Star Wars Battlefront: Original VS. Reboot

Disney’s new Star Wars movie Rogue One was an incredible blending of science fantasy and a war movie.  I’m excited that Star Wars is trying things like this.  All-out battle is something the original trilogy never did, and seeing it now reminds me of one thing: Battlefront.  Star Wars Battlefront was one of my favorite games for a long time, part of the golden age of Star Wars games in the early 2000s.

Since I’m feeling in this Star Wars mood anyway, I want to take this time to tackle the differences between the original Battlefront games and the reboots.  The Star Wars Battlefront franchise was rebooted in 2015 by DICE and Electronic Arts after ten years.  DICE’s reboot of the Star Wars Battlefront franchise was intensely hyped up from the moment it was announced, and I was instantly on-board the bandwagon.  I’m a loyal fan of those games since I was a kid, and I poured an unreal amount of hours into Star Wars Battlefront and Battlefront II.  I desperately wanted the franchise to make a return.  So when I saw the amount of care and dedication was putting into the game to make it a grand Star Wars experience, I figured nothing could go wrong.

I was gullible then.

Battlefront promotional art
Star Wars Battlefront promotional art! (Photo: Playstation Europe via Flickr)

The game came out, and the public’s opinion on the game  was highly controversial.  That was honestly predictable, as this game has a mountain of expectations to climb.  Current FPS fans loyal to games like DICE’s own Battlefield would want something familiar.  Battlefront traditionalists from back in the day would crave the classic, more strategic style.  To combine these ideas into a new installment ten years later was a tall order.  But this game could have succeeded.  The elements of success are there, but they’re all out of order.  Speaking as a Battlefront traditionalist, I want to take a good look at what I think EA should’ve done differently and what they should do for a sequel.

So let’s start with the basic layout of what we got on the day of release.  The Battlefront reboot…is gorgeous.  This is the best visual fidelity and sound design that Star Wars has ever seen short of the movies.  From a sensory perspective, playing this game is like being in a Star Wars movie.  But I noticed in a lot of teasers for the game that it seemed to trade on visuals alone.  Closer to release, we found out that there would only be two factions to play as.  We found out that there would be no campaign modes.  Then there were no classes.  Then there were only six distinct planets in the game.

Check out AngryJoe’s review of the game if you want, because he expresses a lot of the same problems I found.

Basically, DICE’s Battlefront fell down a slippery slope, because possibly the biggest complaint is lack of content.  It focused on creating a vivid Star Wars world, and succeeded.  But if you strip all that away, the game is repetitive and poorly balanced.  The bulk of the game consists of running out into battle, taking down some opponents, dying and taking a tumble, and repeating.  It brings back the staples of more powerful hero characters, vehicle combat, and aerial combat.  There was one big problem, though: everything was now a battlefield pickup.  This leads to a lot of spawn-camping to get these powers instead of earning them.

Compare this to the original Battlefront II, the most popular game in the franchise.  I see a lot of flaws with this game, but it had ambition.  It brought in space battles, hero characters, and more maps than its predecessor.  It wasn’t very balanced or polished, but it took a step forward.  The reboot included similar things, but locking them behind timed power-ups made them feel completely inorganic.  The fact that the game further removed campaigns, true space battles, and more makes it nothing more than a distraction.

The flaws go deeper because the game totally emphasizes  online deathmatch multiplayer.  The original teamwork and interesting map layouts of early Battlefront are left behind.  It’s very much a Call of Duty type of game more than a Battlefield type of game.  There’s so much less depth, and the imbalanced progression system makes it feel completely biased toward mass-appeal, pick-up-and-go skirmishes.  This is fundamentally different from classic Battlefront, and while it might sell with a certain crowd, it doesn’t live up to the franchise.

Battlefront 2015 isn’t some kind of broken game.  But it’s clear that it’s priorities lie in a different place than the others.  This game’s focus on looking nice and on featuring only the era being explored in the movies makes it feel like a cash grab.

