Florence Could be 2018’s Most Interesting Game

Florence Could be 2018’s Most Interesting Game

As the democratization of game creation tools marches on, making it easier than ever for anyone with an idea to make their own video game, I’m happy to see that more games are catering to people like me: depressed and trying to figure out their 20s. If the baby boomers and Gen X-ers got to explore their own post-adolescence through film and TV respectively, then older millennials have games sewn up for that exact purpose. You don’t need me to tell you that interactivity breeds a greater level of empathy, and that empathy is a powerful that makes games the perfect medium for smaller, more intimate storytelling, but you do need me to tell you that I played Florence at PAX South 2018 and it absolutely rules.

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Florence – screen image provided by Annapurna Interactive and Mountains.

Florence is published by What Remains of Edith Finch stewards Annapurna Interactive, developed by first-time Australian studio Mountains, and headed up by Monument Valley designer Ken Wong. It’s a mobile game about a young woman’s first love, presented in the form of a highly interactive visual novel. You play as Florence Yeoh, an ordinary person in an indistinct city, going through the motions of adult life until she meets a guy named Krish who sweeps her off her feet. The demo I saw took the burgeoning couple through their first dates, moving in together, and even a big fight in a grocery store.

Each vignette contains little to no dialogue from the primary characters, instead communicating mood and intent through interactive segments. For example, during the “first dates,” phase Florence and Krish’s small talk and early flirting are represented by empty word balloons that players have to assemble for Florence like a jigsaw puzzle. As the dates go on, and as Florence becomes more comfortable around Krish, the puzzle pieces become larger and easier to fit together. When Krish moves into Florence’s apartment months later, you essentially play Tetris with their shared belongings, trying to find the happiest medium between her possessions and his, eliminating redundancies as you find them. Nobody needs two toasters, for example, but will Florence put her books in storage to make room for a picture of Krish’s family?

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Florence – screen image provided by Annapurna Interactive and Mountains.

As a result, Florence splits the difference between graphic novel and video game, taking the best aspects of both mediums. The game’s striking, minimalist artwork would be right at home in a coming-of-age comic like Blankets. That visual ambiguity blends perfectly with empathy-building interactivity, giving the designers complete authorship over their story while also allowing the player to fill in the gaps with their own experiences. The relationship between player and designer in Florence is more complex than any game with a moral choice system.

Florence is compelling like how VA-11 HALL-A or Gone Home are compelling—they’re intimate, human, and deeply relatable. These are smaller stories told well; the anecdotes of our ordinary lives given structure and meaning. Florence, more than anything else, seems like a real step forward into mainstream empathy-based storytelling and I’m damn excited to play it.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Mike Cosimano’s review of Rick and Morty – Season 3 and his interview with Suda51!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Dissidia Final Fantasy NT,  Star Wars Battlefront II, Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and  Super Mario Odyssey!

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CGMagazine’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2017 – Part Two

CGMagazine’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2017 – Part Two 6

It’s time once again for CGMagazine to recount the top 10 TV shows that aired this year.  In a year where TV was an all-too-necessary escape, these shows stood out because they were the ones I actually had time to watch in 2017. 

Read moreCGMagazine’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2017 – Part Two

CGMagazine’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2017 – Part One

Mike Cosimano’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2017 (That He Watched) - Part One 5

It’s time once again for CGMagazine to recount the top 10 TV shows that aired this year.  In a year where TV was an all-too-necessary escape, these shows stood out because they were the ones I actually had time to watch in 2017. 

Read moreCGMagazine’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2017 – Part One

Guacamelee 2 is The Same Dish With a Few New Ingredients

Guacamelee 2 is The Same Dish With a Few New Ingredients

Guacamelee 2 is a hard game to demo. At PSX, I played one of the opening levels with three other attendees through the game’s appropriately chaotic four-player co-op. That’s probably not how I will play Guacamelee 2, if I play it at all, so I was predominantly looking to see if the first game’s cheerful Day of the Dead aesthetic and good-natured sense of humour managed to carry over.

