The Post-Turkey Blues

Here’s hoping you all had a lovely holiday; we certainly did.  Lovely extended family hang time, minimal traffic, and then we got home and did our holiday decorating.  Life is good.  Even though I’m turning 40 in just over a week.

1. As of this morning’s commute, I am 76% into City On Fire, which I am very much enjoying after somewhat of a slow start.  All of the disparate narrative arcs and character threads are suddenly converging with extreme haste, and I feel like I could probably knock out the remaining ~200 pages in an hour or so (if I could find an hour to spare).  I may have said this before, but it bears repeating in any case – for a 900+ page book, City on Fire is paced incredibly well; you don’t often think of these sorts of massive tomes as “page-turners”, but, well, there you go.

I won’t be finalizing my Books Of the Year posts until I finish this one, especially given that it’s got some of my favorite sentences tucked away in its corners.

2. I’m a few more hours into Fallout 4 and my disappointment grows with each step I take.  As my available gaming time shrinks over the next few weeks (my wife and I have been devouring Jessica Jones of late, which is excellent; I’ve also gotta get my ass in gear and start finishing this album), I find myself becoming less and less forgiving of games that make me feel like I’m wasting time, and unfortunately that’s where I kinda am as far as FO4 is concerned.

I will concede that this might be my fault, somehow.  That my expectations for a Bethesda open-world RPG on new hardware might have been asking too much; similarly, it could be that my recent experiences playing other open-world RPGs like Witcher 3 – and also having just finished the finely polished Rise of the Tomb Raider – might have influenced my thinking and judgment.

Still, though, there’s something somewhat… hmm… amateurish about Fallout 4.  It’s ugly, it’s buggy, it doesn’t explain itself well (even when it’s tutorializing), and its UI is fucking horrendous.

I recall reading something, somewhere (it might have been this?), about how Bethesda’s teams are small on purpose, that they are willing to sacrifice certain things (bug squashing, graphical fidelity, etc.) in order to better focus on other things (atmosphere, narrative, etc.).   I suppose that’s admirable in certain respects.  But it doesn’t make me less inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.  Again – I know I’m repeating myself here – I’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours playing Bethesda games, and there’s a certain amount of jank that I know I should be expecting when I play these things.  But I’m finding the lack of polish more and more distracting, and it makes the stuff I do like that much more frustrating.  I want to explore – Bethesda still creates that feeling, that yearning to see what’s behind the next corner, better than anybody else – but I don’t want to be miserable while I’m doing it.

3. The irony in my disappointment about Fallout 4 is that I’m now finding myself really, really, really wanting to play Just Cause 3.  For all the times I’ve whined about how tired I’m getting of having to kill things in order to advance, I’m finding myself in the perverse position of sitting on my gaming couch and, more than anything else, wanting to explode the shit out of everything I possibly can, and JC3 would appear to be the answer to this desire.  As of this moment – 1:30pm – there aren’t any reviews out that I’ve seen, though the early scuttlebutt on Twitter is that there are some atrociously awful loading times.  This isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, though, as long as it’s the sort of thing that can get patched quickly.

 

 

Weekend Recap: Falling Out

First impressions are everything.  Back in my theater school days, our teachers told us that the audition process really only took 5 seconds; that in the time it took for you to open the door and walk to the center of the room, the casting agents saw 99% of what they needed to see.  Doesn’t matter how well you prepared your monologue, or if your accents are up to snuff, or how good your pratfall skills are; it’s simply the gut reaction to seeing you emerge and present yourself.  It’s over before you even open your mouth.

This applies to pretty much everything, regardless of medium.  The first sentence of a book; the opening notes of a song; hell, even the title screen to a movie – these all set the stage for what happens next.

And so it is to my great chagrin and disappointment that the opening hour or two of Fallout 4 has fallen utterly flat for me.  If I hadn’t spent hundred upon hundreds of hours with Bethesda’s other open-world RPGs and were therefore inclined to give FO4 the benefit of the doubt, I’d be seriously considering selling my Pip-Boy edition on eBay.

The irony, of course, is that I haven’t played enough of it to properly articulate my feelings as to why I’m feeling so out of sorts with it.  Which means that I need to play more of it.  Which I don’t want to do, at all.

