Weekend Recap: Legos, Steam, Valiant Hearts

Between the craziness of my day job, the baby, and the World Cup, I’m somewhat surprised I was able to fit in any game time at all last week.  As it is, I didn’t do all that much, and what I did wasn’t particularly fulfilling.

I did finish The Lego Movie Game.  I’d have liked to keep playing it and try to get 100%, but there are some near-game-breaking bugs that make it a lot more difficult (and a lot less enjoyable).  The game came out early this year alongside the movie, if I recall correctly, and I must say that I’m awfully surprised that some of these bugs haven’t been addressed in the meantime.  No game is ever bug free, of course, but some of these are pretty hard to miss.  Case in point:  the very first hub world, Bricksburg?  If one of my characters got in a car, they were stuck inside there forever.  Another case in point – the bonus level that unlocks after you finish the game?  In order to get the 10th golden brick, you must get 1,000,000 studs without any multipliers.  I got more than 1,000,000 studs without any multipliers and the golden brick never appeared.  So.  Whatever.  I had fun with it, as I tend to do with all Lego games, but it’s also in rather shoddy shape.

I suppose the stress from work ended up influencing my Steam Sale binging.  I’d laid out some easy to follow ground rules before it started; I’d only get stuff from my wishlist, and only if it was at least 50% off.  Still, I didn’t mean to get as much as I did, and although I’m still pretty sure I never spent more than $10 on any one thing, I still ended up with more than I expected.

The grand haul (I think I mentioned the first 4 pickups last week):

  1. Baldur’s Gate II (Enhanced Edition)
  2. Jade Empire
  3. Sudeki
  4. Vertiginous Golf
  5. The Banner Saga
  6. Resident Evil 4 HD
  7. Resident Evil 6
  8. Goat Simulator
  9. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (Complete)
  10. Memoria
  11. Typing of the Dead (Deluxe)
  12. Spacebase DF-9
  13. A Story About My Uncle
  14. Escape Goat 2

Of the last 10, I dabbled in a few.

The Banner Saga is a turn-based strategy RPG, reminding me of Fire Emblem but subtracting the cute anime and replacing it with downtrodden misery.  I’d read really interesting things about it when it came out earlier this year, which is why I picked it up; I’m just really terrible at those sorts of games, though.  And now it looks like it’s coming to iPad?  Shit.

I picked up Resident Evil 6 primarily because I wanted to play the Ada Wong chapter, which had still been locked away when I’d tried playing the game on the 360; shortly after I sent the game back to Gamefly, Capcom announced they were patching the game and unlocking all chapters from the get-go.  I’m not sure that patching the game will fix what was wrong with it, but I’d heard that the Ada chapter was by far the best one, so I’ll get around to it when I can.

Goat Simulator is delightfully silly and goofy and stupid and exactly what I needed when I picked it up.

I’d already played the hell out of Kingdoms of Amalur, and there were still hundreds of side quests I’d never gotten around to.  Obviously I can’t import my 360 save file, but I still remember liking it quite a bit.  It runs a little janky on my PC, though; might have to tinker with some settings.

Typing of the Dead is probably my big winner of the haul.  I’d played the Wii version with my wife a million years ago, and while we didn’t get that far we did appreciate the over-the-top grindhouse/schlock-horror insanity.  This tone is multiplied exponentially for the better when you replace shooting with typing.  And I am a very good typist.

Finally, I played the first few levels of Escape Goat 2, and it’s a really smart and interesting puzzle platformer, and I have a rather nice appetite for those sorts of experiences.

This week I’m hoping to take a look at A Story About My Uncle.  Patrick Klepek put up a video essay on it last week that more or less sold me in 5 minutes.

Also this week – I hope to spend some more time with Valiant Hearts, which I picked up for the PS4.  It’s using that gorgeous UbiArt engine (the one that the recent 2D Rayman games and Child of Light use), and it’s set in WW1 and is very, very dark in tone; but the gameplay is also a little goofy?  Or silly?  It feels somewhat at odds with the story they’re trying to tell.

