Xbox one X

Far: Lone Sails - Learning to Cope by Caleb Sawyer

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Almost a year ago, my grandfather died. It has been hard to escape feeling like a hack because I keep bringing that up. The reality is, I haven’t written much since that day and what I have written has been punctuated by a tone that overflows with grief that I’m still not sure how to deal with. Nevertheless, here I am, attempting to write again. This time though, I am not going to steer away from that well. Part of that is self-motivated. The other part is Far: Lone Sails.

I watched the trailer for Far: Lone Sails one night while perusing the upcoming games in the Xbox Store. The music, the art, the tone, instantly hooked me. I am partial to games that have a system based in upkeep. I love building cities in City Skylines. I love managing my base, personnel, and resources in XCOM. Maintaining the mechanics of this land ship, traveling across a wasteland was an easy pre-order. 

The first moments of this title froze me. My character sat in front of what I can only assume is the grave of their father. A picture lays propped against a tree. The music is soft and sweeping. The environment monochromatic. Grays and whites punctuated by the red coat and hat of the player. 

If there is one thing that stands out immediately in Far: Lone Sails, it is its ability to deliver an aesthetic swiftly and creatively. As a long time fan of Playdead’s Inside and Limbo, the task of telling a compelling story in the limited space of a side crawling platformer is a challenge not easily overcome. Music and art take center stage, while gameplay often takes a back seat, punctuating the visual tableaus with puzzles. Okomotive’s ambitious entry into this genre is an outstanding accomplishment. 

———

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My grandfather served 23 years in the Navy. A period of his life he spoke of sparingly. To this day I am unsure if that was because it conjured memories he didn’t care to relive, or if there was another reason. The stories he told were always comical. Stepping up several decks in a single bound while the ship flexed in choppy waters. Drinking hot beers on the deck while docked at shore in the Philippines. Nearly missing the boat back while resupplying. His Navy career was a mystery to me. It will always be a mystery.

———

Far: Lone Sails takes place in a world made desolate by a disaster given no explanation. As you step down a sandy beach, the sound of an ocean never comes. Instead a windswept desert stands in its place, the carcasses of various ships strewn about the wastes. As you step into your ship (the eponymous Okomotive), crank up the engine, and pull away from the scaffolding surrounding it, you set off across this lonely place. The destination: unknown. 

Within moments the world begins to unfold itself around you. Broken down ships are everywhere. Dust crept onto their decks. Debris lays scattered, half submerged in the sands of of time and abandonment. Something happened to this place. It is hard to keep from imagining a world full of color. Rippling seas teeming with life. Nothing remains but shattered hope, abandoned dreams, derelict homes. 

———

When my grandfather passed it was sudden. He had interstitial lung disease. One day he felt worse than usual. He and my grandmother went to the Emergency Room. Eleven days later he was gone. Despite the expertise of the doctors that attempted to help, they never found out what caused this flare up. Despite everything they attempted there was no explanation. I remember my uncle, sitting in shock next to his dead father. “My whole life I have believed in science. And science has failed me.” The words were sobering.

———

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As you progress through Far: Lone Sails the obscured history of the world begins to unravel itself. The shallow, dried out seabed gives way to rolling pastures. Billboards pass by for a small farming and industrial town, The Blue Isles. This town, as picturesque as it may look with its rolling green hills, rests abandoned. The hills are washed grey-green, and before long you find barns and farmhouses torn asunder. Cars rest on roofs. 

A tornado appears just beyond the last partially standing buildings. Without words it becomes clear: the damage done to this world is deep and irreparable. 

The game continues this story of unnatural disaster as you progress. Color comes and goes, rarely, but those colors are always bleak. Dreary. Joel Schoch’s score moves emotionally throughout these moments, rising as the Okomotive churns forward, dipping as night falls, rising as the day breaks, the amber glow of the sun projecting into the thick clouds that cover the world. Schoch’s score is incredible. I’ll never forget trudging through the rain, the drops plinking off of the Okomotive, while the score receded. Leaving me to the sound of the rain and my thoughts. One of the best parts of Far: Lone Sails’ score is its willingness to leave you in silence, proving that even in its absence it can have a dramatic impact.