What I can say, though, even in the tiny amount of time I’ve spent with it, is that it looks old.  Antiquated.  Like an iteration of the Fallout 3 engine, only with a more diverse color palette.  Certain environments are clearly copied and pasted, and even in the town of Sanctuary, which is pre-fab even before the bombs start falling, it’s distressing how obvious it is. Characters’ mouths don’t match up with the words they speak, which would’ve been excusable 10 years ago.  The game feels stiff and stodgy in my hands – and while this might be because I just spent 50 hours playing both Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Rise of the Tomb Raider, where character movement is meant to be incredibly fluid, it’s still a thing that I’m feeling, and I can’t help it.

It also doesn’t help that the game doesn’t explain itself at all.  The only reason why I know about crafting and resources and scavenging is because I read a whole bunch of preview and review coverage.  There’s a workshop in the very first town you come to once you escape the Vault, and while there’s a very brief tutorial that shows you how it works, it doesn’t explain why it’s something you need to know, and in any event there’s nothing you can really do with it at that point anyway – so why bother introducing it?  I have successfully modded a pistol, but I’m sure I’m going to come across some better guns soon enough; should I bother?

I’ve also succumbed to some serious radiation poisoning already – far more than I ever received in FO3, and this is just from doing some very minor off-the-main-path exploring in FO4’s first hour – and the potions that I thought would fix that don’t seem to be working.  So either I’m doing something wrong, or there’s a bug, or… I don’t know.  Hopefully there’s a doctor nearby that can patch me up, because if I’m going to be down a full third of my maximum health for the next hundred hours, I might as well just re-roll and try again.


I dabbled a little bit in Star Wars Battlefront last night, too – just some of the solo tutorial stuff, if only so that when I finally do some co-op or general online mayhem, that I know what the hell I’m doing.  It’s gorgeous, which I suppose goes without saying.  It’s also a big shallow and a little dumb, but you know what?  That’s kinda my speed, when it comes to online multiplayer.  Mindless action, where I can just turn my brain off and blow shit up with buddies?  I can dig it.


 

I also played maybe 10-20 minutes of Hard West, which is best described as XCOM in the Old West, and that game is pretty neat!  It’s not optimized for the Steam Controller, though, and I’m either gonna need to find my 360 controller or just use a mouse and keyboard like a regular person.


The wife and I had a movie date yesterday afternoon and caught Spectre, which was better than I’d been led to believe.  Sure, it dabbles a lot deeper into the grosser parts of the classic, misogynistic Bond mystique than any of the previous Daniel Craig films – like basically raping Monica Bellucci literally hours after her husband’s funeral for no particular reason – and Cristoph Waltz isn’t particularly sinister or eeeeee-vil, but overall?  Not a bad way for Craig to make his exit, if this is indeed his last Bond film.  I might be more forgiving than most critics if only because this was the first time that the wife and I got to go to the movies in several months, and it was easy enough to turn off the critical-thinking parts of our brains.

 

 

 

Shameless Plugs, Raiding Tombs, GOTY prep

1. OK – first thing’s first, my gigantic essay about my history with the Metal Gear Solid franchise is finally available in this similarly gigantic Unwinnable double issue.  It’s one of the longest things I’ve ever written, and if you’re a big fan of MGS then (a) you’ll probably hate it, although it also follows that (b) you’re probably not reading my blog.  But anyway, if you want to read 3000+ words about me v. Kojima, get to it!  There’s a ton of other great stuff in this issue, and I’m pleased as punch to be in it.

2.  As it turns out, I was correct after all – I only had a little bit left in Rise of the Tomb Raider, and it went pretty much as I expected it to.  After the credits rolled, I went back into the story (where there’s an additional coda before you regain control), finished the last Challenge Tomb, and now I’m at 91% completion.  That’s not bad for a first run!  That remaining 9% is still pretty substantial/time-consuming, and it’s not really all that impossible to achieve, either, so I may end up going for 100% if I get overwhelmed by Fallout 4.

My quibbles with RotTR’s story aside, I think it’s an excellent sequel to an already excellent first game, and I’m very happy indeed with where the franchise currently stands.  I think the move to make it a timed console exclusive probably did wonders in terms of focusing development; there’s a level of polish here that really shines through, and it’s abundantly clear that a lot of love and care went into building this thing.

