This Week in Games - Remember That Ghost in the Shell Shooter?

by Dustin Bailey,
Splatoon 2 is out, and it's great. It's been dominating game time for me since the weekend, and that's been across every single mode—casual, ranked, single-player, and Salmon Rush. But just because there's a great online game game from Nintendo doesn't mean they're great at online. The use of a separate smartphone app to handle stuff like voice chat on the Switch seemed boneheaded enough, but then the thing actually came out and it's even worse than we could have imagined. The voice feature actually requires the app to active and the screen to be on to function. Forget about your battery life, for sure.

There's an argument to be made for a separate voice chat app being okay, and that argument is “use Discord.” Skype, even. Nintendo's got three-in-a-row for absolutely joyous Switch games to play online—between Mario Kart 8, Arms, and Spla2n—and it's a cryin' shame the quality of those games can't be matched by an online service that makes any sense at all.

How's That Ghost in the Shell Shooter Doing These Days?

Ghost in the Shell has had a rough patch when it comes to adaptations and updates. The American film released earlier this year suffered no shortage of criticism for its pace and plot—and that's even ignoring the casting choices. But even before that, Ghost in the Shell fans were getting upset about a whole different adaptation. That was Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex — First Assault Online, a free-to-play shooter which publicly hit Early Access in 2016. Even upon the announcement, it felt like a game for nobody. GitS fans were getting a story-free shooter that didn't really capitalize on any of the things that made the series special in the first place, while shooter fans were getting yet another gun derivative that didn't seem to have much going for it.

I did some preview coverage shortly before the public launch, and I remember the developers' big talking point about adapting GitS being the sense of camaraderie between squadmates. Given that this was specifically an adaptation of the ensemble-focused SAC series, it's not entirely off the mark—but it always felt like a limp reason to shoehorn a license into a light Counter-Strike knock-off. The “camaraderie” is represented by a special ability unique to each character—like armor or a stealth field—that can either be activated for yourself or charged up further to extend to squadmates.

That doesn't do much to change the dynamics of playing with randos online, though, and the objective-based modes rarely force the kind of cooperation you'd need for those abilities to become integral—like they are in, say, Overwatch. Even their rendition of Team Deathmatch is the most lone wolf team mode you'll find outside Call of Duty. Even by the stated standards of what they were trying to accomplish as an adaptation, First Assault wasn't great, with its one notable feature being some pretty good-looking character models.

Purely as a shooter, though—well, it was completely forgettable. The squad abilities didn't add much, and the best you could say about the modes and maps is that they were okay. 6 outta 10, maybe 7 if you were feeling generous, and I'm struggling to come up with words because of how absolutely forgettable the whole package was. Coming out as a similar game to the monolithic CS:GO, and hitting shortly after the sublime Overwatch, First Assault never really had a chance.

After nearly a year, the game has finally left Early Access and is out for real this time, though that final release comes with little change that would be significant to newcomers. Some new characters, maps, and weapons alongside balance changes aren't exactly the big announcement a flagging Early Access title needs beside its 1.0 release, and judging by the player counts the soft relaunch isn't exactly offering the game a second life.

For players who'd stuck with the game (few as they might be by now), those “minor” changes are decidedly more harmful. The “Renewal” update changed how characters work, locking each into a specific class that defines their basic stats, and locking particular weapons to particular classes. If your prefered strategy involved using long-range weapons on a character with a stealth special, you're out of luck these days. With unlockable weapons sometimes requiring hours upon hours of grinding to get, folks who were suddenly unable to use those weapons with their favorite character were left in the cold.

All the game modes were also dumped under a single “quick play” umbrella. That's certainly a move to consolidate a shrinking player-base, but the difference between a mode like Team Deathmatch and the permadeath of Elimination is pretty severe depending on what you're looking for in random rotation. That one's relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but for players looking at a camel already overburdened, this was another straw too many.

The story of First Assault will be that it was a terrible, but that's totally hyperbole. The reality is a lot more dull. Who wants to spend time dwelling on the game that was okay, but not special, and consequently faded away? The game's not dead—a continued minority of players are still sticking with it—so this shouldn't read as a eulogy. But I know the instant I put the final period on this article I'm going to forget about First Assault all over again.

NEWS

INTI CREATES IS NO LONGER INTI CREATING BLOODSTAINED

Inti Creates has been responsible—in part or in whole—for some really cool small-scale games, ranging from Mega Man 9 and 10 to the Gunvolt games. They've also made Gal*Gun and worked on Mighty No. 9, so who can say whether they're truly marked for quality?

