Terminator: Dark Fate director on making the franchise work again

Tim Miller should feel confident. Nearly 20 years after founding Blur Studio, the animation company known for cinematic video game cutscenes and mind-bending CG sequences, he’s directing and producing Hollywood movies. Deadpool put him in demand. He and David Fincher made Love, Death, and Robots for Netflix. He’s producing the Sonic the Hedgehog movie for his Blur colleague Jeff Fowler, and committed to getting it right.

When I speak to Miller over the phone, he’s preparing to unveil his next directorial effort: Terminator: Dark Fate, a direct continuation to 1991’s Judgment Day that, in true Terminator fashion, undoes any and all timelines established in previous sequels. James Cameron is on board as a producer. Linda Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor, starring alongside up-and-comers Mackenzie Davis, as robotically enhanced future soldier Grace, and Natalia Reyes, the Terminator’s latest target. A new T-800 means Arnold Schwarzenegger “is back,” too. The pieces are there, but Miller expresses some anxiety about the whole thing.

“There’s a lot of ennui around being the sixth version of a movie in the franchise,” he tells me, “but I really hope that people will be surprised.”

Dark Fate is a genuine surprise. Long assumed to be Arnold’s franchise, the movie asserts Hamilton as the heart and soul of Terminator. Her one-liners are fire, but her arc, as a survivor and fighter, hits hard. Miller wraps timely social themes and run-and-gun action around the star in a way that helps Dark Fate standout from both the misfires and Cameron’s original films.

In anticipation of the Nov. 1 release, I spoke to Miller about the origins of the story, getting into the nitty gritty of the sci-fi, and how worked with Hamilton to reinvent Sarah Connor for a new era.

[Ed. note: this post contains general plot and scene descriptions for Terminator: Dark Fate that some may consider spoilers.]

Polygon: The film has a few credited screenwriters, and of course James Cameron is back as in a producer role, so when did you get involved with the project? Which aspect of the movie helped you connect to the material?

Tim Miller: The easy answer for that one is Linda Hamilton. That’s, to me, the thing that makes it all work.

But I was actually in from the very beginning. [Producer] David Ellison had seen Deadpool. Actually he’d seen an early cut because I was going to do something else with him and we both are sci-fi nerds so we talked about Terminator at some later point, like after Deadpool 2. When that didn’t happen, Terminator got pushed to the front of the queue. I believe that David had talked to Jim, but there was a lot of stuff around the rights and all that other stuff. So Jim wasn’t even a definite when I started talking to David, then it all came together sort of after that.

Just to clarify that the writers, the story stuff, was really this team effort where first we had novelists. Again, I’m a sci-fi nerd, so I wanted to bring in novelists to some really broad-swab world-building. Five guys came in and Jim came in for a couple days of brainstorming.

Which novelists?

Joe Abercrombie, who writes my favorite books of all time, the First Law books. He’s more fantasy, but I know Joe, he’s wonderful. Greg Bear was there. Warren Ellis was there. Neal Asher was there. Neal Stephenson was there. That was pretty cool.

So we did that for the initial brainstorming, and then we came out of there with a bunch of ideas and brought screenwriters in. The plan was to sort of have an idea for three movies. So we brought in three writers — or four, because David Goyer works with a guy named Justin Rhodes as a partner. So it was David and him, Josh Friedman, and Chuck Eglee. You know, it’s weird because it looks like — and in this would be a warning sign to me too, if I was just your average moviegoer — but it looks like “holy shit, there’s a lot of writers on that fucking thing, so beware!” But it really was a story that we all broke. David Goyer wrote a draft, and then David had go on to do other projects and Billy Ray pretty much rewrote it from scratch with me. I wrote all the action, and then Billy, who’s great with character, Billy handled all that stuff.

Grace, a blonde woman with short hair in a grimy tank top, holds Dani, still in her factory garb, back on the side of a highway as she screams for help
Grace (Mackenzie Davis) holds Dani (Natalia Reyes) back during a brutal encounter with the Terminator
Kerry Brown/Paramount Pictures

You directed second unit [action] for Thor: The Dark World for Alan Taylor, who also directed Terminator: Genisys. Do you have any relationship with him? Did you talk about his experience before going into your own Terminator sequel?

You know, I met Alan once in passing for about 10 minutes. And then I went and did my thing and worked with one of the editors, Kevin [Feige], and Craig [Kyle]. So I didn’t talk to him. I had heard enough — I’m also friends with Laeta Kalogridis who wrote that script and is a huge Terminator fan. And, of course, David Ellison told stories, too. But I watched all those movies, and there were a lot of times in the writer’s room where an idea would come up and David Ellison, who was there for all of the writer’s room stuff all day, every day, David would say, “Oh yeah, we did that in Genisys.” And I’m like, “Oh yeah, I forgot.” “Oh yeah, we did that in Genisys.” “Oh yeah, I fucking forgot.” It had a lot of interesting ideas in it.

How did you talk to Linda about making Sarah Connor’s return meaningful? She became an emblem for the “strong female character” after Terminator: Judgment Day, but so often over the last 30 years, Hollywood’s understanding of strength has revealed itself to be surface level.

We talked about this with the ladies a lot, and Natalia actually said, in another context, being strong doesn’t mean you have to be masculine. And so there was a lot of that thinking with both her and Mackenzie’s character. To be a strong woman, you don’t have to act like a man.

For Linda’s character, originally, she was a little more Rooster Cogburn than she actually ended up being in the movie. Two things happened: One, there was a lot of chemistry between these three actors. They really loved each other off screen. And so that started to creep into it. Then there was an inherent illogic to Sarah fighting [with everyone]. They all had the sort of same agenda.

Aside from Dani, the primary arc in the movie is Sarah. She’s [basically] a Terminator when we come into the movie. Grief has made her want to be an emotionless killing machine. And at the end of the movie, she’s allowing herself to care again, she comes back to humanity. Her shriveled heart has blossomed again. That was the journey, but we just didn’t want to make it unwatchable. It’s unpleasant to watch people being unpleasant. So we tried to split the difference and I think we did. I think Sarah is tough, but it’s not uncomfortable to watch.

Was it challenging to find a new side of Arnold’s Terminator performance? This is not the same T-800 we see in Judgment Day, of course, but he is a familiar robot.

Not really. I would say Arnold is a really wonderful actor and he knew his character. It required very little coaching from me. He understood that he would never be completely human, but you can imagine like where that T-800 got in two days of sort of being around humans in T2, and Arnold’s been around in this movie for 20-plus years. So you can imagine he did a lot of learning there. I think he split the line very well.

He says a line to Linda, “I used to think that having feelings was in a disadvantage. It isn’t.” And it’s really interesting because he feels like he knows what it is to be human, but knows he cannot be human. I thought he played it well.

