Podcast Summary – Episode 4 – Anthem and the Feel of Games

This is the summary of our podcast episode: Episode 4 – Anthem and the Feel of Games

Weekly News Round-up

Doodle experienced a misadventure with jalapenos. Pilgrim bought and immediately regretted buying Fallout 76, which led to Bethesda’s removal from our trusted developer/publisher greenlist followed by a discussion about Arbageddon.

We briefly talked about recent Playstation news and the exodus of Metro… Exodus from Steam, and what Epic might be up to. Then we took an early look at The Critical Mess Fantasy MetaCritic, where our first game to predict was Genesis Alpha One. SLEEVEmonkey and Doodle were closest to the mark, but Pilgrim and Gman got it wrong.

We also reacted to the early rumours of what was to become Apex Legends’ super successful ninja release shortly thereafter. Finally we shat on EA pre-emptively for good measure ahead of our Anthem discussion.

The Anthem Demo

We started our discussion of the Anthem demo by framing its release in the context of EA’s recent games. In general we enjoyed playing it and found the controls good for a Playstation game, even for mainly PC gamers Gman and Pilgrim. We enjoyed the atmospheric visuals and setting and found the flying super cool but were disappointed it was so limited. Why do we have so little fuel?

We talked about technical issues we had, of which there were many, including sound bugs, graphical glitches, server instability and a desperately broken squad system. While this was a demo, we weren’t that’s an adequate excuse this close to launch, and predicted a messy launch that will disappoint a lot folks for such an expensive game. We also talked about what the pending microtransactions might look like.

The voice acting was judged variably as poor to awful. There was disappointment over the lack of cover play and no real dodging going on as well as a weak and boring AI. Mechanically we found the game flat with Doodle drawing comparisons to raids in World of Warcraft and figuring that Anthem was nowhere near the complexity it needs to be for what its aiming for.

Overall we thought the design of the demo was very weird. How come everyone had to play the Ranger? The other Javelins weren’t locked, so why not offer them all up from the get go? That would have created much more dynamic gameplay in the demo and shown off more of the game’s features and mechanics!

The “feel” of Anthem, Compared and Contrasted with Other Games

We didn’t feel like metal killing machines, we felt like vulnerable pieces of plastic. There was little in graphics or sound design to convey a real feeling of weight or momentum in Anthem. We contrasted the graphical feeling to the physicalization in Red Dead Redemption 2 and God of War, where weight and inertia were conveyed through things like camera shake and wobble, paused or slowed frames, etc. We contrasted the sound design to something like DOOM and found that while Anthem featured a very flat register of mid-range sounds with neither booming lows or shrieking highs, DOOM expresses a glorious range of highs and lows. The effect of this bland sound design was that everything just became a boring pew pew, and nothing felt heavy or powerful.

In terms of the feeling of momentum we found that Anthem did a poor job. Compared to DOOM or Warhammer: Vermintide 2, where your character’s inertia is cleverly displayed through slowing and increasing speeds of various movements bringing you into their kinetic rhythm, Anthem didn’t really do much to let you feel your character’s weight. Nor did enemies really appear to have much weight; when shot they didn’t really react, just lost health signified by floating damage counters. There were very few animations for hit reactions, which meant that Anthem failed to bring the same level of dynamic chaos to gunfights as e.g. Red Dead Redemption 2. Equally, boss fights felt underwhelming as weak points simply lit up when hit without any cool effects like explosions for hitting gas canisters, for example. Also, some bosses simply vanished on death due to above-mentioned graphical bugs.

Can MMO(ish) shooters do better

Finally, we discussed how it may prove difficult to marry MMO game design and mechanics with the kind of animations required to adequately convey the feeling of weight and momentum gamers have come to expect from modern video games. Perhaps Monster Hunter: World comes closest to mixing the experience of MMOs with the graphical and gameplay fidelity needed to convey high quality immersive experiences. We are left wondering whether or not “looter shooters” are doomed to remain “bullet spongey” like Borderlands 2, or indeed – Anthem?