I’m pretty sure I’ve played more Ubisoft games this year than I can count.  And I’m sure I’ll be picking up ACU in the fall.

Weekend Recap: a kick in the balls

Goddamn, that USA/Portugal game was rough.

As for video games:

I rented Lego Movie: The Videogame because we finally saw the movie last week, and the movie is as awesome as I’d heard, and I figured the game would be more of the same.  It is, though it’s also very padded (as Lego games generally are), and it’s also a bit tiresome in that regard.  It’s one thing if a Lego game is covering 3-4 movies at once, like LOTR or Star Wars or Harry Potter; it’s quite another if the source material in question is less than 2 hours long.  The game feels, at times, like an extended cut of the movie with all the deleted scenes thrown in, and then the outtakes of those deleted scenes, and etc.  The PSN Trophy list says there are 15 levels; I’ve finished 9.  It’s fine as far as Lego games go; occasional glitches and platforming frustration, but still fun.  I’m tempted to go back once I’m finished to try and 100% it, which is more than I can say for Lego Marvel.

Steam Sale:  Haven’t done that much damage, fortunately.  I already own so much stuff as it is, so almost none of the daily deals mean anything to me.  This year I also instituted a rule for myself – I’m only buying something if (a) it’s already on my wishlist, and (b) it’s over 50% off.  As it happens, I did buy a few things already that met that criteria – Baldur’s Gate 2 (which I’ve never played; thought about the iPad version, but figured I’d rather eventually experience it on the PC); Jade Empire (which I loved on the Xbox and missed dearly and have been thinking about a lot lately, and also which is totally fucked on PC; need to figure out how to get it to work); Sudeki (which is kind of a shitty Xbox action RPG that I have a weird fondness for; it’s super-janky and dated by today’s standards); and Vertiginous Golf (an early access steampunk mini-golf game; need to figure out why I can’t use my 360 controller).  At this point, I’m really only hoping for big discounts on Goat Simulator, NaissanceE, Story about my Uncle, Escape Goat 2, and Banner Saga.

Side note:  I’ve reached that point in my PC’s life where it’s not the best place to play new games, which is why I’m mainly focused on older/indie titles that it can still run well.

Vita:  I’m really getting into Tearaway, finally, which I picked up in this current PS+ sale.  I’d rented it earlier this year when my first Vita showed up; when that Vita broke, I returned Tearaway, not knowing if I’d ever pick it up again.  Anyway.  I can’t think of a better showcase for what the Vita is capable of; it’s charming as hell and while I’m not terribly big on customization (mostly because I can’t draw), it’s lovely to see my hastily scribbled snowflakes and pumpkins and decorations actually in the world.  And I can’t help but make funny faces every time I see myself as the sun, which is why I’m not playing it on the subway.

Also:  tell me which of these I should play.  I’ve only played the first 10 hours of 7 (which I wrote about earlier) before getting stuck, and I did maybe the first 2 of 10 earlier this year before not being sure if I cared or not.  Haven’t touched the rest; I bought them a year or two ago on PS3 during a weird retail therapy splurge, but never touched ’em.

Vita_FF

 

The Summer Doldrums 2K14

Every night after we put our son to bed, my wife and I will ask each other if either one wants the living room TV.  I use it to play games; she’s currently hooked on Orange Is The New Black.  Last night, she asked me if I wanted the TV, and I suddenly realized that I’m not going to need the TV for months.

We have officially entered the summer doldrums, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.  The next game on my to-do list, according to Game Informer’s Release Calendar, is Oddworld: New & Tasty which is released for PS4 on July 22.  After that, it’s mostly odds and sods until Destiny comes out in September.  I haven’t made up my mind if I’m going to purchase the remastered The Last Of Us or not (July 29), and while I’d like to play Diablo III (August 19) with my PS4 friends, I’m only doing it if I can carry over my PC characters – and there’s no direct confirmation that I can do that.

