Ben's Week In Review: March 13
Hope everyone is enjoying The Division and Hitman. But if you like one, would you like the other...?
Final Fantasy XV won't make anyone cry
Square Enix apparently thinks very highly of the storyline they've produced for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV but no matter how good it is, nobody is going to cry at the end of it.
This isn't a knock against this particular game; it's simply a truism that involves all open-world adventures that puts player freedom ahead of the narrative. Why haven't I been emotionally involved in any game in a long time? Because most new games these days are virtually the same in terms of structure; they're all starting to embrace the same open-world/sandbox style and as a result, the story inevitably takes a back seat. It has to. You can have the best writing in the world, the most engaging and interesting characters ever, and a setting you'll just love. None of it matters because in the end, you spend 99 percent of your time running around pressing buttons as opposed to following a story. Cut-scenes are basically dead (and if they run longer than two or three minutes, they're incessantly bashed for being "outdated" when in fact, people just can't admit they can't sit still long enough to watch them) and the central focus never wavers: You.
Or whatever avatar you've got for your virtual escapade. The Witcher 3 offered a great story but it only kicked into high gear in the second half, and while I very much enjoyed the climax, it certainly didn't get me emotional. And that's because, like with any other game where you almost never follow a story but rather do whatever you feel like doing, you just won't care as much about the main narrative thread. Final Fantasy XV won't - and in fact can't - be as emotionally involving as, say, Final Fantasy VII, due to structure and the inherent nature of storytelling. It'd be like someone telling a story for 30 seconds and then disappearing for about a week while you wandered around. Then he came back next week for like two minutes and disappeared again. This doesn't facilitate involvement on any cerebral level and that's that.
No, Square Enix. If FFXV is indeed open-world and out of a 50-hour experience, the player is paying attention to the story for about a half-hour total, he or she will not cry about anything. There could be individual moments that affect the player but the story as a whole...? Most people can't even remember the intro of a massive open-world game after they've completed it, and if you go for 10, 15, 20 hours without bothering with the story, how much of an impact can it possibly have?
Don't overlook Sniper Elite 4
It's an easy game to look past, I know. It's not like previous installments have won awards or anything. But when I heard that Sniper Elite 4 would drop this year, I was immediately excited. And that's because this is a franchise that has been "on the verge," so-to-speak, seemingly since its inception. It just hasn't managed to overcome those glaring hurdles and become a really great series. Sniper Elite 3 had a lot going for it and if the game had been given a bit more TLC, it could've been a really fantastic experience. Those who love to snipe in shooters should gravitate toward the franchise, but they're often turned away by lower-than-expected production values, repetitive gameplay, and a mediocre story. The developers tried opening up the last adventure but that was hardly all the series needed. With the next effort, though, they might really deliver a gem.
Granted, that debut trailer isn't anything too excited. But bear in mind that these games have never pushed the technical envelope; they've always put a huge emphasis on stealth and strategy, the cornerstones of any good sniper. I think they should experiment with a few different environments, and they definitely need to fine-tune the control and enhance the AI. If they can address these drawbacks, though, Sniper Elite 4 could end up being a sleeper hit in 2016. And by the way, this is actually a super franchise for co-op fun, as it gives us the chance to experience some tension-filled action with an ally.
Personal gaming update
I've been getting more involved in Tom Clancy's The Division and I'm also playing the first episode of Hitman. As for the former, I can sort of see why it's Ubisoft's best-selling new game ever; it's a heady mix of competitive multiplayer goodness that will keep you occupied for a long time. Hitman has returned to its roots so despite the odd episodic plan, it's great for those who actually want true stealth. You should see a review for the first episode early this week and then a review for The Division later in the week, as I need more time. I notice reviews for that one aren't exactly flowing like water and I think I know why...the sheer amount of time any critic needs to dedicate to that game is kinda silly.
I've reached Level 10 (max level) with Jacob and Evie in Assassin's Creed Syndicate but I've still got a ways to go. I need to clear out the last two areas, finish the story, get the last of the collectibles, etc. But the timing is just about right, because I should be totally finished before the Ratchet & Clank PS4 remake lands on April 12. And did you see that amazing new trailer?!
3/12/2016 Ben Dutka