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 racing games.
Hello from beaneath an avalanche of big game releases, which has had us all buried for a couple weeks now.
Like everyone else, we've been scrambling to keep up with the recent torrent of major games, which began with Horizon Zero Dawn and has continued with Breath of the Wild, Ghost Recon Wildlands, and Nier: Automata, and will soon include a bunch of DLC releases (welcome back, Battlefield 1!). It's enough that I momentarily couldn't remember whether it was spring or fall when I woke up for Daylight Savings Time on Sunday. And that's not even including Mass Effect Andromeda, which figures to add another 50 or 60 hours on top of what we've already got.
(Don't think about the fact that Persona 5 is just around the corner... Don't think about the fact that Persona 5 is just around the corner...)
It's times like these that people I know generally take one of a few approaches.
1. Pick one and play it to completion: This was my approach back before I was in the press. I would pick the game I was most excited about and just play it to completion. Then, if I needed something else to play, I would pick up one of the games I missed. It's a very deliberate approach, but one that doesn't create as much of a backlog. Of course, I was apt to get distracted by in-depth multiplayer games like Pokemon, so it wasn't a perfect strategy. It also resulted in me missing many of the other big releases. But sometimes depth is better than breadth, I think.
2. Buy them all and leave a bunch in their shrink wrap: This is how backlogs are created. When you pick up a bunch of games at once, at least one is going to migrate to your shelf or your drawer and stay there. Maybe you play it for an hour or two and shelve it, or maybe it never comes out of the box. In either case, you're now fated to have it nag at the back of your mind anytime you buy a new game or jump in for a few rounds of Overwatch. Even worse is when a friend asks if you've played it and you have to tell them that it's on your shelf and you haven't had time to plug it in, then they spend the next ten minutes telling you how great it is. Then you go home, look at it guiltily on the shelf, and decide you'll put some real time into it after a round or two of Overwatch.
3. Buy them all and somehow play every single on of them: I know there are people who do this. Some of them are reviewers. I'm convinced that they're either Time Lords or vampires because there's no way in hell that they can have enough time to play every game and have time for basic necessities like, you know, sleeping. But somehow they still manage it. I bow to their surplus of free time.
4. Buy one and then ignore it in favor of DotA 2: I had a friend who once told me, "World of WarCraft saves me money! I just play that instead of everything else now." With multiplayer communities serving as their own sort of bubbles, it's easier than ever to focus on one game for literally years at a time. Even better, when you finally emerge from your bunker blinking at the light, everything will look fresh, new and interesting.
Whatever your approach, the current run of games is overwhelming in large part because most of them are so damn big. I spent literally hours just wandering the areas near Kakariko Village before finally having to table Zelda for other games. Horizon Zero Dawn and Mass Effect Andromeda are apt to take more than 40 hours to complete. Persona 5 will purportedly take at least a hundred. These are big, meaty games: the equivalent of reading a major novel. The best you can do is budget your time accordingly and accept that you're probably going to miss out on some good games.
This is not a new phenomenon, by the way. Before I was in the press, I would usually buy one game for Christmas, and spend the rest of my time catching up on games that I borrowed from my friends. I played Metal Gear Solid 3 in 2007 and Resident Evil 5 in 2006. It meant that I wasn't part of the discussion around those games when they came out, but I was eventually able to see what I missed. And in the case of MGS 3, I was able to play the vastly superior Subsistence.
Whatever approach you decide to take, you won't be wanting for high-quality games anytime soon. Hell, Breath of the Wild and Persona 5 alone could probably last me through 2017. Enjoy it: This year is going to be an embarrassment of riches for gamers.
Kat's Obscure RPG of the Week
This week's obscure RPG is Infinite Space: one of the earliest releases to come out of Platinum. Developed for the Nintendo DS, Infinite Space is a little bit visual novel, a little bit RPG, and a little bit outer space tactics game. It's how Mass Effect Andromeda might look if it were crammed onto the Nintendo DS and fleet building was emphasized over ground action.
As you might expect, Infinite Space mostly passed unnoticed, and its limited print run resulted in it becoming rare rather quickly. But if you can find it, I recommend it for its swashbuckling story and surprisingly engrossing starship customization, the latter of which comes close to matching and even exceeding the likes of Endless Space and Galactic Civilizations (no, seriously!) Shame it'll probably never get a sequel, because lousy rock-paper-scissors ground combat aside, it really deserves a second look.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Chrono Trigger's Undersea Palace
If you're a follower of the Blood God, then you know Kat is conquering Chrono Trigger for the first time ever, and very much enjoying herself. There are many, many reasons why this SNES RPG is a celebrated classic, not the smallest of which is its soundtrack. Are Yasunori Mitsuda's compositions for Chrono Trigger even better than Nobou Uematsu's legendary pieces for Final Fantasy VI? I plead the fifth, but I will say Chrono Trigger's soundtrack feels more ambitious than Final Fantasy VI's.
Not only does every time period have its own unique sound, but every situation you play through in said time periods has individual pieces that fit the mood at hand. The 12,000 BC / Antiquity time frame has three excellent examples: Corridors of Time is warm and dreamy, which is the first impression you're offered of the Kingdom of Zeal. But when you enter Zeal Palace proper, the music becomes solemn and imposing, making it obvious you're dealing with forces you can't hope to stand up against.