And that would be all well and good, since the whole idea of the Battlefront games was to be a treat for fans of the movies.  But they had staying power because they were good games full of content that gave players options.  Tens of maps, space battles, and four different armies, topped off with online multiplayer, made for a legendary game.  The new Battlefront games are making people bored after just a few hours of play.

I think the new formula that DICE has created has a lot of promise, but the sequel reportedly coming in 2017 is going to have to bring a lot more to hear to attain the level of respect given the old 2000s standby.  The first game had multiple downloadable content packs, but the game had so little to stick around for early on.  Paying the price of practically another whole game to get the rest of the content is an outrage.  EA published this game, though, so it’s not surprising.  They have a reputation.

For a sequel, since there are more movies to draw from now, we should see more maps from the get-go.  There should also be less focus on unlocking weapons, and more resources put into other modes.  I hate to just say this, but I think it should be more like the originals.  Organic battles.  Diverse locations.  Actual teamwork.  Throw in modes like Capture-the-Flag, campaign missions, and true ground-to-space combat, and you have a game with tons of depth.  I’ll gladly sacrifice the delicious graphics and sound design for an engaging Star Wars shooter experience.

6 Great Games to Kill Time With

As a college student who celebrates Christmas, this is a magical time of year.  Not only is it the holiday season, it’s also winter break.  That means about a month of time to recover from the past semester of school.  For me, that also means catching up on lost time playing some good games, and it’s a rare opportunity to sit down and spend a lot of time with a game.

I realized, though, that a lot of games that take up a lot of your time aren’t worthy of that time.  Still, a lot of them are, so I’m going to give you my own personal recommendations of games that are great for filling out a month of time at the holidays.

The Elder Scrolls

You’ve probably heard of these games — Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim — these are my go-to games to get immersed in a game world.  I particularly start to feel like playing Skyrim during winter time, since the setting is already Nordic and wintry.  I grew up with Morrowind, though, and any of these games are perfect for sitting down and losing yourself.  Skyrim was recently remastered, and a new Elder Scrolls is going to be made eventually, so keep an eye on this franchise.

Assassin’s Creed IV

I’m mentioning Assassin’s Creed IV here, but really any Assassin’s Creed worth its salt can take its place.  I’m a huge fan of the early Assassin’s Creed games, and although they have very real flaws in gameplay and story, they deliver on historical settings beautifully.  The fourth game has the most content in my experience, but I’ve enjoyed ones before it as well.

Minecraft

Minecraft is the ultimate in open world, creative video games.  You can try to survive in its harsh simulation of nature and build yourself up to master your environment.  You can give yourself free reign over every asset in the game and bring your visions to life.  It’s so endless that it’s an almost meditative game to play and explore in.  So if you’re looking for a game that lets you create your own world, this is the one.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD

I’m kind of biased since I love this game so much, but out of all the Legend of Zelda games, I call this one the best and longest so far.  Its gloomy overtone and use of light is also very fitting for the winter months.  There’s so much to do in this game it’s kind of overwhelming.  If you’re looking for a nice, stylized experience that will take up a good amount of time, consider this one.  It just got an HD re-release, so now is the time!

Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Witcher 3 won tons of awards for a reason.  It combines elements of hack-and-slash, fantasy, and open-world exploration more gracefully than I could’ve expected.  You see elements of Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and more, all with a fairy tale spin.  Killing monsters with style in a medieval setting has rarely looked so cool.

Dark Souls

This is kind of an off-beat suggestion, but Dark Souls is a great option for a long haul.  These games are possibly Japanese company From Software‘s greatest work.  They’re notoriously hard, but they have an incredibly immersive, grotesque atmosphere.  They’re most famously an exercise in frustration.  But they shows their deep lore through gameplay, and have some of the most rewarding triumphs in gaming.  These are great if you want a reminder of why you loved video games in the first place.

Why I Prefer 3D Sonic Over 2D Sonic

Sonic Logo
The Sonic the Hedgehog logo! (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Sonic the Hedgehog fanbase has gotten a lot of hate over the years.  There are good reasons for it that I won’t get into, because that’s not the point.  Despite the hate, though, Sonic is a universe that I’m happy to be a fan of.  It’s unlike any other universe there is.  You can legitimately question the quality of any game in the series, but I still love the series.  It has a lot of creativity, heart, and innovation (for better or worse), and a spectacular Twitter feed.

