News, Views, and Reviews
With a name like “My View Screen” it should be obvious that my blog is only about things that I’m playing or watching. I don’t have enough time or money to watch all the movies or play all the video games as they are released. I have to pass up a lot of movies and games, but most I pass up simply because they don’t interest me. I don’t review any sports or wrestling games or many romantic comedies, for example. But, sometimes a new movie or game is released that I am interested in, but I’m busy doing other things or have to pass for other reasons. (I’ll admit it, I’m very absorbed in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn right now.) When that happens, I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out.
Tuesday, September 17th saw two big releases that I’m passing up and missing out: Grand Theft Auto Five (GTA V) for Xbox 360 and PS3, and Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker Remake (LOZ:WW HD) for the Wii U.
It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since GTA IV was released, and an incredible thirteen years since GTA III changed the world of video games forever. Super Mario 64 may have introduced gamers to a non-linear, 3D world back in 1996, but it wasn’t until 2001 that the “sandbox” genre was truly defined by GTA III. For the first few years after it was released, similar games were even called “GTA-like” before the more common “open sandbox” term began being used. These “GTA-like” or open sandbox games include “realistic” cities to explore and play around in, and allowed players to tackle main story missions or just do what ever they wanted. Although I appreciate the contributions GTA III and its sequels have given the video game industry, they weren’t perfect games. GTA III had TERRIBLE controls, and they were only slightly improved with the GTA III spin-offs “Vice City” and “San Andreas”.
Fortunately, game developer Rockstar has had thirteen years (and sequels, spin-offs, and other games like Manhunt, Drive Club, Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3) to polish and refine those controls – and just about everything else – resulting in the so-called “masterpiece” that is GTA V. This perfection is one of the things that make me feel like I’m missing out. Early reviews of GTA V are giving it flawless scores: IGN rates it a 10/10 and calls it a “masterpiece”; Official Xbox Magazine, EGM, and Video Gamer also gave it 5/5 or 10/10 scores. GTA V currently sits at 98/100 on Metacritic. From these various reviews, I’ve gleaned that the controls are solid, missions are more focused and contain numerous check-points, vehicle handling has been greatly improved, and new distractions like golf and scuba-diving have been added. In other words, the objective qualities, the mechanics and aesthetics of the game, are being universally praised.
But what about the content? I don’t want to sound “holier-than-thou” and say that I’m passing on GTA V based on its questionable subject matter. I also don’t want to sound like a hypocrite for saying that, as I have played many “Rated M for Mature” titles. An “M” rated game, by definition, is made for adults, and I am an adult. The Grand Theft Auto series has been infamous over the years, and it does feature many adult themes and situations (from the ESRB rating: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol). It is also known for sharply criticizing and lampooning society, and GTA V is apparently no different. However, Rockstar has even responded to content criticisms, and has crafted a trio of main characters that have their own personalities and story arcs. The mayhem and freedom (and adult content) that GTA games contain are supposedly better justified this time.
Personally, though, the most fun I had with GTA IV was playing multi-player. Forget the story, characters, and missions, the online portion was truly an open sandbox for up to sixteen players. GTA V is enhancing the online content by providing a separate “GTA Online” game, included with every copy of GTA V. This is a more “persistent” sandbox world to play in, that sounds like an MMO, except only sixteen players can inhabit “your” world at any time. Perhaps an evolution of the “sandbox” genre, a few modern games are also earning the “emergent” game play descriptor, and GTA Online definitely qualifies. “Emergent” game play is what it sounds like: the tools and capabilities to create different gaming experiences are left in the hands of the players and the gaming community, sometimes in ways that the developers couldn’t have intended. But, GTA Online isn’t total “emergent” anarchy, it will contain numerous missions and structured content for friends to play through. Online players will each have their own unique character that will “level up” like an RPG, and acquire apartments, houses, and vehicles to upgrade and customize. It sounds incredibly ambitious, and its definitely the biggest part that I’m missing out. When Rockstar announced the separate “GTA Online” portion of GTA V, I was hoping that it would be sold separately, but sadly, that is not the case. I will keep hoping that they will someday change their minds and make it available as a stand-alone game.
LOZ: WW HD
Super Mario 64 launched the “Nintendo 64” console back in 1996, and introduced true 3D gaming freedom to gamers. But as fun as it was to play in Mario’s 3D “platforming” adventure world, the Nintendo 64 really shone when the Legend of Zelda franchise was also adapted to 3D in 1998: “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” is often heralded as THE best video game ever made. The “Ocarina of Time” was followed by “Majora’s Mask” on the N64 (2000), “Wind Waker” on the GameCube (2002), “The Twilight Princess” on both the GameCube and the Wii (2006), and “Skyward Sword” on the Wii (2011). When the Wii U console launched last year, it seemed to lack a big “killer app” or system-selling game, and its sales have been dangerously low so far. Many have speculated that a new Legend of Zelda game would sell systems, but development cycles of LoZ games are typically four to five years – and Skyward Sword JUST came out. Remaking Wind Waker seems like a smart move by Nintendo, and they are even packaging a special “Wii U – Wind Waker HD” bundle. So, how special is the WW HD remake?
Apparently, it is also getting rave reviews: IGN gave it a 9.8 out of 10; Eurogamer rates it 10/10; Nintendo Life and others gave it a 9/10. WW HD currently has an 88/100 score on Metacritic. The original Wind Waker used a unique “cel-shaded” or cartoon art style that has aged well. Improving the lighting and some of the animations is all Nintendo needed to keep Wind Waker looking “fresh” and “next gen”, along with bumping the screen resolution up to 1080p. Nintendo also had years of criticism and feedback of the original to sort through, so the game play has been tweaked and modified here and there. Significant improvements include speeding up the sail boat, which is used for the majority of the game, and re-working the final quest to reassemble the Master Sword, which really helps improve the pacing of the final portion of the game.
Using the Wii U “GamePad” tablet controller provides new improvements to an already remarkable game. Managing inventory items and swapping weapons using the touch screen, for example, is said to improve the flow of game play instead of navigating the old menus of the original. Similarly, sailing about the open seas and using the touchscreen as an always-open map benefits those sections. It’s hard to believe, but the GameCube controller didn’t have a second analog stick as we have learned to prefer since then, so camera controls mapped to the “true” second analog stick on the GamePad is another improvement.
Overall, it sounds like Nintendo has taken an already well-made game, updated the visuals, and improved the controls, game play, and flow of the game to even higher levels. So why am I passing it up? Well, besides not wanting to buy a Wii U just for one game, I already PLAYED Wind Waker, eleven years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed it back then, and I still have fond memories. I played the entire 40+ hour game – TWICE – and collected all the picture/figurines and completed all the side quests and objectives. I think it’s a great game, and hearing that it is even better does make me feel like I’m missing out. I also think this is a smart move for Nintendo. Just think about it: there is an entire new generation of gamers “coming of age” that have never played Wind Waker before, and will be possibly introduced to video games because of how great it is. To everyone that is playing WW HD, either for the first or second time, I say, enjoy it!
But, like I said, I can’t play everything. I’m also trying to save money for both the Xbox One AND PS4 and several new releases coming out later this year. In the meantime, I hope this blog encourages others to not pass up or miss out on these great games.
GTA V was released for Xbox 360 and PS3 on September 17th and is rated ‘M’ for Mature for: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol. GTA Online is on the GTA V disc but won’t launch until October 2nd. LOZ: WW HD was released for Wii U on September 17th and is rated ‘E10+’ for Everyone 10 and Older.