooklyn are more gangsta, badass and dangerous than the criminal underworld of a country where it is explicitly stated that they sell weapons of mass destruction casually on the black market, because Mr Cent is very defensive of his turf; anyway, in an interruption to this, the group get ambushed by some femme fatale assassin-type woman working for some other person, and during Fiddy’s intense survival of the scene, she steals the diamond skull. And Mr Cent, as the perfect epitome of capitalism, decides that he can no longer leave this country until he has the skull back and he has his revenge on those damn dirty thieving criminal scumbags.

50 Cent: Blood On The Sand: RPG

What do you mean an RPG isn’t a casual sidearm?

And all this insanity has happened before you even get to play. And then you do get to play. And then it all becomes even more of a bizarre 50 Cent echo chamber. Because in true Xzibit style, not only do you play as 50 Cent when you’re going around shooting everyone in sight and hunting your diamond skull, but you get to play as 50 Cent while listening to 50 Cent tracks as the game’s soundtrack. Yep, this ain’t one of your namby pamby games where a celebrity picks the soundtrack and it’s a variety of musical pieces from a variety of artists that the celebrity finds interesting; no, Blood on the Sand is 100% 50, 100% of the time. If I remember the box bullet points correctly, there are even some tracks specifically made for the game, not that I cared because by the time I got the two 50 Cent songs I actually knew on the game’s soundtrack (P.I.M.P. and In Da Club, for you Fiddy fans out there), those were the only two I wanted to listen to, especially after hearing all the others so much. And yes, I am confirming here that the game rewards your progress by giving you more 50 Cent songs to add to your soundtrack. It’s almost like it wants you to stop so much that its going to throw 50 Cent rapping the kitchen sink at you in a moment’s notice.

The funny thing about the 50 Cent echo chamber effect though is that it all funnels itself perfectly into getting you into this weird gangsta flow state with regards to the gameplay. The game says that it’s a third person cover shooter, but the way I personally played it was more of a ‘run through areas with gun in hand blasting all the dudes in my way’. Because cover is boring. And the game promotes you playing like that anyway as there is a scoring system for all your kills and such, so you can show all your friends you are the best damn 50 Cent there ever was, and there are pretty constant challenges to do X thing in Y amount of time in order to get special pistol bullets with fire or explosions and stuff. The game is almost profusely being like “I know we have cover and regenerating health, but if you could play this like it was Devil May Cry with 50 Cent, that’d be for the best”, and I have to admit that it actually probably wouldn’t work if the game weren’t such a bizarre egotistical echo chamber of pure Fiddy. This game is to rap culture and mediocre games as Vanquish is to space marines and the Cold War and fantastic games; just this bizarre rush of action and scores and craziness and it never makes sense but it doesn’t have to because you’re just along for a rollercoaster ride. Though this might sound like I’m now recommending the game, don’t believe me on that; the game feels very long for a 6 hour game, and as weirdly novel as the whole thing is and as much as the gameplay gets you into a flow, you will also lose your sanity when embracing a pure hit of Fiddy and it isn’t worth a breakdown.

50 Cent: Blood On The Sand - Melee

Looks like the ‘Bass’ hit him pretty hard

So yeah, Blood On The Sand exists as this bizarre experience where 50 Cent shoots rocket launchers one-handed at helicopters at various times while listening to his own recorded music and hoping to kill the helicopter fast enough to earn 5 or 6 pistol bullets that set people on fire. That sentence probably says a lot about this game. The gameplay is a bizarre addiction in a weird world of mediocrity fuelled by capitalism, a game made because there’s money to it and everything else piled in because hey, it might get more money. That sentence probably says about the rest about the game. So there you go, I’ve played 50 Cent Blood On The Sand and you don’t have to; go team!


Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.


 

Shadow of the Colossus

Down On The Upside – Is Being Contrarian Really That Bad?