The Comic-Con crowd went wild when you announced the film would earn an R. Did the rating give you any particular freedom? The slicing blade hands in this movie are particularly effective, and maybe an R gives you the latitude to push the effect.

As you probably know, the difference between PG-13 and R is that the blades can go in PG-13, they just can’t come out, and the blood is not going to be there. While we shot, it was not planned to be R — at at best it was a dual release. So I knew that I was going to add the blade hands in post[-production] and the blood was all going to be added in post, not because of a rating issue, but because that’s the most efficient way to do it. We were always gonna push it right up to the edge.

And you know, personally … only a few times if you look at Deadpool, did we really kind of step over the line. I’m not a big fan of like slo-mo bodies being split open my blades right in front of camera, and I wouldn’t have done that had we been R right from the start. However, once we decided to go R, I kind of let myself cut loose. Like a scene with Mackenzie being dragged into the hallway, and she’s just covered in blood — that was shot in the reshoots after we’d decided to go R and we could really fuck her up. So anyway, it was really just like the cuffs were off. I got lots of F-bombs in the dialogue during the shoot because I wanted to, like I said, at the very least, do an R-cut of the movie that would be released either simultaneously or sometime in the future.

Arnold Schwarzenegger bearded T-800 Terminator unloads an automatic weapon at a target offscreen
The new T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) does what he does best
Kerry Brown/Paramount Pictures

You founded Blur, a visual effects studio which became well known for video game cutscenes and animation-heavy sequences in movies. Were there specific moments in the film where your background in animation came in handy?

I didn’t do a lot of live-action/CG visual effects in the past. Blur does mostly game stuff, and we did some of the stuff in Deadpool for sure. And in this movie we did the Dragonfly sequence, which is the future flash-forward stuff where we’re Grace is fighting. I proudly say it’s one of my favorite scenes. But I think where it makes a difference is that I’m comfortable with visual effects. In post, it really becomes more of my vision because I can interact with the visual effects artists in a very direct way. When I make a note, I know how bad it’s going to fuck things up or whether it can help them.

Gabriel Luna’s Terminator can liquify, bud off, reform, and barely be killed. The visual logic has limitless possibilities, but maybe that makes your job tougher. What moment in the film helped you understand what you wanted to accomplish with villain?

There are a lot of them and I was really happy with the way our R&D shot for Gabe forming into the liquid Terminator was not the first time he did it. It’s after the car crash when he kills Dani’s brother Diego and he’s reforming. I very much wanted a kind of a logical, fractal way where it’s formed as a central stem and then sort of spread out from there because ultimately, he had to be sort of like a hollow chocolate Easter egg bunny with reinforced structures. If you still-framed some of the shots where he’s forming, you’ll see that he’s kind of empty inside. The visual metaphor was intended.

Linda Hamilton, left, and Natalia Reyes in battle mode in Dark Fate
Sarah and Dani fortify a turbine station for combat
Kerry Brown/Paramount Pictures

Like I said, I wrote all the action scenes myself. I would write them out as beat sheets and then we would pre-[visualize] them. We did a lot of pre-vis before the script was even finished. Then I’d hand those cheats to Billy and Billy would infuse them with character. I think you see that in our turbine fight where, I don’t think maybe the audience is aware of it — and maybe I could’ve done a better job of that — but at the turbine fight, you want to have Dani have a heroic role. She knows she’s a quarterback in the pocket. She knows that the Terminator has to come for her. So she’s always keeping her protectors between the Terminator and her so that they have to go through either the T-800 or Grace or Sarah and each time they do, they’re going to inflict some damage on that motherfucker. And so that’s kind of Dani’s strategy, to always sort of stay in the pocket and make him come at her and take damage. And the whole fight is designed with that in mind. If you watch the fight with that sort of strategic imperative, I think it makes sense.

The use of real locations and atmospheric effects really complements the CG in a way I rarely see. There was a lot of diesel smoke. The movie has a smell. It’s grimy.

But it doesn’t lack color! Especially the last sequence —it’s pretty colorful for me. I have a fear of color. I don’t know, [color] just somehow doesn’t feel as grim and serious. I have to force myself to do it most times. But our last sequence, with all the fire and electricity, is particularly beautiful.

The film grapples with immigration issues, societal fractures, technological doom, and a general inevitability to humanity’s demise. There’s hope, which makes it a Terminator movie, but are you channeling your own worries about America here?

I’m generally speaking more positively than Jim is about the future and about technology. I also think that the only way out is through. We’re not gonna stop it.

It’s funny, it kind of all came down to one night. Jim brought this artificial intelligence researcher in to speak with us because we’d been talking with all these prophets and he had met her and she was very smart. At the end of this discussion, Jim said, I think what really has to happen is that, before this thing gets out of control, we have to teach AI to be more human. And I thought, oh my God, we have to do the opposite.

Look at the choices that we’ve made as a species. I wouldn’t say that we have some kind of moral high ground when it comes to our place in the universe. We could certainly design a better system than ourselves if we were given a chance. And that’s what I mean by being a little more positive about the future. I don’t really think that AI will destroy us because I just don’t think it will care that much.

I do think about this stuff at night and I read a lot of nonfiction as well as fiction. Max Tegmark’s book, Human 3.0, probably has the best sort of spread of the eight possibilities for the evolution of AI. Seven of them aren’t good if that tells you anything.

Gabriel Luna and a Terminator exoskeleton stand on a bridge in front of a burning car fuming diesel smoke
The Rev 9 Terminator (Gabriel Luna) splits into “human” and exoskeleton selves
Paramount Pictures

But the worry in Dark Fate isn’t only about AI. Sarah, Grace, and Dani illegally cross the border and wind up in a detention center. That’s a pointed reference to make in 2019.

I tried to walk a line there because it’s a terrible situation, but I didn’t want to vilify border guards. They’re people doing a job. The system is the problem. And even the choice to do it really wasn’t a statement. It really was a function of us putting the story’s beginning in central Mexico and then traveling. It was just a natural evolution of the story rather than me saying or Jim saying or anybody saying, “Hey, we got to make a social comment here.” It was really just an interesting story. I didn’t want to vilify anybody. I have a lot of sympathy for immigrants and the whole process.

How wound up in the time travel logic did you get during the making of this film? The aftermath of each Terminator movie is filled with flowcharts. Do you expect the movie to click in to the established logic?

I’m a nerd but, but I never make the mistake of thinking the audience is all nerds, too. Sometimes Jim and I would would disagree with that [laughs], but I think we walked the line. Listen, there is an 11-page document that tells exactly what Grace is capable of and how she was made. I worked with a friend who loves science fiction. He’s not a real author, he’s a wannabe author — but he’s very smart gentleman. We actually figured out how Grace was made and what the process was like.

