We’re a month and a half into 2016 and it’s already been a vintage year. Firewatch, American Truck Simulator, The Witness and XCOM 2 are a varied and delightful quartet, and we’ve also seen the rebirth of Homeworld and several smaller, stranger, delights.
Graham: You know it's a bumper year when your summarising intro doesn't have space for a new Tomb Raider game (which you enjoyed, sez this review), megahits like Darkest Dungeon or the spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment.
But those games are consigned to the past, and are therefore dead to us. This is about the future. Let's start with Far Cry: Primal, Ubisoft's latest effort to prove that there's limit to how far they're willing to bend their yearly franchises. Are you excited to cover your boy parts with a fur loincloth in its prehistoric setting?
Adam: The first thing I’ll do is kill whatever megafauna gets me some trouser-crafting abilities. Breezy things, loincloths.
Given that I’ve enjoyed every Far Cry game I’ve played - and that’s the four in the main series, I didn’t touch Blood Dragon or any of the Instincts console spin-offs - I should be more excited about Far Cry: Primal. Here’s the thing; as soon as I can put it on my hard drive and actually play it, I’ll probably do very little else for a few evenings in a row. But there’s no real sense of anticipation on my part.
Whether that’s because I prefer explosions to angry pets, I can’t rightly say. I like the idea of taming creatures and siccing them on idiots, I really do, but nothing I’ve seen of Primal makes me want to jump into a cryochamber and set the dial for day of release. Maybe it’s the environments. It doesn’t look as colourful as the previous two ‘gap years gone to hell’ games.
I love the Far Cry series though because every entry feels like a variation on the FPS I dreamed of playing when I was playing Doom and Quake back in the day. Vehicles, awesome physics, freedom and fantasy. They’re big and brash and encourage a creative approach to running and gunning that I thoroughly enjoy and admire. I reckon they’re blockbuster gaming done well, on the whole, and I’ll be surprised if Primal doesn’t win me over. At least a little.
What say you? Don’t you think it’d much easier to get excited if there were dinosaurs? What’s that about?
Graham: I'm surprised that I feel similar. Initially Primal seemed like the best thing ever, because I mainly play Far Cry games with nowt but a bow and arrow in my arsenal, and that's the only weapon that can reasonably carry across from the other games to this new one. I like the idea of being a sneaky caveman type.
But I'm also realising that although I mainly use the bow and arrow to kill in Far Cry, I'm actually there for a whole bunch of other things. Far Cry 4 had a gyrocopter, for example, that was a great way to get around the environment. I bet you can't craft one of those out of tortoise shells and mammoth tusks in Far Cry Primal.
I also mainly play the games to tackle the forts, those optional bases that support multiple styles of approach. Often in co-op. Maybe Far Cry Primal has unscripted neanderthalic tribes people I can sneak among and skewer, but if there is then I haven't seen much of that in the pre-release spiel. There's definitely no multiplayer this time out.
I don't want it to sound like I'm saying that features, once added, must remain in all iterations of a game, or that mega-blockbusters must only bloat until they burst. But I do agree with you that Far Cry has jettisoned enough that's core to the series for me that I find myself interested as I might be someone new I was going to meet for the first time at a party, as opposed to the return of an old friend I know I enjoy the company of.
And I fucking hate meeting new people.
Adam: Even if they’re wearing a fur loincloth?
Here’s my prediction - we’ll both play Far Cry Primal and think, ‘oh, this is much more fun than I expected it to be!’ and we’ll play it for a couple of weeks. And then we’ll move on to something else and forget that we were ever primitive cavepersons.
That something else might well be Hitman because by the time our time with Far Cry Primal is up, 47’s world might be expanding. Paris is coming next month, as the first of the sandbox episodes in Hitman’s world tour, but there should be a regular stream of new #content. I believe Italy is next up.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ve already played the game. Are you looking forward to crashing a fashion show and hitting some men next month?
Graham: YES. This is more like it. I'll be honest, your recent preview somewhat dented my enthusiasm, but I've been working hard at it and I think I've recovered my original sense of excitement and optimism. You will not make me waver again.
Hitman is very much my kind of game. I loved Blood Money, it is one of the best ever games. I thought Absolution was akin to the strange stains all over the pavestones on my patio: ugly, baffling but ignorable. That this looks like an effort to return to what made Blood Money great is great with me; and I've decided that even if it ultimately fails, it'll probably give me enough to toy around with that I'll have fun with it anyway. Because it looks like I can make my own fun in it.
Do your worst to dissuade me from such positivity.
Adam: I rain on every parade I see. It’s why I’m banned from New York around Thanksgiving.
I’d hope that my words tempered expectations rather than warning people away from the game though. That was me approaching Hitman as somebody like you - I think Blood Money is a masterpiece and if the new game can achieve anything comparable, it’ll be a wondrous thing.