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Guacamelee 2 (gameplay image via Drinkbox Studios)

The original Guacamelee’s greatest strength was its effortless charm. Never a particularly frustrating game, Guacamelee felt more like a warm cup of soup than anything else. It was comforting—warm, even!—and did a good job of filling you up between more substantial meals. In another lifetime, Guacamelee would be a weekend rental. But in the world of properly-priced indie platformers, it thrived, finding a cult following that lead to a sequel.

So when evaluating a sequel, the question becomes less about whether it’s worth buying—I own legitimate versions of the original game several times over and have not actually paid for it once—and more about whether the game fills the same need as its predecessor. Does it belong in that rotation of Sunday afternoon games we all keep in the back of our heads? The ones we always want to fiddle with but can’t ever bring ourselves to start fresh?

Yeah, I guess it does.

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Guacamelee 2 (gameplay image via Drinkbox Studios)

At no point during my Guacamelee 2 demo was I frustrated, even when I died. The game does a good job of keeping up the pace, regularly throwing new ideas and scenarios at the player. The writing is still perfect for all ages, keeping things light without being condescending. It’s not quite Pixar-esque, the whole thing is more like a better DreamWorks production.

If you’ve never played Guacamelee, you should be able to hop into 2 fairly easily. It’s a snappy, responsive platformer with maybe one or two fewer tools than it feels like it needs. The uppercut is a good way to get some additional verticality, but it feels more of a combat move than a platforming technique. The combat is absolutely the weakest part of both games, in that it’s forgettable and occasionally gets in the way of the platforming. There are worse fates than forgettable action in a platformer, but I still hoped that Drinkbox would have iterated on the combat just a little bit more.

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Guacamelee 2 (gameplay image via Drinkbox Studios)

I felt more entertained than I did challenged when playing the Guacamelee 2 demo. Yes, there’s always the chance that most of the depth comes later on in the game, but your opening moments and first boss fight sets the tone even off the less-than-ideal conditions of a convention show floor. With the advent of Steam refunds, those first two hours become even more crucial.

I’m not saying Guacamelee 2 looks bad—there’s a lot to be proud of in that PSX demo. It expressly conveys the game’s sense of humour, its art style, and the basic mechanical loop you can expect for most of the game. And most of that stuff is quite good! It’s just that if the game hypothetically expands later on, it shouldn’t hide that depth from the kind of people who are looking for it.

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Guacamelee 2 (gameplay image via Drinkbox Studios)

There is something to be said for the four-player co-op, which reminds me of New Super Mario Bros Wii in its best moments. Without any collision on the four playable characters, combat becomes a trifle and platforming becomes a collaborative effort. Your fellow players are also guinea pigs, running into scenarios and eating a death so you can see how they failed. Since the game continues as long as one player remains, we rarely all died at the same time. Usually, at least one player made it to the other side and took us all with them.

Yes, if you like Guacamelee I have reason to believe you will enjoy Guacamelee 2. Bonus points if you have three other friends (and controllers, if they’re local). You’ll likely have a few solid afternoons of fun playing it together. But if you found Guacamelee more charming than anything else, then maybe you should worry about the other stuff in your backlog first, because Guacamelee 2 will likely feel a little too familiar.

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Guacamelee 2 (gameplay image via Drinkbox Studios)

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Mike Cosimano’s review of Rick and Morty – Season 3 and his interview with Suda51!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Star Wars Battlefront II, Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and  Super Mario Odyssey!

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CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

The Game Awards 2017 Wrap-Up

The Game Awards 2017 Wrap-Up

The Game Awards 2017 was better than last year’s. Such has been the trend for Geoff Keighley’s pet project – ever since the infamous Spike Video Game Awards first reached saturation, you can practically see Keighley straining against the inherent restraints of his chosen medium.