———

It was rainy the day he died. I remember thinking, “thank god no one else will be happy today.” I had always found comfort in rain. Since then, rain has been…different. No longer just a source of comfort, it is a reminder. Every time it rains, I am brought back to that day. Each time a little less, sure, but it is still there. I think it may always be there. I’m not sure I want it any other way. 

The thought that he died of natural causes so suddenly felt, well, unnatural. He was tough, he rarely complained, and to think that one day his body just decided it was tired of struggling was hard to understand. 

For the next six months it was hard to see color in anything. Everything felt greyed out. Food tasted different, sleep was less rejuvenating, laughter didn’t linger like it used to. My inability to write became apparent quickly. I struggled for hours to get singular thoughts onto a page. I was afraid that talking about this loss openly would look like a crutch I was leaning on. So I didn’t write. 

———

The billboard for the Blue Isles says “A Fresh Start” just beneath the name of the town. Another says, “We Build Our Future”. The people of this place tried their hardest to move past the fact that their world was dying. But they don’t appear to have ever attempted to address the issue. The rusted and hulking remains of industry and manufacturing tell a story of a people who believed in science, and who were betrayed by that belief.

As the remains of civilization pass you can see people building escape hatches, not treating a wound.

———

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Writing has always been my release. My means of escape, of coping, of healing. Not writing meant I did none of those things properly. I bottled and distilled my grief, making each moment it returned stronger. I tried everything to get away from it. I hid my pain from my grandmother, trying to be strong for her. I hid my pain from my wife, trying to prove that I was fine. That I was able to hold it together. I tried my best to move past the fact that a part of my world had died. In reality I was building escape hatches. 

Without giving away the ending of Far: Lone Sails, because you should absolutely play it, I realized that part of me needed to let go, sure, but a larger part of me needed to face the problem head on and push through it. My grief is my Okomotive right now. I need to maintain the ship pushing me through life. I need to remember that, even if the ship is damaged, it is fixable. But it won’t be forever. Someday, it will decide it can go no further. When that time comes, it will be okay to let it go. To move on to another vessel. To take a moment and say, “Goodbye old Friend.”

The front of the Okomotive in Far: Lone Sails has two figures etched on its prow. An adult and a child. The house you pass through in the opening moments show you a Father and his child and the machine they created together. I am not entirely self-made. I owe a lot to Timothy Sawyer. His family was the thing he was most proud of. I realize now, that is why he didn’t share a ton about his service in the Navy. It wasn’t what he built with his hands. His family was. Now that he is gone, we must take journey forward, through the waste and colorlessness, to a new place. And he is still here for the ride. Even in his absence he has had a dramatic impact on all of us.

———

I valued every moment I had with Far: Lone Sails. It has brought me a lot of peace over the last few weeks and helped me better contextualize the struggle and pain of moving on. Of pushing through the shit to get to the other side.

Mechanically easy to pick up, hard to put down, a brilliant and evocative score, and entrancing art elevate Far: Lone Sails into the poetic. A contemplative and somber yet unwaveringly charming journey It hooked me immediately. Despite having beaten it twice, I keep finding myself coming back for a little more every couple of days. 


Bravo, Okomotive.

Thank you for making this game.

Far Cry New Dawn: A Familiar Walk in Unfamiliar Surroundings by Caleb Sawyer

Far Cry New Dawn

In June of last year, a few months after the release of Far Cry 5, Terry Spier (Creative Director, Red Storm) said that the Division 2 would not be making a political statement. The game takes place in D.C. after a plague decimates the population. D.C. is in ruins, and the trailer released at E3 last year says “A remnant of a corrupt state lurks in the shadows, ready to engage in a new civil war. Agents of the Division are the only one standing against it.” So how…what the…?