And while I’m still a little “meh” as far as the combat goes – especially as everything else is really, really good – the game doesn’t feel as grotesque about murder as, say, Uncharted.*   There’s still too much killing, and I’m not sure that any of these kinds of games will ever be able to avoid it – even the first 3D Prince of Persia had too much of it and didn’t really know what to do with it.  But at least there’s a LOT more non-combat stuff to do here, and I’m all for it.

3.  So here’s what the rest of the gaming year is looking like:  I’m gonna be starting Fallout 4, possibly tonight.  There’s gonna be some Battlefront, and maybe my buddy and I will continue to slog through Halo 5 in online co-op.  I’m going to give Just Cause 3 a rental, just ‘cuz.  And… I think that’s it, as far as new stuff goes.  I do kinda want to get back to some of the Witcher 3 DLC, even though the New Game + mode was kicking my ass in ways that were not all that pleasurable.

Which means that I guess I can start working on GOTY stuff in earnest, or at least once I get 10-20 hours of Fallout under my belt.


* Indeed, after having recently replayed the first halves of all three of the original PS3 games, I’m a little concerned about the upcoming Uncharted 4; the parts that I love of those games do not appear to be the same parts that everyone else does, and I suspect that U4 will be far more combat- and action-heavy than I’d like.

 

The Next Few Hours: Rise of the Tomb Raider

It’s mid-November, which means that I’m already starting to consider my various year-end posts.  It also means that I’m just a few weeks away from my birthday – and this year I’m turning 40, which means that I’m also doing a lot of navel-gazing and fretting and such.

Some things never change.  My greatest anxiety as a little kid is, for the most part, still my greatest anxiety now – that the people I care about the most do not necessarily feel the same way; that if we were to list the 10 most important people in our lives, that I would not appear in the various Venn diagrams that I could draw from my own list.  It’s pointless to get anxious over things that you can’t control, and in any event I have no idea of proving that any of this is true (even though I actually do happen to know one specific instance in which this is, in fact, true), and yet… it bothers me, it worries me, I get bent out of shape all too easily over this sort of thing.

I bring this up only because if it starts to get a little moody in here over the next few weeks, you’ll have a better idea as to why.


I think I’m approaching the end of Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s campaign; given the relatively by-the-numbers plot rhythms, I’m almost positive that the end is but a few hours away.  The MacGuffin is relatively close by, and the inevitable tug-of-war-followed-by-the-boss fight will surely take place shortly thereafter.  (I was totally right about the identity of one of Lara’s allies, by the way, and the actual reveal was so anticlimactic given the circumstances that I’m now wondering if (a) I missed something, (b) it was supposed to be obvious, or (c) somebody fucked up.)

I feel obligated to acknowledge that it makes me feel weird to be so dismissive of the game’s story.  I don’t know why that is; it’s not like I have any personal stake in the game beyond the time I’ve spent playing it.  I suppose there’s a part of me that feels shitty to be criticizing Rhianna Pratchett’s writing, given that the story of Lara Croft and the loss of her father (as Lara follows in her father’s footsteps) must have been written while Rhianna was herself mourning the loss of her own father, the great writer Terry Pratchett.  Which is to say – you can’t help but notice the similarities, whether or not they’re intentional.  I know nothing of Rhianna’s relationship with her own father, and I’m reluctant to make any presumptions in that direction – she’s an incredibly talented writer anyway, surely she’d be able to write about this topic regardless of her own personal situation.

I suppose another way of looking at the Tomb Raider narratives is that they’ve always been secondary to the action.  The recent reboot wasn’t even really about the MacGuffin as much as it was about Lara Croft becoming and evolving into the iconic character that we already know.  In this second game, she’s certainly far less squeamish about killin’ dudes, and she’s never seriously injured in the way that she was in the first; her emotional character arc is about avenging her father’s death, and then switches over to helping some local villagers who live near and guard the MacGuffin, and I suspect that in the end, she’ll defeat the bad guys and do whatever the morally correct thing is with the object she’s been searching for.