My name is Joe, and I am a hipster and a contrarian. I don’t like Michael Jackson’s music, I think Led Zeppelin are over-rated, I find Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings boring and I reckon people are daft when they say Pulp Fiction is even close to one of Tarantino’s best films. I almost thrive off having unpopular opinions. It just runs through my veins, like when I start wildly ranting to people about how Batman sucks and Superman is the best DC hero (Supes isn’t the best-best but he’s the best of the ones that anyone actually knows). But when it comes to games, I seem to feel that bit guiltier for some reason when I don’t like a game that other people do or that is a supposed classic or masterpiece, or when I really enjoy a game that is not popular.

This occurred to me while I was playing the HD redo of Shadow of the Colossus on my PS3. This is a game that everyone is supposed to love, is supposed to be some kind of wonderful artistic masterpiece of gaming and of an interactive experience. Yet, here I was, sitting there, thinking “The controls are obtuse, the game mechanics are strange to grasp or awkward and the difficulty is crazy punishing”. I mean, I get why those things are as they are, I get the purpose of it all, but it just doesn’t fit me. And I found myself apologising on Twitter for not liking this game. What ground do I have for apologising for my opinion on something that doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to fit me?

Dark Souls was the same case for me. Dark Souls is this game that people hold up as one of the shining examples of brilliance in games during this last console generation, and I literally cannot get into it at all. I tried to for like an hour and a half, and I appreciated the atmosphere of it but the gameplay just threw me out so badly, and playing Shadow of the Colossus brought me right back to that. These are both incredibly atmospheric games about reasonable but brutal difficulty and a satisfying result when you take your opponent seriously and manage to finish the job. And I can’t get into that. At all.

Both of those games, when I think about it now, are games I’d be happy to watch someone play and experience in a secondary way, but they’re not games I would ever play and finish for myself. And I know that, and I’m personally fine with that on an internal level. But I feel like those two games just serve an example of how there’s this weird feeling of pressure and expectation as a gamer that you’ll appreciate all the games that other people consider classics or masterpieces and you’ll love them too. Which, in turn, leads me to this weird situation where I feel like I need to apologise for not enjoying games that are not my cup of tea or my style at all. I have never been into games that have such a focus on high difficulty or anything like that. Hell, I can barely deal with puzzle games; that’s why I’ve never played Braid and would only ever watch an LP of it.

All that being said, why do I end up bowing to this weird odd sense of peer pressure about not liking games when I know they’re my style? Is it because I’m still this person who seeks the approval of others when it comes to the validation of their tastes? Is it because the games community can get so tetchy on opinions and whether or not you enjoy a certain game? Is it because I know other people enjoyed the game so I think there’s always a chance I might know where they’re coming from if I just struggle through and get myself to have this acquired taste? I don’t know really by rights know. It’s just one of those things where I have this weird guilt attached to it and I allow it to make me feel bad for not persevering longer with games like Shadow of the Colossus.

The same kind of sense of needing to agree along the grain with general gaming opinion gives me the same weird feelings of guilt and such when I enjoy games that aren’t considered that good or cast-off too. Personally, I always try to keep a critically open mind, and find good points and bad points in everything; I mean, I realised that I actually did kind of like Afterfall InSanity in a genuine way because it has a good story at times and the presentation is interesting, and that takes real strength of will. In fact, I’d wager many people that know me from Youtube or Twitch know me as a man who will happily take on the challenge of playing a shit game and finding some weird perverse way of enjoying it through the fact that its shit, because on a personal level, I’d rather play a game that is dirt bad but funny in how bad it is than one that is boring but well-made.

But, when it comes to actually having an opinion on games that other people didn’t enjoy too much or cast off pretty quickly, I seem to temper it with how other people feel about a game. I’ll say with total honesty; I really sincerely enjoyed Arkham Origins. It may not have been the leap forward that Arkham City was after Asylum, but it kept the formula solid without ruining much, and introduced some neat little things that I hope Rocksteady keep on for Arkham Knight, like the detective work. That detective stuff actually drove me through the post-story clearing up quite nicely because I got really into going through the weird CSI-like discovery of it, and I don’t really get people’s issue that it was ‘too linear’ as if it was supposed to be this huge non-linear clue hunt game. That’s not how the world’s greatest detective would work, folks. But back on point, when I was talking about Origins after having finished it, I actually may have docked a point or two from where I maybe would have put it; part of that is probably to do with the fact that I was suffering major Joker-fatigue by the end (I genuinely dislike all Batman media’s insistent hard-on for the Joker as an antagonist) and there are some irritating boss sequences towards the back end of the game, but by the same merit, I may have docked it a bit for the sake of face.