I brought up Far Cry 5 earlier and I need to explain why these two are inextricably linked. Far Cry 5 could have been very political. The first Far Cry game to take place in the United States dived deep into satirizing what makes America tick: Guns, preppers, piss tapes, and fanatical religion. There was a little Trump, a little Alt-Right, a little religious violence, and for the first time ever, mostly white enemies. Who would have thought people actually would be upset by any of these things (definitely not the author of this [fake?] Petition?). 

What is most interesting about the setting and cast of Far Cry 5 is that, despite the ample material to draw from, it tried so desperately to remain apolitical. In fact, Ubisoft didn’t make a true political statement about the title’s contents, publicly or in the game itself. Something that reviewers and critics would hold issue with as literature began to be written up. So do you side with the petition and get angry at how political it is? Or do you side with the reviewers and get angry at how hard it tries not to offend anyone?

3 months later…

[The Division] is not a political statement? “Absolutely not.”

See, the line isn’t hard to draw here. Extremely mixed response from undecidedly political/apolitical game = Nope. No politics here. But boy would you look at how great D.C. looks? 

Enter Far Cry New Dawn. The first direct sequel to a Far Cry game. 

The Chop Shop

SPOILER ALERT

At the end of Far Cry 5. Nukes detonate all across America, making the big, bad, religious creep Joseph Seed “right” (ugh) and then the game rolls credits. New Dawn picks the reins back up seventeen years later. The wildlife has been altered, the flora is colorful, the world is overgrown, largely untouched by the hands of man. In the time that has passed, people have rebuilt, or at least they have begun the process. Within seconds of New Dawn’s establishing shots (you are the hero, you travel the wastelands and help small settlements get back on their feet, you’re on a train full of people and supplies) the antagonists show up. Colorful dirt bikes, wacky attire, fireworks, smoke grenades. 

Essentially you get rolled on by patrons of the post-apocalyptic (regular?) Burning Man and, well, it is kinda awesome.

Mickey and Lou - Far Cry New Dawn

Here is where I realized Far Cry New Dawn would be different: in the introduction of its antagonists, two black women, Mickey and Lou. For the first time since I played Far Cry 3, I didn’t hear an ounce of allusion in their intro. They weren’t the personification of anything but post-Collapse, cut-throat survivors that took the dark path. 

This isn’t to say that New Dawn is without its own politics. There are plenty of story beats that lean into corruption, bribery, and religious fanaticism, but there is one key difference: this game doesn’t fee like it is about those things.

Outside of the return of a few of Far Cry 5’s characters, New Dawn largely stays away from what made its predecessor such a split-decision for most people. And while the setting and execution is familiar (think Mad Max, Rage, or a little Borderlands), there is something fresh about playing this setting in Far Cry’s formula, despite Far Cry’s formula being more than a little played out.

That perhaps is my biggest, and only real, gripe with Far Cry New Dawn. It just feels like more Far Cry. 

In many cases this isn’t a problem. When you love the mechanics of a game, when the studio changes those mechanics up it can be disorienting. Even disenfranchising. The thing is, Far Cry 3 released in 2012, and while I absolutely loved that game and its reimagining of what Far Cry was, those changes have remained largely unchanged in its successors. 

Far Cry New Dawn Outpost

Outposts still operate the same way: Kill everyone silently for a large bonus, knock out alarms and go loud for a small bonus, or throw caution to the wind and kick down the door, no bonus added. The vehicular mechanics remain the same, the shooting feels the same, the hunting and wildlife feels the same (except this time you are getting attacked by Wolverines, not Honey Badgers), and the bow is still the best weapon in the game. Though I want to make sure I don’t knock (get it) the bow - it fucking rocks - I need Far Cry remember how to change again.

