Life is Strange: Before the Storm started in the same way that the original did in that it spent the first episode building a new (but familiar) world in Arcadia Bay. After its first episode, the original Life is Strange quickly blossomed into an amazing Game of the Year winning game thanks building onto the characters, relationships and world that Dontnod established in the first episode.
The real challenge for Deck Nine, who have created their own world inside the Life is Strange story, isn’t establishing the new story, characters and relationships. Their challenge is matching Dontnod’s ability to build that world. It’s as tough a task as any but Deck Nine certainly did a damn fine job of it in Episode Two.
As someone who has been playing sports games since the NES, I can tell you first-hand that sports games have gotten ridiculously complex over the last 25 years. From two buttons in Blades of Steel to using every button, bumper, trigger and thumbstick on modern EA Sports NHL games, hockey games have changed a lot over the decades.
What appealed to me about Old Time Hockey is that it billed itself as an arcade hockey game. As someone who has been gaming for as long as I have, I was hoping that would mean hard-hitting, high scoring hockey with simple controls. That was correct to an extent but the execution hides the intention.
Telltale Games is an interesting enigma in double-A gaming. They’re too big to be your standard indie studio but not quite at that triple-A developer level in terms of the scope or quality of their games. They’ve found themselves a niche by making episodic, story-driven games. Their adaptations of The Walking Dead and Fables (as The Wolf Among Us) launched them into a prestige class above many triple-A developers. Everyone was beating down their doors to get them to make a game of their properties.
After The Walking Dead, Telltale made games based on Borderlands, Game of Thrones, Minecraft, Batman and Guardians of the Galaxy. The only problem is that Telltale has stretched themselves thin on both the creative and technical sides of their business. The Telltale Tool engine is suffering from regular performance problems while the writing quality has been sliding as more is heaped onto their writers’ plates.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, the third “season” in Telltale’s TWD saga, might just be a microcosm of the decline of Telltale over the course of just five episodes.
There are a lot of franchises (not just video game ones) that don’t need sequels or prequels. The original works stand on their own and don’t benefit from any additional story added before or after. In fact, there are many sequels or prequels that detract from the originals.
That’s the danger that Deck Nine faces with their assignment to develop a Life is Strange prequel. The original Life is Strange was one of the best modern episodic / adventure games that created characters and a narrative with a depth and emotional resonance that the current crop of adventure games haven’t been able to match. Any follow-up has lofty expectations. Delving into the past of the first game’s most memorable character puts on added pressure.
I started writing this right after the final episode of Telltale’s Batman was released. While et geekera may have have gone quiet, I still owe you, the reader, and Telltale this review. It is presented as originally written in December 2016.
For four episodes, Telltale has been struggling to bring Batman to life in their trademark take on games and Bruce Wayne’s world. Announced following two critically acclaimed seasons of The Walking Dead and a much-loved Tales from the Borderlands along with the award-winning Rocksteady Batman: Arkham trilogy, gamers were excited about Telltale doing a story-focused Batman experience. After all, their success with adapting TWD and Fables indicated that a dark Batman story was right in Telltale’s wheelhouse.
Batman’s first four episodes (along with The Walking Dead: Michonne and Game of Thrones) showed that Telltale is a company whose ambitions are bigger than their abilities. Critics responded with a decided “meh” to the game’s story, Telltale’s familiar narrative tricks, their same old gameplay and broken engine. The finale is an improvement but it doesn’t save the series.
The challenge with putting out an annual franchise is that the development cycle is painfully short so big changes and improvements tend to lag a bit. You’re so busy working on getting a game out that factoring in feedback is a challenge unless you’ve already planned to integrate it in the next game. Look at the plethora of EA Sports games on an annual release cycle or the complaints of stagnating Call of Duty when they were on a two-year development cycle.
That brings us to Franchise Hockey Manager 3, the first FHM game released in its new annual release schedule. While Out of the Park Developments made big changes from 2013’s Franchise Hockey Manager to 2015’s FHM2, they didn’t have time to overhaul that game’s issues in time for 2016’s FHM3.
There are a long list of people who belong in Arkham Asylum. For example, Lady Arkham and the Penguin are good candidates to be locked up for being criminally insane. Perhaps the criminally insane are the folks over at Telltale who have been lacking in technical and creative drive when it comes to putting out a quality Batman game. Or maybe I’m the insane one for expecting The Walking Dead quality releases from Telltale every time.
While Batman: Episode 4 – Guardian of Gotham isn’t the worst episode that Telltale has released but it’s also not their best either. At the very least, it’s a promising setup for the concluding episode of the series.
It took me writing five paragraphs of this review to figure it out but I have come to the conclusion that Telltale’s Batman – Episode 3: New World Order is an alternate universe version of The Dark Knight Rises. Instead of Bane, Penguin is the face opposing Batman / Bruce Wayne and there is even a Talia Al Ghul-esque mastermind behind the whole operation. This revelation doesn’t detract from this episode so much as it explains what Telltale was attempting to do with this episode.
I’m used to reviewing racing games but most of them are on dry land. However, not all racing and racing games are on dry land. The Riptide series sees you race on futuristic jet-powered jet-skis. Typically, developer Vector Unit keeps its games on mobile platforms with the occasional console release. Riptide GP Renegade is the first in its flagship Riptide series to make its way to PC. So how does this mobile / console game fare on the PC? Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Telltale is very hit and miss with its many, may different titles. When the company is focused on putting all of its resources behind a particular game, it gets in the conversation for year-end awards. When they half-ass it, people worry that Telltale was nothing more than a flash in the pan and that it’s poor efforts of the past are more indicative of the company’s quality than its critical highs.
The Batman series finds an odd middle ground for Telltale. The story is largely compelling, even if the characters aren’t, but the actual execution of the game is so poor that you wonder if Telltale was taking notes on PC ports from Rocksteady’s Arkham Knight.