Even when I said I thought Origins was good, rather than pretty damn great like I probably acknowledge it is now with some hindsight on the situation (Asylum and City are fantastical masterpieces to me, even as someone who’s not big on Batman), I still found myself having to explain myself to others. Whether those other people hadn’t played it and had bought into the reviews and internet mood toward it, or had played it and just didn’t find it much good, I don’t know. But they did really want to question why I’d feel that way. And I mean, that’s the nature of a discussion, I’m never going to begrudge people the chance to question my feelings and why I have them. It does feel, though, like I let some of that slip into my opinion, and let some of that slip into my expectations towards the game at the start anyway, and it bugs me that my opinion on games can be so susceptible.

So basically, I don’t really know what I’m saying here with this article. I don’t know if I can really stop myself from bowing down to weird pressures on my opinions on games and how I like or don’t like the games I do, and I don’t know if I’d want those things to go away even if I knew what caused them, but I just wanted to write about it, because it seems like an interesting thing to just consider and talk about. Also, I just wanted to say that Arkham Origins is actually great and definitely worth playing. Eff the h8rz, as the kids would say.

 


Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.


 

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

The Talk – Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare – (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, PS4 (Review system), PS3; PopCap; EA)


I remember when EA announced this game like a year or two ago that I was in this odd small grouping that thought this was a really cool idea. Here’s Popcap, perennial makers of super addictive puzzle games that steal your life, giving a third person shooter a go, and making it look damn good too in the process, as well as giving gamers a fairly family friendly and brand-recognisable alternative to all those gory grey gun games. I’m fairly sure this was also when the Popcap CEO got super excited and announced Peggle 2 and was jumping about and then a meme was started but that’s all besides the point. I remember there being a fair few detractors that day as well, which is fair enough; it’s not hard to see why the games community would not respond well to a team known for casual puzzle games going into a genre they have no experience with and creating a game that looks more like a joke than a serious game. Oh yeah, and also EA were publishing it and mentioning EA three times in a mirror has a gamer come to kill you so they had that against them too.

So now that the game has (finally) come to Sony consoles, so I get to have a chance to play it. It has spent the past year since release as a Microsoft exclusive (360, One and PC), but thankfully, EA made yet another of their preferred-platform swings and were all happy with Sony this year and here we are.

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare - Potted Plant

Pow, right in the kisser

When you first load up the game, I can’t say it necessarily does the best impressions for an introduction. At least for me, having gotten a new copy close to release with a code for what was the pre-order bonuses, I loaded up the game and the first thing I was directed to was the ‘Sticker Store’. The Sticker Store is so reminiscent of a free-to-play card game’s way of getting you to spend money that its beyond funny; no, as far as I’m aware, PvZ: Garden Warfare features no microtransactions, but giving me a menu that almost makes me think you’re waiting to nickel and dime me isn’t a good idea. Thankfully, as I discovered, the currency used to get new booster pack things is plentiful by just playing the game, with a good couple of missions getting you to a working amount of coins, but the whole thing is introduced with little explanation and just left me feeling a bit worried that this was going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and I’d finally come to join the EA-hating masses.

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare - Combat

Only good zombie is a dead zombie

At the same time though, as much as my internal gamer cynicism was like “Urgh, this isn’t that great as the start of the game”, the part of me that loves Popcap and the original Plants Vs Zombies was screaming “Yeah, but look how cool everything looks and the cheeky chirpy music and the colours and the design and it’s all so FUUUUUUUUUUN!”. When in doubt, I normally defer to that voice, it has the most childlike wonder, so I just sat back and began to get ready to enjoy the ride. Even from the main menu, the game very much wants to lull you in and immerse you into this fantastical cartoon world; the whole vibe, as it did with the original strategy games, has that very cartoony, almost family friendly feel to it, and it suits this game quite well as a kind of antithesis to a lot of the most popular guns-go-pew games that have come out in the past few years.

