Extreme Sports Video Games

Who remembers SSX and 1080? The waves of Tony Hawk games that were all the rage in the 2000s? I do. I vaguely played a few of them, and watched my friends and classmates play a lot more of them.

I guess it was the “EXTREME SPORTS” trend of that period extending to video gaming. I don’t really miss it, but I can see the appeal. And I can also see how that influence extended into non-extreme sports games starring a certain Sega mascot.

 

Fire Emblem Wariness

So I saw the preview for Fire Emblem Three Houses, of which more was finally released in the latest Nintendo Direct. While a lot of it looks impressive, I have to say that I’m wary. I think it’s just the trend of the series and the school setting.

Basically, my reasoning goes like this. Since Awakening, IntSys has thrown every anime antic but the kitchen sink at FE. Now they’re drilling straight into the Anime Antics field of school settings. That’s my wariness. My hope is that the gameplay can get something interesting out of the system (and I can see the possibilities), and the “anime school antics” aren’t done too badly.

Although I like the design of the three main characters, at least.

Outgrowing a game

I think I’ve outgrown Payday 2. I don’t regret the time and money spent on it-it was very fun and worked very well. But now with the story (such as it is) concluded, all I’m left with is, when I try to go back to it, I just find a mindless wave fighter in a clunky, badly optimized engine that I was losing some interest in before (for the last few updates I would return to the game for a bit, play them, and then go back).

I had fun with it, but I think I’ve played out my time in Payday 2. I’ll remember doing the classics like Hoxton Breakout and Big Bank, maybe being the only person who unironically liked Henry’s Rock, and just running the easy early heists again and again for relaxation. But now it’s done.

The End of Payday 2

So, Payday 2 got its official end.

I only got the bad/non-Secret ending myself, and am nowhere near as good a player to get the good/Secret Revealed ending. While the game turning into a ridiculous wannabe-Assassin’s Creed mish-mash of every conspiracy ever might seem bad in isolation, in context it worked as well as it could have and showed how a little earnestness can go a very long way.

I feel bittersweet. I’ve been playing Payday 2 for a very long time. It’s (a distant) second only to Command: Modern Air Naval Operations, my dream game, in terms of actual time played. I remember playing it on a computer that could barely run it at all, and then seeing the contrast when I got a better system. It’s definitely one of the most mainstream games I’ve played and enjoyed. And the music-the music is incredible.

 

Skirmish Games

So, I’ve been fascinated by small scale skirmish wargames lately. Stuff like the ones in this excellent post. Why them?

Partly because a down-and-dirty infantry firefight is what I like in a story, having also read many small-unit action stories recently. Partly because it reminds me of XCOM, Fire Emblem, and other low-unit strategy games. And partly just because I can think of the figures more as individual characters than generic units.

The latest Nintendo Direct

So, I saw the latest Nintendo Direct. A lot of it was basic announcements, with the kicker being a new Animal Crossing game and Isabelle being a playable character in Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Still no focus on Fire Emblem Three Houses. Might just be IntSys wanting to be tightlipped or the game being tough to describe in a two-minute video without being either too spoiler-y or too redundant (ie, it’s a strategy game like the other fifteen games in the series before it). Oh well.

Xenonauts

So, time to use a weird analogy where I compare alien-fighting turn-based strategy games to cars.

The original X-COM is a quirky old British sports car. Yes, it’s unreliable and the dashboard looks like it was designed for some bizarre species, but it has an undeniable feeling of fun, with the strange suspension part of the thrill.

The new XCOM is a modern performance car. Still a premium, somewhat niche product, and definitely smoothed out compared to the old classic, but keeps enough of the “feel” to be both practical and exciting.

Xenonauts, the X-COM spiritual sequel, is an econobox without power windows. It’s still a car, and it’s ultimately filling the car roles, but it’s dull and tedious.

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Xenonauts ultimately isn’t a bad game, just as how a basic point-a-to-point-b econobox that’s reliable and has good enough cargo room and mileage ultimately isn’t a bad car. But it’s just… bland. I was “spoiled” by the new XCOM using the same basic concept in a “Streamlined” fashion. This is just the original X-COM with the worst excesses polished off.

There’s two problems with this mechanical approach. The first is that enough issues remain from the old X-COM-the two worst being garbage-tier rookies and a clunky “time units” system for determining what you can do in a turn-that the gameplay experience can drag. The second is that the very polish drags away a lot of the goofy charm of the original X-COM, where you start with rookies who exist as grenade tossers and stun-rod zappers and plan to lose half of them in every fight, and end with super-psychics who never have to leave their starting positions. Instead, it’s just-bland. Harder and blander.

And the visual design has to win some kind of award for being “bland”. It’s a combination of “as close as we can get to the original X-COM without legal trouble, but without anything silly” and “generic military base”. I generally don’t care about graphics, but this was still a big issue. The only good thing is the excellent music.

It’s playable, and something true X-COM style fans can enjoy as a part of the experience. But it’s just bland.