And for time travel, we had a lot of complexity to the theories, but it’s all really distilled down to one central idea, which is when you change the past, the way rolls forward and changes the future. There’s only one timeline. And, and that is the same one Sarah changed. She did something that hadn’t been done before. I always look at it as like a stream where a leaf may get caught in an eddy and stays there for a while and then eventually kind of breaks free and continues down the stream. This is another eddy, another story pocket, another whirlpool. So, but you don’t want to bore people with a lot of exposition around that. But the important thing to me as a filmmaker is that I have some kind of understanding, so I’m not just making up the rules.

The same with Gabe’s powers. I don’t want to be like, “Oh well now he can, you know, form a rail gun out of it.” Which is possible, and would be very cool, but you know, that’s some other movie.

You’re making your Terminator, in the end.

I really hope that people will give it a chance. I hope they’ll be surprised when they see it. I didn’t leave anything on the table. I gave it everything.

You got the T-800 to opine on the aesthetic value of drapes in this movie. That’s an accomplishment.

Arnold fucking loves this movie. He watched it twice before, but when he watched the final cut, he FaceTimed me and said, “Oh my God, the ending is so powerful. I cried.” So to make Arnold Schwarzenegger happy, that’s pretty cool.

Source: Polygon.com

Finally you can console a crying Sim in a bathroom stall

A new trailer for the upcoming Sims 4 expansion, Discover University, dropped today following leaks confirming the expansion. It showed off a bunch of new content coming with the game, like Sims riding bikes and consoling a crying sim in a bathroom stall.

Between programming robots and debating students from other schools, the college sims do indeed party. The trailer shows them doing keg stands and playing “juice pong,” as well as TP-ing a school monument.

Sims will be able to pick between the University of Britechester or Foxbury Institute when they enroll, and they can choose to live in a dorm room or live off campus, according to the expansion pack’s website. Of course, there will also be a plethora of new Build Mode items, like mini-fridges and more posters for your sims to decorate their dorms with.

The Discover University expansion will release on Nov. 15 on Windows and Mac, and on Nov. 17 for Xbox One and Playstation 4.

Source: Polygon.com

Here’s when you’ll be able to start playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PC

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is set to release on Friday, Oct. 25. But if you’re a PC player that date is a little more complicated thanks to time zones and preloading.

Modern Warfare will be available for PC players to preload at 10 p.m. PDT on Tuesday, Oct. 22. This option will be available to anyone has pre-ordered the game through the Battle.net client. Once you’ve preloaded the game you should be ready to play as soon as it is released.

As for the actual release time: Modern Warfare will be available at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, Oct. 24. It will release at the same time around the world, but in case you don’t live in the United States here’s a few other cities, along with the times the game will be released there:

  • São Paulo — Oct. 24, 10 p.m. BRT
  • London — Oct. 25, 2 a.m. BST
  • Stockholm — Oct. 25, 3 a.m. CEST
  • Berlin — Oct. 25, 3 a.m. CEST
  • Moscow — Oct. 25, 4 a.m. MSK
  • Singapore — Oct. 25, 9 a.m. SGT
  • Seoul — Oct. 25, 10 a.m. KST
  • Sydney — Oct. 25, 12 p.m. AEDT

There are several different specifications listed for the PC version of Modern Warfare. The most immediately important one is space. The game’s website recommends you have 175GB (!) of hard drive space free. The website says that this amount is intended to give you some extra room for “post-launch content” so the download probably isn’t quite this bit, but it’s still a pretty monumental amount of space. For a closer look at all the game’s system requirements you can find them below.

Modern Warfare PC system requirements

Minimum Specs:

  • Requires DirectX 12 compatible system
  • OS: Windows 7 64-Bit (SP1) or Windows 10 64-Bit
  • CPU: Intel Core i3-4340 or AMD FX-6300
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670 / GeForce GTX 1650 or Radeon HD 7950
  • RAM: 8GB RAM
  • HDD: 175GB HD space
  • Network: Broadband Internet connection
  • Sound Card: DirectX Compatible

Recommended Specs:

Here are Recommended Specs to run at 60fps in most situations with all options set to medium:

  • Requires DirectX 12 compatible system
  • OS: Windows 10 64 Bit (latest update)
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-2500K or AMD Ryzen R5 1600X processor
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 / GTX 1660 or Radeon R9 390 / AMD RX 580
  • RAM: 12GB RAM
  • HDD: 175GB HD space
  • Network: Broadband Internet connection
  • Sound Card: DirectX Compatible

Competitive Specs

Here are the Competitive specs to run at a high fps for use with a high refresh monitor:

  • Requires DirectX 12 compatible system
  • OS: Windows 10 64 Bit (latest update)
  • CPU: Intel i7-8700K or AMD Ryzen 1800X
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 / RTX 2070 SUPER or Radeon RX Vega⁶⁴ Graphics
  • RAM: 16GB RAM
  • HDD: 175GB HD space
  • Network: Broadband Internet connection
  • Sound Card: DirectX Compatible

Ultra RTX Specs

Here are the Ultra RTX specs to run the game at a high FPS in 4K resolution with Ray Tracing:

  • Requires DirectX 12 compatible system
  • OS: Windows 10 64 Bit (latest update)
  • CPU: Intel i7-9700K or AMD Ryzen 2700X
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER
  • RAM: 16GB RAM
  • HDD: 175GB HD space
  • Network: Broadband Internet connection
  • Sound Card: DirectX Compatible

Source: Polygon.com

Watchmen tackles the big issue Joker tried to avoid

The internet lost its chill over Todd Phillips’ Joker a month before the film even came out. The actual film presents an unseemly paradox: beautifully executed shots (just think of Phoenix’s staircase dance, with light streaming down from the heavens) matched with something grotesque at its core. Joker aims to be apolitical while draping itself in political context. What it maneuvers around, and what it erases, is a political act in itself. The failure stings hardest on the question of race.

HBO’s Watchmen tackles a similar subject in the wake of Joker, but inversely, making a central point that the film couldn’t. Both the TV series, adapted by Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers) from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel, and Phillips’ movie present masks worn by white men — an inkblot fabric and a painted-on clown face — that represent larger ideologies. But in the first six episodes provided to critics, Watchmen finds nuance in the conversation, exposing just how Joker comes up short.