I’ve still got quite a lot of backlog to get caught up on – plus a ton of Vita stuff to try – and there are new rumors that Steam’s Summer Sale is starting this Thursday.  Thankfully, my Steam wishlist is very eclectic right now; it’s mostly weird indie stuff that I don’t necessarily need right this very minute.

(the top 5 titles on my wishlist)

  1. Goat Simulator
  2. NaissanceE
  3. A Story About My Uncle
  4. Vertiginous Golf
  5. Escape Goat 2

Lots of goats on my wishlist, as it turns out – the original Escape Goat is further down the list, too.  2014 is the Year of the Goat, I guess.  So it goes.

Looking at that release calendar, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed.  There are certainly a few highlights to look forward to, and I remain hopeful that there’s enough stuff between DestinyAlien: Isolation, Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Evil WithinEvolve, Middle Earth Shadow of MordorAssassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry 4 to fill out the year’s presumptive top 10, but I’m definitely missing some of the notable titles that were delayed until 2015 (especially that new Batman game).

There’s also the notable absence of Civilization: Beyond Earth on that list, which I was pretty sure was still coming out this year, and which I’m very excited for even if I remain incredibly intimidated by the Civ franchise as a whole.

So, then:  what are you going to do?  Tackle the backlog, or go nuts on Steam?  Or both?  Or neither, and spend time with your family and read books and enjoy the summer weather?  Or maybe go back to writing music on a regular basis, which you’ve pretty much stopped completely ever since your son was born?

The First Few Hours: Murdered Soul Suspect

Apologies for not writing all that much this week, though chances are pretty good that neither one of us would have been coming here for E3 discussion.  As it happens, I missed most of the main floor coverage, due to a combination of busy workdays, major Feedly outages, and two writing projects that have been stressing me out like crazy.

I’ve been playing a bit of Murdered: Soul Suspect this week, though, which I’m sort-of enjoying.  It got relatively fair reviews, but the people who liked it really liked it, and I figured it was worth checking out.  The game is mostly like a supernatural version of L.A. Noire; you’re a police detective who is murdered by a serial killer in the game’s opening moments, and you come back as a ghost, determined to solve the killer’s motive and identity.  So you’ll go to a location, examine clues, and try to solve that location’s central questions based on what you’ve seen.  Occasionally you’ll escort a living human through obstacles by manipulating objects (the game says to press R2 to “Poltergeist”, which is very amusing).  And it’s also, ultimately, somewhat easy; most of the questions have easy answers, and as far as I can tell you don’t get punished for guessing incorrectly.

It’s essentially the perfect rental game:  it’s janky and silly but not in an upsetting, unplayable way; it’s somewhat ambitious even if it’s also very familiar; and it’s the sort of game that can really only be played and enjoyed once.  It also throws out trophies and achievements every 5 minutes, which is apparently still an endorphin rush that I’d thought I’d moved past.  (For whatever it’s worth, I’m now at Trophy level 11 on PSN; I have no idea what that means.)

I think I’m towards the very end of the game (I’m in Judgment House, for those of you who’ve played it); I’d be surprised if there was much more left.  I have a pretty good idea who the killer is – or, rather, I have a pretty good idea of who I’m supposed to think the killer is, and I expect there’ll be a twist to that reveal.

The game is mostly a breath of fresh air; it’s the perfect palate cleanser to the ugliness I was feeling after finishing Watch Dogs.  There is no combat; well, every so often there’ll be demons, and you’ll either need to run past them or sneak up on them and dismantle them; it’s not that big a deal.

It’s also, as I said above, somewhat silly.  It’s published by Square Enix, and as such there are references to other SE titles all over the place; there’s a poster of Just Cause 2 in the police station, which is pretty blatant, but the computer monitors in the police station are also looking at the main menu for Deus Ex Human Revolution, which is cheeky indeed.  The main character, Ronan, has been smoking the same cigarette ever since he arose from the dead.

It’s a hard game to recommend, especially since I can’t see any reason to play it again, but it’s certainly worth a rental if you’ve got some free time.