That sense of impending danger grows and climaxes with Undersea Palace, a song that makes it quite clear you're about to throw down with the Queen of Zeal herself—or worse—and it's too late to turn back.
Also, Undersea Palace has that epic synthesizer opening that touches the corner of my heart that never left the '80s.
Mike's Media Minute
I've been out of it with the Switch and PAX East, meaning my capsule this week is actually a capsule! So, Marvel's Iron Fist on Netflix is apparently not that great. It seems to be the first of the Marvel Netflix shows that critics have simply turned against. I was always a little soft on Iron Fist: I love the comics character, but Finn Jones didn't look like he was in the right shape or had the requisite martial arts experience to pull off the role. Suffice it to say, I hope Iron Fist does turn out to be good, as critics only had the first 6 episodes for review.
Caty’s (AltGame) Corner:
With #ResistJam’s submission deadline on March 11th, there’s a lot of endearing, bite-sized itch.io-bound games available to play now. As I’m going to round up my favorites from the game jam sometime this week, in the meantime I found myself entranced by Hola Bola, a fluorescent game about rolling a ball that’s currently in alpha. At a glance, Hola Bola looks like Super Monkey Ball, except far cuter with colorful flowers to collect along your pastel, low-poly quest to reach the goal. Hola Bola is available for PC on itch.io.
Racing With Jaz
After several months of silence following the delay of its originally-anticipated Christmas 2016 release, Gran Turismo Sport has recently resurfaced, and development seems to be progressing apace. As I mentioned last week, a brand new PS4 Pro demo of the game was on display at GDC 2017, which I really enjoyed taking for a spin. The game is incredibly slick and smooth, and looks absolutely gorgeous in 4K.
This week, Sony announced that Polyphony's all-new driving simulation will be going into closed beta for US players on March 17th. According to Gran Turismo Sport creator Kazunori Yamauchi, the limited-time demo will feature a revolving selection of cars and tracks each day, allowing drivers to participate in races comprising a variety of different classes and course configurations. What I'm interested to see is just how the game's Sportsmanship and Driver ratings work. The former tracks the player's behavior and interactions with other racers, while the latter logs the player's overall performance in competitions. Both these ratings are integral to matchmaking, and will apparently ensure that drivers of similar temperament and abilities are put together.
If you're interested in checking out the closed beta, you can sign up here, although, obviously there's no guarantee that you'll be invited to join. However, the good news is that there will be an open beta sometime in the not-too-distant future. No date has been announced as of yet, but as soon as it is, I'll post it here.
- Jim Sterling gave Breath of the Wild a 7 out of 10 in his review, and he is being savagely attacked not for his criticism, but because he pushed the metascore from 98 to 97. I've already shared my thoughts on this topic, but I'll say it again: this cycle of backlash has to stop if people want actual, legitimate games criticism. When Jim Sterling is earning DDoS attacks because of an arbitrary number, you know there's something profoundly wrong with the culture around game reviews. Personally, I think Breath of the Wild is the bee's knees, but I think there's plenty of room for discussion around its relative merits. In the meantime, for god's sake, people need to stop obsessing about metascores so much. It's embarrassing.
- Early access for Battlefield 1's first batch of DLC kicks off tomorrow, bringing with it the French Army and a bunch of new maps. I took a look at it last week and I was favorably impressed. The thing that jumps out at me the most is how much better DICE is utilizing the World War I setting: maps like Verdun are the closest they've come so far to realizing the look and feel of the war in a multiplayer setting. I've let my Battlefield 1 skills lapse a bit over the past few months, but I plan to jump back in soon. You should join me!
- Need something to listen to outside of Nadia's Note Block Beat Box? Caty developed this nifty Night in the Woods-inspired Spotify playlist. I may or may not have spent most of the weekend listening to it while I worked.
- Hard to believe, but Rocket League is roaring toward its second birthday, and it's relevant as ever among the competitive crowd. Next week, Rocket League will be adding a new mode called Dropshot, which introduces a hexagonal playing field and a new electrified ball. It's... different. Check out Mike's article for all of the details. As for me, I wish I were a lot better at Rocket League, but I never mastered aerials. I'm roughly as bad at Rocket League as I am real sports.
- It seems that the higher cost of Switch cards is already biting some developers. Not exactly a surprising development, but maybe a concerning one for Nintendo.
- If you're like me and can't get enough Zelda, Nintendo will be airing a three part series on the making of Breath of the Wild starting tomorrow at 6am PT.
- Also, you'll forgive me because this is definitely a case of "first world problems," but there's nothing worse than having to table a game you're legitimately loving because you have something else to review. I know, I know, cry me a river and all that, but I really just want to lock myself in a bunker and play Breath of the Wild until my eyes bleed.
- But with Mass Effect Andromeda out next week (help), the games industry rolls ever onward. We're going to be revisiting each game from the original trilogy with an essay this week, in case you want to argue some more about Mass Effect 3's ending. I kid, mostly. Mass Effect is a great series, but it's also incredibly divisive. Every game seems to have both a fanbase and a group of haters, so it's going to be fun to see them come out of the woodwork this week.
- That's it for Starting Screen this week! Keep an eye on the site throughout the week for lots of Battlefield 1, Mass Effect, and Zelda coverage, along with everything else we like around here (Chrono Trigger!) In the meantime, what are you playing? Are you on one of the big games, or are you revisiting your backlog? Let us know!