Read moreThe Game Awards 2017 Wrap-Up

Necrobarista Will Likely Invite Some VA-11 HALL-A Comparisons

Necrobarista Will Likely Invite Some VA-11 HALL-A Comparisons 1

You’re going to hear many comparisons between Necrobarista and VA-11 HALL-A: A Cyberpunk Bartending Simulator in the coming days, weeks, and months. As Necrobarista inevitably gains traction, the concept of a genre story told exclusively inside a drink-slinging establishment may start to feel a bit familiar.

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Necrobarista – gameplay images via Route 59.

For me, there’s one crucial difference between the games: whereas VA-11 HALL-A chose to engage the player with a bartending mechanic and a money management side objective, Necrobarista (at least in the very, very, very short demo I saw) seems to be more of an interactive story. The game takes place in an underground speakeasy where the spirits of the dead get 24 final hours in our world before having to move on to whatever’s next. That’s about as much as I could glean from the demo and a short conversation with one of the developers.

My demo felt more like a vignette than anything else: a sequence where a spirit plays five-finger-fillet against one of the speakeasy’s employees, betting two whole hours of his afterlife on this game. The demo took place in two parts: visual novel scenes where the events of the duel played out, and a couple moments where the player moves the camera around a Police Squad-style frozen room, reading bits of flavour text about the characters’ past and getting some commentary from people in the crowd.

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Necrobarista – gameplay images via Route 59.

With so little to go on, it’s hard to me to form a cohesive, informed recommendation. At the very least, I feel comfortable saying that I found the core gimmick of Necrobarista very enticing, but the script feels overwritten. There’s plenty of verve in the writing, but there’s no honesty. The stuff in the demo feels like it was written for a short story contest, all flash and flavour but no texture. It’s like asking the waiter at the Outback Steakhouse to over-season your steak; at that point, why not just get something else, Ray?

And yeah, of course it feels like a short story, it’s a demo, but that’s why I said “contest.” Those stories don’t exist to fulfill an artistic need, they’re trying to be the most loquacious of the bunch. Maybe the full game will be more authentic, or maybe it’ll feel like somebody was trying to really impress their NaNoWriMo group.

That’s where the VA-11 HALL-A comparisons fall apart for me. VA-11 HALL-A worked for me because it felt real. The characters felt like they had a life outside the game, even if I didn’t see it. Yeah, some of the dialogue could be a little too clever, but the condescension inherent to the way people talk to service employees kept all those interactions grounded in some form of reality.

Necrobarista Will Likely Invite Some VA-11 HALL-A Comparisons
Necrobarista – gameplay images via Route 59.

The reason I’m actually still kind of looking forward to Necrobarista is because that kind of ethereal wordiness can really set a mood if you give it long enough. (See also: Kentucky Route Zero) But in short bursts, especially at a convention, that mood becomes something you might have to fight through rather than something to let wash over you. I’m disappointed to say I had to fight through it—I hope the rest of the game isn’t the same way.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out  Mike Cosimano’s interview with Suda51 about No More Heroes: Travis Strikes Again or his preview of Total War: Warhammer!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15 – Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite and Cuphead!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

Never miss when new CGM articles go out by following us on Twitter and Facebook!

CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Square Enix’s PAX West Showing Implies a Renewed Focus on Imports

Square Enix’s PAX West Showing Implies a Renewed Focus on Imports 2

Square Enix knows the score. At PAX West, they showed off a series of games that ranged from the incomprehensible (Dissidia NT) to the nostalgic (the Secret of Mana remake), all of which fit Square’s post-Final Fantasy XV image of a Japanese publisher bringing Japanese experiences to the West.