And the gameplay, across the board, is on point. This game nails being a third person arena shooter pretty damn well, despite all the crazy bizarre aesthetics. The character classes all feel really nice to play, and between the Plants and Zombie classes, none of them feel cookie cutter from one another. All of it is really well balanced in that regard. Particularly with the Plants side, as they’re the team you have in both the Garden Ops and Multiplayer modes. On top of the fact that there are the different 4 classes, each class has a variety of sub-classes, if this makes sense, that each vary from one another in one regard or another; currently, I’ve got a Cactus subclass unlocked, called Citrus Cactus, which makes the Cactus look like a peeled orange, and has him shoot oranges in bursts of 3 rather than shooting a single spine, and while I’m still using the basic Cactus skills currently, I’m aware that you can change those if you get the unlocks, the unlocks themselves coming from the Sticker Shop.

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Ops

What a prickly reception

In terms of the specifics of the game modes, Garden Ops is your basic horde mode gameplay with some really cool boss stuff thrown in each 5 waves, and the Multiplayer offers your basic Call of Duty package of game modes for your enjoyment, as well as a nice Welcome mode that is basically the normal game but its apparently there so you can just start to get used to things. There aren’t a huge number of maps from what I’m aware, but what maps there are work really well for all the classes, and with non-fixed respawn points in your deathmatch modes and few ‘sniper’ players, you don’t have to worry too much about everyone knowing a particular map too well or anything. The levels themselves also carry quite a lot of the cartoony vibrancy of the game over as well, and none of them feel too similar; even the few suburb levels don’t quite feel the same, meaning there’s a nice variety wherever the game ends up having you play.

Overall, as a game thats not charging full RRP but is mainly only giving you online play, I can’t fault Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare. It does what it says on the tin, and does it really well; its not a game that pushes the boat out, but hey, this isn’t a shooting game from Epic or Bungie or Infinity Ward so thats not what its there for. I can see this being a game that I’ll keep dipping my toes back into for as long as the playerbase is here to support it honestly, because its a tight and gorgeous little game and it is the most fun I’ve had with a shooter since probably way back when I was really into Team Fortress 2. As crazy as it may sound for me to give an EA game such a glowing compliment (even though EA published The Orange Box).


Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.


 

Lego Marvel - Stan Lee Hulk

Why Haven’t You Played – LEGO Marvel Super Heroes

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (Pretty much all consoles that currently exist and have games being put on them currently, Traveller’s Tales, Warner Bros., 2013)


I can probably answer my own question quite briefly here with a few simple reasons; “I didn’t really know it existed”, “I don’t like Marvel/LEGO games/both”, “I think LEGO games got boring really fast” and “I’m not a kid, I’m a MATOOR gamer with my Dootar Deux and my Gerald’s Mod and my Counterstroke and my Collar Doody, I don’t play your kid games”. This article basically exists for me to tell you that you’re wrong/blind if you think either of the first three, and to publicly expose you to laughter if it’s the fourth one. Obviously it won’t exactly be the fourth one, that’s the point of me phrasing it in such a mocking way, but still, that realm of reasoning.

Needless to say, the first option shouldn’t really be a thing after I’ve written this. This is a very clear note to you that this fantastic game does very much exist. Oh man, it exists so hard, it’s not even funny, even though the game is really funny. But I guess just telling you it exists isn’t really good enough; I should give you actual reasons why you’d want to buy it if you didn’t know about it before now. Well, to put it basically, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (I’m just going to call it LEGO Marvel from here on out to save time) is a third person action/adventure/platformer game where you play as LEGO figurine versions of Marvel characters, obviously. It’s not that much of a stone’s throw from LEGO Star Wars on most levels of its basic moment-to-moment gameplay, really. It’s still a collect-‘em-all style game, and now you can collect Stan Lee’s Gratitude™ by rescuing him from various odd situations. Thing is though, the game makes wonderful use of the fact that Traveller’s Tales started using actual voice work in cutscenes by having the voice actors from the animated shows (and other places obviously) do the voices of the characters, and it has a wonderful recreation of a slightly-Marvel-infused Manhattan. By slightly-Marvel-infused, I mean, Stark Tower is there in its full height, and there’s the Oscorp building (in the style of the new Spidey movies) and the Daily Bugle and the Roxxon headquarters and some others; it’s got those little bits that make it Marvel, not just New York.