In Joker, stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck, a Travis Bickle-esque version of the classic Batman villain, has a disorder that makes him eerily cackle like a Lion King hyena at inopportune times. Arthur appears as a kind of underdog. In an early scene, we see a group of kids bully and pummel him to the street. He’s taken advantage of at work, and scolded by a stranger on the bus. His stand-up act gets mocked on national television, on the talk show of his TV idol, Murray Franklin. Society is broken, Arthur tells his social worker, and the film seems to agree, showing us Gotham City’s grit and corruption, which burdens its protagonist — who also presumably has some unnamed or unfounded mental illness — and crowns him with what seems to be rightful, unimpeachable victimhood.

a young black woman and a white man walk down a city street at night in Joker
Sophie (Zazie Beetz) and Arthur (Joaquin Phoenix) walk down a bustling Gotham street in Joker.
Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures

Arthur’s violent awakening, spurred on by harassment by a group of suited Wall Street alpha-male bros on the subway, feels like righteous retribution. His victims are, after all, bullies, so even when Murray later questions Arthur’s actions, saying his victimhood gives him no right to violence, his words are also invalidated by the cruelty he’s shown Arthur in the past. Besides, “Joker” has become a symbol in this Gotham; Arthur’s attack on the businessmen is recontextualized as a political killing. But Arthur, as he himself tells Murray, isn’t interested in those politics. The film isn’t interested either, though it does, in its indulgent character study, glorify rather than challenge this Joker.

Critics have connected the subway moment in the movie with the 1984 New York City subway shooting, in which a white man named Bernhard Goetz shot four black teenagers who he thought were going to rob him. Racial context was purged from the film scene (though its watermark still remains), but there are black characters in Arthur’s orbit: the social worker, a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, a clerk at Arkham, and, most notably, his neighbor, Sophie (Zazie Beetz), with whom he has a whole imagined relationship.

There’s a kind of cognitive dissonance in the film, which doesn’t seem to recognize the particular threat that Arthur poses as a white man among these black characters. He becomes a symbol of a class movement, but one that’s alarmingly white and male, despite evidence of black characters around him facing similar economic straits. And one fears for some of the black women in the film — the social worker, who we may imagine could become the target of Arthur’s breakdown at any point; the Arkham psychiatrist, who does become a target; and Sophie, whose fate is unknown. In depicting Arthur’s fantasy relationship with Sophie, Phillips’ script refuses to engage with her identity or blackness in general as it intersects with the brewing political movement. Joker uses Arthur’s white male identity to indulge in narrative privilege, where he exists in a space above racial politics.

a black cop walks from his parked cop car with a yellow mask obscuring his face and a flashlight guiding the way in Watchmen Mark Hill/HBO

Watchmen steeps itself in the very politics that Joker ignores. In the first episode of the series, a black-and-white silent film reel introduces a black U.S. marshal heroically stopping a white sheriff who’s actually revealed as the villain, though their costuming (the sheriff in white, and the marshal, hooded, in black) suggests the opposite. We’re in the time of the 1921 Tulsa race riots, where a family is brutally torn apart in the violent chaos.

A time jump to the present day picks up with a black cop nervously pulling over a white driver — a clear inversion of our real-life situation. The image recalls Philando Castile and countless other black men who have been the victims of police brutality. But here, even while facing a police officer, the white man is the predator, a member of a secret underground organization of white supremacists called the Seventh Cavalry. He kills the black man with an automatic weapon. The thread doesn’t fall to the wayside; by the end of the premiere, a white man is lynched, while a black man sits alongside the body.

Unlike the original text, Lindelof’s Watchmen has a protagonist in Angela Abar (Regina King) aka Sister Night, a secret detective with her own penchant for mask-and-costume antics. The central viewfinder of the show is a black woman whose roots in larger political machinations are revealed as the series progresses through the first several episodes. Sister Night, fittingly, is our guiding star through these politics and the aftermath of this history.

Though the original Watchmen spoke to various pressing political issues of the time, most notably rising nuclear tensions, racial politics didn’t feature in the story. HBO’s series changes that, and it doesn’t feel as a corrective measure so much as a logical extension of the story, taking place in a mirrored version of our present-day America. One of the protagonists from the comic, Rorschach, is redrawn as a symbol of terrorism and white supremacy. The character wasn’t portrayed as a white supremacist in the comic. Politically conservative, absolutely; mentally unstable and misogynistic, yes; and even perhaps a bit homophobic; but not necessarily racist. But his inkblot mask — which originally represented his unwavering perception of truth and justice, right and wrong, as a black-and-white issue — now appears to represent the divide between whiteness and blackness.

a woman in a black hooded outfit over a white top in Watchmen
Sister Night (Regina King), the lens through which we understand the world of HBO’s Watchmen.
Mark Hill/HBO

There are certainly parallels between Rorschach, aka Walter Kovacs, and Phillips’ rendering of the Joker: Both are white men from lower-class backgrounds, likely with some kind of mental disorder, who see the refuse of the world, are mistreated by society, and act — violently, ferociously — in accordance with their understanding of justice and retribution. By the ends of their respective arcs, both men become symbols of movements that are disconnected from their own politics.

But whereas Joker finds those politics to be inconsequential, secondary to the chaotic glory of a character study, Watchmen understands how individuals are indivisible from a nation’s politics. And, sure, they’re two different forms: Watchmen aims to reflect the world through the gaze of its characters, while Joker aims to relish in the gaze of its main character and let the rest of the world fall behind.

The difference is exactly what makes Joker most terrifying and troublesome. The film locks the audience within the perspective of a white man with the power to incite a mass movement without reckoning, with how this vision — even when born from injustice and marginalization — obscures the marginalized people it harms. Sophie’s fate in the movie is inconsequential. She’s only there to illuminate the state of Arthur’s mind, and such a choice reflects the film’s own politics.

In Sister Night’s developing storyline (which eventually reveals her connection to the flashback in the first episode), and in the series’ further world-building from the alternative history set up in the comic, the show heralds the importance of mining the full context of a work that would position itself to be relevant to, and apropos of, the real world.

This world may very well be irredeemable, both Watchmen and Joker say, looking at their central white male figures. But whereas Joker keeps the camera zoomed in on Arthur, Watchmen sweeps the set for a panoramic shot. “Here is a perverted version of an American hero,” a mosaic of brutality and unfettered power self-appointed godhood, says Watchmen. “And here’s the America that will suffer as a result.”

Maya Phillips is a poet and journalist. Her culture criticism and reporting has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vulture, Mashable, Slate, The Week, American Theatre, Black Nerd Problems, and more. She is the author of the poetry collection Erou (Four Way Books, 2019). Maya currently works as a web producer at The New Yorker and as a freelance writer. She lives in Brooklyn.