But being a part of the Sonic fanbase, I’m extremely aware of the passionate divide that exists among fans over the franchise’s true golden age.  That’s the thing about the this fanbase — very rarely will you find a fan who genuinely loves every game.  Through all the formula changes, cast changes, and strange narratives, it’s easy to love one game but hate another.

Sonic 1 title screen
The Sonic 1 title screen! (Photo: BagoGames via Flickr)

Even the first three titles in the series, the OGs that started it all, receive hate from certain Sonic fans.  Likewise, there are a lot of fans who like the originals and nothing else.  Personally, I like to think of myself as someone who likes the original trilogy (plus CD)…but these games don’t like me.

There’s anything inherently bad about early Sonic games.  I have the utmost respect for what they are, the foundation they created, and their unique style.  It’s just that whenever I go back and try to relive the classic Sonic experience, I always end up giving up the ghost as soon as I started chasing it.  The design philosophy of these games is revolutionary, but it doesn’t click with me and the way I play games.  Let me explain.

Sonic 1 Green Hill Zone
The first level of Sonic 1, Green Hill Zone. (Photo: Chris Dorward via Flickr)

The beginnings of these games are simple enough.  They build you up fairly well, and most people get through the first few stages of Sonic 1, Sonic 2, and Sonic 3 (and Knuckles) without much difficulty.  Yet, just being adequate at these games isn’t enough, because that’s when its design starts to get strange.

What’s the first thing everybody says about Sonic games?  You go fast.  That’s it.  Now, I don’t necessarily agree with this assessment.  I feel like the core gameplay varies, but thrilling platforming is the common thread, and the end goal should be speed.  This is where the 2D games falter in my opinion.

Take the first Sonic the Hedgehog, for instance.  You make it through Green Hill Zone feeling pretty amped, but then comes Marble Zone.  Marble Zone consists of a pretty slow crawl.  There’s lots of waiting on platforms to cross lava, dodging tiny fireballs, and dealing with unstable terrain.  It gets tedious, and you lose so many lives if you don’t know what you’re doing.  One might argue that this is good design, because it’s challenging and it rewards the player for knowing the level.  But the issue is, you basically have to have the level design memorized to get through without taking a lot of frustrating hits.  And even then, there’s so much waiting involved that you lose the game’s sense of urgency.

But this is just one example, right?  What about Sonic 2 and 3?  These games added things like the spin dash, which you use to immediately generate speed.  The new elemental shields help you combat enemies, and they make platforming easier.  You would think this would fix the problems.  But again, in my experience, the game just isn’t built that well for the way Sonic moves.  The camera angle still shows a very limited range around you, so you can’t see very far ahead of yourself, and whenever you try to randomly spin dash to gain momentum, you find yourself unknowingly plunging into a lower path full of traps and grueling platforming meant to punish you for being reckless.  Don’t even get me started on corners that stop you completely and then spear you with spikes before you can even react.

In other games I would understand this, but again, my idea of Sonic is that it’s about urgency.   The games encourage you to go as fast as you can, but within a certain set of limitations.  If you don’t know where you are and what you’re doing, you’re going to get yourself in a sucky situation.  Again, I can imagine people saying this isn’t a problem.  The need to focus on your surroundings and play well to be rewarded with speed sounds appealing, but it’s so much more easily said than done.

Sonic CD
Sonic CD gameplay! (Photo: McCatTeam via YouTube)

The best way I can sum up the design of these games is that to reach the pinnacle of early Sonic takes tons of repetition.  The game doesn’t give you a whole lot of feedback at any given moment — it takes a lot of playing the same levels over and over to really have a sense of where things are and how to avoid frustrating gameplay.  In the meantime, though, you can expect to get your ass handed to you a lot trying to get through levels quickly but instead running into constant setbacks.  Being good at these games takes commitment.  This makes me respect people who get really good at these games, because they’ve put in the work and earned their quick times.  But for the rest of us average joes, early Sonic is a cruel mistress.