Lego Marvel - Spider-Man

Does whatever a LEGO Spider can.

So yeah, it’s using those little innovations that the LEGO games have gotten recently, like better story-telling and far more open and expansive gameplay. But it’s not just that it has those innovations in it, but that it uses them so well; the story in LEGO Marvel is actually rather good (though that could be my inner fanboy influencing me there) and the world is one of my favourite sandboxes to play around in[linked to article about my favourite sandboxes]. There’s a reason why my first playthrough of the game, on PC, had me racing through the story because I constantly wanted to know what was going to happen next (certainly an advantage of when the games aren’t just regurgitating film/book stories (which is a definite issue with the Star Wars, Harry Potter and LOTR LEGO games)) and then spending a long time just playing around and enjoying Manhattan and trying to unlock everything I could and get even more with the game.

That should all mean that I’ve covered two of those reason categories I put at the top then; I’ve told you what LEGO Marvel is and what it’s about and such if you didn’t know about it, and I’ve told you why its fantastically different to pretty much all the other LEGO games. I suppose that leaves me with you not liking LEGO/Marvel or you being a ‘HORDKAR GAMYR’ and not enjoying ‘kid games’ (or ‘console games’ if you’re bigger into your PC than is probably healthy). If you don’t really like LEGO games or Marvel or both of them, then I guess that’s your bag and there’s probably not much I can tell you to make you change your mind on that. I will say though that is one of the most fun and satisfying games I’ve played in quite some time, and I did generally consider it my Game of the Year for 2013 for good reason. If you want a real damn good game and it goes up on sale or its cheap pre-owned or something like that, you’d be doing yourself a real disservice to ignore it. And if you’re a PC gamer, and have thrown aside the LEGO games for being half-assed ports, this one (barring some graphical options if I remember correctly) is fantastically well-done and probably feels more on par with the PS4 and Xbox One versions, than it does the current generation versions (note: I have only played the game on PC and PS3, so I can only definitely compare those two).

Lego Marvel

Squirrel Girl is the best. End of story.

So now I suppose the only group I haven’t really addressed are the people that see the LEGO games as games for kids, and feel above them. Well, let me say to you naysayers, don’t let the gritty Unreal and Frostbite engines cloud your ability to have some goddamn fun. The LEGO games are well made for anyone who wants to play them, and the fact that they have universal appeal and are able to be universally entertaining is a testament to the fact that the games are basically made of unbridled fun. You are genuinely restricting yourself from a hell of a good time if your basic response is to go “Yeah but it’s a game for kids, and I don’t play those, now let me get back to my shooting game that has brown and grey and nothing else”, and I do wish you’d see sense, pick up this fantastically colourful game and just kick back and have some colossal amounts of fun.

Alright then, I think this is tied up now. I expect to hear you all gushing the praises of LEGO Marvel by a month after the Steam Christmas Sale, because you should own it by then. ALL OF YOU. No excuses. Get playing it. I just told you why.


Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.