Read moreSquare Enix’s PAX West Showing Implies a Renewed Focus on Imports

Suda51: “I Want to Out-Weird Everyone” with Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Suda51: “I Want to Out-Weird Everyone” with Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes 4

Here’s the most important piece of information we learned about Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes during our interview with Suda51: Travis Touchdown is a Bullet Club man.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Goichi Suda is a fan of pro wrestling. Wrestling moves can be found all over the No More Heroes series, including the powerbomb and the Undertaker’s iconic Tombstone Piledriver. Suda even participated in the infamous PAX Rumble this year, as part of the Kenny Omega-adjacent Digivolution stable. Puroresu has been a part of Suda’s career from the start; the prolific game developer’s work history goes all the way back to the Japanese wrestling game series Fire Pro Wrestling, where he worked as a director on the early Super Famicom entries.

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No More Heroes: Travis Strike again – concept art via Grasshopper Manufacture

Now, 24 years after Super Fire Pro Wrestling 3 Final Bout—Suda’s first directing job—the auteur returns to directing with Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes; an indie crossover spin-off where series protagonist Travis Touchdown and new villain Badman are sucked into the cursed video game console Death Drive MK-II.

“I’ve actually had the idea for this game since around this time last year,” Suda told us through his translator. “[Travis Strikes Again] isn’t No More Heroes 3, this is more like a stepping stone on the path leading up to that game.”

For Suda, Travis Strikes Again is half passion project, half soft reboot. Much like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this new instalment is a way to reintroduce the characters and the world to a mainstream audience. “There are a lot of gamers who are in their teens now, who probably aren’t aware of Travis, or even if they are aware of him, they didn’t really get the chance to encounter him when the games first came out,” Suda said. “So I decided this would be a good chance to reintroduce Travis and the series. Rather than going straight into a sequel, it would be good to have this sort of side thing to ease this new generation into the story.”

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No More Heroes: Travis Strike again – concept art via Grasshopper Manufacture

Although we don’t know much about how the game will play, Travis Strikes Again will take place inside existing video games like Hotline Miami and Shovel Knight. It’s part of a growing trend with independent developers, where popular indie characters will make appearances in other games.

For example, Shovel Knight is not just set to appear in Travis Strikes Again, he’s made cameos in Runbow and Yooka-Laylee, in addition to his upcoming appearances in crowdfunding success stories Bloodstained and Indivisible, to name just a few. Travis Strikes Again feels like the natural endpoint of the indie crossover fad, where cross-pollination is the raison d’etre.

“I actually wasn’t aware that was a trend until you mentioned that now,” Suda said. “For the past three years, I’ve been writing a column about [Western] indie games for Dengeki G’s Magazine, so as an extension of that, I decided to actually do something with all this indie stuff. When I came to the idea for this game, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to do something with all the indie stuff I’ve been getting into. Maybe help some of these indie people get their foot in the door in a way, you know?”

“So from the very start, it was Hotline Miami that I decided I wanted to work with, after that it was Shovel Knight, and it’s sort of expanded from then on. I feel Travis would be into these kinds of games as well. Not just the games I like, but the games I feel Travis as a person would be into too.”

It’s been seven years since the last No More Heroes game and nine years since Suda last directed a game (although he’s worked as an “executive director” and a writer in the meantime, Travis Strikes Again is being touted as Suda’s return to directing). In the meantime, the games industry has only gotten weirder. Indies are more prolific than they’ve ever been, and the AAA big-budget space has become more colourful in response. Even the perennial grey and downbeat Call of Duty took to the wonders of outer space last year. Plenty of people are happy to see the return of No More Heroes, but there’s been some question as to whether or not it will draw the same level of attention in a world where oddity has become the norm.

“I do see games getting weirder and trying new things, so if they’re going to try new stuff, I want to try new stuff. I want to try and put out some weird stuff as well. I want to out-weird everyone,” Suda said.

“You want to show all these motherfuckers how it’s done?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Suda said. “That’s awesome.”

Suda51: “I Want to Out-Weird Everyone” with Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes 3
No More Heroes: Travis Strike again – concept art via Grasshopper Manufacture

[Quotes have been slightly edited for clarity and pronoun usage]

Total War Warhammer Preview

Total War Warhammer Preview

At PAX West 2017, I got to play Total War: Warhammer II for more than 40 minutes. Long-time Cosimaniacs (the nickname I have for anyone who reads my work, regardless of whether they like me or not) may remember the quest I undertook to play an early build of the game.