I suppose that’s why I like Sonic Adventure 2.  It sounds bizarre, but I have good reason.  I appreciate that you have a clear sense of what lies ahead, so it’s easier to take in information and react.  Even the 2.5D levels of Sonic Generations are a huge step in the right direction for me.  The camera moves more dynamically and the level layout is always clearer.  Things are just better for me in those games because they give me exactly what I look for out of this series: a quick, straightforward platforming experience.

I should make it clear that I don’t think 3D Sonic is fundamentally superior to 2D Sonic, or vice versa.  I wish more of the Sonic fanbase saw it this way.  Every game in the series does something extremely experimental.  The mechanics of one game might be completely different from those in another game five years later, and they won’t all work for everybody.

Sonic Mania title screen
The Sonic Mania title screen! (Photo: BagoGames via Flickr)

If we can just appreciate the things that each game does right and be willing to realize that not everyone will like the same things in their Sonic games, we’ll be better for it as a fanbase.  Let’s hope that the big 2017 lineup, including the throwback action of Sonic Mania, does a good job of bringing us all together again!

8 Cool Destinations for Video Game Holiday Gifts

It’s no secret that Screen Looker isn’t exactly a consumer blog.  Posts on here focus more on good game design than getting the best bang for your buck.  But the end of the year has arrived, and it’s officially the holiday season.  You all know what that means!

Well, egg nog for one thing.

But it also means people are out shopping left and right, and this includes the gaming community as well.  So I’m going to list my favorite spots for video-game-related gifts.

These are in no particular order, by the way, they’re just my favorites.

1 – f.y.e.

f.y.e. storefront
f.y.e. is an excellent multimedia destination. (Image via Flickr)

You may have heard of f.y.e. before — they have a presence in tons of shopping malls, and they’re a great multimedia outlet.  They have lots of music and movies, but also an impressive collection of figurines and apparel.  This is a great stop for not just gaming gifts, but other types of tech products as well.

2 – Fangamer

Fangamer homepage
The homepage of Fangamer!

Fangamer may have the most impressive collection of gaming products I’ve seen.  They have soundtracks, plushies, accessories, and even posters.  They also have a focus on indie game merch — not just Shovel Knight and Undertale, but Axiom Verge and Stardew Valley.  If you’re looking to give an impressive, unusual gift to someone who loves games, then you should check them out.

3 – Hot Topic

Hot Topic
The homepage of Hot Topic.

You may have heard that Hot Topic is just a store for edgelords.  In reality, they actually have a lot of pretty cool gaming-related products.  They have vinyls, posters, and apparel from franchises like The Legend of ZeldaFive Night’s at Freddy’s, and more.  There are Hot Topic locations everywhere, so they might be worth a look.

4 – The Yetee

Homepage of TheYetee.com
The homepage of TheYetee.com

If you like video games, the Internet, and art all rolled into one, The Yetee is the place for you.  They have T-shirt collections based on certain franchises, YouTubers, and so on, but they also have 24-hour deals every day on specific designs.  Each day will usually feature two designs that you can get in a shirt or a hoodie, and at a reasonable price.  They’re a great company that sells great shirts, so give them a try.

5 – The Pixel Empire

Homepage of The Pixel Empire
The homepage of The Pixel Empire!

The Pixel Empire should be known to fans of Caddicarus and PeanutButterGamer, and they live up to the hype.  These guys are a premier source of video game prints, posters, and phone cases.  They even sell some nice apparel.  If you’re looking for some gaming decor to give as gifts, look no further than here.

6 – Insert Coin Clothing

Homepage of Insert Coin Clothing
The homepage of Insert Coin Clothing!

Based in the UK, Insert Coin Clothing is one of the biggest game apparel sites out there.  They focus mainly on bigger franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Sonic the Hedgehog, but they have lots of variety.  Plus, they focus on a classic urban look with some clever designs.  It may be trickier ordering from them if you live in the U.S., but it’s worth it for the unique items.