 

Aiden Pearce - Watch_Dogs

Cult of No-Personality – Gruff White Guys & The Idea of the Default Hero in Games

Did you know that Die Hard, every reasonable person’s favourite Christmas movie, is actually based on a book? And in that book, John McClain, Mr Gruff Rogue Policeman Protagonist himself, was actually a fairly old, grizzled and grumpy man, a la Donald Glover in Lethal Weapon? And that in the movie, they decided that wouldn’t quite fit, so they changed his character to be more suited to someone like Bruce Willis to play? I tell you this fact, just as an interesting introduction to the world of the media wanting young or middle-aged, gruff, white, male protagonists, though obviously, I’m going to talk about games here because this is a games website and I try to remain a focussed writer to some level. To get back to games on some level, why don’t you take a look around at the protagonists of many of this year’s biggest games, and how many of them are gruff white guys, which I’m now shortening to GWGs to save my word count some abuse (extra bonus points go to where they’re a vigilante of some description, or their family was hurt prior to or at the beginning of the game, or where they’re out for redemption of some sort for past sins, because those are all crucial GWG qualities).

Watch_Dogs is a pretty prime example of everything that is the issue with GWGs in games. Ignoring the fact that Aiden Pearce, aka Hack’n’Shoot Hatmaskman, is essentially a walking digital pile of crime fiction tropes, he is essentially given very little real development throughout the game. The game introduces him as a gruff white guy who hacks stuff for his own personal profit, then some bad stuff happens, he feels guilty for the bad stuff that happens, and becomes a vigilante to redeem himself and get some fairly petty vengeance against people. Following all that hassle, he gets embroiled in a revenge plot against him by an old partner which puts his family in danger, all of which is again insanely stereotypical crime vigilante fiction and in no way gives you a good reason to play the game. And if your lengthy singleplayer-focussed story-oriented game has a protagonist that has no relatability or interesting features, and a story that has no real originality to it, then things are going to drag real quickly. The only reason I personally found to want to follow the adventures of Mr Hatmaskman was that this was about as close as I could get to a good Punisher game at the minute, and went about trying to focus on enjoying the gameplay and being a vigilante in a fairly solid city simulation with working public transport and nice gunplay.

And that’s a game that people have largely derided for its story, so its not exactly hard to pick at its already criticised-to-death corpse with all the other amateur journalist vultures (note: I actually quite like Watch_Dogs as a game, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have issues). Both of the big hitting AAA games that competed for Game of the Year on most sites, and are getting or have had re-releases this year, also have this major issue with using GWGs as their protagonists. The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V both feature morally ambiguous white men who end up seeking redemption or something similar on their respective journeys; yes, you could say that the storylines to those games are more complicated than that, and there is more to the characters than that, and even that I’m attacking games that don’t need to be attacked because they still tell fine stories with the characters they use and they have other playable or leading characters that aren’t gruff white guys. And you’re not wrong to say that; hell, if all gruff white guys were as well written as Joel in the Last of Us, we’d be just fine. But what if we could be better than just fine, and what if we could have made some of those characters not just fit the default?

To a rather basic observation, the characters of Joel and Lee, from the Walking Dead games by Telltale, are actually rather similar. Both of them are these grizzled cynical middle-aged guys who’ve seen their fair share of shit and done their fair share of bad things, and end up pairing up with a young girl to try and seek redemption and survival in the crazy post-apocalyptic worlds they live in. And without this necessarily becoming a reflection on which developers have better writers, Lee is the more interesting of the two characters in my opinion, and this is largely helped by the fact that he’s not just another gruff white guy; there is dialogue that allows for a reasonable, non-exploitative use of the fact that he’s not a GWG, emphasis more on the W than anything else, throughout the Walking Dead. That then allows for a more interesting dynamic between him and some of the other characters as well as allowing those of us who don’t experience life like that a small emulation of the experience and allowing those of us who can more directly relate to Lee to have someone to look up to in games, which is far too rare. On the other hand, Joel’s character is more just defined by his gender, age and gruffness, which is just a bit better than par for the course with game protagonist character development; again though, this isn’t me saying ‘Oh, The Last of Us is terrible because Joel is white and gruff’, this is me saying ‘Joel’s character is great within the story generally, but it is also very default-hero and I see no real reason why that has to be the case, when we see more interesting non-default heroes of a similar vein elsewhere’.