E3 2014: the morning after

Unfortunately, I can’t do the super-in-depth impressions of yesterday’s press conferences that I was hoping to be able to do; I’m home with my son who’s running a high fever, and there’s no telling how much time I’m going to have to formulate my thoughts – he’s currently trying to take a nap, actually, and there’s no telling how long he’ll stay down.  Even if I weren’t home with him, though, that Sony presser ran pretty long, and so I’m sorta wiped out.

It should go without saying that the Grim Fandango HD announcement knocked me out of my chair.  Grim is one of my all-time favorite games, and I’ve been hoping for some sort of HD remake for years – I even said so in my E3 2013 wishlist (see #5).  So the fact that it’s actually happening is freaking me out.  I don’t care what happens over the next few days – that announcement is the #1 highlight of the show for me, no question.

Microsoft gave about as good a press conference as one could hope for; all games, no bullshit, and their exclusive stuff doesn’t look half bad.  Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 both look terrific, actually, and I even got somewhat excited about the Halo Master Chief Collection.  I was also obviously excited to see Crackdown 3, though the trailer wasn’t exactly much of a gameplay reveal; and considering how terrible Crackdown 2 was, I’m still a bit wary – the thought of chasing after next-gen orbs is enticing, to be sure, but I need to see a bit more before I start saving up my money.  Reviving Phantom Dust is an interesting idea; I played a fair amount of the original game back in the day, though I worry about microtransaction abuse.  More importantly, Microsoft’s collection of indie titles look pretty great – Cuphead in particular has a fantastic look.  Inside, the new game from the creators of Limbo, was another highlight (even if it also looks a bit like Limbo 2).

Ultimately, I came away from their presser feeling a bit more optimistic about the Xbox One.  I’m not necessarily 100% sold just yet, but I’m a lot closer today than I was yesterday morning.

That said, Sony’s press conference was outstanding, for the second year in a row – even if there was a bit of a snooze-fest there in the middle, and even though there wasn’t nearly enough Vita coverage as I’d have liked.  Any fears I had about Sony dropping the ball, or being too complacent now that they’d reclaimed 1st place, were immediately wiped away.  Even without the Grim Fandango announcement, they threw one top-notch title after another for a good 45 minutes at least – and the Devolver Digital montage that immediately followed the Grim announcement was amazing, and I only wish I’d been able to focus on it a bit more.  (You gotta understand – I’m still quivering about the Grim thing.)   I’m having trouble remembering everything they announced, but certainly No Man’s Sky continues to look absolutely incredible.

As far as multi-platform games go, I’m certainly very pleased to see a new Tomb Raider – and while it wasn’t shown in any of the press conferences, apparently there’s also going to be a new Guardians of Light sequel, too, which is great news.  The next-gen-only Assassin’s Creed Unity looks a lot better than I’d anticipated, and 4-player online co-op is very exciting indeed.  I’m feeling a little weird about Far Cry 4; some of it looks absolutely incredible – like a first-person Uncharted – but the narrative stuff is, as always, what worries me.  I’m also really happy to see that EA’s new, Tiger Woods-free golf game is returning to the craziness of its early years – those new fantasy courses look ridiculous, which is great.  I didn’t necessarily lose my shit over either Dragon Age Inquisition or Witcher 3, but they certainly look promising.  Sony’s reveal of Batman gameplay footage looked absolutely insane – the Batmobile in particular is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.  And having GTA V on the new consoles is good news; it’s not the Red Dead 2 I was hoping to hear about, and I’m not sure I’m going to buy it again, but being able to transfer my 360’s online profile to the PS4 is the sort of news that makes a double-dip a bit easier to swallow.

(Gotta sign off now – the kid awakes.)

 

Watch Dogs: the empty promise

If I’m feeling particularly cynical this morning – here, on the cusp of E3 2014 – it’s because I’m tired of feeling like a sucker.