If not, here’s the short version. The folks at Sega offered to fly me out to San Francisco to get a look at the game. Immediately upon arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, Southwest Airlines piled on delay after delay until I was saddled with a 21-hour travel day & a sliver of my original Total War appointment. These conditions were less than ideal, so Sega and Creative Assembly set me up with an appointment at PAX.

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Total War: Warhammer II (preview) – gameplay images via Sega and Creative Assemby

I spent around two-and-a-half hours with the game’s campaign, mostly in an attempt to answer my own questions from my original preview. The brief amount I played helped me understand the moment-to-moment gameplay of Total Warhammer, but I was still curious what the macro game looked like.

“For our game, because it’s so complex, it’s got so many different levels, you need to teach players the macro first,” Total War: Warhammer II lead designer Richard Aldridge said in an interview conducted at PAX. “Basically, for Total War, you need to know a couple of things. You need to build armies, and you need to go capture cities. In the campaign especially, that’s how you’re going to progress.”

The tutorial I saw during my time with the game provided a very cursory glance at army building and city management, but I feel like I’m just starting to understand what sets Total War: Warhammer II apart from the other strategy games I’ve played. To be more specific: I do not know what differentiates Total War Warhammer II from the other games in this series, but I have a better grasp on what makes it different from games like Civilization V.

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Total War: Warhammer II (preview) – gameplay images via Sega and Creative Assemby

For example, in Total War: Warhammer II, army management is crucial. You can’t just leap from conflict to conflict, no matter how powerful your forces may be. Even trivial battles wear down your armies, like water lapping against a cliffside. That’s a really cool way to make each battle feel important.

Total War—at least in the early hours—feels more like a management game than a large-scale empire creation game. These cities over here need more housing. I need to win some battles so other characters don’t overthrow my guy. I need to corrupt the land around me so my Skaven hordes can be more powerful, but it can’t be too corrupt otherwise the whole thing falls apart. More than anything else, Total War: Warhammer II simulates the feel of being a leader; of making minute decisions with a long-reaching effect that you can only estimate.

If I had one regret, it’s that I didn’t have enough time to conquer an enemy city. That’s not Southwest’s fault this time; it feels like a mid-game objective, the kind of thing you can only accomplish once your empire is churning out plenty of resources. I walked away with an itch for more siege combat, especially after getting a look at some proof-of-concept videos during my initial preview appointment.

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Total War: Warhammer II (preview) – gameplay images via Sega and Creative Assemby

I’m happy I got to spend some extra time with Total War: Warhammer II. My thoughts on the game remain mostly unchanged, but now I have a better idea of what this game actually is. I think I might be a good fit for the Total War series, and Warhammer II seems like as good a place to start as any.

Rick and Morty Season 3 Mid-Season “Rick-cap”

Rick and Morty Season 3 Mid-Season "Rick-cap"

Look, it’s far too early in Rick and Mortys third season to make any grand, sweeping, definitive statements. Any burgeoning trend could be completely reversed by next Sunday’s high-concept adventure—such is the fluid nature of this show, where no plot development or tonal shift is truly immutable. The best episodes of this show (Rixty Minutes, The Ricks Must Be Crazy, Total Rickall) all play with story formatting and science fiction to really drill down to the core of what makes the Sanchez/Smith family tick.

All that said, so far this year’s batch of episodes feels a little flat when compared to Season 2. Pickle Rick remains the best episode of Season 3, and even that installment had to reframe the show’s constant duel between optimism and nihilism as two characters spelling out the episode’s thesis in a conversation. Since then, two Sundays have passed, each with diminishing returns with regards to the show’s character work.