And then onto the other big game, Grand Theft Auto V. The one where Rockstar decided to be a bit ballsy and have 3 protagonists instead of just 1. And to their credit, it was an interesting design choice, for sure; now if only the protagonists were as interesting in design choices. Of the three, two are gruff middle-aged career criminal white guys, looking to make some money to pay off some bad choices and help mentor the third character, who is a young inexperienced black guy (who is fairly underplayed and is generally regarded as the worst of the three characters by most players, which tells you something about Rockstar’s focus in character design and plotting). I get that Michael is the retired family man, and that Trevor is the psychopathic criminal, neither of which are totally obvious crime fiction tropes at all obviously, but what specifically requires both of them to be gruff middle-aged white guys. In conversations I’ve had with people, they’ve said “Because the plot requires them to be so”, but I refuse to believe that Rockstar write a plot first and then go “Right, well, nothing about this can be changed, this is literally the Bible to our new game and this is the purest and holiest form of game canon” and fit all their characters into it. Just think about how cool it could have been if Michael was a female character, who’d settled down into a mother role and was lured back into her criminal ways or had her criminal ways catch up to her, in a kind of Orange Is The New Black style perhaps, or if Trevor had been some kind of Machete-like psychopath, as opposed to just a disgusting balding white guy.

Which leads me to what I think is a game that I think will make a fairly solid comparison to Grand Theft Auto V; Sleeping Dogs. Sleeping Dogs is yet another open world crime game, but it has plenty of distinctions that make it rather unlike the rest; as opposed to being set in an American city or a pastiche of an American city, it’s set in Hong Kong, and instead of having another white guy criminal or grizzled middle-aged cop out for redemption or revenge or whatever, you play as a young Interpol agent who originally came from Hong Kong but mostly grew up in the States and is back to infiltrate the Triad. Now, to me at least, that brief summary of only the start of Sleeping Dogs sounds more interesting than most open world crime games set in America with a GWG as a lead, but hey, what do I know. And this is not to say that Sleeping Dogs does not descend into crime fiction tropes either; it is absolutely full of them, and often feels like a grand tribute to John Woo, but hey, how many games do you get that feel like they’re homages to John Woo as opposed to people like Michael Mann and Quentin Tarantino. It is very much a game that tries to represent a culture that other games don’t, and that gives it this wonderful sense of novelty, for lack of a better word, that feeds back into the world so much more; in place of the typical open world mini games, there’s bizarre little things like a Karaoke mini game, which I find unceasingly hilarious but not because of how odd it is to have it in there, which make sense within the context, as do other changes to the game. The whole game world and the plot and everything are all the more interesting for the fact that the protagonist and the game’s setting were picked to be outside of the default gruff white male crime game lead and the default American urban environment.

On the topic of games that benefit from having a protagonist/s that isn’t all that default in a game world that isn’t too default either, its about time I brought up Mercenaries as a counter to boring old gruff white guy marine stereotypes. Yes, one of the three characters you can choose to play as IS a gruff white marine, but he’s more of a violent Swede than an American, and of the three, his background is the least interesting; the other two characters are an African American soldier whose father was a diplomat, and a Chinese-British female soldier. The main reason that I mention the African American soldier’s father is that each of these characters got a neat little un-mentioned bonus in the course of the game, as depending on the character you chose, you’d be able to understand what one of the three non-UN factions working with Korea were saying; the Swede could understand what the Russian mafia said, the American understood the South Korean forces and the Chinese-British woman understood the Chinese leadership. It meant that you got this slight insight into what each group was up to, and it was all the more reason not to trust anyone within the warzone. Also, the warzone itself, rather than being [insert Middle Eastern country where instability might happen] or America’s own backyard, was North and South Korea, which you freely roamed, trying to hold back North Korean troops from conquering the peninsula. It’s not really an environment you see much in games, and it has a wonderful alienness to it as you see all this Communist architecture and all these statues dedicated to their glorious leader. The environment could be done with a gruff white protagonist, sure, but I like to discuss it as being outside the default, plus half the fun of exploring that environment comes from the fact that you’re a private contractor who is not your average US soldier in the warzone and you can go and do your own thing instead of sticking with your particular regiment or whatever.