Remember the deafening, jaw-dropping roar of hype that accompanied the reveal of Watch Dogs when it was first announced at E3 2012?   Of course you do; it’s all we talked about for the last 2 years, and it’s why Watch Dogs became Ubisoft’s highest-selling new IP of all time when it finally came out.

But what was it, exactly, that we were all excited about?

Is it possible that the trailer was just an amazingly slick, kick-ass bit of promo that made vague promises about what open-world games might look and play like on the new, not-yet-released PS4 and Xbox One?

Look:  I finished Watch Dogs over the weekend.  I did a fair amount of side stuff in addition to the campaign; there’s still plenty left to do if I wanted to 100% it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what that stuff will look like.  I’ve seen more or less everything that game has to offer.  I don’t know how many hours I spend with it – the “statistics” tab is comically bereft of useful information – but I definitely did my time.

And when all is said and done, and for all the game’s actual strengths – of which there are a few – Watch Dogs is, ultimately, one of the most poorly written AAA titles I’ve ever played in my life.  However many millions that Ubisoft spent on graphics and animation and gameplay systems are irrelevant in the face of a stupid story filled with stupid characters who say stupid, stupid things.

It’s not just that Aiden Pearce is grotesquely unlikable; it’s OK for a game’s lead character to be an anti-hero.  The problem is that Ubisoft clearly thought that Aiden was someone worth rooting for, someone worth getting emotionally invested in, someone whose fashion sense was “iconic”.   They misjudged him so spectacularly that it’s almost hilarious.

Aiden is an asshole to everyone; his enemies, his friends, his family. He consistently thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room – and each mission begins with an unskippable interior monologue that is meant to establish why Aiden is about to do whatever it is he’s about to do, and that whatever it is, he is in absolute control of the situation.  And yet he gets outsmarted at every turn, and gets gobsmacked by plot twists we can see coming from miles away.  (i.e., Clara.)

The script itself makes no sense, and can oftentimes feel as if it was written by many different people in many different rooms, none of whom were able to see the parts of the script they didn’t write.  Here are some examples which, obviously, contain SPOILERS, so just know that there are MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD:

When Aiden first meets T-Bone (also:  there is a character by the nickname of T-Bone; his given name is Raymond Kenney; the nickname is not explained), they engage in a drinking game.  The clearly aggravated bartender says it’ll be $100 up front, as a “damage deposit.”  T-Bone looks at Aiden, as if to say, hey man, you’re paying.  Aiden then literally says “I’m not a cash kind of guy.”  Let’s leave aside, for the moment, that Aiden is in somewhat of a desperate situation by this point and really, really needs to talk to this guy, and is not in the sort of position to be such a fucking dick about $100.  Let’s instead notice that by the hours of game-time I’d played at this point, when Aiden finally said that line, I’d stolen over $300,000 in cash by hacking into random people’s bank accounts.  This is not me being a dick, by the way – the game continually interrupts you to point out people with hackable ATM accounts.  Point being:  Aiden clearly had the money.  Indeed, I’d just hacked some rich people and walked away from an ATM right outside the bar with an extra TEN GRAND in my pocket, figuring, I’m going into a bar, why not make sure I can buy a round.  Why the fuck wouldn’t he just pay the $100, considering what was at stake at the time?  Does it just make him look tough?

After Aiden finally rescues his sister, and she’s able to process the ordeal she’s just been through, she slowly realizes that he is “the vigilante” that she’s heard about on the news.  One: she heard news reports while being kidnapped?  She barely got a chance to talk to Aiden on the phone.  Ok, but then Two: even if you turn off the in-car radio, which you should probably do anyway since the soundtrack is pretty shitty, you will be interrupted by news reports.  The news reports that continually interrupt you IDENTIFY AIDEN BY NAME EVERY 10 MINUTES.

There is also the issue of Bedbug and Iraq.  Well, there’s really a larger racism issue with the whole Black Viceroys gang, in that you can tell the people who wrote this sequence must’ve marathoned all 5 seasons of The Wire in a very short amount of time in an attempt to make sure that this hi-tech pack of black gangsters speak “realistically”.  Bedbug, a cousin of Iraq (who is the top man of the gang) is not technically seen getting thrown out of a top-story window, but it’s certainly implied that he did, and his sudden reappearance (only via cell phone voiceover) literally makes no sense whatsoever.