Source: Polygon.com

Polygon is making a daily news show for Quibi

Polygon is excited to announce that we’ll be producing (with Vox Media Studios) a daily news show for Quibi, the mobile-first premium streaming service spearheaded by Jeffrey Katzenberg (co-founder of DreamWorks and former chairman of Walt Disney Studios — i.e., the connecting tissue between The Lion King and Shrek) and Meg Whitman (former president and CEO of both HP and eBay). Quibi, which launches in April 2020, will feature scripted and unscripted series from people like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro. It will also offer a lineup of daily shows called Daily Essentials, which will consist of more news-driven programming from ESPN, NBC, Rotten Tomatoes, and, well, us.

We’ll have more to share closer to our launch. But expect each episode to highlight the most important stories of the day in gaming, comics, and entertainment, along with deeper dives into the biggest headlines — all with a veneer of Polygon’s usual weirdness.

For more information, you can read the press release here.

Source: Polygon.com

Destiny 2’s Shadowkeep expansion introduced the Darkness — what is it?

The Destiny franchise’s overall story has never been easy to parse. The original Destiny hid its story in Grimoire Cards on Bungie’s website, and Destiny 2 has lore books you have to read in game to get the full picture. But any Bungie nerd will tell you the story is actually pretty neat — if you can follow it. We’re here to bring you up to speed, based on what happened in the newest expansion, Shadowkeep.

What happened in Shadowkeep?

In Shadowkeep’s first mission, you assault the lunar surface and discover the new Scarlet Keep. As you push deeper into the fortress, you discover that the Scarlet Keep is overseeing something: the Pyramid.

If you remember from the end of Destiny 2’s Red War campaign, the Pyramid ships awoke outside of our solar system when the Traveler killed Dominus Ghaul (the main baddie of that campaign). Many players assumed this was the Darkness — the Traveler’s ultimate foe — and Shadowkeep seems to confirm that suspicion.

As you approach the Moon’s Pyramid, you discover a Nightmare — an evil force that takes the shape of someone Guardians fear (like Crota from the first Destiny). Over the next few missions, you learn about the Cryptoglyph, a Hive research artifact. The Hive are using this artifact to twist the Darkness’ energy and protect themselves from the Nightmares.

Destiny 2 Dreambane armor
A full set of Titan Dreambane armor
Bungie via Polygon

After stealing the Hive’s Darkness artifact, you’re able to craft weapons and armor out of the Nightmare’s very essence. This is why you’re tasked with building a full set of Dreambane armor, to protect against the Darkness.

When you finally break into the Pyramid, the Darkness takes hold of your Ghost and beckons you inside. The Darkness leads you through a few battles to a strange artifact and a confusing vision. Inside the vision, you see the Black Garden — a mysterious alternate dimension — and your own doppelganger, who explains the Darkness is your salvation.

Here’s the final cutscene, courtesy of Trestial on YouTube.

The strange artifact beckons you back toward the Black Garden, where you defeat the Sanctified Mind in the Garden of Salvation raid. When you beat the raid, the artifact’s signal stops, and the Vex invade the Moon in droves.

Seriously, what is the damn Darkness?

Destiny 2 - The Drifter Bungie

The Darkness is pure evil — depending on who you talk to. The Guardians wield the Light against various Darkness-related forces. The Hive, Taken, and Vex all worship or serve the Darkness in one way or another, and the Darkness’ reach extends everywhere across the solar system.

We know the Darkness wants the Traveler — the source of Light in our solar system. Why isn’t exactly clear, but we also know the Traveler doesn’t want to go with the Darkness. But the nature of good and evil has been a bit confusing in the Destiny universe lately.

Back during the Season of the Drifter, you chose the side of the Vanguard or the Drifter — the Light vs. the Darkness.

We know Drifter’s playing with Motes of Darkness through Gambit, and used to roll with the Shadows of Yor, a group of Guardians obsessed with wielding the Darkness. Drifter believes you can use it for good.

The Vanguard think that dark Guardians are evil and always will be. But the Vanguard also follow the Traveler blindly, and the Drifter doesn’t trust them because of it.

The Darkness is an unknown force coming for the Traveler, and nobody knows what to do with it. But the Guardians’ ability to harness the Nightmare’s essence proves there’s a way to fight it.

So where do we go from here?

Destiny - concept art of the Traveler hovering over the Last City, seen from space Bungie/Activision

The Darkness’ motivations are clear, but their methods aren’t. Based on the vision in Shadowkeep, thousands of Pyramid ships are traveling through the Black Garden. But does the vision show something real, something that’s to come? Is it a metaphor? Does the Darkness really look like us, sound like us? Or are they trying to make us seem like we’re not all that different? Could they be suggesting the Darkness and the Light are actually the same entity?

Based on the events of Season of the Drifter, it seems likely that Guardians will gain the power to control the Darkness — or some aspect of it — in the next few years, potentially with next fall’s release.

The question ultimately becomes, who is the main villain of Destiny? It seems to us the Darkness is the true threat against the world of Destiny, but it bears repeating that we know almost nothing about the Traveler. The nature of good and evil stands to change.

Shadowkeep finally puts the conflict of Light and Dark in motion. Destiny is building up to a war between the Darkness and the Light, but it doesn’t seem like the franchise’s final battle. We still don’t know what exactly the Darkness is, but for the first time in Destiny’s history, it seems like answers are coming.

Source: Polygon.com

Overwatch on Nintendo Switch performance issues explained by Digital Foundry

Polygon has had its hands on Overwatch for Nintendo Switch for a few weeks now. Smashing the high-end shooter into a tiny, portable package is a nice trick, but the team at Chicago-based Iron Galaxy had to make compromises to get the job done. Now that the experts at Digital Foundry have done a deep dive, it’s clear what sorts of accommodations were made.

As a baseline, Digital Foundry discovered that what the developers said about the game’s performance is true. Overwatch runs at 900p while docked and 730p as a portable. But it’s not that simple.

“On closer inspection, there is much more to it,” they write, “with dynamic resolution scaling in play. It’s a dynamic 900p when docked, with a horizontal scaler delivering a minimum of 1152×900 under load. Similarly, portable play is a native 720p in the best case, but again, the horizontal scaler seems to deliver a 960×720 resolution with the engine under stress.”

The translation is that there’s some software wizardry working in the background to juice the visuals up from a lower output to meet the target resolutions. That’s to be expected for a device running on the same architecture that powers mobile phones. But the developers have clearly elected to target handheld resolutions as their baseline, scaling resolutions up for televisions.

Overall, however, the experience just isn’t the same as it is on other consoles and PC. Those run at 60 frames per second, while the Switch does its best to maintain 30. That alone makes for an uneven playing field, so it’s no wonder that there’s no crossplay between Switch users and anyone on another platform.

You can read their entire analysis over at Eurogamer.

