What VICE Gaming's Been Playing: August 2016

It has been a very, very busy month here at VICE Gaming HQ. New babies, international travel, a press conference or two... But we've still managed to find time to play a few games.

by Austin Walker, Mike Diver, Patrick Klepek, and Joel
13 September 2016, 4:00am

Image courtesy of Respawn Entertainment

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Better late than never, here's what VICE Gaming was playing in August 2016.

Austin Walker (@austin_walker)

As we get closer and closer to launching our shiny new site, I've had less and less time to play stuff. But when Titanfall 2's tech test went live in the middle of August, I made the time I needed to climb back into a mech. Because, listen, I like mechs. A lot.

I've watched hundreds of hours of Gundam, Macross, and other mecha anime. I've hosted an actual play podcast set in a home-made mecha universe. I've spent money (real money) on dashboard accessories in MechWarrior Online. Don't get me wrong, mechs are the military-industrial-entertainment power fantasy given humanoid shape. But also, I really like mechs. So if you're making a game with giant robots and ace pilots in it, I'm going to find the goddamned time to play it.

The thing about Titanfall 2's tech test, though, is that I think it felt more ambivalent about mechs than even I do.

On one hand, Titanfall 2 has taken a step towards giving the building-tall mechs (the titular "Titans") more personality. In place of the first game's blank-slate machines, Titanfall 2 offers robots a bit more in line with the ability-driven "heroes" of games like Overwatch. Ion, for instance, is a mid-sized mech with a set of energy weapons, including an explosive Laser Core attack; Scorch is a heavy mech with—you guessed it—lots of fire powers. Four other Titans have been revealed on the game's official page, and each offers super attacks, special traps, and a unique, distinguished identity. Plus, new visual customisation options should help pilots feel closer than ever to their machines.

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At the same time, though, these mechs are a lot less important on the battlefield than they were in the first Titanfall. A handful of major changes have decreased how often they show up, the length of time that they stick around for, and the impact they have on the proceedings. Here's one big change that helps illustrate this fact: in the first game, each Titan had a recharging shield that ensured some degree of longevity, so long as you weren't piloting it like a battering ram. Because of this, engagements in Titanfall felt lengthy, tactical, and survivable in a way that they never do in Call of Duty or Battlefield. Not only was it distinct, it allowed for hefty, mech-on-mech battles that felt pulled from the very best of Gundam.

In Titanfall 2's tech test, though, Titan shields don't recharge unless a friendly pilot loads a special item into your machine for you (which they have to first get by yanking it from of an enemy Titan). It adds a layer of complexity that great players will be able to use to some effect, but that most players will never wrap their heads around. The result is that the Titans feel paper thin, which isn't something you should ever say about something called a "Titan".

Though Respawn Entertainment did make some buffs to the mechs between the first and second test weekends, I still never felt anywhere near as powerful or dynamic as I was as in the first Titanfall. Maybe that's because of the limited map and Titan options in the test, or because the modes up for play were largely built around pilot-vs-pilot combat (instead of the fantastic "grunt" focused modes of the first game), but by the end of the second weekend, I was pretty worried. If Respawn disempowers the game's most distinguishing components, Titanfall 2 will need to compete in the realm of human-scale combat, a field that Battlefield and Call of Duty already do so well.

Still, when I see videos like this one (made by a fan) I can't help but get excited.

Titanfall - Anime Style, by YouTube user bot_alex

Also playing: Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate (Vita), No Man's Sky (PC), Reigns (iOS)

Mike Diver (@MikeDiver)

Much like Austin, my August was a lot of work with little time for play—at least, play of meaningful substance. Attending Gamescom meant I could get my hands on early builds of Nier Automata and Yooka-Laylee, and I enjoyed both immensely—but I've already put words down on those, here and here respectively. A lot of travel has kept me plugging away at Persona 4 Golden, and I dipped a toe into the seemingly limitless horizons of Monster Hunter Generations, but not to the extent that I can really comment on it beyond what Luke Shaw covered in his piece from early August.

Which leaves me with only a couple of significant experiences from the few days I've had at home, surrounded by these machines and devices that supply us with the good stuff. Reigns, on iOS (and also PC and Android, but I've been playing it on a broken old iPad), is a terrifically addictive balancing act of regal responsibility, with a wickedly dark heart. Cast as one king, and then another, and then another—every death is followed by a new heir—you are faced with a never-ending onslaught of binary decisions ranging from whether or not to marry a princess from a neighbouring territory (and therefore bring the two nations together), or to send either the army or the church into town to deal with an outbreak of nuns mewling like cats. It's like a text-adventure endless runner of crude jokes and concentrated cajoling, backdropped by outbreaks of plague and all-too-brief periods of prosperity. And damn, it's brilliant.

Every choice is made with a swipe, left or right, yes or no, kill or be killed—I've never used Tinder, but I'm told it's essentially that, but with high-fantasy role-playing stirred into proceedings instead of easy one night stands (although, Reigns lets you have a few of those, too). Made by developer Nerial (who I'd never heard of prior to this release), Reigns is both dastardly simple and delightfully savage, laugh-out-loud funny and in its own ways rather harrowing, and I really wish my kids didn't use CBeebies apps on this iPad or I'd carry it with me everywhere I went.

