Shenmue III reaction

I’ve never given up hope that Shenmue would get its conclusion, and it seems that my faith has been rewarded.

Shenmue III Kickstarter

It’s funny, though. For years I’d always suggest Shenmue III as a dream E3 announcement as a joke, opening myself to a ribbing, but in the last couple of years it started to feel like a real possibility. Yu Suzuki started to make public appearances more often, dropping hints that were taken as hope by some, trolling by others. He was pictured with Sony’s Mark Cerny at a time when Sony was openly courting developers, and then Suzuki uttered the words “to be continued” after the Cerny-hosted GDC postmortem.

This all left me more disappointed that it didn’t materialise at E3 2014 than I had since 2002. But I still had the feeling that there’s no smoke without fire. Something had changed, even if I wasn’t sure precisely what.

Fast forward to this E3, and this tweet:

Surely he’s not that cruel? Even if Suzuki thought that was just a cool-looking forklift, he knows what people are going to read into that, right? But the seeds were sown, and I started to believe. I put the possibility of Shenmue III somewhere below the similarly MIA The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy VII remake, both of which were all but leaked in the days beforehand, but I went to bed last night with my fingers crossed.

It’s going to seem like I’m making stuff up here, but I genuinely dreamt that Shenmue III was announced last night. It was an MMO in my dream, and I remember seeing all the NPCs in the various neighbourhoods with player handles above their heads.

Sorry, Barney.
I’d like to apologise to my brother for the early awakening.

I then inexplicably woke up at 4:30am – normally it takes a good few runs through the snooze button to get me up when the alarm goes at 7:30 – and checked my phone to see the news on GAF. $300 plus shipping went into the Kickstarter fund immediately. Then came much celebrating and annoyed texts from those I’d bothered with early morning messages. They’ll forgive me eventually.

I’m just absolutely ecstatic. It’s hard to believe that this has finally happened, after all the jokes and teasing aimed at those who’ve been carrying the torch for so long. I’ve spent the morning on Twitter, sharing reactions that mirrored my own, finding out which tiers my Shenmue-loving friends have pledged at. People who remember my old Shenmue website have been emailing me out of the blue to share their happiness too.

What a day.

Bournemouth in the Premier League

Me and my brother with Alex Ferguson at Dean Court, circa 1996.Strictly speaking, I’m not an AFC Bournemouth fan. I’ve been a supporter of Manchester United since I was a kid and always will be. But I am a lifelong Bournemouth resident – no United fans actually live in Manchester, remember – and I remember going to Bournemouth games with my dad and uncle. I remember watching on TV as they literally passed a bucket around in the Winter Gardens to collect donations to stave off bankruptcy, and that’s not the only time I’ve seen it minutes from the end.

I met Sir Alex Ferguson and David Beckham in the tunnel at Dean Court when United came down for a pre-season friendly and my dad sponsored the match ball, circa 1996. A close family friend has the dual claims to fame of being a former Bournemouth player and an answer to a question on A Question of Sport. (It was on sports people named after body parts, incidentally.) My dad has a framed photo from the Daily Express on the wall showing the Bournemouth goalkeeper making a save as the Cherries beat Stoke City 4-0, his company’s logo on the hoarding below him.

It’s a club I have numerous connections with, in other words, and therefore also a lot of fondness. That’s what’s left me so chuffed over what’s happened today. Bournemouth in the Premier League is surreal and wonderful to see. It’s still odd to type, like it’s something that happens to other, better resourced clubs: Bournemouth in the Premier League. How on earth did that happen? Officially it hasn’t yet, admittedly. I hope I’m not looking back on this post with embarrassment after Charlton’s prediction comes true.

Good luck to them. They’ve played great football this season and are about to become very rich indeed – a far cry from shaking buckets for pennies. Becoming a Premier League fixture is perhaps too much to hope for, but you never know. Other clubs have come up and impressed, even if they don’t stick around for long. Invest it wisely and be a Swansea rather than a Portsmouth.

But that said, when Bournemouth visit Old Trafford, I’ll be sitting in the home end.

Returning to the Resident Evil remake

I know I’ve complained about the preponderance of recent remasters, which makes my current enthusiasm for this, the 2015 remaster of the 2002 remake of 1996’s Resident Evil, as well as the long-awaited Majora’s Mask 3D, seem odd. I’ll defend my position, though, since neither of those games has been seen on shelves in more than a decade and at least two console generations – they’re retro, in other words. I’ll be less enthusiastic about a 1080p remaster of Resident Evil 6, should that arrive, believe me.

Resident Evil HD: The mansion lobby

This is a game that I always respected and wanted to like, but timid little 2002-vintage me never made it much beyond the appearance of Crimson Heads. A couple of hours, in other words. A humiliating admission for such an ardent horror fan, but sadly not an isolated one in my gaming back catalogue, which is a who’s who of abandoned horror classics. But while the years might have blunted the absolute dread I felt when playing this to the point where it didn’t really give me The Fear at all, like when I played through the original Silent Hill, though, time has left the solid mechanics alone. It’s a phenomenally well-designed game.

But where Silent Hill, being (a) a PS1 game and (b) doing in real-time what Resident Evil resorted to pre-rendered backdrops to accomplish, looks really rough now, the Resident Evil remake (REmake hereafter) still looks incredible. It’s genuinely one of the most beautiful games ever made, even on a GameCube, and quick polish for a new generation of systems has only enhanced it. Some FMV and dark backgrounds that can look somewhat over-compressed aside, the game looks almost flawless. A handful of rooms are apparently now rendered in real-time, and it’s absolutely seamless – meaning we had a game on the GC that could stand up alongside games from two generations on. Amazing.