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Rick and Morty Season 3 images via Adult Swim

Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender spends too much time clowning on superhero movies (a gag that already felt tired back when Harmon first deployed it in 2015) to really delve into its admittedly fantastic central premise, which I won’t spoil for you here. Vindicators unique conflict structure could have made for some deft character work, it’s one of the rare moments where I wish Rick and Morty would make use of a 45-minute runtime or at least a two-part episode. It’s still a very funny episode (aside from a line about a character being “triggered” by a traumatic event that you just know only exists to get a mean-spirited laugh from the emotionally stunted members of the audience), but that first reveal belies the amount of mileage Vindicators will ultimately get from its central twist. There’s a lot of setup and a lot of easy jokes before the episode starts playing around with the formula.

If nothing else, at least Vindicators brings Morty’s series-long arc to the forefront. He’s arguably more useful than Rick here, to the point where he keeps everyone alive more so than the sober version of his super-genius grandfather. Morty’s weariness has been a welcome trend this season, in part because it means you can actually see a difference in his character arc between the very beginning of Rick and Morty and these most recent episodes.

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Rick and Morty Season 3 images via Adult Swim

Conceptually, I like what Rick and Morty has done with Jerry this season. I’ve long believed the show needed to actually do something with Beth & Jerry’s marriage rather than waffling about how dysfunctional the relationship actually is. In my opinion, the subplot really should’ve been dropped after Rixty Minutes, but any resolution is welcome at this point. Kicking Jerry out of the house was a great first step, in part because I think “divorced dad” jokes are funny as hell, but also because it could finally give Beth & Jerry some respective forward momentum.

Except with last week’s The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy, we’re right back to the “Jerry learns to be brave” subplot from Big Trouble in Little Sanchez. You could argue putting Rick and Jerry together has given both of them some newfound respect for the other, and that’s important for long-form characterization. But don’t let the serialization of television fool you: there are ten episodes per season, each at 23 minutes a pop. Each minute is precious storytelling real estate for a show that clearly has a lot on its mind, so I’m a bit disappointed when Rick and Morty spends its time with cheap pop culture takedowns or previously established character development.

To some degree, this doesn’t matter—Rick and Morty is best watched in chunks on a streaming service, where the show’s longform ideas can fit together like Lego bricks. That was how I watched the first two seasons; binging the show in my old apartment through my oft-neglected Hulu subscription. But for as much as I usually appreciate the show’s sense of humour, the character work for Season 3 seems weak week-to-week. Even the traditionally satisfying high-concept plot devices feel a bit shoehorned compared to previous episodes, like a psychedelic scene in The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy that offers very little beyond colourful visuals and a crack from Rick at the end that deflates everything the viewer has just seen.

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Rick and Morty Season 3 images via Adult Swim

Two disappointing installments isn’t enough to write off a whole season of television, but I’m in a different place when compared to my Pickle Rick recap. Rick and Morty has been given the greatest gift of all for a serialized television show: a major status quo shakeup and an audience that has been trained to accept that sort of thing. Perhaps these past two episodes are just a breather from the divorce storyline, but with only ten episodes, the show needs all the forward momentum it can get. Rick and Morty was such a lean show for so long, maybe it doesn’t need an overarching plot thread that affects the main casts’ state of mind? Maybe going back to Season 2’s “these characters grow and change through episodic one-off storylines” barely-serialized structure would be a better move? Maybe all Dan Harmon shows are destined to never eclipse their sophomore seasons?

I’m certainly not quitting on Rick and Morty, especially while these characters are still entertaining, but if the show is going to promise long-gestating forward momentum with episodes like Rickmancing the Stone or scenes like the therapist’s monologue from Pickle Rick, it really needs to deliver—especially with only 5 episodes left in the season.

Total War: Warhammer II Preview: Playing With The Skaven

Total War: Warhammer II Preview 8

I had big plans for this article. I wanted to come to Total War: Warhammer II as a relative RTS newbie who cut his teeth on Firaxis’ suite of user-friendly strategy games, bridging the gap between my fellow Civilization enthusiasts and the sort of people who understand what “4X” means. Thanks to a comical series of travel mishaps (I spent literally 21 hours travelling that day), I arrived in San Francisco for my preview appointment, with only 40 minutes left in my gameplay session before the event closed shop. I say all this not to complain, but to inform my readership so they have context for the rest of this article.