I also played a decent chunk of Bound, the surreal ballerina platformer from Plastic. I like its looks and the simple story it tells, wrapped in relatable metaphor. But there's not a lot to it, and while that's true, too, of the likes of Journey and Abzū, personally Bound didn't come close to leaving the same emotional impression on me as those comparably (for want of a better word) artsy titles. I'd have finished it, but for whatever reason the game has bugged out on me, and my dancer is essentially cemented into position. I can spin the camera around with the right stick, drop in and out of the impressive photo mode, but that's it—I've become a statue, and it's happened so late into the game that I don't really want to start over. So that's where I'm leaving Bound, because there's simply too much to see to in September to be replaying the past.

Patrick Klepek (@patrickklepek)

Though I may never join the circus, I've never been more confident in my ability to juggle than I am right now. A little over two weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world, a job that's mostly involved learning to cradle a newborn and a video game controller at the same time.

It's nearly 10 years since I graduated college, the last time I had extended periods of time to grossly indulge in a video game for hours on end without consequence. The days of staying up regularly until the sun emerges, repeatedly demanding that chocobo have sex to unlock the Knights of the Round summon in Final Fantasy VII, are long gone. (What a weird quest.)

The way I play games is a little peculiar, too. Part of my job is to keep up with the latest releases, so I play them differently than when they were purely a hobby. So while I poke, prod, and explore, I'm often more interested in reaching the credits than exploring every alleyway. At worst, it's a dishonest way to play games that meaningfully impedes my ability to judge them the way an average player would. (This criticism comes up all the time, one with merit but not much substance.) Realistically, it means I'm probably prevented from enjoying them as much as I might want to.

Image courtesy of CD Projekt Red

And so, for two weeks, I decided to flip the script. I should have played more No Man's Sky, since it's the game of the moment. But I didn't. I accepted that it's not the game I wanted it to be and moved on. I should have checked out the next big game on Steam, PlayStation Network, or whatever, and kept pace with the games coming out during my absence. But, again, I didn't.

What I did do was play a shit load of The Witcher 3, diving into the game's wonderful expansion packs. What I did do was explore every single side quest I could find in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, my favourite part of the game. What I did do was enjoy games in the same way I did as a teenager.

It was lovely—to a point. The difference between 16-year-old Patrick and 31-year-old Patrick is that sitting on the couch exclusively for two weeks, with no genuine reason to move, isn't as satisfying these days. I love to run, play golf, watch TV, read a book—my palette isn't what it used to be, in a good way. I found two weeks of video games exhausting, to the point that I was taking my child and dog for a walk simply to give myself an excuse for a gaming break.

But if I'm honest, that intoxicating overindulgence was, itself, refreshing. My fellow adults will know such moments come few and far between; you cherish each one. You can only have too much of a good thing when you've gone the distance—and have finally had too much of a good thing.

Joel Fowler (@freemagic)

Hey I'm Joel, I'm the publisher of our soon-to-be-named gaming site. The guys above asked me to write this, but my mentality towards games is a bit different than theirs. I couldn't tell you half of the games that are out right now and this editorial crew has a pretty encyclopaedic knowledge of the space (as they should). On the other hand, I play a few things at a time with a group of friends, mainly as a backdrop to catch up and shoot the shit. We go pretty hard into one or two games and them move on, although Destiny year one kind of ruined us. If I never farm another piece of spinmetal again, I'll be better for it.

This past month I've been craving something I could turn on and play for a little while, without feeling like I wasn't accomplishing anything. I think that's all life allows for sometimes, and longer, quest-based games just don't fit. Rocket League still has the top spot there, with Overwatch in close second. As the community has gotten better in Overwatch, it's been tougher to enjoy without a solid crew. Rocket League is just as frustrating when your teammate doesn't understand who should go for the ball at kick off, but it remains much more manageable to find a decent enough pickup group—though I did recently rage quit a duel, the first time I've done that since the first day I spent in The Division's dark zone.

Image courtesy of Hello Games

I don't think I'm playing No Man's Sky exactly "right", but that's probably why I've been enjoying it. I did the land grab towards the centre at first, collecting Atlas stones, farming toxic planets, maxing out inventories, but then it felt like work. Then I found "Super Tite". Super Tite is a giant world with beautiful trees, a perfect environment, and cool summer breezes at night. I have been happy tromping around here for almost three weeks, trying to find the last undiscovered species, but happy just walking around all in the same.

No Man's Sky is the closet thing to relaxation that I've gotten from a game since Minecraft, with no rush and complete freedom to do as I please, it's really awesome to put on and listen to music or catch up on a podcast. There's a few flying predators but nothing too scary, besides these weird mutated Pokémon.

On the other side of that spectrum, Patrick recommended I check out Inside, which I can now only play when my girlfriend is home and the sun is out, because it makes me freak out—and it's still way too hot outside for getting sweaty right now, so maybe I'll finish it up when it cools off.

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