Source: Polygon.com

Final Fantasy 14 players are humiliating NPCs in goofy ways

This year’s All Saints Wake event for Final Fantasy 14 brought back the ability to transform into the game’s most beloved non-playable characters, meaning that players are now making some hilarious scenes.

The event teleports players to a Halloween version of the Haukke Manor dungeon and once there, players can transform into their NPC of choice. (Alisae and Alphinaud, two of the important Scions of the Seventh Dawn from FF14, are not included, as their models are unique and don’t work the way others do.) After transforming, players can emote and run around the mansion as their favorite NPCs.

Final Fantasy 14’s NPCs are fairly serious throughout the game. While they do crack jokes here or there, it’s hard to imagine any of them doing anything silly. After all, they spend most of the game trying to prevent the world from ending and whatnot.

Some players use this opportunity to use the “Yol Dance” emote, which is the closest thing the game has to T-posing. I am personally a fan of the “Black Ranger” pose, which is kind of close to dabbing. Others might take it as a chance to take some shots of their favorite ‘ships. Final Fantasy 14 has an intricate screenshot program that lets players adjust lighting, time out emotes, and make other adjustments in game. Thanks to that, players are living out their fantasy of tormenting Thancred. You can catch some of the most inventive pranks below.

Source: Polygon.com

DJ Jazzy Jeff and George Clinton recall becoming NBA Jam hidden characters

[Ed. note: Out today, Boss Fight Books’ latest, NBA Jam, looks back at the ‘90s arcade phenomenon known for bringing in over a billion dollars in quarters. In talking to the development team and many others affected by the game, author Reyan Ali has pieced together one of the most significant chapters of Midway history. Below, we have an excerpt looking back at the game’s secret characters.]

On its surface, NBA Jam was a small game. You moved back and forth on a tight playfield, always playing the same kind of game on the same court for the same crowd. There was nothing to customize, no supplemental modes or bonus features of any sort. Four players. One ball. That’s it.

But as soon as gamers started digging, NBA Jam, NBA Jam: Tournament Edition, and the two games’ many console adaptations revealed much, much more. Over the 1990s, NBA Jam’s lore grew to be filled with strange codes and peculiar stories, imbuing it with the same mystique the Mortal Kombat games had. No matter how far-fetched a rumor about NBA Jam was, it felt like there was a chance it was true. This aura went a long way in keeping the game on players’ minds as new games arose to compete for Jam’s attention. In the case of the game’s most famous hidden element — its secret characters — the whole thing started as a joke.

After wrapping up the game and admiring how well NBA Jam had turned out, someone on the development team suggested that they all get their faces digitized for the game. With the face-swapping system, substituting heads was easy to do, so why not put themselves in the game? It would make a fun little memento. One by one, each of the seven went up against the blue screen to have his image captured.

When it was Sal DiVita’s turn in front of the blue screen, he stood stoically.

“All right, smile if you want,” a voice behind the camera said.

“I don’t want to smile,” DiVita responded.

“Not even for the selection thing?” the cameraman said.

DiVita stayed silent. Locking in his most intimidating game face, he slowly rotated against the screen. He turned 360 degrees, allowing the camera to get a complete view of his features, including his long black mullet — the kind of haircut popular among the pro wrestlers of the era. Capturing DiVita took 10 seconds. Then, it was on to the next developer.

Jon Hey stuck out his tongue. John Carlton dangled a cigarette out of his mouth. Shawn Liptak widened his eyes and jumped around. One by one, each of them stepped in front of the camera.

The developers buried themselves in NBA Jam through codes corresponding to their initials and birthdays that could be entered at the start of a game. DiVita was SAL, February 1; Hey was JWH, September 20; Carlton was JMC, August 5; and so on. They quickly added their friends at Midway, and the blue screen actors, too. Everyone’s heights and abilities were blown out of proportion, but hey, this was their game.

To the team’s surprise, this in-joke proved to be of immense interest. Players everywhere compared notes about these unfamiliar characters and their skill sets. Lists of codes containing secret characters were taped to the sides of cabinets, and guides like “How to WIN at NBA JAM!” traveled far and wide outside Kentucky. One Midway distribution partner sent management an irate letter about the codes because of the frenzy they were causing. “Your programmers have created a monster,” Lieberman Music Company president Stephen E. Lieberman wrote, attaching an FAQ, which was being sold to players in a Minneapolis arcade for $10 to $25 a copy. “I think that programmer creative freedom has gone too far.”

Yet as NBA Jam’s earnings started to fade, rumors and codes were crucial to boosting them up. “[Jam designer Mark] Turmell and those guys were masters at spoon-feeding information to the press and the public at regular intervals,” VideoGames & Computer Entertainment editor Chris Bieniek said to me. “Eventually, they realized that it was actually easier — and even more effective, in the long term — to just straight-up lie about secret stuff because people would still keep trying different button combinations and guessing at the supposed hidden characters’ initials and birthdates, hoping to be the first to discover a new secret.” One kid tracked down Turmell’s home number and called and spoke to his wife, pretending to give a survey, just so he could get her initials and birthday to check if she was in NBA Jam. (She wasn’t.)

A fake screenshot of NBA Jam shows a cheerleader playing basketball
The cheerleader mock-up screen, as seen on the cover of VideoGames & Computer Entertainment.

Cheerleader codes became the most buzzed-about subject among NBA Jam fans. The cover of the August ‘93 issue of VG&CE boasted a screenshot of a digitized Kerri Hoskins coming in for a monster jam, implying that she (and, by proxy, Lorraine Olivia) had to be in the game somewhere. Players did everything they could to find them, testing combination after combination. The discussion began on message boards then led to players hunting down Playboy back issues for her initials and birthday. Some resourceful boys called Playboy directly, hoping to speak to the ladies themselves. As it so happened, the original screenshot was just a mock-up so VG&CE would have something cool for the cover, and the cheerleaders were never actually playable characters. When Tournament Edition came out, Hoskins and Olivia finally made it into the game, but not without Turmell hinting that they had been hidden in NBA Jam the entire time.

Because of his role as a secret character, John Carlton experienced one of the strangest moments of his life. The artist was at his desk one day when he heard a voice say, “Hey, it’s Carlton.” When he turned around, Macaulay Culkin was pointing at him. Three years after reaching superstar status with Home Alone and becoming one of the most famous people in the world, Culkin was in Chicago filming Richie Rich and had stopped by Midway for a tour. “I always play your secret character in NBA Jam,” Culkin said to Carlton. Then he walked away.

