Dried blood cakes the catwalks of RuptureFarms, the biggest meat processing plant on Oddworld. Gangly, emaciated Mudokon slaves scrub the factory's floors with dirty rags. Sadistic, squid-faced Slig guards let off steam by beating the workers with the butts of their rifles and laughing at their cries of pain, while overhead conveyer belts cart seemingly endless barrels of processed meat to destinations unknown. Despite the harrowing conditions, one blue-skinned Mudokon slave named Abe still thinks he has a pretty good job. But after stumbling upon RuptureFarms' plans for a tasty new product, Abe abandons his cleaning duties and sets out to escape the slaughterhouse.
So begins Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty, a remake of 1997's sidescrolling platformer, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. But this remake doesn't simply scale up the original game's pre-rendered, 2D visuals to 1080p; it presents the same levels and puzzles, but rebuilt from the ground up in real-time 3D. This changes your window into Oddworld itself. While Abe's Oddysee divided its levels into still screens that used transition effects when travelling between them, New 'n' Tasty features a camera that scrolls with Abe as he walks, runs and sneaks through Oddworld. Though this is nothing new for games today, it's still a thrill to see areas from Abe's Oddysee that would have required travelling across seven or so screens rendered in New 'n' Tasty with an impressive seamlessness. The camera is also free to close in for tight shots, tilt and pan for cinematic effect, and pull out to reveal more oncoming obstacles in tense chase sequences. This allows you to get a better look at the consistently gorgeous environmental design, which has lost none of the original game's style and detail in the move to 3D. For me, it felt like New 'n' Tasty presented a literal depiction of Oddworld as my mind's eye saw it in 1997.
Despite the brand new visuals, New 'n' Tasty takes great care to retain the core sidescrolling platforming that distinguished Abe's Oddysee 17 years ago, and still makes for a unique game today. Abe is a weakling, being extremely fragile and lacking in offensive capabilities. He is more concerned with surviving his enemies than destroying them, and does this by sneaking past them, outrunning them, or turning the environment on them when possible. Abe can hide in steam vents, lead gun-toting guards into land mines, zap them by activating electric fields, and occasionally possess a guard to temporarily turn his gun on his comrades.
New 'n' Tasty takes great care to retain the core sidescrolling platforming that distinguished Abe's Oddysee 17 years ago.
Abe's enemies are always scarier and more powerful than he is, in ways that give each of Oddworld's creatures distinct behaviours and identities. Possessing a Slig allows you to issue basic commands to Slogs--small dog-like creatures--even going so far as being able to order them to kill another Slig. Spider-like Paramites won't attack unless backed into a corner, whilst predatory Scrabs will attack on sight unless they see another Scrab, upon which the two will fight to the death. Exploiting these behaviours is the key to solving most puzzles, and the behaviours themselves mix well with environmental hazards in ways that never feel repetitive.
Once he makes it out of RuptureFarms, Abe discovers his quest isn't solely about self-preservation. He needs to acquire two mystical hand scars that contain the power to shut down the slaughterhouse. Along the way, he must free his enslaved Mudokon brothers by issuing them basic commands and leading them to portals. For all the traumatic ways Abe can die in this hostile world, there's a certain slapstick quality to the proceedings when you have three Mudokons in tow who are just as frail. They aren't the brightest of brethren, so you'll need to tell them to follow you, and occasionally wait, lest they walk straight into a land mine or electric field before you clear the way. The variety of voices in New 'n' Tasty, and actual lines of dialogue, has been greatly increased over the original, so the Mudokons feel less like carbon copies of one another. The addition of ragdoll physics in this remake pushes the dichotomy between the dark subject matter and comedic attempts to survive even further than the original game. I laughed, and felt a little bit bad about it.
Trying to survive as a fragile character like Abe was something of a novelty when Abe's Oddysee was first released; he died in one hit, but had unlimited lives. The same is true of New 'n' Tasty, but this remake adds three difficulty levels, the easier of which allows you to take more than one hit before dying. But even the hardest, "classic" difficulty level is still forgiving, thanks to the addition of a quicksave feature--something only introduced in the original game's sequel, Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus. Quicksaving in New 'n' Tasty is accomplished by tapping the PS4 controller's touchpad, and quickloading is done by holding the touchpad down for a second. It's an easy, intuitive system, and if you keep it in mind it's rare you'll lose more than a second of progress upon what are sure to be many repeated deaths.
