Welcome back to Engadget's Gaming IRL, a monthly segment where we run down what our editors are playing. This time around, we've been putting time into the iOS version of Final Fantasy Tactics, Overcooked and Just Cause 4. And we also briefly spent some time with the excellent card-based Rogue-like Meteorfall.
We'd also love to know what you've been playing, shout out in the comments below!
I don't really know how it happened, but I've become obsessed with Overcooked. I know, I know -- I'm super late to the game. You'll have to forgive me, since I'm not big on gaming. I was introduced to Overcooked (and Overcooked 2) during a recent trip to Singapore, when my friends and I went to a gaming cafe.
At first, I was hesitant. It seemed like a silly game, with graphics reminiscent of the many many different kitchen and restaurant-based games I've played to death on my phone (think Gordon Ramsay Dash and Diner Dash). I started playing Just Dance with one half of my friends and only began paying attention to the Overcooked crew when I was tired from the physical exertion and was curious why they were yelling at each other.
After confusedly watching for a few minutes, I joined the game and got hooked. For the uninitiated: the aim of Overcooked is to serve up as many orders as possible, by completing a series of tasks, like chopping ingredients and cooking meats or soups. It sounds simple, but each round has obstacles that make them more like puzzles you have to figure out. You can play with between two and four characters, and you have to navigate the situation as a team to assist each other. If there are weak links in your group, you'll likely find frustrating bottlenecks or choke points that could prevent you from meeting the minimum point requirement to proceed to the next level.
Once I learned how to move my character about and what my role was, it became a ton of fun. Granted, most of the fun was from yelling at (and being yelled at by) my longtime friends and laughing at the complete ineptitude of some of them. [Editor's note: SMDH] One of my pals kept dying and respawning, but didn't realize it as she thought she was another player onscreen, leading to our de facto group leader screaming perplexedly at her "PAM! That is me, not you! You're dying!"
Overcooked is the perfect in-person multiplayer game, and I'm not surprised it's won so many awards. After that night, I went to look for the game on Android, but was disappointed to find there wasn't a mobile version. To be fair, most of the controls would require a more sophisticated controller than a simple touchscreen. I ended up buying the game (and its sequel) on Steam, but it's just not as fun as a single player as it is with others. Thankfully, some of my friends have it on their PlayStation 4s, and I now have an invite to join them to play at their house. I'd also like to try the online multiplayer option at some point, getting my friends on a conference call to coordinate our efforts. I'm so obsessed that I've been thinking of buying a Nintendo Switch just so I can play the game everywhere I go. And I may or may not have gotten out of bed at 5am just to play a few extra rounds.
Not only is Overcooked a great way to have fun with your friends during a night in, it's also a better relationship test than shopping at IKEA. Let's face it: if your partner can't even figure out how to cook meat and serve the right orders within a set period of time, all the while staying out of your way while you chop veggies and wash dishes -- do you two even stand a chance?
Final Fantasy Tactics & Meteorfall
So there I was in a cab on my way to a 16-hour flight to Taiwan, when I realized I forgot to pack my Switch. Damn it. What's a gamer to do? That's when I remembered that I bought Final Fantasy Tactics on iOS years ago, and I had yet to play it on my spiffy iPhone XS Max. It's one of my favorite games of all time, so instead of dreading the long flight ahead of me, I began looking forward to revisiting the land of Ivalice.
I originally picked up Final Fantasy Tactics on the PlayStation when it hit the US in 1998. Like so many young RPG fans, I poured countless hours into Final Fantasy VII over the previous year, and I was eager to jump on anything new with Final Fantasy in the title. Boy, was I in for a surprise. Instead of giving me a rich 3D world to explore, Tactics had a basic 2D map, while battles and dramatic moments occurred in tiny dioarama-like maps.
At first, I was a bit disappointed after being wowed by FFVII's bold cinematic aesthetic. But as someone who thoroughly loved the SNES era of sprite-based RPGs (Chrono Trigger will always be my No. 1), it didn't take long for me to fall in love with Final Fantasy Tactics. It was also my introduction to tactical RPGs: instead of just hopping around menus while fights occurred on a single screen, I had the freedom to move around the 3D environment and choose my angle of attack.