Let me be frank: with few exceptions, 40 minutes is not enough time to preview a strategy game, especially if this is your first time with the series in question. As a result, here’s my biggest takeaway from Total War: Warhammer II: I need more time with it before I can say anything substantive. I’m not being hyperbolic, this isn’t one of those times where I have a deep itch to play more of a game I’ve just previewed, I simply believe that I cannot make informed criticism until I play more of the game.

But damnit, I’m going to try anyway.

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Total War: WARHAMMER II Skaven Race and gameplay images – via Creative Assembly

Previewing strategy games is challenging because the sum of the complete experience is so often the only thing that matters, arguably more so than any other genre. In strategy, gameplay on the micro exists in service of the macro; everything you’re doing moment-to-moment is done with a much larger goal in mind. Those goals stack on top of each other, to the point where all decisions made during single, otherwise innocuous, turn is in service of [X] which itself is in service of [Y]. So when you’ve got such little time to preview a strategy game’s campaign, all you can speak to is the tutorials—you’re only allowed to see the trees, with the forest just out of view.

My short time with Total War: Warhammer II’s campaign was spent with the Skaven, a violent tribe of ratmen looking to corrupt the game’s world and gain control of the Vortex, a torrent of magical energy that acts as the game’s MacGuffin. No matter which race you choose, there is a definite objective in Warhammer II, along with some cutscenes that add flavour to the game’s story.

In order to control the Vortex, the Skaven have to conduct rituals by lining up three settlements and using them as a sort of magical conduit. Theoretically, that’s a great way to make settlements integral to the campaign. They aren’t just resource generators for your army, they’re also necessary to move the story forward. So you have an incentive to protect your own settlements while also trying to pillage your opponents’—, which is great design. In a game called “Total War,” every aspect of your empire should be working towards your victory. The map game is turn-based, while the combat is real-time and requires constant attention lest your army fall before the might of your enemies, so the game delineates tone for the player rather than forcing the player to adjust their playstyle depending on what part of the map they’re looking at.

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Total War: WARHAMMER II Skaven Race and gameplay images – via Creative Assembly

Although who knows, maybe all this falls apart in the final product. Maybe it’s super frustrating to protect your settlements, maybe city management is too involved and pulls the player’s attention away from the army metagame etc.

Again, 40 minutes.

Knowing my time was limited, I made a point of trying out Total War: Warhammer II’s one-off combat encounters. I was only able to play one in full (a Dark Elves vs High Elves brouhaha), but I really enjoyed myself! It was a solid look at mid/late-game combat, with plenty of high-concept units and flashy particle effects. I’ll always prefer the back-and-forth of turn-based combat, but watching my army fight in real-time, zooming in to watch their individual deaths happen before my very eyes then zooming back out to watch them swarm like ants, was tremendously satisfying. I only wish I could control the camera with the mouse, using WASD to swing the camera around never felt intuitive.

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Total War: WARHAMMER II Skaven Race and gameplay images – via Creative Assembly

At first, I hadn’t quite decided which race I would play when the full game drops, but we were shown early footage from the High Elf campaign that sounded very promising. High Elves have a currency called “influence” they can use to, well, influence other factions in the diplomacy metagame (another part of the game I did not see for myself). I’d love to utilize all the tools the game has to offer, so I think I’ll run High Elf when Warhammer II launches this September. Unless everything past minute 41 sucks, in which case I’ll be running away from this game at top speed.