My concerns are mostly around the actual level design. When people talk about Blood Money they tend to discuss the systems that allow for all of these weird emergent behaviours, and they tell stories about how they managed to kill such and such a person with that one weapon in a ridiculous or accomplished fashion. It’s a marvel of improvisation.
But it’s also home to some of the tightest and smartest level design. The intricate construction of those spaces is as necessary to the stories and the fun-creation as the systems operating within them. New-Hitman’s Paris level is big, yes, but it feels loose. A bit baggy. I wasn’t convinced the actual structure, which is like two big boxes, one within the other, had enough Swiss cheese holes, dead-ends, corridors and hidey-holes to bring out the best of the systems.
I’d love nothing more than to be proven wrong. But even with all of my criticisms, I’m far more excited to play Hitman than I am to play Primal. It’s my kind of toy. A weirder thing than Far Cry has ever been (the simulated deterioration and misery of Secret Best Game Far Cry 2 aside) and something of an unknown, which is a fine thing to be able to say about the latest in such a long-running series.
What’s next? Are we going to play soldiers in Clancy-land?
Graham: My favourite theme park!
I'm torn on the subject of Tom Clancy's The Division. On the one hand, I like its structure, which gives you missions in an open-ish, multiplayer post-infection New York and rewards you with an expanding plot and homebase. On the other hand, I don't much like it's shooting, which in a game about shooting is a bit of a worry.
I'm tempted to think I'll play it for a day and then go back to Rainbow Six Siege.
Adam: Before I played it, I didn’t think I’d ever particularly want to play it. Now that I have played it, I find myself missing it. Is this how people feel when they get sucked into multiplayer games? Maybe so. It hasn’t happened to me for a long time.
It’s a very silly game in which I had a fight with a lady in a hoodie who took three minutes of machinegun fire to fell. The setting - and the fidelity with which the setting has been realised - is totally at odds with the abstractions of the combat. It’s a game packed with military hardware that looks very real but that has stat-listings for DPS. I don’t think that is at all true to life.
I might be able to get past those abstractions. Essentially, I started to think of my team as...and stick with me here...Ghostbusters. Yes. We weren’t firing guns, we were training streams of damage on enemies, positioning ourselves tactically so as to cause as much damage as possible, and trying to destroy those enemies with those directional streams of damage. Occasionally we threw a grenade or used a medical bot.
Does that make sense? Yes it does. I will definitely play more of The Division, which is exactly the kind of game I have so often failed to understand the appeal of, and I suspect I’ll enjoy myself but feel ever so slightly like I’m wasting my time, progressing through levels with no real end-goal in sight.
The Dark Zone stuff, with PvP, betrayal and funky equipment evacuation mechanics, is a lot of fun. We should try to find time to visit together so I can shoot you in the back.
Graham: I am quite good at being shot in the back.
I can see past the abstraction of the combat and the weirdness of people in hoodies needing so many bullets to go down. It's less the weird aesthetic of that that's my concern and more that it makes the guns feel like damage hoses.
Remember Hellgate: London? Yeah.
It's also not an entirely justifiable problem. Destiny has much the same setup in terms of structure and multiplayer, but it has plenty of lethal-feeling guns in its arsenal and lots of feedback with every shot fired. In part that's because it seems to deal in high numbers of enemies, but also, I suppose, because those enemies can shimmer or be wearing armour that cracks a bit with each new shot.
I guess I sort of wish all those New York hoodies would tumble into a scifi laboratory and find shipping containers full of experimental mecha-hoodies. Hoodies with parts that fly off with each shot fired.
Adam: Hoodies that shimmer and crack. I getcha.
If we were Big Game Hunters, we’d have bagged three fascinating beasts here. There are another couple of critters I’d like to mention that are ready for release in these final winter weeks though. Shardlight, the new Wadjet Eye adventure, will almost certainly be a corker. Technobabylon was one of my favourite games of 2015 and Dave Gilbert and co. rarely put a foot wrong, either with in-house games or those they choose to publish.
And SUPERHOT is just around the corner! The ‘time only moves when you do’ FPS. The prototype is one of my favourite things ever so I am extremely excited to see how it works as a full release.
Fresh from Returning Shadowrun, Harebrained are prepped to release Necropolis, their intriguing ARPG, as well. Exciting times!
Graham: TOO MANY GAMES. Please destroy all but one of the aforementioned. The one game I would choose to not destroy is Hitman, for it's the one that most matches my tastes - at least in theory - and the one I'm most intrigued about no matter how potentially flawed its execution.
Adam: This just proves that you don’t give a hoot about my negativity. And that is probably for the best. AS LONG AS YOU DON’T PREORDER ANYTHING.
If I could only save one of these games it would be SUPERHOT. Which I’ll probably finish in an hour or two. Then I’ll cry for a bit before deciding to play Football Manager forever.