Little did I realize in 1998 that I'd be playing the same game 20 years later on my phone during a transcontinental flight to Computex. It's still a fantastic title, with one of the best soundtracks of the 16-bit era, a gripping story and an addictive job system that lets you mold every character to your liking. The only difference now is that it's portable and controlled by a touchscreen.
I put some time into the iOS version of the game a few years ago, but now with the iPhone XS Max's 6.5-inch displat, it's just like playing it on my Switch. The only downside is that the touchscreen controls aren't as precise as a gamepad, though that's a decent trade-off for the ability to play it anywhere. (For the record, I also put plenty of time into Final Fantasy Tactics on the PlayStation Vita, and I'm glad to see that version's animated cinematics on the iPhone rendition.)
In between some extended naps and movie watching, I ended up playing FFT on my phone for a good four hours during my flight. And surprisingly enough, I didn't miss my Switch for a second. I put even more time into it during my return flight (and in between long days of Computex work). I also grabbed a new title on my way home: Meteorfall, a card-based Rogue-like that gave me a decent fix of adventure gameplay while only swiping left or right. It's reminiscent of the excellent Reigns mobile games, except it's purely about battling and earning experience. After spending nearly two weeks in Taiwan, it was the perfect way to sit back and relax on my way to NYC.
Just Cause 4
It's fashionable for corporate HQs to have inspirational quotes emblazoned on the walls close to the entrance. You know the sort, "the only opponent you have to beat is yourself," "do or do not, there is no try," and "the best reason for doing anything is spite." That last one, if you're curious, is probably painted above the door of Avalanche Studios' HQ in Sweden.
The developer is behind the Just Cause series of games, in which players take on the mantle of Rico Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a specialist in removing dictators from tropical islands, doing so with a mixture of ultraviolence and demolition. In fact, one of the greatest joys of the series is leaping from building to building with a wingsuit and grapple, blowing shit up.
Unfortunately, Just Cause 3, while fun, wasn't perfect, with buggy performance and gameplay that, while very fun, wore out its welcome 30 hours in. Like a parent admonishing their kids for bad behavior, Avalanche's response is essentially "fine, let's sit here and eat gruel." Make no mistake, Just Cause 4 is a game made as punishment for complaining about what went before.
The first issue is that the game is buggy, although it's not as if previous titles in the series were perfect. But despite running on a new engine, the bugs seem to be worse now than they were in previous titles. Like a side quest where I had to snipe three enemy agents from the top of a tall tower. But the sniper rifle spawned halfway through the floor outside the building, and two of the three agents disappeared as soon as the mission started.
Cars that you need to drive for missions often spawn half-buried in the floor, and when you try and get into them, violently spring into the air. Some of them break, or explode, ruining whatever level you were playing at the time, and sending you back to a checkpoint. I'd make a joke about the quality of the enemy AI, but I'd probably offend someone in the process.
The game's numerous technical failures pale in comparison to the issues with how Avalanche intended the game to be played. The developers seem to have removed everything good about Just Cause 3 and replaced it with tedious, grinding chores. You can (kinda) see their logic as a way of making the game less repetitive and a little harder, but it lacked joined-up thinking.
In the previous title, if you wanted to conquer territory, you did so by liberating towns and blowing up military infrastructure. The sheer size of Medici and the rough sameness of the bases meant that, after a while, it became a grind. So, Just Cause 4 ditches this mechanic in favor of liberation "missions" tailored to each base that don't rely upon wanton destruction.
Sadly, these missions are the sort of vegetables-on-vegetables levels that most folks dread in other sandbox titles. Defend an individual/vehicle/object with a death wish that's already made of crépe paper and set on fire. Then there are the time trials, in which you need to cover a near impossible degree of ground in a precise, unforgiving amount of time.