It’s window dressing, ultimately, because everything else is really enjoyable.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I enjoy Rise of the Tomb Raider’s challenge tombs and how much I appreciate and respect the amount of time and care that went into building them.  The tombs in the first game were so short – one tiny room, one 5-minute puzzle – that they felt like afterthoughts.  In this game, the designers really do commit to them, for the most part; each tomb is big and multi-layered and the puzzles present a really pleasing level of challenge, and the levels themselves are just flat-out gorgeous and atmospheric and feel suitably epic.  And the rewards you get for solving them are neat little special powers – like having herbs and craftable items automatically glow and appear on the map, etc.

The last game that I can think of that took these puzzle/platforming levels this seriously and with this much care would probably be Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, which had those ‘Lairs of Romulus’, and which were similarly my favorite parts in those games.


 

Lastly, a word about the upcoming publishing schedule here at SFTC HQ:  the day job is about to get super-ridiculously-busy, so there’s probably not going to be a lot going on here.  I’ll post some impressions of Battlefront soon, and once I’m done with Tomb Raider I will finally get settled into Fallout 4, and that’ll be that.  I’m also getting started on my Year in Reading posts, and I’m really looking forward to finishing my Favorite Sentences of 2015 post; that’s going to be a fun recurring feature in the years to come.

And eventually I’ll be getting around to the inevitable Game Of The Year post, though I can tell you right now that it’s probably going to be a little sad.  I look at my spreadsheet and it looks miniscule compared to years past.  Oh well.

Avoidance

I’ve written here before about the Fear of Missing Out, and my compulsion to play as many of the Hot New Games as soon as possible in order to be a Participating Member in the Larger Conversation, which really just means that I’ll be able to read other people’s essays and Twitter conversations and have at least a passing, baseline understanding of what they’re talking about.

To that end, I should say right now that I have not yet played Fallout 4.  And I’m OK with that, even if it’s ridiculous; after all, I did spend some not-unsubstantial money on the Pip-Boy edition.

I’m rationalizing my decision to wait by saying that (a) I’d rather wait until the bugs are patched out, and (b) hey, I’m really enjoying Rise of the Tomb Raider and I feel like NOBODY’S talking about that one, and so if someone’s going to be talking about it, why not me?

But a larger truth about my reluctance to start Fallout 4 is that I’m a little intimidated by it.  As much as I love Bethesda’s open-world games – and I’ve devoured Oblivion, Skyrim and Fallout 3 to death – they are tough nuts to crack open at the start.  Even just creating a character causes a fair amount of paralysis; if I throw my previous Fallout experience out the window and just start from scratch, I have to agonize over each stat point, and how I want to look, and even the gender I’d like to play.  I don’t want to build someone that sucks; my first time building a character in FO3, I built this incredibly strong melee character (since that’s how I normally roll in the Elder Scrolls games) and it took me 4-5 hours of frustration and constant death to realize that strength and melee toughness is no match for at least basic gun skills.  I want to build the right character, and I don’t know enough about what I’m going to face to know how to get it “right”.

It’s interesting to me that, ordinarily, I like being able to create my own character.  I certainly love it in Bioware’s games; I steered my FemShep through the entirety of the Mass Effect trilogy twice, and I loved my Dragon Age: Inquisition character.

[QUICK TANGENT ALERT]

One thing that I’d like to eventually explore here is the psychological difference between playing your own customized character and playing as a known quantity (i.e., Lara Croft, Nathan Drake, Master Chief, any Assassin’s Creed protagonist, etc.).  Certainly you have a much greater degree of ownership over your own created character than you would with a franchise star like Lara Croft if only because Lara Croft doesn’t have any dialogue trees; her interactions with other people are scripted and filmed and that’s when you get to put the controller down.  And yet part of the experience of playing as Lara is that she is an interesting and compelling character in her own right, and you want to see what happens to her; you’re guiding the adventure, even if you’re not in control of the plot. (If I were to actually pursue this line of thought, obviously I’d have to talk about the Bioshock games, which go to great lengths to subvert whatever sort of autonomy you think you have over your avatar.)

[END TANGENT]

Anyway, so:  I’m playing the hell out of Rise of the Tomb Raider and it’s definitely pushing all the necessary buttons right now.  It’s only when I’m not playing it that the cracks start showing.