7 – Nintendo NYC

Nintendo World
The Nintendo World Store, on a New York City corner! (Image via Flickr)

Nintendo NYC, or the Nintendo World Store, is located at 10 Rockefeller Plaza in New York.  This is more of a personal inclusion, but still valid.  This is the greatest place out there for Nintendo collectibles, games, and demo stations.  If you have a chance to get to New York, then you’d be well-served to stop by.  Plus, if you have any urban-dwelling Nintendo fans, this is the ultimate holiday spot. (They even offer to wrap your gifts during the holiday season!)

8 – Your local retro game store

Retro game store in NJ
Retro game stores are common, and have great inventories!

If you’re just looking to get some games from your childhood, or something that can’t be found every day, check your area for retro game stores.  They usually have great staff and inventories, and are great small businesses to support.  I have at least two near my own house: Play N Trade and Jay Street Video Games.  Stores like these can be found everywhere with a little searching — and they’re well worth finding.

YouTube Spotlight: Egoraptor and Sequelitis

I originally discovered Arin Hanson, AKA Egoraptor, because I was (and still am) a fan of Jon Jafari, AKA JonTron.  I was a day one subscriber of their channel GameGrumps, and it was my first introduction to Arin and his work.  For those unfamiliar with him, Arin is something of a jack-of-all-trades.  He’s mostly known for his hilarious animations, and more recently, his channel’s uploaded music videos from his comedy band Starbomb.  But another major part of his legacy is his mini web series Sequelitis.

Arin Hanson
Arin Hanson, AKA Egoraptor! (Image: Wikipedia)

Sequelitis was possibly Hanson’s biggest passion project.  It’s a series of videos examining changes in game design that happen when certain video games are followed up by sequels.  Granted, these videos are somewhat more comedic than informative.  However, they broke ground by being some of the first videos on YouTube to make game design fun and accessible.

When I first watched through Sequelitis, it’s not an exaggeration to say it changed my life.  Honestly, it permanently changed the way I look at video games.  Before Sequelitis, I thought about games purely in terms of whether or not they were enjoyable.  After watching it, I started thinking about why games were fun or why they were frustrating, and most importantly, I thought about how they could consistently improve.

The first of the three major installments of Sequelitis compares the first Castlevania with its direct sequel Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest.  This video talks about how a sequel can actually make a formula for a game worse by becoming too deep and too ambitious.  Even if it has good intentions, sometimes a game that sacrifices simplicity for complexity just becomes sloppy.

This is probably the most famous episode of Sequelitis, and my personal favorite.  The focus of this one is Mega Man and Mega Man X, a prime example of a company taking a great series and expanding it beautifully into something all its own.  This video showed me the importance of how games teach their players.  The Mega Man games taught players naturally, and you don’t see this in a lot of modern games.

The third and most recent Sequelitis is on The Legend of Zelda, and the series’ transition from 2D games into 3D.  This is a fascinating video because Arin heavily criticizes The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which is considered a poster child of the series and one of the best games of all time.  Still, he does it in an exceedingly fair way.  He’s drawn a lot of criticism for this video, and I think that’s kind of a shame.  I personally find his points very valid, and the comedy in this video is very much on point.

There are no new episodes of Sequelitis in the works, so it may be that Arin has permanently moved away from it.  This is understandable, especially because his other content has become much more popular.  But the way Sequelitis tackled video game design is unlike anything on YouTube before or since, and I hope it makes a return eventually.  In the meantime, so many other creators have made similar content, using Sequelitis as inspiration.  I myself am part of that crowd, and I owe Sequelitis for the part I play in this community.

I highly recommend watching Sequelitis if you’re interested in game design and somehow haven’t heard of it yet.  Even if you aren’t, it’s still a great time if you’re a fan of video games.  Beyond that, I’d say go support Arin in all his other projects.  I think he’s a generally great guy who creates fun and unique content.  I watch Game Grumps every day, and I re-watch his content all the time, so if you’re looking for my word, he’s worth a look.

RIDIN’ ON CARS!!! (sorry, just had to do it)