Mighty No. 9 mirrors a still-in-development Bloodstained, with a famed Japanese designer taking to a crowdfunding platform to rebuild a game series they defined under a new banner, with the backup of Inti Creates. At least, formerly. Inti Creates has departed development of Koji Igarashi's new Castlevania-alike, and apparently this happened quite some time ago—as of last year's E3. Igarashi's ArtPlay remains the primary developer, while DICO—a studio which has up to this point developed nothing but mobile games—has stepped in to fill Inti's shoes.

According to a statement made on the official forum, the reason for the vague billing up this point has been “to avoid unneeded attention and negative speculation.” In which case, mission very much failed. Disasters like Mighty No. 9 have so poisoned the well for crowdfunded games that even more minor disappointments like Yooka-Laylee are often viewed as “scams,” and that tide of discontent means ever more thorough scrutiny about the development of these games. Much of that outrage is unfair, but the inability of a developer to recognize its roots and understand how to communicate to that community doesn't inspire much confidence in how things are being managed.

YOU'RE GONNA HAVE TO WAIT FOR YOUR DRAGON BALL FIGHTERZ BETA

A new fighting game from Arc System Works building on the incredible visual style of Guilty Gear Xrd is awesome enough, but having that game be an adaptation of one of the most popular anime ever is some very delicious icing on top of a particularly terrific cake. The fact that Dragon Ball FighterZ is a 3v3 fighter coming around the time of a very shaky-looking revision of Marvel vs. Capcom has also added to the appeal.

A closed beta was scheduled to start accepting sign-ups this week, but “due to the volume of excitement and enthusiasm surrounding this announcement” Bandai Namco has delayed those sign-ups until August 22nd, with the actual beta running September 16th-18th. The official quote there sounds like some real corporate-messaged bull, but I can't really complain about early access to game that looks this rad. Any opportunity for more people to get in is a good thing. Consider this your PSA.

THAT POKEMON GO EVENT WAS KIND OF A DISASTER, HUH?

Remember Pokémon GO? We all played it for about a month—and don't get me wrong, it was a delightful month—but once the honeymoon period was up, it was up all the way. At least, that's the impression I had as somebody who foolishly focuses on traditional games, but people have continued to stick with the AR mobile game to such a degree that Niantic has planned a series of live “Pokémon GO Fest” events in the US, Europe, and Japan. The first one went down in Chicago this week, and calling it disappointing would be a tremendous understatement.

Basically, neither the local phone networks nor the game itself were able to keep up with the demands of the massive crowd at the event. With many people having done significant travel to attend, the inability to connect to the servers—and consequently to participate in any of the weekend's special events—had an unsurprising air of disquiet bubbling up in the crowd. As somebody who takes minimal joy in schadenfreude, clips from the stage event's Twitch stream are hard to watch, with “we can't play” chants, boos, and general crankiness permeating the response as a bunch of poor community managers were forced to try and make the best of it.

Niantic did refund admission, add $100 of credit to everyone's accounts, and gifted out a legendary Pokémon—which is good enough for local attendees, but anyone with significant travel has got to remain disappointed. After multiple stories above involving poor corporate messaging, though, the official statement is suprisingly not terrible, actually breaking down what went wrong and not sweeping away the issues with big praise for their future plans. In some weird way, that's heartening to see.

UPCOMING RELEASES

HEY! PIKMIN
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: July 28
MSRP: $39.99

At last, a new Pikmin game! Except not really. Hey! Pikmin trades in the RTS-lite gameplay of the proper series for some 2D platforming, and while that's not exactly what I wanted, the floor is high enough for the quality of Nintendo platformers I'm willing to give it a shot. Putting Pikmin-powered puzzle solving into the platformer is a unique enough hook that it could be worthwhile.

MIITOPIA
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: July 28
MSRP: $39.99

The second game launching alongside the New 2DS XL, Miitopia is a light RPG where your party—and every character in the world—is populated by custom Miis, which you can choose them yourself, or let the game pull them from the internet. The eShop demo (which is huge by demo standards) had me saving a child Iron Man from the dark lord Dio, and while that's some real pop culture stupidity I couldn't help enjoying it.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
This time the Gone Home developers simulate walking in a space station, and while that sounds snarky and dismissive I'm incredibly excited to see what Tacoma actually ends up being. Also, Patapon Remastered is hitting PS4, and re-enjoying that bit of rhythm strategy on the big screen sounds like a very good time.


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