Certainly there are nits to pick here and there – shooting feels slow and unresponsive, which might be the game’s subtle reminder to play stealthily because the game rewards you with a hell of a lot more XP that way, and there’s a skill you can unlock that auto-headshots up to three enemies with your bow that essentially clears out rooms faster than they can be re-filled.  But this is hardly that big a deal, in that the combat sequences (thus far, at least) are over with relatively quick (unlike, say, in the Uncharted games, which rely on extended gunplay sequences to their detriment).

The story is… well, I’m trying very hard to give it the benefit of the doubt.  When I’m playing – well, to be more specific, when I’m moving Lara around on the screen – everything is well-paced and exciting and  fun.  The title screen says I’m 53% complete, but I’m not sure if that takes into account all the non-story stuff, which I’ve been doing as much of as possible. I’m very happy to just meander about and collect hidden things and search for challenge tombs and stuff – and even fast travel to previous areas with my newly-aquired gear that allows me to enter previously inaccessible areas – and all this can often feel very much at odds with the urgency of the narrative; but that also implies that I’m paying close attention to it.  I’m not necessarily on board with the story as much as I am the overall experience; the story itself falls apart under close scrutiny.

****SLIGHT STORY SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THE FIRST HALF OF THE GAME***

Unlike poor Peter Dinklage in Destiny, the dialogue is quite good and well-acted for the most part; but the story is relatively flat and by-the-numbers.  One character (who was only in one or two scenes in the beginning) is revealed to be the enemy (which wasn’t particularly shocking, given the context of the reveal); another “friendly” character is somewhat mysterious, but the only real shock will be if he isn’t who all signs are pointing him to be.

More to the point, though, Lara is asked repeatedly why she’s searching for this game’s Macguffin, the Divine Source (“because my father killed himself over it!”), and what she intends to do with it if she should find it (“I… don’t really have a satisfactory answer for this!”), and how her quest is any different from what the bad guys are doing (“I don’t have an answer for this, either, but I’m the good guy, here, so, gimme”).

I would refer you to Carolyn Petit’s review and commentary for further analysis at this point.  I’d also refer you to it if only because it’s really well written, and includes my number one gripe about internet comments:

Some readers–those, for instance, who attack less-than-glowing reviews of highly anticipated games that haven’t even been released yet and that they haven’t yet had a chance to play–aren’t interested in actual criticism. They are interested in being told that their emotional investment in a particular game, their anticipation of it, the sense of greatness that they have already imbued this particular entertainment product with, are all justified, that the game they have yet to play is indeed going to be fucking awesome.

I’m still enjoying TR, and I certainly plan on finishing it, and I’d like to think that by the time I do, Fallout 4 will have received some of the patches it apparently needs.  I’ll also be squeezing in some Battlefront from time to time; I think it will supplement Rocket League as my quick multiplayer palate cleanser.

The First Few Hours: Rise of The Tomb Raider

There’s something about November, man.  Last year around this same time – in fact, if Facebook’s memory feature is correct, it’s almost to the day – I was beginning work on a NaNoWriMo memoir and took a deep dive into my college diary for some research, and emerged into a huge whirlpool of regret and depression, and I spent the next few weeks/months under a haze of the sort of wistful, melancholic nostalgia that is, for me, very difficult to shake off.  And now here we are, a full year later, and I’m finally getting back to work on the album that evolved from that failed memoir experience, and because I’m trying to write lyrics – and because I’ve had to forcibly remove myself from friendships that have proven very difficult to handle, emotionally, I’m once again drowning, aching, feeling bad.  I’m writing good music again, but most of my waking hours are spent under that haze of sadness and regret and I can feel myself withdrawing from everyone and the whole thing just sucks.


Yesterday was ridiculous.  These two things showed up at the same time.

image image

I kept Fallout 4 running just long enough to make sure that my PipBoy app was connected to my PS4; I didn’t start creating a character or anything else.  I think I said this the other day, but in any event I’ll repeat myself:  until the first wave of patches starts coming in, I’m going to concentrate on other things.

