Ninja Theory’s Hellblade Is Trading On Deception
Ninja Theory have never made a good game. Heavenly Sword was a sterile God of War clone, Enslaved was filled to the brim with stomach-churning slowdown, and DmC single-handedly ended the popular Devil May Cry series. At every turn Ninja Theory can be seen to prioritise graphics way ahead of performance and gameplay, and it looks like their newest title, Hellblade, is no exception.
Hellblade has been described as a walking simulator which features isolated pockets of combat in designated gameplay areas – it has also been found to feature game breaking bugs which are exacerbated by the game’s auto-save system. As a maker of unfun games Ninja Theory has found it increasingly difficult in recent years to find a willing publisher. This is why in the wake of DmC Ninja Theory announced that they would self-publish their next title, Hellblade, as a $30 title which would nevertheless feature AAA production values. With this announcement the writing was already on the wall for Hellblade‘s combat, as development expenses would need to be trimmed, and it was quite clear that the game’s visual fidelity was not going to be sacrificed.
Thus, very predictably, Hellblade has launched with stellar visuals, while only featuring any actual gameplay in isolated pockets of its level design. Ah, but how to give this heavily de-emphasised focus on combat any sense of urgency or vitality? That is quite simple – the game announces during its opening chapter that repeated deaths will result in the deletion of the player’s save file. Great! Permadeath may not be for everyone, but at least that would be Ninja Theory trying something new from the gameplay side of things. Combat may be stale and shallow, but the threat of lost progress would imbue fighting with a sense of immediacy that it would otherwise be lacking. Within the story of the game the protagonist has had their hand infected with a putrid black rot, and every time they die the rot spreads further up their arm – once it reaches their head the character will die and the player’s save will auto-delete. That is great, or rather it would be if it were actually true – but Ninja Theory lacks the courage of their convictions.
Sadly, this is one of the most blatant instances of a game outright lying to the player. When the developer front-loads their game with the audacious claim that they will delete the player’s progress they had best imagine that there are people willing to test this out, and in the conspicuous absence of anybody actually triggering this failure state an in depth analysis of the game’s mechanics was all but inevitable. PCGamesN patiently died dozens of times in order to reach this failure state, and instead found that the rot spreading up the protagonist’s arm was actually limited as to how far it could travel based on arbitrary points in the story, with the game ending before it is able to reach her head.
There are points in the story where for narrative purposes the infection spreads up the protagonist’s arm, and it turns out that by the end of the game a player who has never been defeated in battle will be in pretty much the same shape as a player who has died scores of times. Ninja Theory were just blatantly lying about this mechanic. It will be interesting to see whether Ninja Theory will feel the need to patch permadeaths into the game, but as things stand what has been done here looks to be grubby and deceptive.
Switches Get Stitches
It would not be a new Nintendo hardware generation without being sued by yet another holder of patents for their latest gimmick. Back in 2014 Nintendo were sued by Phillips for the motion control technology utilised by their Wii and Wii U consoles. Given that Nintendo Switch consoles are essentially surplus gamified Android tablets, they were always going to run into significant problems from this quarter.
Nintendo is being sued by Gamevice for infringing the patent for their Wikipad gaming tablet, and the claim looks far from spurious. The Wikipad featured detachable controls which clip onto either side of the tablet. The clip on controls of the Wikipad feature a connecting strip of plastic which runs along the bottom of the device, so they cannot be individually detached like with the Switch, so perhaps that may be enough to make the Switch legally distinct from the Wikipad. Then again Gamevice’s case here does look a whole lot more solid than some patent disputes which have gone on to be upheld.
Gamevice’s claims are not going to be thrown out of court, and as such this situation will likely end up with Nintendo striking a settlement with them – assuming that Gamevice’s terms are reasonable. As of right now Gamevice are demanding that Nintendo stop selling the Switch, compensate them for damages, and reimburse them their legal fees. Meanwhile Nintendo has little to say on the issue:
“We have nothing to announce on this topic.”
This is where an over reliance on gimmickry gets you. If only Nintendo could get the system to work for them for a change. If only some tech giant would hide a secret GPU in one of their charging docks then maybe the shoe would be on the other foot, and Nintendo could patent troll someone else for once!
Final Fantasy News
This week Square Enix has officially cancelled Episode Prompto – confusingly. One says confusingly because something called Episode Prompto is already available for download to anyone who was foolish enough to buy the Final Fantasy XV season pass, and no Square Enix is not planning on performing a post-birth abortion on this content [more is the pity]. Rather, Episode Prompto was the original name for the VR DLC that Square Enix showed off, but when Monster of the Deep [a fishing mini game] was announced for VR, and then a very different Episode Prompto was released it began to seem very unlikely that the content originally shown off as Episode Prompto would ever see the light of day. This week Square Enix has officially acknowledged its cancellation, which is terrible news for all the literally tens of people who own PSVR!
“The Prompto Shooting game was actually a showcase back then, it was just to showcase the power of the VR – but we have Monster of the Deep! Can you imagine having a Prompto DLC and also having a Prompto VR. Right? We want to offer something very different for every single entry of Final Fantasy 15.”
LOL, surprise! We were just kidding. You guys can totally have a fishing mini game though!
In other Final Fantasy news, Yusuke Naora and Isamu Kamikokuryo have officially hooked up with Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker Studios, which this week revealed artwork that this talented duo has produced for Terra Battle 2. Yusuke Naora has served as art director for Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy X, Crisis Core, Type-0, and as co-art director for Final Fantasy XV. Isamu Kamikokuryo has served as art director for Final Fantasy XII, the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, and as co-art director for Final Fantasy XV.
Together these men have directed the visual design in almost every mainline Final Fantasy installment since the post of ‘art director’ was established during the development of Final Fantasy VII, with the one exception being Final Fantasy IX where Hideo Minaba served in the role. Yusuke Naora left Square Enix in October of 2016, while Isamu Kamikokuryo left Square Enix in March of 2017, and now both of them find themselves working for their old boss, Hironobu Sakaguchi, in very short order. This is exciting news, not so much for their work on Terra Battle 2, but more for the possibility that one or even both of these talented men will work as art director for the proposed console iteration of Terra Battle. Square Enix are losing all of their talent because they no longer make creatively engaging games worthy of their former art team. Now they are left with nought but Nomura, whom they richly deserve!