Now Playing: Need for Speed, Final Fantasy X, Battlefield 4

A break from school and a thin summer release schedule gives me plenty of time to play some older releases. But this summer I spent more time buying games then actually playing them. And since I couldn’t decide which game to write a “Now Playing” feature on, I’ll just compile my thoughts on each game in one post.

Need for Speed: Rivals

I planned on making Need for Speed: Rivals my PlayStation 4 launch game back in November, but buying a multiplatform game for a console launch didn’t feel quite right. On launch day I changed my mind and bought Killzone: Shadow Fall instead – a game I barely remember playing.  Still curious to play Ghost Games’ debut racing title, I picked up a copy for Xbox One hoping for a still thriving online community.

Unlike most racing games, Need for Speed: Rivals doesn’t separate multiplayer and single player modes. In the open world, players zip past both Racers and Cops controlled by CPUs or other people. For a multiplayer-single player integrated game, Rivals rarely feels like a multiplayer game. The other five players either complete their Speedlist on the other side of the map or disappear into the safe havens to deposit their credits.  Racers can race against computers, compete in head-to-head races and beat time trials. Cop activities only slightly vary as all race types revolve around busting Racers. Racers dominate online sessions, removing the threat of ever driving into player controlled police patrols.

Small multiplayer sessions aside, Rivals’ insane speeds and car chases don’t exist in other games. Very few racing games let players hit a jump at full speed, bounce the car off the pavement and t-bone another player into the guard rail. Considering the rarity of player engagements however, I wonder what to do once I complete the remaining Speedlists. I can’t compete in 5 player races online because no such mode exists. I can either chase down Racers as a Cop or continuing racing CPUs. Neither of which I want to do.

Final Fantasy X

A few years ago I wrote an article shortly after playing The World End With You to explain why I hate Japanese RPGs. Looking back my criticism felt unfair since one game in the genre can’t represent the rest. On a whim I revisited The World Ends With You and actually saw it all the way through to the end. My tastes have changed, but the genre hasn’t. While I tend to avoid console JRPGs, playing them on handheld devices changed how I approach the genre.

Japanese RPGs often start slow and treat the player with a deliberate, methodical introduction of mechanics. Slow starts often plague Japanese developed games, so much that I never returned to a game like Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Final Fantasy X: Remastered also suffers from a grueling intro sequence, but the ability to pause and put the Vita in stand-by means I can return at another time. With console games like Ni No Kuni, the complete commitmentand inability to multitask made a boring introduction even slower.

Handheld games allow for multitasking, so I often played Final Fantasy X while watching baseball games. Although watching a baseball game doesn’t setup an ideal environment for a story driven game, it helped make the tutorials of using health potions less monotonous.

Well beyond the introduction of Final Fantasy X, the game recovered from its slow start and gave me the freedom to begin playing instead of just learning about swapping out party members during battles. Using the description “freedom” however is misleading. Most Final Fantasy games often encourage exploration and visiting towns all around the imagined fantasy world, but Final Fantasy X forces players to walk down narrow paths.

After the narrow, linear structure that ruined the creative and carefully imagine world in Final Fantasy XIII, I worry about Final Fantasy X and my ability to continue through its restrictive, linear design. I want to visit towns, explore the world and build my party, not follow paths leading to another boss followed by an always too long and awkwardly voice acted cut scene.  I loathe games squandering their potential with poor design decisions, and so far Final Fantasy X fails to deliver a moment of actual enjoyment instead of continuous boredom.

Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4’s launch saw more people discussing the infinite amount of issues in the multiplayer, rather people than expressing their opinion of the game experience. Poor multiplayer net code, constant game client crashes and game breaking bugs made Battlefield 4 impossible to play. With glitches and bugs finally resolved, even months after my initial purchase, Battlefield 4 still recreates my enthusiasm and excitement with each new match.

Going as far back as Battlefield: Bad Company, Rush is Battlefield’s best game mode, maybe even my favourite mode in any multiplayer shooter. Rush combines the perfect amount of solider combat and vehicle combat. Game modes like Conquest spread out the action and put greater emphasis on vehicles. Matches also seem less focused as teams just lose points and capture new ones rather than secure a point and defend it. The Rush mode forces players to rush bomb sites or else the defending team prepares their defensive positions to secure their victory. Rush encourages constant movement and team play, which the other modes ultimately lack with the huge scale.

Although I played many Battlefield titles before, only Battlefield 4 sold me on the Premium Membership. With the in-game bonuses, discounted DLC and the access to Premium events, no other DLC package I have purchased matches the longevity and value of Battlefield 4 Premium. The membership price of $50 asks a lot from players for an initial investment. Players must consider the value of each map pack and whether they plan to continue playing a year after launch when the final map pack releases.

A thriving community drives the game’s enjoyment, yet the community splits off into different parts of the game, shrinking the actual size of the player base. First DICE divides the community through the dozens of game modes ranging from Rush to Team Deathmatch. Then the community divides again depending on which map pack playlist you enter. While probably not an issue on PC, the Xbox One version creates servers with specific map packs, separating players with Premium, specific map packs and players with the base game.

With such an unstable, horrible launch, I think many shooter fans dismissed Battlefield 4 and never considered giving it a chance. The launch stained the game’s reputation, warding off interested players who, despite the fixes, won’t get to pilot ahelicopter, drive a speedboat and parachute off a building all in the same match.