As for the Steam Link and Controller; I have mixed results.  I hooked up the Link to my gaming TV in my basement, which is on the opposite side of the room from my PC, both of which are one floor below my wi-fi router.  The streaming reception isn’t all that great, unfortunately, and I’m not sure how to fix it easily without using hundred-foot-long wires.  The controller is… interesting.  The ABXY buttons aren’t located where my right thumb wants them to be, which can be confusing.  I only used the controller to move around the menu screens, and so I haven’t yet put them through any sort of gaming duress, but even just moving around the Big Picture menu took a tiny bit of adjustment.  I still have a rather ridiculous Steam backlog to get caught up on; I suppose I’ll be going back to my PC for that, until I can get the Link interference issue straightened out.


This is all moot, anyway, since my primary gaming focus for the foreseeable future will be with Rise of the Tomb Raider.  I played for about 2 and a half hours last night; I put it down when I got to the second campsite.

My initial gut reaction is very positive indeed.   For starters, it looks terrific – the ice walls that Lara climbs in the beginning sections look particularly stunning.  (I already know I’m going to play this again when it eventually comes out on the PS4, though; I can’t help but feel that the PS4 version will look even better.)

It’s also taken the crafting and hunting and resource gathering of the first game and multiplied it by an exponential amount; but instead of being annoying or anxiety-inducing, the way that hidden collectibles in Assassin’s Creed games can be, everything you find here is useful in some way, which also adds the bonus of making sure you cover every available inch of the map – there’s tons of hidden stuff, and it’s all super-fun to find and use.

I’ve still only seen a tiny fraction of what’s on offer, but even at this early stage I can confidently say that it basically feels like a bigger, better version of the last game, and that’s exactly the kind of thing I want to be playing right now.  And so I shall.

What’s Next for Assassin’s Creed?

(Sorry for the brief hiatus; I was inadvertently and unintentionally off the grid last week.)

1. I finished AssCat last week.  I don’t know how many hours I put into it, but I finished with an 84% completion rate; there are a few side missions (Dickens, Darwin, Doyle) yet to do, and I suppose I could go out and hunt down every last collectible though there’s really no point now – I’m level 10 and more or less completely maxed out, and so a slight uptick in weaponry effectiveness as a reward for finding every single chest isn’t going to make that much of a difference at this stage, and I certainly don’t lack for money or crafting materials – nor do I have anything left to craft).  As a whole, I can comfortably say that it would fit somewhere in my top 3 AC games, alongside AssBro and BlackAss; whatever faults it has – and there are plenty – are more than mitigated by Evie Frye, my favorite of all the AC protagonists.  The larger question, though, is this:  even if AssCat is one of the best games in the franchise, what does that even mean anymore?

Let me back up, though, because while I certainly enjoyed my time with the game, I have a rather lengthy list of problems that I have to address.  And at the very top of this list is Evie’s brother Jacob.  As awesome as Evie is – and she’s awesome, and I could easily spend 1000+ words talking about it – Jacob is, unquestionably, the worst protagonist in the franchise, and one of the only playable characters in my entire history of gaming that I’ve ever wanted to repeatedly punch in the face.  I find his entire character arc bewilderingly stupid, and find it impossible to accept that his current form was the result of focus testing and deliberate design choices.  He is a stupid, brutish asshole, and he does stupid, brutish things, and he makes incredibly stupid and brutish mistakes, and I dreaded having to play his missions because I didn’t want to spend any more time with him than I had to.  Sequence 8 in particular is more or less entirely a Jacob sequence, where he does one stupid thing after another and then has the temerity to be outraged that the villain he was knowingly helping ends up turning on him – which is doubly stupid because it’s not like Jacob cares about the sanctity of human life either, given that he is, you know, a fucking Assassin – and the whole sequence was, on a narrative level, so incredibly stupid that I couldn’t even appreciate the mechanics of the sequence’s final assassination (which, in retrospect, is actually kind of neat). Every time I fucked up and Jacob died, or every time the controls didn’t respond to me and Jacob died, a part of me smiled inside, because that stupid asshole had it coming.

Speaking of which – yeah, the controls.  Oy.  Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton says it better than I could; I only wish I’d beaten him to it with the rant that the controls deserve.  I seem to recall that when the very first game was announced, the thing that the developers wanted us to focus on – more than the climbing or the combat – was the quality of the animation.  And there’s no question that the animation is still, for the most part, astonishingly good and believable (even as our heroes do impossible things).  But it’s 2015 now, and this is the, what, eighth iteration of these games?  The simple act of moving forward shouldn’t require the pressing of more than two buttons.  And if the on-screen prompt tells me that pressing certain buttons means I’m going to drop down, then that’s exactly and only what I want to do.  Even though AssCat is mostly good about this, especially when compared to other AC games, “mostly good” shouldn’t be the standard we’re aiming for.