Unfortunately, many of those deaths are likely to occur because of the way New 'n' Tasty's control scheme differs from Abe's Oddysee. The original game was released before the first DualShock controller, so you altered Abe's movement speed by holding down the shoulder buttons. This fine, digital control was important, as the game required precise timing of sprints and jumps to avoid landing on mines or falling down chasms. New 'n' Tasty changes this by putting two movement speeds on the left thumbstick; pushing it slightly will make Abe walk, while pushing it harder will make him run. This led to a number of situations where I had to adjust my position by a single step, but ended up running straight into a land mine. Thankfully, sneaking is still bound to a shoulder button, so it's rare that you'll accidentally wake up a guard and get shot due to this new analogue movement system.
Perhaps the oddest thing about this remake is the presence of in-game advertising. For a game that is staunchly anti-capitalism, as evidenced by the snarky critiques that appear on in-game billboards, it seems contradictory for those billboards to then scroll to reveal a poster for an upcoming PS4 game. More harmful is the fact that those ads contain depictions of human characters, violating the otherwise consistently odd nature of the game's fauna. Though rarely seen, these ads still took me out of the experience in an awkward, fourth-wall-breaking fashion.
Despite the ads, and occasional frustrations from the fiddly analogue movement, this is a remake that feels as though it was crafted with love and respect. With clever puzzles near identical to the original game, and beautiful environments brought to life with new visuals and a dynamic camera, New 'n' Tasty satiated me, despite being an Oddworld veteran and knowing each solution and secret area like the back of my (scarred) hand.
As video game consoles have become increasingly online-centric, the games industry has experimented with different ways of making money from the opportunities this has presented. One such example: offering paid boosts that provide players with in-game money or immediate access to unlockables (be it cars, guns, or whatever else).
Several developers have been implementing these boosts in their games over the past few years. For example, Battlefield 4 has "Battlepacks" for purchase that give you several items and sometimes temporary experience boosts, and even World of Warcraft allows you to pay for your character to automatically level up to 90. Grid Autosport is one of the latest games to offer such a boost, releasing a "Boost Pack" DLC for $3 that makes you earn experience and in-game cash more quickly. This sparked a discussion online about why these kinds of things are offered, resulting in an astonishingly honest explanation from developer Codemasters' community manager: "It sells."
Many players find these boosts objectionable, while others are less bothered by them so long as they're optional. We turned to two of our writers for their thoughts on this trend.
Clearly, designing a game based around DLC boosts undermines the whole experience of playing a video game. It nudges people who don't have time to waste to purchase upgrades. Grid developer Codemasters understands the shady nature of this type of design, which is why we see it adamantly stating that no parts of the game were changed to sell DLC.
But it doesn't matter if no developer ever intentionally changes its project. DLC boosts have that effect regardless of the state of the game. Simply put, the existence of boosts alters the perception of the game. Without them, the game is a known quantity; the speed of the progression is constant and unchanging. With an option for increased advancement through the game, that opportunity is immediately put into the player's mind. In a way, it's like hiking up a mountain with a paved road to the top. You can walk all the miles to the summit, or you can pay a small fee for gas or toll to simply drive to the top in comfort. When you've been hiking for hours, driving by car and paying the fee seems increasingly attractive.
By adding boosts to a game, a developer is fundamentally altering its design whether intentionally or not. It's changing the game by adding an easier path. The game is skewed toward encouraging the player to spend more money.
Additionally, boosts harm the game itself by lessening the value of the gameplay. When you're able to buy your way past some of the grind, what is the point of the grind in the first place? The message imparted by DLC boosts is that the basic process of playing the game is made up of superfluous material that can be streamlined. Having a boost that reduces the time to a certain goal from 15 hours to seven hours, for example, devalues the other eight hours. There's no real purpose for making a certain task take 15 hours if half of it can be cut out. It shifts the focus of the game to the goal and marginalizes the journey.
DLC progression boosts probably are here to stay for some time, but there's no reason we have to like them. I enjoy games for their gameplay--in other words, the process of striving to achieve, not the achievements themselves. I like the journey. And even if the journey is preserved during game development, the addition of boosts afterwards reduces its importance. The danger isn't intentional manipulation--what is really concerning is the unintentional effects and the subconscious response from players that compels them to take the easier path.
I'm not vehemently against these DLC boosts like Alex; my only real objection to them is when the game's design has been altered to account for them. The mobile Dungeon Keeper game was obviously designed with them in mind, and no one thinks that turned out well. A game like NBA 2K14, on the other hand, looks less offensive on the surface, but was ruined for me by its Virtual Currency system. The game actually put you in a position where you have no choice but to hurt yourself (by declining a coach or player request, for instance) if you're short on VC and unwilling to spend real money on more.