With Tournament Edition, the roster of special guests ballooned. The Midway guys rented Halloween masks and invented a new batch of weirdos, like the Grim Reaper and a gorilla in a Viking helmet called Kongo. This time, nearly everyone who worked in video games at Williams Bally/Midway made it in. Eugene Jarvis showed up for his portrait in a straitjacket, cackling, with an X carved into his forehead. Ed Boon glared. John Tobias grinned. Including everyone in NBA Jam epitomized the high morale and team spirit of the era. Eric Kinkead, who did art and testing for Tournament Edition, once described the move to include everybody as “the point of Camelot for Midway, the round table and the white castle on the hill.”

When Acclaim created the home versions of NBA Jam, secret characters took on an even more pronounced role. Acclaim first asked to add its own developers, which Midway agreed to, then had the idea to toss in celebrities. Instead of using digitization, the lower-resolution heads for the home games would be hand-drawn, allowing them to make anyone they imagined. The new draft of special guests included president Bill Clinton, vice president Al Gore, Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, and George Clinton, the man whose music inspired the game’s soundtrack.

“I’ve seen it a couple of times and heard my hair caught on fire,” George Clinton, who appeared in the game as “P-Funk,” recalled to me. The legendary funk front man was in a bad place in the early 90s when NBA Jam came out (“At that time, I was a crackhead,” he said), but he did hear from his grandkids that he was tearing up the hardwood. Clinton loved golden age arcade classics like Pac-Man and Galaxian, but he never played Jam. “I never could get the coordination when games started controlling people running up and down the court,” he said. “In Galaga, I got that, but when it came to real-life shit, I couldn’t even do that on Nintendo.”

Rumors about who else might be in the game grew increasingly bizarre. According to reports, musicians Ted Nugent and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea appeared in prototypes of the home game. GamePro editor Dan Amrich dedicated a portion of his online NBA Jam guide to clarifying who was not in the game. Contrary to gossip, the game did not contain Magic Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh, Beavis & Butt-Head, Charles Manson, Darth Vader, Barney the Dinosaur, Al Pacino, or Michael Jackson. One gullible soul even wrote to Amrich asking whether or not Jackson really performed a halftime show.

Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff on the character select screen in NBA Jam
Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff as hidden characters in NBA Jam

By the time Acclaim plotted the home versions of Tournament Edition, an unpredictable roster of secret characters had become one of NBA Jam’s unspoken selling points, so the company pushed the concept further and further. With each new release, another outlandish name was in NBA Jam. You could hit the court as Hillary Clinton or Prince Charles, the Beastie Boys or Sonic Youth, Larry Bird or Heavy D, Chicago White Sox heavy hitter Frank Thomas or Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or DJ Jazzy Jeff.

“Yo, dude,” someone said to DJ Jazzy Jeff, gesturing toward the television. “You’re a character in the game.” The DJ born Jeffrey Allen Townes was hanging out with friends when a group had fired up a game of NBA Jam and entered his code. In the 90s, Townes and Will Smith were hip-hop musicians as well as stars of a popular sitcom, plus they worked with the NBA on its “Stay in School” campaign, so they made an excellent fit for the game. It’s likely that Smith played as himself in NBA Jam, according to Townes, though he typically didn’t have the patience for video games.

Townes, on the other hand, was a serious gamer, having waited in line for Jam at the arcade even when he preferred simulation-style basketball games. He was dazzled by the cameo. Being a secret character in NBA Jam was, in his words, “almost a badge of honor.” “Every musician I know wants to be a superstar in sports and every superstar in sports wants to be a musician. That’s why you have so many rappers playing in celebrity basketball games,” he said to me. “Every time you saw someone jump up and dunk with that character, that was actually me. I did that.”

Little information is available on Acclaim’s licensing and compensation for use of the special guests. The fine print on one of the game’s boxes showed a copyright notice for George Clinton’s “P-Funk” nickname, but Clinton did not recall ever receiving any payment or signing any agreement for his likeness. The same went for Townes. While Clinton thought his inclusion as a secret character was cool, he associated it with a time when he routinely went unpaid for use of his likeness and music. His career, he said, had been plagued by stories of reneged contracts and missing royalties. “NBA Jam,” he said, “is just one of 1,300 of them.”

Source: Polygon.com

The Outer Worlds Review – The Right Stuff

The Outer Worlds plays just like a Fallout game. That’s a pretty tepid description and an obvious comparison. It’s easy to take one look at the game, which strongly echoes the mechanical form of the Bethesda RPGs, and think you know what to expect. The developer, Obsidian Entertainment, was responsible the cult-favourite Fallout: New Vegas after all. But The Outer Worlds doesn’t just play like a Fallout game. It is, surprisingly, the best possible version of a Fallout game–a potent distillation of what made that series so beloved in the first place.

The Outer Worlds adopts the most compelling innovations of modern Fallout games, emphasising immersive exploration and impactful, action-oriented combat in a game engine (Unreal Engine) that actually makes those things feel good by contemporary standards. It shares Fallout’s satirical but incredibly bleak look at the future, but is free of its tired tropes. Critically, The Outer Worlds exhibits the same depth of soul as the early Interplay and Black Isle Fallout games (as well as other games in the ’90s PC RPG genre) with a genuinely complex, interconnected narrative web of relationships and events that feel like they can change in a seemingly infinite number of ways based on the character you want to be, the variety of choices you can make, and the actions you take.

Given the studio and the key people responsible (original Fallout creators Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky), that last trait isn’t surprising. But it’s not the only element that makes The Outer Worlds an excellent space Western adventure–that’s just the incredibly sound foundation that elevates the game’s great world-building, wonderful characters, and multi-layered quest design, on top of punchy combat and consistently sharp writing.

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In The Outer Worlds, you are just one of the thousands of people left in hibernation on an abandoned colony ship, when a scientist of possibly ill repute frees you and enlists your help in saving the rest of your frozen peers. After a rigorous character creation process–involving a slew of variable attributes, perks, and aesthetic customization–you crash-land on a planet, alone, and from there, how you make your mark on the Halcyon system is up to you.

The crux of this sci-fi setup is that, among other things, the Halcyon system is owned and run entirely by a board of corporations, and their presence is a big deal. Whole planets are owned by corps looking to use their ecosystems as part of a larger supply chain, and numerous vending machines from different companies populate towns, trying to attract you with their bright logos and jingles. In fact, The Outer Worlds is saturated with strikingly colourful locales; the planets you’ll visit are impressively varied and sometimes beautiful, flaunting an H.G. Wells-like retro-futuristic aesthetic, the antithesis of grimdark cyberpunk.