I could go on, but it’s actually been a few days since I last fired up the game, and I’m having a hard time remembering some of the more specific nits I could pick.  I suppose part of the problem is that, unlike other open-world adventure games I could name, I have literally no desire to go back and get 100% in this one.  I’d maxed out Jacob and Evie’s stats and gadgetry long before I’d finished the main story, and at this point doing stupid errands for famous people feels like a waste of time.

So, then, let’s get back to my original question:  even if AssCat ranks as one of the three best games in the franchise, and completely wipes away the bad taste that AssUnit left behind, what does that mean anymore?  There’s going to be a new one of these games next year, and I already don’t care about it.  The gameplay of AssCat is still more or less the same as it was in the original game; there’s only been iteration upon iteration, rather than any sense of evolution.  (Black Flag certainly feels like an aberration at this point, doesn’t it?)  The AC game we’re going to get next November will take place in another unique place and time, but it will also most likely be the exact same thing we’ve already done 8 or 9 times already, and it’s hard to care about it anymore – especially as those things we keep doing are still retaining the original game’s jankiness.  I beg you, Ubisoft – take a year or two off.  Let people miss these games again.  Take however much time you need to fix the controls, and get your narrative shit together.

2.  I’ve been dabbling in Halo 5, for some reason.  I have zero interest in the multiplayer, which means I’m playing the campaign, and holy shit the campaign is so dumb.  I’ve decided that I’m only playing the campaign in online co-op with my buddy Greg, because that’s the only way I can get through it without beating my head against the coffee table.  The mission designs are so antiquated and unoriginal that it’s actually a little hard to believe that this game was intended to come out this year; the end of Mission 2 has you defending your position while your escape ship prepares itself for lift-off, which is only a thing I’ve done several thousand times before.  I pity the poor voice actor who plays Governor Sloan in Mission 3; he has some of the dumbest lines of dialogue this side of a Metal Gear Solid game, and he delivers them with all the gravitas of an over-baked ham sandwich.  Luckily, I’m about to be heavily distracted by this week’s new releases.

3.  And speaking of those new releases… well, look.  I’ve got a lot of things going on all of a sudden; I’m very much re-engaged with this music project that I’d put on the back-burner for the last few months, and free time is at a premium.  To that end, I’m going to be playing Rise of the Tomb Raider first, because that’s definitely more my speed at the moment, and by the time I finish that, hopefully Fallout 4 will have received some of the necessary patches that it apparently needs.  (Also, it should be noted that I’m not even sure where my Pip-Boy edition even is; I haven’t heard anything from Bethesda since October 22.)

3a.  (I also ordered a Steam Link and a Steam Controller a while ago, and those are similarly lost in the FedEx ether.

4.  I was gonna whine a little bit about the Xbox One backwards compatibility list and how none of the games I was hoping to see made it on this initial reveal – no Portal 1/2, no Red Dead (or really anything by Rockstar for that matter), etc.  But it’s OK, really; even if I can play Fallout 3 again, there’s no way I’m actually going to.

5.  I’ve been remiss in talking about books lately.  I’ve been working my way very slowly through “City on Fire“, which I’m not enjoying as much as I’d hoped I would.  It’s not that it’s bad; it’s just not really hitting any of my buttons.  In fairness, I didn’t pick it up at all last week, and so whatever momentum I might’ve had has been lost.  But it also should be noted that I’m not particularly filled with any nostalgic yearning for the dirty, grimy NYC of the 70s.  Yes, it would’ve been cool to have seen Television or the Talking Heads at CBGBs, but I was not a punk, and I would’ve been beaten to death had I set foot anywhere east of Broadway.  (Hell, when I was at NYU in the early 90s, anything east of 2nd Avenue was considered dangerous and sketchy; when I lived on East Houston Street after I graduated, Ludlow Street was still somewhat dirty.  Now there’s a fucking Whole Foods two blocks away from my old apartment.)