Resident Evil HD: Jill Valentine

I’m continually blown away by the details in the visual and story design of this game. The Spencer Mansion, ridiculous as its gems, metal objects and death masks may be, is an iconic location, brimming with memorable rooms and scares. Lisa Trevor and her family add a harrowing subplot that’s significantly more disturbing than any number of exploding heads. It has fun in playing with your expectations, so that you can imagine the designers smiling as famous moments like the dogs through the window are subverted, or when the aforementioned Crimson Heads turn cleared rooms into dangerous ammo sinks. The voice acting still has B-movie charm without being impossible to take seriously like the original, while those touching up the script and removing some of the more egregious howlers had the good sense to leave alone some of the best writing.

As much as I love RE2 and 4, REmake is my favourite in the series. It’s pure survival horror, which, brilliant as it is, Resident Evil 4 isn’t. It’s also tight, creepy and self-contained, which the bigger and crazier RE2 isn’t. It’s also a lesson for newer games in how to do a lot without a huge abundance of content, supporting two stories, multiple endings and a series of enjoyable unlocks in a game that can comfortably be finished in five hours.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

I’ve written before about how much I miss the B-tier of gaming, that time when there was something between a $100 million “AAA” release – the shifting definition of that term is another post in itself – and a quirky indie game from two blokes in a garage. Every so often you get something that channels the spirit of that time, showing that polish, cool ideas and a budget aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this, which had sat on my pile of shame for a couple of months, is put together in that vein.

I mean it as a sincere compliment when I say that The New Order feels straight out of 2003. It belongs to that glut of post-Half-Life 2 narrative-driven shooters that were ten-a-penny on the original Xbox and actually represented, in retrospect, a reliably good subgenre for one that was rinsed so thoroughly. As well as Valve’s classic, the DNA of games like The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (there’s a Starbreeze connection), Breakdown, Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, Doom 3 and so on is on show here. Even if I limit the discussion to games about leading a resistance against a technologically advanced and oppressive regime, I could equally be talking about The New Order, Half-Life 2 or the much-missed Freedom Fighters.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

This retro feel is carried through to the pleasantly old-school design: secrets, collectables, non-regenerating health, an arsenal of weapons to carry around without regard for encumbrance systems, and giant enemies with exploitable weak points abound. Even the prominence given to dual-wielding feels pleasantly of that era, after Halo 2 made it a banner feature but before dour, grounded militarism became the genre’s creed.

The New Order isn’t thrown together without thought, though, which is perhaps surprising for a series with such straightforward roots. Almost as surprising as the lack of multiplayer in a game whose deathmatches once hooked me so strongly. The design of posters, signage, architecture and even the pop music heard in the background has been built to present a believable vision of the 60s in a world where the Nazis won the war and propaganda infuses all aspects of culture. I read several excellent articles about the music around the game’s release, among them VentureBeat’s, and was blown away at how much effort went into an area that is so easily overlooked.

Visiting Nazi London in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Wolfenstein is undoubtedly a game that would have made my abridged best of 2014 list had I plunked down the cash before the Boxing Day sales. I’m tempted to drop a cliché about how it’s not big or clever, but really, it kind of is. The old-fashioned parts are lovingly, knowingly so, and the thought put into its vision of a Nazi-dominated 1960 is up there with the big releases. There’s nothing in The New Order that’s been thrown together arbitrarily.

I’m happy, therefore, to declare that gaming’s B-tier still lives! For one game, at least.

Best of 2014 #1: South Park: The Stick of Truth

South Park: The Stick of TruthThe South Park games are an eclectic mix, from an FPS in the days before everything had to be an FPS, through kart racinggame shows and tower defence. An RPG must have been the obvious choice, then, thankfully after they had the revelation that South Park games work better when they look like the TV show.

But even despite the turmoil that accompanied the development, from THQ’s bankruptcy to the frankly shameful censorship – I imported the unsullied version, naturally – it turned out amazingly well. It’s fun, funny, authentic, and unlike many turn-based RPGs, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. With my reduced gaming time coming into frequent conflict with my love of a genre that thrives on lengthy narratives, words cannot express how much I appreciated a traditional RPG that I could finish in 15 hours.

It’s the fact that it was funny that stood out most, though. From the ludicrous summons to the creative trophies (‘Are We Cool?’ and ‘Heisenberg’ are favourites), through the obsession with anal probing, dodging swinging ball sacks and the way the Nazi zombies speak in incomprehensible snippets of Hitler speeches, it’s often hilarious when most games can’t raise a chuckle. Even if the game had sucked, which it absolutely doesn’t, I’d have happily endured through the running time to soak in all the humour.

Happy new year, everyone. May it be better for gaming than the last one.

Best of 2014 #2: Infamous: Second Son

Infamous: Second SonThat this is the only first-party game to make my list may be an admission that I don’t have a Wii U more than any lack of trying from the platform holders, but the fact is Microsoft and Sony haven’t been particularly prolific in 2014.

But even without caveats, I thought Second Son fulfilled the promise that the Infamous series had had since the beginning. The first two were good but saddled with a bland protagonist and a uninteresting, half-baked apocalyptic story. Delsin liked having powers, just like the player does. He’s like Spider-Man rather than another tortured hero.

Second Son was, in fact, the first game in which I bothered to earn the Platinum trophy. That means I finished it twice, when most games don’t even move me to play through them once. Even if it still suffers from the rather binary morality of the other Infamous games, the good and bad paths were enjoyably different.

It was gorgeous too, of course. One of the first games to restore some faith in what these consoles are capable of when they’re not running another remaster.