The new mechanics introduced to this game are largely inconsequential. You can build up your base by collecting Ethanol, adding a bit of functionality to taking outposts beyond just shooting (or stabbing) people. But that neither feels adequately rewarding, nor does it explain how Prosperity (the base) builds a farm with…Ethanol. Once you upgrade the Workbench to make Epic weapons, you can completely ignore upgrading the rest of the base outside of the story mission that requires it. 

Far Cry Rush

I should make it clear that New Dawn is a direct sequel to Far Cry 5, and is likely built with the same exact engine and tools. Appropriately, Ubisoft priced the title at only $40. These things together make complaining that New Dawn feels like more of the same, feel a little obvious. That is literally what it is.

Minus one thing: Painfully irreverent and borderline overwhelming political overtones. 

There is a part of me that wants Ubisoft to not be afraid of having political commentary in their games. Then, there is another part of me that believes that there is some kind of political commentary in New Dawn. That perhaps this title feels better because it doesn’t appear to be commenting on current events, but that doesn’t mean it exists without a message. 

Then I come back to Spier’s response to the question about The Division 2 making a political statement: Absolutely not. Perhaps making a political statement means something different here. New Dawn had a message: Do everything it takes to make the world a better place. And that message could be seen as having political applications. But a direct political statement, that forces players to choose a side or fractures your base? Maybe that is what he meant to steer away from. 

Far Cry Hope County

New Dawn appears to be the result of that decision. It wipes the political slate clean with a few dozen nukes and tells a surprisingly human story devoid of Alt-Right mouthpieces and trumpeted up stereotypes.

I want games to have a political voice, to take a stand on something, if they want to. But maybe this isn’t the worst thing ever. 

@LubWub

Show Me the Games: Holiday 2018 by Caleb Sawyer

Photo by @ollie_606

Photo by @ollie_606

2018 was a stellar year for games. From God of War kicking the door down in March, to Fortnite redefining persistent online experiences, to Red Dead Redemption 2 causing games to flee its wake, to Celeste, Owlboy, and Gorogoa taking hearts and thumbs by storm. It is impossible to tell people what they should go out and play because the list is humanly impossible to complete. That is, unless you are superhuman. So, rather than trying to page through every single Black Friday ad, we thought it would be more fitting to give you a list of games that you have to play. The deals run amok on Black Friday and with the Black Friday ads linked below we are confident you will be able to find these gems at a deep discount somewhere (in many cases EVERYWHERE). So for our list, in no particular order:

AAA Must Have Titles:

God of War (PS4 Exclusive)
Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox Exclusive)
Red Dead Redemption 2 (Good luck finding a discount here)
Battlefield V
Destiny Forsaken
Overwatch
PUBG (Xbox Exclusive)
Fortnite (Technically Free, but find all the V-Bucks deals you can)
Detroit: Become Human (PS4 Exclusive)
Monster Hunter World
No Man’s Sky
Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4 Exclusive)
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (Doorbuster in many locations)
Hitman 2

Indie Must Have Titles:

Celeste
Owlboy
Dead Cells
Mark of the Ninja: Remastered
We Happy Few (If this even still counts as indie now)
Overcooked 2
Octopath Traveler (Switch Exclusive)
Unravel 2
State of Decay 2 (also questionably indie now)

Get out there and get some games!

BLACK FRIDAY ADS:

Walmart
Best Buy
Target
Microsoft Store
GameStop

@LubWub

Everything Xbox by Caleb Sawyer

Photo by @takeshi2

Photo by @takeshi2

Xbox is coming to Black Friday with some solid offerings. With systems lower then last year, you can look to find the Xbox One S in nearly any store (Walmart, Best Buy, Target, GameStop, and the Microsoft Store) for a cool $200, while Target and GameStop will reward you with a gift card for you console pick up ($20 and $50 respectively). Similarly, if you need to grab an extra controller, controllers are dropping $20 across the board, with the Microsoft Store also dropping their Design Lab prices by $10. If you are looking to bring home the beefy Xbox One X, Walmart and The Microsoft Store have both knocked $100 out of the MSRP, while Best Buy and Gamestop have the X for sale for 429. Best Buy offers their Xbox One X with a copy of Battlefield V and an extra controller, while GameStop bundled in a copy of Fallout 76 and that handy $50 gift card. Memberships are also on sale across the board, albeit at different price points. Walmart is selling 3 months of Xbox Live for at half price ($12.50), where Best Buy and GameStop are dropping $10 from the price of the 3 month and 6 month memberships. Target is taking $10 of the whole year subscription (normally $60 in total) and the Microsoft Store is offering a 1 month membership of both Xbox Live and Game Pass, each for $1. To round it out, GameStop has their 4TB hard drive on sale for $100, dropped from the original $129.99.

If you were to ask me, your best deals can be found at:

GameStop and Best Buy if you’re looking for the Xbox One X
Anywhere if you are looking for the Xbox One S
Walmart if you are looking to renew your Live subscription
Anywhere if you are looking to add a new controller

BLACK FRIDAY ADS:

Walmart
Best Buy
Target
Microsoft Store
GameStop

Thief of Thieves: Volume 1 Review by Caleb Sawyer

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Thief of Thieves released on Xbox Game Pass this week by publisher Skybound Entertainment and developer Rival games. The Point-and-Click, adventure style game shares a likeness to former Telltale titles like The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us (the former, also a Skybound property). Based on a comic series penned by Robert Kirkman (Creator of The Walking Dead), Thief of Thieves puts you in control of Celia, a punk styled spy protogé of master thief Redmond. Volume One, available now, is an interesting starter for the series but is a bit limited by its length.

Volume One introduces you to Celia and her most recent mission, a motorcycle heist at a swanky party. While Thief of Thieves art direction is stylistically solid, the game breaks down a bit over its oftentimes clunky camera work. While the camera frames the environment well, its utility is undermined by the very same characteristic. Camera angles make it difficult to track patrolling guards, making sneaky entry and swift egress more difficult than it should.

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That being said, the title was still a lot of fun to explore, and the sandbox-style environments were fun to play around in. The UI paints objectives and pertinent information on the environment itself, much like 2010’s Splinter Cell: Conviction. Similarly creative, the games cutscenes are minimalistic motion comics, further lending to draw parallel to Thief of Thieves source material.

Overall, Volume One was fun to play but lacked any length to allow me to really get excited about what is coming in the next installments. Though the incipient episode ends with a genuinely alluring cliff-hanger that promises a far broader experience, I found myself wanting more in the moment, rather than in the future, a tricky line to dance for episodic titles.

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If you have Game Pass give Thief of Thieves a try. The lack of an upfront cost through Game Pass makes content like this far more accessible. For players without Game Pass, I think it would be safe to wait for a few more Volumes to be released. It is a bit too early to pass any real judgment on the title.

@LubWub

Xbox One X: A Step in the Wrong Direction? by Caleb Sawyer

Putting the Flop in Gigaflop

A new console approaches: the Xbox One X. New consoles always bring excitement and a spark of innovation to the gaming world, and we hope for something that won’t just prolong our 3-hour gaming sessions at 1 AM but also enhance and elevate our gameplay in the process. But is power truly king when it comes to gaming consoles? Well, when you look at the history of gaming consoles… not so much. And this is what worries me about the Xbox One X.

(Side note: No, I am not a Sony fanboy or a Microsoft hater. In fact, the Xbox was the first home console I ever purchased myself, thanks to a lot of birthdays and Christmases spent saving up money as a youngling. I chose the Xbox over the GameCube and PS2 for one simple reason: Halo.)

When a new gaming console is released, three major aspects matter:

A.) What is different about this console than all the other consoles out there?
B.) What exclusive games will I be able to play ONLY on this console?
C.) How much does the console cost?

The Console’s Individuality.