Examples like that aside, I don't see the harm when these boosts are offered in a purely optional way. The matter of perception is a non-issue in my mind; if the game truly was designed as it would have otherwise been, I don't see offering a DLC boost as a problem. There are countless examples of things where public perception is skewed. Take downloadable expansions, which some people bemoan because of the belief that the content must have been excised from the initial release so it could be sold to people later. While it's possible this has happened, most of the time this isn't the case--and we shouldn't simply do away with DLC because people might get the wrong impression about it.
And I don't buy the argument that the mere availability of these boosts will act as some kind of Jedi mind trick on players: If the idea of them offends you, I don't imagine you'll be buying them just because they're there. If a large group of players are going to ignore them, you might ask why include them at all--and the aforementioned point from Codemasters explains exactly why: some people want them.
The notion of using a boost to skip the grind in a game might be appalling to some, and I undoubtedly would have viewed them in the same way when I was younger. After all, that grind can represent some of a game's real meat, such as in a JRPG like Persona 4 where those countless battles open the door to the nuance that makes its combat enjoyable.
As long as the grind isn't made longer for the sake of selling boosts, who am I to stand in the way of someone short on time who doesn't mind paying to get access to the weapon or car they want?
But as I've gotten older, I've found myself with less time to play games. As a result, the grind that comes as a part of certain games--earning currency in a Forza or unlocking the multitude of weapons, attachments, and upgrades in a Battlefield--is becoming increasingly insurmountable. I'm not quite ready to start paying to skip those grinds, as there remains a satisfaction in earning those things for myself. But as long as that grind isn't made longer for the sake of selling boosts, who am I to stand in the way of someone short on time who doesn't mind paying to get access to the weapon, car, or whatever that they want? And if you're concerned that the grind is excessively long, I'd suggest holding out on buying a game at launch to find out if reviewers and other players have found that to be a problem--advice that I daresay would be a wise move no matter how you feel about this subject.
Really, the only question I have regarding these sorts of boosts is whether they ought to be free so that players have the flexibility to play games however they wish. But, as Codemasters says, people are willing to pay for them, and as long as that's the case, it's unlikely many publishers will pass up the opportunity to make an easy buck. As long as they don't allow that to affect game design in any way--and only if that's the case--I won't begrudge them much for it.
What side of the discussion do you fall on? Let us know your thoughts on these DLC boosts, as well as whether you've purchased one before, in the comments below.
Days ahead of the launch of The Last of Us Remastered on PlayStation 4, Naughty Dog plans on revealing the newest Last of Us downloadable content today as part of a live stream on Twitch. You can watch the stream above as it happens--it's set to begin today, July 24, at 11:30AM PST. A second stream will air at 5:30PM PST.
Details on the new DLC are scant, but we know it will be available for both PS3 and PS4. New maps are expected to be at least part of it, and the images you see to the right and below are teases for where they will be set.
Previous DLC packs include the Abandoned Territories map pack (added four new maps) and the Grounded bundle (consisted of several packs that collectively added four more maps, new weapons, new skills, and an additional difficulty mode for single-player). Naughty Dog said recently more DLC is planned for The Last of Us, but that all of it will be for the game's multiplayer mode.
In addition to showing off the new DLC, Naughty Dog will be highlightling Remastered's new features on PS4, as well as introducing The Last of Us' multiplayer mode to newcomers. The latter will sound unnecessary to those who have played The Last of Us on PS3, but Sony claims a significant portion of PS4 owners have never gotten to do so.
The Last of Us Remastered launches on PS4 next Tuesday, July 29, for $50. Sony isn't offering any kind of upgrade discount, but owners of the PS3 version can trade it in at GameStop to get Remastered for just $25. That's a solid deal for what appears to be the best version of such a highly regarded game.
For more on Remastered, check out our recent interview with Naughty Dog discussing what's new, running in 60fps, and more.
Not long after launching the latest PlayStation 4 system update, Sony has revealed yet another update for its newest console will be coming next week.
The PS4's 1.75 update will add support for 3D Blu-ray movies (a feature also being added to the Xbox One in its next update and one the PS3 has offered since 2010). An exact date for the update's launch was not announced, with Sony saying on Twitter that it's "coming next week."
The timing of this announcement is curious, given the 1.74 update was only released just over a day ago. Its sole feature, if it can be called that, is the improvement of "system software stability during use of some features." 1.74 was the third update in a row to deal exclusively with that issue.
We're quickly approaching the three-month mark since we last got a PS4 update that implemented any kind of new feature. The 1.70 update released on April 30 added a new video editor, DualShock 4 light bar brightness settings, preloading support, and more.
Are you happy to see 3D Blu-ray support implemented, or are you more interested in features that affect the system's gaming functions? Let us know in the comments.