If you liked Total War: Warhammer, I feel somewhat comfortable saying you’ll like Warhammer II. The game’s not even out yet and I’ve only seen a fraction of it, but this full-on sequel is coming out less than a year after the first one—I would bet cash that Warhammer II plays almost identically. For the rest of us, Total War’s real-time combat is undeniably solid, but even a non-truncated preview would only scratch the surface of what the campaign has to offer. Wait for reviews if you can.

Rick and Morty Season 3, Episode 3 Recap: Pickle Rick!

Rick and Morty Season 3, Episode 3 Recap: Pickle Rick!

Rick and Morty has started talking to itself. Pickle Rick (arguably the season’s most-anticipated episode, thanks to Adult Swim’s canny marketing team) spends most of its running time poking fun at its own structure & some of the views espoused by some of its more obnoxious fans. The eponymous transformation, where Rick literally turns himself into an edible pickle, feels like a high-concept parody of high-concept sci-fi, which is a well-earned poke at the show’s structure. But the B-plot where Summer, Beth, and Morty go to family therapy showcases the episode’s true intentions: to dismantle the myth of Rick Sanchez.

Rick’s plan—turn himself into a pickle, wait for the rest of his family to leave for family therapy, then wait for his Rube Goldberg-style mechanism to drop a syringe full of, uh, pickle antidote—is so perfectly in character and the first sign that Pickle Rick would be more self-parody than anything else. It’s a wildly over-the-top scheme, and one specifically designed to avoid the very possibility of communication altogether.

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Rick and Morty Season 3, Episode 3 images via Adult Swim

In the past, Rick and Morty has done a solid job of using high-concept science fiction to tell more personal stories. Hell, last week’s Rickmancing the Stone juggled several conceptual balls simultaneously all while exploring the potential long-term effects of Beth & Jerry’s legal separation. The Pickle Rick concept takes that idea to its logistical endpoint, throwing a horde of ideas at the screen, all in service of showing how Rick’s fear of emotion and communication only makes his life harder.

There’s a lot going on in the Pickle Rick-centric A-story, pulling most distinctly from Die Hard, Escape from NY, and Cronenbergian body horror, as Rick jumps from the house to the rat-infested sewers and eventually, a foreign embassy/prison. Pickle Rick is unquestionably the show’s goriest episode to date, as Rick murders embassy guards in a pickle-sized exosuit built from rat corpses. It’s actually more than a little distracting, as is the case whenever the show indulges Rick’s mean streak. The violent deaths are cheeky fun the first time around, but the joke runs thin fairly quickly.

Most of the scenes with the Sanchez family playing off family therapist Dr. Wong tread previously covered ground. Rick lies to and mistreats his family, Beth refuses to acknowledge any harm perpetrated by her father, Morty & Summer understand who their grandfather is but love him anyway, etc. This is very familiar territory for the series, but actual progress is made—both in the reality of the show and on a meta-narrative level—when Rick finally makes it to Dr. Wong’s office.

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Rick and Morty Season 3, Episode 3 images via Adult Swim

Rick (still a pickle) sits on the couch next to Morty and delivers his usual spiel about how smart he is and why caring is dumb. But, in a surprising moment, Dr. Wong immediately sees through Rick’s bluster and gets to the heart of his neurosis. “You seem to alternate between viewing your own mind as an unstoppable force and an inescapable curse,” she tells Rick. “I think it’s because the only truly approachable concept for you is that it’s your own mind, within your control.” Having a character outright state that the Smith/Sanchez obsession with intelligence at the expense of emotion is a “sickness” feels like the show is thumbing its nose at some of its more obnoxious fans, as well as looking for new philosophical ideas to plumb. The scene still indulges (and pokes fun at) Rick and Morty’s now-trademark move of having a character monologue as an easy way of communicating the episode’s thesis, and I wish the show would just let the subtext stand on its own.

Rick and Morty started very slowly moving away from nihilism last season, but for Dr. Wong to refute former theological mouthpiece Rick and essentially get the last word makes me believe the show wants to criticize itself more often. We’ve still got seven episodes left in the season, but Pickle Rick is a tremendously encouraging sign.