But they're all much of a muchness: drive to X, find a generator, flip a switch, hack a console, defend against the wave, do the time trial. There's no strategizing or fun to be had, just a lot of painful on-rails challenges with hard-to-master deadlines. Plus, if you die twice and haven't advanced, you'll restart the level, meaning you have to constantly grind through same missions.
Just Cause 4 also adopts Just Cause 2's system of only letting you carry two weapons at a time with seriously limited ammunition. The idea is to force you into rushing your opponents and getting into melee fights with groups of troops to pick up bullets. But same as you don't buy a supercar to obsess over gas mileage, you don't play this game to worry over your inventory.
And the developers took away the infinite C4, which was one of the most fun tools in your arsenal. Instead, your grapple loadouts have been tweaked to include Metal Gear Solid-style balloon tethers and booster rockets. But both are so fiddly (and hard to level up) that I've stopped bothering to try and crawl up the tech trees.
I'm not against these changes per-se, but Avalanche's lack of joined-up thinking really hurts when it comes to combat. Just Cause 4 robs you of the ability to single-handedly take on an army just as it decides that's all you're going to be doing. There's no proportionality to the AI, and if you're spotted, the whole army comes down on you in about 30 seconds.
I was trying to boost a helicopter from a remote helipad on the top of a mountain with about 10 guards. But, as soon as I set foot onto its territory, about 20 more soldiers turned up, as well as four dune buggies that tried to run me over. Once I'd dodged them, four APCs, four more APCs with mounted guns, six helicopters and three rocket drones showed up.
The game doesn't really have any sense of its own internal logic, because baddies just spawn when required. If you're taking out a heavily-armed base, then sure, there'll be a whole unit stationed there. A remote outpost, however, should be easier pickings, but no. And, worse, it's a coin flip if you get chased by the army or they just "call of the search" after 10 seconds.
In order to conquer territories, you now need to rack up something called "Chaos Points," by destroying the red-and-white items on bases. Just Cause 4 isn't generous, or even consistent, in its metering out of these points, which seem to take forever to ratchet up. It's no surprise that you can find plenty of videos on YouTube talking about "chaos farming."
You can only earn chaos points blowing up those red-and-white items in bases, rather than the general havoc you create. Outrun an army, grab a chopper, race to the skies and blow up the vehicles chasing you? Nada. Even though -- again -- the story reason for the chaos is for Rico to inspire others into signing up for the rebel army.
One thing that rankles is that the game suggests it'll be more interactive than its predecessors, but isn't. Along the borders of your territory, there are several skirmishes in which rebel troops are fighting the occupying forces. I've tried to join a couple of them in the hope of helping out and scoring some easy chaos points. But suddenly, snipers and RPG-wielding soldiers spawn, all of them turning to you to keep you from joining in. Not that you get chaos points for it anyway.
If you've played Just Cause 3, you'll know how hard some of the big Centcom bases were to defeat, even after you'd disabled the nuclear defenses. But there was a sense of going in with a strategy, and the thrill of your one-man-army going up against these colossal systems. I'd rather play Falco Maxime a hundred times over than Just Cause 4's Espada Plunge.
Ripping out Just Cause's beloved gameplay elements meant that the developers had to replace it with something else. And mostly, that was sub-Grand Theft Auto car stunts in which you drive a car through a ramp at over 90 km/h. If a game like GTA can't get me to waste my time doing crap like that, you can rest assured I'm skipping all of those ballache challenges here.
I haven't even mentioned the weather, which was meant to be a big part of the story in the game's initial trailers. Pah. It's a minor inconvenience that may slow your transit between some territories if you can't drive around it. And, to be honest, if I knew I needed to get from one place to another, I'd run towards it to give my parachute a boost.
Just Cause 4 was released on December 4th, 2018, and the fact that it was already in my local bargain bin should have been a warning. The game's opening sequence should have set off even more alarm bells, as po-faced and dour as Just Cause 3's intro was goofy fun. Both set the tone, perfectly, for what followed and, in the latter's case, I regret spending $19 on the bloody thing.