On the first impression, corporations appear as a mostly aesthetic layer folded into the world. A number of the companies mentioned seem to mostly just exist as manufacturers of weapons and consumables–a piece of flair to keep the tone light in the same way that the Circus of Values exists in BioShock, but it’s far more ingrained than that. Corporate capitalism so deeply affects everything in The Outer Worlds, and explorations into how it can affect society on a variety of levels is a surprisingly well-considered constant, despite the semblance of parody. You’ll meet sympathetic workers whose livelihoods are only made possible by offering themselves to exploitation and indentured servitude, white-collared outlaws who are more bureaucrats than pirates, and well-meaning middle-managers who are trying to change the corporate machine from the inside. You’ll find moderates, idealists, extremists, and most things in between and around the fringes, all of which have their own feasible ideas about how to best serve the colony or themselves. By the time the climax hits, it’s clear that The Outer Worlds has its own stance on this bleak future, but that doesn’t stop the world it creates, the sojourns you take, and characters you meet along the way from being any less fascinating.

There are plenty of characters in The Outer Worlds who I didn’t like. Reed Tobson, for example, is a snivelling factory chief in the early hours of the game who I didn’t have to think twice about undermining, and Felix, one of your potential companion characters, had such an annoyingly naive personality I avoided talking to him as much as possible. The Outer Worlds allows you to kill any character in the game (bar one), and the world will reshape and move on without them, but there’s something to be said for game’s depiction of its unappealing people, whose portrayal I admired despite my distaste. You’ll talk to a lot of people in The Outer Worlds. How much you do is up to you–you’re allowed to cut straight to get to the point or dive deeper–but chatting to the game’s entire supporting cast of non-player characters is something that never gets tiring, even if you don’t care for them, purely because of how strong the game’s writing and vocal performances are.

I never felt like I had to endure stretches of pointless or overly dramatic exchanges, both because of how focussed and subtle the script seemed to be, as well as the variety of response options for my player character which kept conversations flowing in largely natural ways. Numerous considerations for the world state let conversations take into account things you may or may not already have done throughout your campaign; brief and subtle injections of worldbuilding and lore stop conversation from being too matter of fact without losing the game’s identity, and some exceptional low-key wit works very well in sparking a periodic laugh without humour feeling like a sticking point. Solid, consistent voice direction helps keep the tone firmly measured, meaning the hours you spend absorbing the world through its people are always engaging.

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Nowhere does the strength of the game’s characters shine more strongly than in your companions, however (except for Felix; that guy is a weenie). You have the option to recruit six predetermined characters to accompany and assist you in your adventures, though the game does have tools to bolster a lone wolf character too. But having companions along for the ride is a delight, and that’s, again, because of the strength of the character writing. Companions instantly feel like fleshed-out characters of their own accord, not like they simply exist to revolve around you. They’ll converse privately with each other and chime in on conversations you have with other characters in the world, acting as sounding boards during key moments. They can, in extreme situations, leave you of their own accord if they strongly disagree with a course of action. It’s all mechanically conditional, of course, but the illusion the game builds is so endearing–spending time with these folks feels just as valuable as your pursuing the overarching goal.

Companions have their own customisable skill trees, equipment loadouts, combat tactics, and special abilities you can command them to use, which, with their cinematic camera angles, inspired battle cries, and useful status effects, never become unsatisfying to initiate. The other major tool at your disposal in combat, provided your character’s weapon skills are high enough to use it, is Tactical Time Dilation (TTD)–a time-bending mechanic that slows the action to a crawl, allowing you to give yourself some breathing room in order to analyse enemies and take the time to execute precision attacks. Hitting certain locations on enemies will let you do things like cripple or maim them, or inflict weapon-specific effects like bleed damage or knocking them unconscious. Using TTD tactically to take out key targets and attempt to control the flow of battle makes it an entertaining and useful tool, but its availability is limited and not something you can rely on entirely until you get to meaningfully upgrade it much later in the game.

Despite having strong RPG foundations, the combat in The Outer Worlds is very much focussed on first-person action, incorporating things like parries, blocks, and dodges on top of an array of melee weapons and firearms. There’s a hectic and fast-paced fluidity to combat that feels very good, however. That’s aided by some enthusiastic sound design, which does most of the heavy lifting in giving all weapons some satisfying feedback. A range of “Science weapons” bring some creative diversity in your arsenal, and features guns that have unique, entertaining properties like shrinking enemies or turning them against each other.

The only problem with combat is that on the game’s recommended Regular difficulty, it eventually turns into a cakewalk. This is satisfying in a way, of course–all the points I pumped into maxing out my handgun skills, thus becoming best gunslinger in the galaxy, did actually make me feel utterly invincible. But, it also meant I didn’t feel pushed to explore the game’s slew of combat-adjacent mechanics nearly as deeply as I would have hoped. Things like elemental damage, equipment modding, companion synergies, and the special effects allowed by consumables (which, by the way, are incredibly difficult to parse in the game’s icon-heavy menu), could all be safely ignored. The Outer Worlds has a “flaws” system that lets you purposefully shoulder restrictive debuffs in certain situations in exchange for an extra perk point, but it’s completely optional and rarely worth the tradeoff. Jumping into the “Supernova” difficulty level in a subsequent playthrough changes all that, however–combat danger increases, your ability to save your game becomes restricted, and survival mechanics like hunger and thirst are introduced, making all of the game’s mechanical considerations feel far more vital. The game is more challenging and interesting because of it, but its demanding nature definitely makes it more of a second-run option.

Toe-to-toe combat is not the only solution to your problems. The Outer Worlds allows for a variety of avenues for alternative and passive solutions–stealth, hacking, and speech-related options are available throughout the game, provided you pass the skill checks. It’s nigh impossible to complete the game without getting into at least some combat, unfortunately, but to the game’s credit, virtually every quest in the game, big or small, features branching options in terms of their paths to success and how you deal with the big, final choices you have to make to resolve disputes, which are often deliciously grey. It’s at the level where you’ll always be considering the additional ways you could have achieved something, whether that be taking a different route, finding more information out in the world, or killing the quest giver and everyone else in the town.

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When you hit the end, the game runs through a whole slew of epilogues that describe how you resolved the game’s numerous major variables and what became of them, and being shown all your exploits after some 30 hours makes the whole journey and your unique path through it really feel quite meaningful. It’s difficult to know the full extent of just how many directions something can go, and the end result of many quests can likely only ever differ in a small handful of ways, but this perception of freedom and possibilities on your first run is inspiring.

I finished The Outer Worlds wanting more, eager to jump back into the world to see extra things. It’s not a short game, but it’s one packed with such a steady stream of wonderful characters to meet, interesting places to explore, and meaningful, multi-layered quests to solve, that it didn’t feel like there was any room to get tired of it. I wanted to rewind the clock and do everything in a completely different way. The Outer Worlds is consistently compelling throughout, and it’s a superb example of how to promote traditional RPG sensibilities in a sharp, modern experience.

Source: GameSpot.com