Sign of a coming trend? Square Enix porting Tomb Raider to next-gen consoles

Brace yourself… the next-gen ports are coming. Square Enix is kicking off the madness with a PS4/XBONE port of their critically acclaimed Tomb Raider reboot. The game sold over 4 million copies across PS3, Xbox 360, and PC platforms, yet Square Enix has been notoriously displeased with the game’s sales totals. Their solution? Give next-gen console owners one more opportunity to buy it.

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Tomb Raider already looks great. Why does it need to look better, Square?

Details are scarce, but Amazon Italy listed a “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition” that was recently taken down from the site. Just how definitive this upcoming is remains to be seen. If it’s all right with you, I’ll go ahead and forecast upgraded visuals, new bonus content, and possibly some free DLC. You okay with that? No? You want improved multiplayer? Don’t we all…

Much as I loved Tomb Raider, I don’t want to see barrel-loads of PS3 and Xbox 360 ports next year. I’ve beyond had it with HD remakes of games I played ten years ago. Now we’re talking next-gen makeovers of nine-month-old games? Please, somebody cut my thumbs off.

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Latest Call of Duty commercial reinforces negative gamer stereotypes

If you watched any football this past weekend, chances are you saw the latest Call of Duty: Ghosts commercial, featuring a bunch of guys dodging bullets, blowing stuff up, and spitting game at Megan Fox. If you missed it, have a look below. Then we’ll talk.

From a creativity standpoint, the commercial is phenomenal. This live-action re-imagining of Call of Duty announces that next-gen has arrived; realism, here we come. Beyond the concept, the commercial is well-shot, the acting holds up, and there’s an amusing juxtaposition between the wild action and the big-band sounds of Sinatra. There’s plenty to praise.

So why am I down on the ad?

Stereotypes. And particularly those aimed at the stereotypical gamer (the portrayal of the black guy is another topic for another day). There are three parts that kill it for me:

1) The fat dude

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Not every gamer looks like this, though it’s a prevailing stereotype.

I understand the need for diversity, but do we really need a chunky guy in this commercial? I get it: “There’s a soldier in all of us,” even Captain Blubs with his rifle and khaki shorts. Fine, point taken. But do you see any thick-bodied soldiers running around in the actual games? In the end all we’re left with is reinforcement of the stereotype of the overweight gamer who sits around eating chips and climbing leaderboards.

2) Megan Fox

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Chicks might save your ass online. Just don’t expect them to look like this.

Infinity Ward recently added female character avatars to the game, so I understand the inclusion of a woman soldier in the trailer. That’s cool. But why is Megan Fox representing the female gaming population? I could stare at Megan Fox all day, but I doubt she’s ever held down an R2 button in her life. And then we have one of our fine soldiers in the commercial hitting on her. Real classy, Activision. Try taking female gamers more seriously in your next ad.

This just reinforces the stereotype that chicks aren’t gamers. Every person watching this ad thinks, “Whoa, she’s hot,” before they consider that women can compete on the virtual battleground.

3) The jolly attitude toward war

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Every American politician would love to blame this on video games.

Okay, they’re trying to portray Call of Duty as a blast, but do we need all four guys acting like they’re in the throes of meth rush? The expression on the humvee driver’s face during the tundra scene is comedic gold, but at the same time it’s ludicrous. Nobody’s that happy to drive a vehicle in a video game. And what are we ultimately left with? Four guys lollygagging as they shoot down choppers and dodge bullets. Four guys treating lethal combat as a joke, something to pump your fist and chuckle over.

Not only does this suggest that gamers are immature, but it insinuates the most negative of all gamer stereotypes: that we’re desensitized to violence. Call of Duty will sell millions of copies, but the millions upon millions who play the game won’t go out and murder someone. Gamers can distinguish between life and death, pixels and reality. Yet this Call of Duty trailer helps depict gamers as bloodthirsty mongrels who pick up an assault rifle right after they’ve put down a controller.

I’m not saying this commercial should be pulled. I’m not saying Activision and Infinity Ward shouldn’t have the right to air it. I simply want to see more class next time, a little more respect for the audience that funds all this advertising.

And what do you guys think? Am I being too analytical? Too harsh? Should I cut them a break since the ad’s concept is slick? Comment and let me know.

