Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite obscure RPGs, game music, and more.
Can a game that's still in Early Access be Game of the Year? That's the question on my mind these days as I continue to marvel at the outsized response to Playerunknown's Battlegrounds, which has sold some 5 million copies to date.
There's no question that PUBG is one of the most significant releases of 2017. Its innovative mix of open-world gameplay and third-person shooter have proven extremely popular, and other developers are undoubtedly watching closely.
Indeed, we may be seeing a seismic shift in the shooter genre. Co-op shooters have always been popular; but with team play dominating eSports, its more significant than ever. Destiny, Overwatch, and now PUBG have overtaken more solitary shooters like Call of Duty and become the platforms of choice. When I wondered what the new generation would hold back in 2014, this was what I was talking about.
From that standpoint alone, PUBG deserves to at least be in the conversation for Game of the Year. But can an unfinished game with only one map really be considered among the year's best?
Obviously, it's weird to hand such an accolade to a game that's so early in its development. Indeed, our standing policy is to avoid reviewing a game until it's out of Early Access. Hence why we don't have a review for Battlegrounds yet.
But our relationship with game development has also changed significantly in just a few short years. We're at the point where even triple-A games like NHL can be a collaborative process in which fans are involved at every step of the process. Traditional games like Uncharted: Lost Legacy still exist, but games like PUBG are just as common.
Meanwhile, ARK: Survival Evolved and The Long Dark have both been out so long that their actual release feels like a formality.
So when a game like PUBG bursts on to the scene and becomes one of the two or three biggest stories of the year, it has to be acknowledged, even if it's technically still in Early Access. One way or another, people are playing it. People are enjoying it. It has to at least be considered one of the most impactful games of 2017.
But I'm still hesitant to come right out and say it should be in the running for Game of the Year (and not just because I still think Breath of the Wild is still tops for 2017). Things can change a lot in Early Access. Sure, it's massive now, but there's every chance that something will go wrong. Maybe everyone will hate the new maps. Maybe someone will figure out how to break the game. Maybe it will prove to be a fad and we'll all look back and go, "Remember when we thought PUBG was Game of the Year? What a joke."
Heck, maybe PlayerUnknown himself will just say, "I've decided to abandon development of Battlegrounds. Sorry." It wouldn't be the first time.
That a game like PUBG can defy description like this speaks to how fluid things have become. These days, even a "full release" doesn't really signal the end of a game's development. The Division has undergone dramatic changes in the year since its initial launch. So has Madden 17. World of WarCraft has gone through so many iterations that fans have created nostalgic throwback servers to revisit the period when it first launched.
Fans don't like your game's ending? Patch it.
Games are always in motion now; and whether they're at the beginning of their development or near the end, once they're in the hands of the fans, they are part of the conversation. PUBG may not be close enough to completion to warrant real consideration for Game of the Year, but to ignore its impact is foolish.
One way or another, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is being enjoyed by millions of players worldwide, and it deserves to be part of the conversation. But what that conversation should look like is something we're still figuring out.
Mike's Media Minute
This week marks the launch of The Defenders, the culmination of everything started in the Marvel/Netflix deal inked way back in 2013. The deal was for five series in total: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the team-up season, the Defenders. Now were much deeper than the original deal suggested. Daredevil is preparing for a third season; Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist are up for their second seasons, and The Punisher received his own show after appearing in Daredevil Season 2.
The Defenders reviews are pretty average all told. On the higher side of the scale, but you can tell that the excitement is muted from when Daredevil first launched. Daredevil was followed by Jessica Jones, which is surprisingly divisive; Luke Cage, which stumbled a bit on the latter episodes of the season; Daredevil Season Two, which likewise suffered for around half of its runtime; and Iron Fist, a stunning miss and thoroughly mediocre result.
As far as the reviews ago, it sounds like it'll at least be a good season, perhaps with some interesting visual cues, ideas, and action. One example:
"The Defenders is a study in color. Each character is represented by their signature hue: red for Daredevil, yellow for Luke Cage, green for Iron Fist and blue for Jessica Jones (that’s a slight change for Jessica, but makes sense thematically, as it distances her from her Season 1 antagonist the Purple Man). Their separate worlds are flooded with their individual color, making each section of the city feel distinct and personal. When the characters finally share the screen on their own terms, The Defenders bursts with a veritable smorgasbord of color that pops off the screen," says a CBR review.
I think it'll be good, but it's clear that the machine needs a little tweaking in the future. Slightly stronger writing, perhaps fewer episodes per season, better choreography and direction for Iron Fist. If they can deliver on that, this might be a series that'll have a long life on Netflix for years, except in the case of business shenanigans.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
I miss developing photos. Way back in high school I spent a lot of hours in the darkroom developing black and white portraits I'd take of my friends. There was something inherently calming about it—far away from electronic devices, just me, some chemicals, and some photos. For developer Jonothan Rubock, the darkroom was also a place of solitude for him. His bite-sized browser game Hiding in the Darkroom recalls his time developing photos in the darkroom, along with each and every careful step as his pixelated self slouches around the room. You can play Hiding in the Darkroom for yourself for free on your browser over on itch.io.
This Week's News and Notes
- As you may noticed, we're now streaming every Tuesday and Thursday at 10am PT/1pm ET! This week on USG Lunch Hour: Sonic Mania (Tuesday) and Nidhogg 2 (Thursday!) Nidhogg 2 should be especially fun cause we're going to have a little competition among the USG staff. Make sure to subscribe to our channel on Twitch so you know when we go live!
- We also have a new podcast: The USgamer Podcast! We were on hiatus while we figured some things out, but now we're back to talk about all games, not just RPGs (though we love those too). Mike, Caty, Nadia, and I are the standard crew, but there's plenty of room for guests. Subscribe and listen! We update every Wednesday!
- Sonic Mania is out tomorrow, and Caty just posted her review! In many ways this feels like the absolute perfect Switch game, but I know plenty of people are probably holding out for the PC game (think of the modding!) Which version are you picking up?
- It's actually a really busy week in general. Nidhogg 2 will also be arriving this week, and Madden 18 is going into EA Access on Xbox One. This is it, everyone: the fall season is nearly upon us. I don't know if I'm ready.
- In the meantime, why doesn't anyone care about Lawbeakers? Mike has some thoughts on the subject. My own pet theory is that, despite its pedigree, it doesn't do quite enough to establish its own identity. Overwatch has Blizzard's killer art. PUBG has its open world. Lawbreakers has a generic name and a lot of similarities to Overwatch. It's not a Battleborn by any means, but competition in the shooter space is tough, and nothing but the best is going to break through the noise.
- Who are the people who continue to love No Man's Sky? These people.
- An update to one of the worst controllers ever made has been successfully crowdfunded. You heard me.
- If you've been following along with Nadia's SNES Classic review series, we've just hit one of our favorites: Mega Man X! We also argued a bit on the pod about the best Mega Man. My position is that Mega Man 9 is up there with the best of them. Strangely, not everyone shares that opinion.
- Axe of the Blood God: This week's episode delves deep into RPG battle systems! This one seems to be generating quite a few comments.
Got a tip? A question? Want to reach out to the USgamer team? Drop us a long at firstname.lastname@example.org!