Iraq, on the other hand… I don’t know where to begin with him, so for now I’ll just concentrate on his boss fight appearance at the end of Act 4, which was a bunch of fucking bullshit.  You chase him and emerge in this small enclosed rooftop space.  There are no obvious exits or entrances except for one door behind you, which is locked.  He talks all this bullshit at you and then sends in soldiers to fight his fight for him.  The soldiers, by the way, materialize out of thin air.  As does Iraq himself and his heavily-armored friend – I know this because I was trying to plant IEDs for their reappearance, and I actually watched them spawn out of nowhere.  Iraq also is a bit of a bullet sponge, and while I understand that bosses need to be challenging, Iraq is not a super-human bullet-proof monster; he is an unarmored human being, and when I shoot him in the face from 5 feet away, I expect him to die.  And because he is somewhat bulletproof, and because I died several times during this encounter, I had to listen to these goddamned extended monologues OVER AND OVER AND OVER again, and they never once sounded menacing or threatening or anything that was probably intended.

Oh, one more thing.  There are two instances where Aiden gets hacked; once by some douchebag hacker/DJ named Defalt (whose look is so clearly modeled after Deadmau5 that one wonders if Deadmau5 might have a claim to copyright infringement), and once by the main baddie, Damien.  The hacking is so complete that it actually affects the game’s camera, which glitches out and can cause minor problems (especially when driving, because the driving system still sucks, even after 12 hours or whatever).  At this point I was convinced that the whole game was taking place in the Assassin’s Creed Animus, because otherwise there is LITERALLY NO REASON WHY A THIRD-PERSON GAME’S CAMERA SHOULD BE GLITCHING OUT.

[END SPOILERS]

I said last week that Watch Dogs is the modern-day Assassin’s Creed that I’ve been wondering if I’d ever see, and there are levels and layers to that comparison that go far deeper than any superficial story elements.

The first AC game’s primary flaw was that there simply wasn’t enough to do; you had these beautiful open worlds but no real way of interacting with them.  The ensuing AC games made sure that you had more than enough to do; indeed, you’d run into a side activity every 20 seconds.

Clearly Ubisoft didn’t want to make that same mistake twice, and so Watch Dogs contains more side missions than actual story content.  I said this before; the game is so desperate to make sure you have something to do at all times that it can almost get confusing; multiple side missions will open up nearly at the same time, meaning that you have to press multiple buttons on the D-Pad to set up a waypoint.  At one point I was doing a side mission requiring me to eavesdrop on a conversation that would lead me to a briefcase that I’d need to scan.  While I was eavesdropping, another side mission popped up on my screen, asking me to press down on the d-pad to set a waypoint.  But then the eavesdropping part of the mission stopped, and the briefcase waypoint flashed on the screen, but only for a second; I missed which button I needed to press; and when I checked the map, I didn’t know what icon I was looking for.  I didn’t fail the mission, but I lost the opportunity to complete it, and so I assume that conversation will respawn somewhere else, later.

As much as the game drove me crazy – and I’m feeling angry just writing this down – there’s still a neat idea here.  The idea of using surveillance and stealth to carry out missions is still interesting, and to the game’s immense credit it’s actually executed quite well.  The gunplay is competent enough, too, so that when you run out of remote-controlled booby traps you can go in guns blazing and take care of business easily enough.  Or at least, if you die, the checkpoint system is fairly generous (IN MOST – BUT NOT ALL – CASES) and you can re-approach your task without having to do the whole thing over.  (That said, if you do re-spawn mid-mission, all the bad guys you took out come back, which can actually make things harder.)

But my god, this game made me angry.  I don’t want to think about it anymore.  Smarter people than me will tackle the game’s myriad issues with respect to its treatment of women and minorities, and I will link the hell out of those essays when they go up.  In the meantime, I need to switch off.