Square Enix: The Factory of Familiarity

Familiarity breeds contempt, as the old saying goes. While the cliche is better suited for rocky marriages than videogames, there’s some merit to the line, especially when it comes to Square Enix. Whether you love or hate what they’ve done since the merger in 2003, it’s hard to excuse the lack of fresh production from their neck of the gaming woods.

This week hit us with the first gameplay video of Kingdom Hearts III, which struck me as fun-looking but underwhelming. One particular part of the video looks riveting: a boss battle where Sora rides a flying train into a Hercules titan that’s oversized enough to have stumbled out of Shadow of the Colossus. But aside from that, everything about the clip left me with feelings of deja vu–AKA the “bad” nostalgia.

Strike one: the visuals. Normally I’m not one to complain about graphics, but KH3 looks like a PS2 game. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying it should look super-realistic or anything like that–but at least lay some detail or overhaul the art style. Have a little self-respect. KH3 is slated to be a PS4/XBONE game and Square Enix should be embarrassed.

Strike two: the hack-n-whack gameplay. At one point we see Sora wielding dual-pistols that squirt fireballs all over the screen. If they work this in as a powerful limit-break technique, I’m excited. If it’s just another move in his arsenal, I couldn’t care less. My biggest gripe with the Kingdom Hearts series (other than Sora being a dreadful lead character) has been the button-mashy combat. Casting magic spells always ruined the flow of battle in my opinion, and unless Square can manage to smoothly incorporate magic and skills, I expect to tap X 83,256 times in a row.

Strike three: the settings and enemies. The Magic Kingdom-inspired level looks promising, but the first location appears to be a retread through the opening area of KH2. I’m fine with revisiting old haunts, but when they look the same as they did back in 2005, it’s inexcusable. And then you have the same old enemies populating the area–the rodent-like Heartless, the fatass, big-bellied Heartless, the same enemies that we’ve hit with a giant key since ’02.

I understand this is early development footage. I understand KH3 is most likely two or three years away from its release date. But what I can’t understand is the excitement expressed by fans all over the internet. They waited eight years and two console generations for a case of deja vu? And somehow they’re stoked?

PS4 launch titles misfiring till 2014

The theme for next-gen news over the past few days has been “next-year.” On Tuesday Ubisoft announced that their stealth-action game Watch Dogs wouldn’t reach gamers till Spring 2014–a huge letdown considering it was among the most hyped PS4 launch titles. Today, the PS4-exclusive racer Driveclub saw its own release pushed back to February.

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Amazon and GameStop had to provide alternatives for those who pre-ordered the PS4 Watch Dogs bundle.

For most, the loss of Watch Dogs is the tragic news, but the biggest losers are the PS4 and Xbox One. Let’s be honest: system launch days have been embarrassing in recent years. Aside from Halo back in 2001, can you name any other launch game that set the world afire? Zelda: Twilight Princess was technically a Gamecube title, so don’t get cute, Wii fans. That leaves you with Perfect Dark Zero for 360, Resistance for PS3, and all of last year’s ports for Wii U. If you want to go portable, take your pick from 3DS’s opening day hodgepodge or Uncharted: Golden Abyss on Vita. Have a favorite yet? Yeah, me neither.

Launch day has become misfire day ever since the glory years when you could pick up Super Mario World or Super Mario 64 on day one. The problem–at least in my view–is that focus has shifted from software to hardware. Gone are the days when you bought a Nintendo system to play the new Mario. Instead, consumers and media members can’t stop talking about PS4 and XBONE–the systems themselves. E3 2013 generated more headlines about used-game policies and online capabilities than anything else. Whether gamers were defending or urinating on Microsoft, their opinions targeted XBONE, not its games. To be fair, homogenized 3rd-party lineups have diminished exclusive software as a selling point, but still–why don’t we care about the games anymore?

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N64 released with only two games, but no one cared since Super Mario 64 was one of them.

No one could blame Sony and Microsoft for releasing their next-gen consoles right before the holidays, but their launch lineups are a bit undignified. I suppose if you crave Killzone or Battlefield, there’s a case for purchasing a PS4, but with all the hot PS3 and 360 titles on the way, waiting is the wise man’s move. That is, if you’re wise enough to value software over hardware.