trust issues

First:  there are a bunch of things I want to write about, but it’s gonna be tough to find the time to write them.   The day job is particularly bananas this week as everybody’s trying to get caught up from last week’s insanity, and so finding consecutive free minutes with which to craft interesting sentences out of interesting thoughts will be few and far between.   Speaking of which, the fallout from Hurricane Sandy resulted in, among other things, me not receiving my copy of Need for Speed Most Wanted until today, and my rental copy of Assassin’s Creed 3 may very well have gotten lost in the mail.  Now, in the grand scheme of things, I am OBVIOUSLY extremely thankful and grateful that these are the only significant setbacks I’ve been dealing with, especially since there are so many of my fellow New Yorkers who are still without power, water, and (especially) heat.  Still, I’m going to want to be playing the hell out of these two games, and I’m going to have to find time to fit them both in – especially since Halo 4 comes out tomorrow.

Consider this a quick sketch of what I’d like to be posting about this week, if I can:

1.  Forza Horizon.  This has gotten the bulk of my playtime lately, and as such I’m curious to see how that will influence my time with Need for Speed, which I’m still thinking of as Burnout Paradise 1.5.  As for Horizon itself – it’s a marvel.  The only real negatives I can offer for the game are specifically aimed at all the stuff that isn’t directly tied to the driving experience itself – the radio personalities, the pre-race smack talk with your “rival”, the festival itself.  That’s all junk, basically, intended to give me a reason to keep driving – as if the driving itself weren’t enough.  Which it most certainly is.  And the game keeps rewarding me for driving, even if I’m just aimlessly hunting down the last few signs I haven’t crashed into, or the last 3 or 4 stretches of road I haven’t driven yet.  I’ll go into further detail when the opportunity arises, because the game deserves it.

2.  XCOM Enemy Unknown.  GAWD.  I don’t know that I’ve ever been so intimidated and afraid of a game that I’m enjoying the hell out of.  I can only play it in 30-minute chunks before the tension becomes too much.  AND I’M PLAYING IT ON EASY.  Last night I finally finished the Skeleton Key/Alien Base mission, which I suppose is the first real gauntlet I’ve had to run; those goddamned spider bastards wiped out half my crew.  And the only reason I finished with 3 guys alive instead of 2 is that I was able to snipe the psychic alien and get a critical hit, one-shot kill before he could damage the guy he’d mind-controlled.  I get it:  a vital and central component of the playing experience is that you’re going to lose some of your crew members, no matter how well you play (or how much you save-spam), and that losing those crew members is going to matter.  It’s going to hurt, and it’s going to suck.  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, assholes.

3.  The most important thing that I want to get to – and man, I really hope I can find the time to do it – is in regards to this recent Eurogamer kerfuffle about games journalism, ethics, and trust.  Stephen Totilo just posted a pretty thorough article about this whole mess here, encompassing points of view from pretty much all sides of the spectrum, and I highly recommend checking it out.  For me, though – as an outsider looking in – this latest episode has prompted me to ask myself what it is I actually want out of the game journalism and criticism I read; and, as well, why I’d want to get into this business in the first place.   If I write nothing else this week, I sincerely hope I can write that post.

Here’s hoping your week goes smoother than mine.

a postcard from Brooklyn, post-Sandy

So, first thing’s first – everyone’s OK here at SFTC HQ.  As far as the hurricane goes, I came out pretty great – never lost power, heat, water or internet.  I’m a little stir crazy, I guess, since me and the wife have been more or less stuck inside since Monday, but that’s fine.  There are hundreds of thousands of fellow New Yorkers who did not get off so easy, and my heart breaks for them.

Our neighborhood is one of the few that survived pretty much unscathed, but we’re certainly not in the clear.  Because all the ports are closed, and because mass transportation is still screwed up and the roads in and out of the city are filled with traffic, supplies aren’t getting in.  The local grocery stores and bodegas are running low on pretty much everything; the gas station a few blocks away from my apartment is out of gas, surrounded by perhaps a dozen vacant cars.  And I would make the argument that when supplies finally arrive, they really ought to go to the neighborhoods that really need it first, of which there are far more than mine.

It’s a little messed up, to be honest.  I’ve been living in New York City since 1997, and I’ve never seen anything like this.  As horrible as 9/11 was – and I don’t mean to diminish how traumatic it was – the city never felt quite as isolated and cut-off as it does right now.  And I mean that in the literal sense – it is damned near impossible to get anywhere in the city, as tunnels and bridges have been closed and traffic has been nightmarish.  It’s true that mass transit has sort of returned today, but going from Brooklyn to Manhattan via subways and buses is still an exercise in futility – see this Gawker post, for example, and know that the picture in that link represents but one-sixth of the actual situation.

Still, the city is picking itself up, slowly but surely.  Indeed, the mail came today for the first time since last Saturday.  (Alas, my Gamefly copy of Assassin’s Creed 3 was not part of the delivery.)

Anyway, even though I’ve been stuck at home for the last few days, there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of gaming, to be honest.  When the TV has been on, the wife and I have more or less been glued to NY1 to stay updated, and we’ve only taken breaks to watch James Bond movies.  I’ve managed to squeeze in a little bit of Forza Horizon here and there, and last night I spent a little time with XCOM.

XCOM, as it turns out, is a perfect “horror” game.  I can only play it in 30-minute chunks, actually, because (a) the battlefield gameplay is absurdly tension-filled, and (b) I am a huge pussy. And even though I’m playing it on Easy, it’s still monstrously difficult at times; when shit starts going wrong, it goes wrong really fast and before you know it your entire squad is either dead or zombie-fied.  I thought I’d been making good progress, actually – I’d cleared a few alien abduction missions without losing anyone, and the world council was very pleased with my overall performance, and I’d finally been able to create the Skeleton Key that granted me access to the alien base.  My squad was filled with experienced soldiers who wielded top-of-the-line equipment – those laser sniper rifles are insane – and I carelessly assumed that even with my overly cautious and methodical play style, I wouldn’t have too much trouble.

How wrong I was.  I cleared the first room easily enough, but then I entered the second room and encountered the Chyrssalids for the first time, and within 5 minutes my entire squad was overrun.

The turn-based nature of the game is actually a large part of the horror.  I suppose “dread” might be a better choice of word, because that’s ultimately what the feeling is; you know that no matter how long you stall in trying to figure out what to do, one of your soldiers is totally fucked.  You might have to walk away, go to the bathroom, get a glass of water, all the while thinking of a solution – but when you get back to the computer, your soldier (who has the only medkit, because you weren’t paying attention) is still about to get destroyed, and your other squadmates are either out of position or, even worse, are out of ammo and need to waste a turn to reload.

It’s a marvelous game, and I hate it.  I hate that I love it so much, and I hate that I keep having to walk away from it because I can’t take the tension.  Considering how much tension there is in NYC these days anyway, there’s only so much more I can take.

There’s not much more to report.  My copy of Need For Speed Most Wanted is apparently at my office, but I’m not going into Manhattan until the subways are running again (which probably won’t be until Monday at the earliest).  And as I said above, my copy of AC3 is in USPS limbo, though hopefully it’ll arrive tomorrow.  But really, the most important news is that everything here is OK; we are safe and warm and our dogs are keeping us company.