I’m not sure what I’m doing for E3.  I’ll do my best to livetweet reactions, although that’s wholly dependent on what I can get away with at my day job.  In any event – if you’re there, have a great time, and if you’re watching from afar like me, have… also, a great time?

Weekend Recap: Dogs and Wolves

I’m maybe 8 hours into Watch Dogs, even though I only finished Act 1 (of 5) last night.

The reason why I’m 8 hours into the game but am barely 20% into the story is because the game is constantly interrupting me with other things to do besides the main story, and since playing the main story means having to listen to shitty dialogue made worse by shittier voice acting, I’m more than content to indulge those side missions.  I check into hotspots; I hack the shit out of ATM accounts (even though I’m not spending any of the money); I hack into buildings and spy on weird people; I unlock ctOS towers (WD’s version of the radio towers in Far Cry 3 and/or synchronizing viewpoints in Assassin’s Creed).  Anything that involves not having Aiden Pierce speak (whether to a person or simply as part of an internal monologue) is something I’m more than happy to indulge in.

Actually, say what you will about the narrative and the characters and the numerous plot holes and nonsensical premise and the rest of it – and I’ll get to all of that – but Watch Dogs is, for all intents and purposes, the modern-day Assassin’s Creed that I wondered if we’d ever see.  My wife watched me play it for a few minutes and thought it was Grand Theft Auto – and certainly you can make that case.  But the DNA between Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed is so similar, in fact, that it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see that this future-Chicago is, in fact, part of the Animus.  Even the digital glitches seem familiar.  (This Eurogamer article all but confirms that the two franchises take place in the same universe, even if the bottom quote of that article calls these references mere “Easter eggs”.)

I can’t seem to talk about Watch Dogs without getting totally scatterbrained, so I’m going to do the rest of this in bullet-points:

  • Comparisons to GTA being unavoidable, I’d have loved it if Watch Dogs had stolen GTA’s driving model, if nothing else.  It is fucking impossible to keep a car moving at any speed on the road without spinning out, hitting a dozen cars, or killing civilians who are all too eager to get in the way.  (Perhaps those civilians feel guilty in that their complacency in letting a private corporation like the one that makes ctOS completely take over Chicago.)
  • To that last point – the reason why the NSA’s surveillance tactics are as thorough and as voluminous as they are is because they are (or were) collected IN SECRET.  There is only a certain amount of disbelief I can willingly suspend, and the idea that a private corporation could do what the one in Watch Dogs has done is completely in-fucking-sane.  In a major, heavily liberal city like Chicago, no less!  Certainly there’d have been some angry op-eds in the local papers, at the very least, because I’m not sure that the general populace would be content letting a group of anonymous hackers be their voice, either.
  • The game’s protagonist, Aiden Pierce, is one of the more difficult protagonists in modern games to empathize with.  And this particular problem with empathy is totally different than what you might expect with the three men of GTA V, who you at least understand right from the get go are monsters.  Aiden is (at least I think) meant to be someone you root for, someone you understand, someone who can guide you through this city and show you how messed up it is.Alas, Aiden is poorly introduced.  The opening cutscenes establish that he’s some sort of hacker, in the middle of the digital robbery of an upscale building.  Something goes wrong and he bails, and then, some time later, he is shot at by gangsters while driving his car, resulting in the death of his niece.  Now, the way this opening sequence is laid out, one gathers that we are meant to feel bad for Aiden, and that this scene helps us understand his rage and his quest for revenge.  They killed a child, after all!  But: he’s also a criminal, right?  Even if he’s only robbing the rich (and who even knows if that’s the case), he’s engaged in illegal activity as a full-time profession, and he got caught, and the bad(der) guys tried to take him out.

    And he’s not charming or witty or even likable, as with, say, the Ocean’s 11 crew.  He’s poorly acted, as he’s basically been a one-note grumble so far, and it doesn’t help that his dialogue is so stupid.