In the wake of Alien: Isolation coming out, it seems relevant to think about the space equivalent to our dear gruff white guy marine as well. Considering we live in a world where women are getting ever closer to being frontline soldiers just like men, and its not like women aren’t in the armed forces anyway, it seems odd that the vast VAST majority of combat-participating characters in shooty games set in the future are men. To the point where a female character in Gears of War is apparently an applaudable thing. A single female character. Sure, we get the occasional badass female in space, following in the footsteps of Ridley and her alien-ass-kicking ways, but most of the time it’s another Master Chief or whatever-the-boring-lead-from-Gears-of-War’s-name-is or whatever-the-boring-leads-from-the-Killzone-games’-names-are to add to the pile of soon-to-be-nameless and forgotten protagonists who shoot stuff in space. And its a terrible case when these people who have some degree of imagination because they can come up with these fantastical worlds in the galaxy and these cool weapons and setpieces and things can’t be bothered to do anything with the protagonist because its easier to just lean on the default and work from there. Why not let the player be in some kind of Sisters of Mercy-esque (The Sisters of Mercy are a group in Warhammer 40K, who are essentially violent fiery nuns to the Emperor) unit that goes around kicking ass, instead of just being another grunt, huh?

So what I’m saying is, how about we stop falling back on the default heroes and environments and plots and all the rest in games? How about we push some boundaries, get some more interesting things going, create a more diverse industry and fanbase for gaming, and all have that bit more fun? How about we put our imaginations and creativity towards creating something other than short-haired-deep-voiced-grunt-no.326 and his journey into a desert to shoot folk for the US government? As much as people worry about the idea of having this more diverse cast of protagonists across the games industry, it only helps to push developers and writers to create more interesting stories and characters if they don’t just rely on the default gruff white guy archetype that games seem to love and use oh so very much all the time. And if nothing else, I’m much happier having interesting games with new narratives than another gruff white guy who lost his family and is looking for redemption or who lost his squadmates and is looking for revenge. Much happier.


Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.


 

 

In Case You Missed It – 17th to 23rd November

Big News:

No real groundbreaking news this week, but…

Far Cry 4 has some graphical problems on PC that, as of this being written, are still going on.

GTA V’s re-release had an issue with transferring your old character to your XBOne or PS4 but that has been patched. Seems like Rockstar is the only one who can get shit right when it comes to games releases.

Warloards of Draenor still has the same looooooong waiting lines. Apparently its really good but whats the point if you cant play it?


Big Releases This Week:

GTA V(XBOne/PS4): Pretty much the exact same thing as what we saw last year but with amazingly redone graphics and a new and very interesting first person mode. If there was a game that had a justified re-release, this is it. Absolutely stunning visuals compared to last year and honestly, its better enough to justify buying it even if you bought it last year.

Super Smash Bros(Wii U): I mean, we knew what to expect. Its amazing, if you have a Wii U I’m stunned if you don’t already have it but yeah more of the same. Side note, I really don’t get the whole Amiibo thing but whatever. Capitalize on the fad while its hot I suppose.

Far Cry 4(PS4, XBOne, PC): No real bugs on consoles and some people seem to be experiencing performance issues on PC but Ubisoft did a whole lot better on it than Unity. If you liked the last one you’re gonna probably like this.

LittleBigPlanet 3(PS4): Great game for the PS4, not really sure about what’s different (I only played the first one) but I mean its apparently pretty good so go for it.

Dragon Age Inquisition(XBOne, PS4, PC): Amazing. Unsurprisingly, graphical errors and bugs here and there, as seem to have become the norm these days but otherwise just a great game all around.


Our Stuff:

Bad Games Do It Well– Why some legitimately bad games can still bring fun into your day.

Harder Better Faster Stronger– Looking back at four Xbox/PS2/Gamecube games that are in dire need of a remake.

The Talk- CounterSpy– Joe discusses CounterSpy, a tactical shooter for PS3, PS4 and Vita


Alex Walsh is the News Editor of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he is the second employee. Most most importantly, he is the website manager. He is also an avid writer and maintainer of the site. #2 on the site, #1 in your hearts folks.