Out of the big three console developers (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo), Nintendo has done the best when it comes down to the uniqueness of a new console. Nintendo isn’t afraid to innovate, which is why their consoles always tend to be sold out for AT LEAST the first few months post-release. From the GameBoy to the Wii and Wii U to the Switch, each of their consoles have done something that no other console before them has been able to do, enticing gamers with a method of play that no other console can offer. As for Sony and Microsoft, the tendency is just to improve whatever console of theirs came out last, or simply copy a trend Nintendo has already set (looking at you, PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect). Improved graphics, improved controller, improved whatever -- they’re all just improvements, not innovation. You had vanilla before, but now we present... French Vanilla!!! Woohoo. There’s no drastic step forward or completely new feature, and we’re essentially just given an Xbox or PlayStation sequel. Instead, Sony and Microsoft seem to rely solely on their exclusive games and the content they hold.

What Games Can Be Played on the Console

As an example, take the Sega Master System vs. the Nintendo Entertainment System. Both were released in 1985 with the Master System being significantly more powerful. Despite this, the NES still outsells it by over 50 million units. The NEO GEO -- the most powerful system of 1990 over the SEGA Genesis and SNES -- only sold a measly 1 million units (the Genesis sold 41.9 million, the SNES 49.1 million). Nintendo 64 vs. PlayStation 1: PS1 smoked the N64 by nearly 70 million units. Xbox vs. PlayStation 2, PS2 outsells the Xbox by over 120 million units. Why? The games. As we’ve seen over the years, a great game library, not great specs, sells a console. Which brings me to my final point:

Price

Currently marketed as “the most powerful console,” the Xbox One X is hitting shelves at the high price point of $499 (USD). The E3 conference and their website boasts about the One X’s usage of 4K, its 2.3GHz CPU, 12GB of graphic memory, a 6 Teraflop GPU, etc… which sounds impressive, but is essentially just a more technologically-improved version of the previous Xbox with absolutely no innovative features. You’ll also be able to replay your old Xbox discs, or download some of the older Xbox titles, which is definitely a plus, however, there are some big red flags here. Not counting the console’s atrocious name, 4K can already be found on the PS4 Pro (a console that’s $100 cheaper). Plus, 4K isn’t quite the norm in living rooms just yet, so for most gamers, it’s a safe bet that 4K doesn’t really matter. And while the nostalgia factor works, it’s not something to rely upon. Are you really going to replay all of Mass Effect for the hell of it when Andromeda and plethora of other games are about to release? Let’s be honest -- probably not.

Microsoft keeps mentioning power. Gigaflops of it. Yes, you can be the most powerful, but can the games, specifically the exclusives, live up to that? After this year's E3, I’m convinced that (at least during year one of the One X’s release) no, the games definitely cannot. The lack of exclusives announced alongside the launch of the One X proves that developers are nowhere near ready to harness this kind of power -- to put it simply, it’s incredibly difficult make a game that utilizes the console’s space/power properly while also conforming to a reasonable development time. Most of the best games shown at E3 2017 (Anthem, A Way Out, Star Wars Battlefront 2) aren’t exclusive and can be played on both the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro… sorry, Microsoft, but no one’s going to shell out an extra $100 just to play Sea of Thieves.

Does the Xbox One X have potential to be next year’s best selling console? Absolutely! All Microsoft needs to do is give game developers the resources to utilize the power that the One X offers. That means games with gigaflops of actual content, not gigaflops of seas and randomly generated islands to happen upon (I don’t mean to keep picking on Sea of Thieves -- it’s just that out of the six announced exclusive titles for the One X, it was the only one that actually looked decent).

A gaming console needs good games to survive. If a gamer wants gaming power, they’ll just build a PC. If Xbox One X can somehow manage to rake in more exclusives that outshine the PS4 exclusives, the One X definitely has a chance to redeem itself. Otherwise, I think we'll just be sticking to Spider-Man on the PS4 and Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch.

~Richard
@richarizzard