  • Also:  he’s continually recognized by passers-by as “the vigilante in the news”, which makes literally no sense as his face and body are digitally obscured by all the cameras you hack – plus, at least as of yet, he’s done nothing newsworthy to grant him that title.  And while I appreciate all this extra stuff to do, I don’t understand why he’s so interested in doing it when he’s written as being single-minded of purpose.  Why should he care about random crimes?  Why should he care about random people, for that matter?  For all intents and purposes he is a broken man out to right a grievous wrong – why the fuck is the game interrupting me literally every 30 seconds with gang hideouts to break up and criminal convoys to derail?

As I haven’t seen nearly enough of the game’s story to comment on it in any detail, I won’t.  But I will absolutely pass along Cameron Kunzelman’s pretty definitive look at some of the game’s larger issues.  That article alone is enough to keep me stalling, let alone all the other ridiculousness detailed above.

And it’s a shame, too, because there actually is some interesting stuff here.  Underneath all the narrative stupidity and the horrendous, horrendous driving (and the average third-person shooting), the game offers unique ways of handling enemies that have nothing to do with guns.  One of my favorite moments thus far was how I was able to unlock a ctOS station – different than unlocking one of the radio towers – purely through hacking cameras.  I found a hidden vantage point, hacked a surveillance camera, found the guard with the access codes and hacked him, then found another guard wearing a hidden camera, distracted him with a ringing cell phone which put him in the same room as the [cable box?], hacked that; mission accomplished.  I could have just as easily gone in, guns blazing, mowing all the guards down and doing everything directly.  But this was a far more satisfying way of dealing with the situation, and I didn’t have to kill anybody.  Didn’t even have to sneak around!  I just stood out of anyone’s line of sight and my phone did the rest.

This is how the game generally encourages you to play, for whatever it’s worth.  And it’s a really interesting concept, and for the most part it’s satisfying to pull off.  But it’s not foolproof, and it’s not always successful, and you can’t take too much direct fire before getting killed, and the checkpoint system is somewhat inconsistent; a mid-mission death can either mean replaying 5 minutes, or 20.

I’m going to keep playing it, because there’s more than enough to do to keep me busy for the rest of the summer, but I’m not sure how much I’m going to enjoy it.


On the other hand, I can’t say enough positive things about Wolfenstein: The New Order.  Indeed, I very well might put Watch Dogs back on the shelf if it gets too infuriating just so that I can go back to Wolfy and find all the collectibles I missed the first time around.

Unfortunately, it’s now been almost a week since I finished it, and so the words aren’t coming as quickly as I’d like them to.  I did write a whole bunch while I was in the middle of it; I’d really only add that it’s remarkable and refreshing to see a single-player-only FPS so lovingly crafted and cared for in this day and age.  With every ensuing Call of Duty I find myself getting more and more cynical, wondering if the FPS genre has passed me by; even the more interesting shooters, like Far Cry 3, still have moments of tedium (as well as troubling, tone-deaf overtones of tribalism and racism).

Wolfenstein is, at heart, an old-school shooter, and it’s not necessarily reinventing the wheel here.  What it gets right, though, is so tough to do these days; it has astonishingly good pacing, objectives that are clear and understandable, a supporting cast of characters that are as three-dimensional as you could hope for (given their relative lack of screen time), and a diverse and satisfying arsenal and thousands of Nazis to kill.  There are a few tough spikes in difficulty, and towards the very end (maybe the last 30 minutes of the game) I turned the difficulty down just because the hour was getting late and I wanted to see at least the first 20 minutes of Watch Dogs before going to sleep, and because I’m a grown-ass man and I don’t have to feel bad about that sort of thing.  Even with the difficulty lowered, the game was still fun; I don’t feel like I diminished my experience at all.

I’m not sure what the rest of the year’s release calendar is looking like – E3 is just around the corner, but I also expect a lot of games to get delayed until next year – but I’d be very surprised if Wolfenstein wasn’t in the running for my Game of the Year.  Highly recommended.