Today’s favorite album: Steve Gunn, “Eyes on the Lines.”
This was a very busy weekend; lots of fun family activities, plus also a wee bit of a stomach bug last night. You can’t win ’em all.
I’ve got three games I want to talk about, so let’s get to it.
First up: the eagerly anticipated Dangerous Golf, the first game from the ex-heads of Criterion Games, makers of the Burnout driving games, also known as my personal favorite driving series of all time. On paper, this sounds like a perfect little arcade diversion: take Burnout’s crash mode, but instead of a car smashing other cars in glorious slow-motion, it’s a golf ball destroying hundreds of fragile, breakable objects in an assortment of rooms.
In execution… well, it’s not quite there. It’s so close to being great. Sadly, it feels a little rushed and unpolished. The impression one gets after an hour or so is that this is a snazzy proof-of-concept physics demo, rather than a well-thought-out game experience. And it’s not just the strangely bare-boned career mode, or the inconsistent camera control, or the aggravating load times; there’s just a curious lack of attention to detail that make this feel a lot rougher than it ought to be. Just as an example, there’s no interstitial music. This is obviously not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but it does come off as an oversight that ends up becoming more and more distracting. Ironically, the 5-second guitar flourishes at the conclusion of each round sound not unlike the sound cues you’d hear after putting a set list together in Rock Band, which is *also* just a bit weird.
There’s also little things like having the control scheme graphic feature a whole bunch of advanced features that don’t actually unlock right away, which can lead to some frustration. Key example – there’s a thing called “Pistol Tee” and “Pistol Putt”, which happen by pushing RT when you tee or putt (obviously). But you don’t unlock those two things until after your 2nd “tour” is complete, and even when you unlock them, they aren’t ever explained. Indeed, the whole putting game is never explained – and you can’t move the camera after you shoot, so when the flag is in a different room you can’t see where your shot is going.
These are things that could arrive in a future patch, but I can’t imagine they would. I know lots and lots of Burnout fans who have yet to play this game – either they don’t know about it, or they’re busy playing Overwatch, or they just don’t care. It’s a shame, because with a little more elbow grease this could be a ton of fun. As it is, it’s almost a ton of fun – and I’m giving it the extreme benefit of the doubt, given that (a) I love golf games, (b) I love the developers’ previous work, and (c) this combination is right in my wheelhouse, but I don’t know how much more time I’m going to spend with it.
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And speaking of giving prominent game developers the benefit of the doubt – as well as mentioning Overwatch in passing – well, my rental copy of Overwatch finally showed up on Saturday. I am probably not going to play very much of it.
But I want to stress that this isn’t the game’s fault.
I have nothing but respect for Blizzard’s past work, and Overwatch has received superlative writeups from all the critics I care about, and my friends all love it, and I’m all in favor of vibrant colors and a diverse cast of characters.
The problem, of course, is that I do not like competitive shoot-’em-ups, no matter how amazing they are. Maybe it’s a genetic thing; maybe I’m never going to like competitive shooters. It’s the part of every big game that I go out of my way to avoid: Halo, Call of Duty, Uncharted, Gears of War, Destiny, The Division – I just can’t do it, man. It’s not even that I suck at them – I mean, I kinda suck at Rocket League but that game’s never coming off my PS4 hard drive*, because even being terrible at it is still super-fun. There’s a certain mind-set that goes into enjoying competitive shooters, and I just don’t have it, and I don’t know that I ever will. I’ll be very curious to see what game comes along to break that particular pattern, especially given that I’m always going to be older than the target demographic, and also given that I will eventually spend less time per night gaming than I used to.
Finally, I gotta talk about The Witcher 3 – Blood and Wine DLC.
As I noted last week, I had no idea that I could’ve been playing the first DLC all along. So I started a new character and began the first Hearts of Stone mission and very quickly realized that it was all familiar, and very quickly remembered that I’d already played it and simply forgotten that I’d done so. So I then immediately started the new one, Blood & Wine. Now we’re all caught up.
Here’s the thing about this particular bit of DLC – it’s a perfect bit for a player like me, someone who loved the original game but hadn’t played it seriously in a long time and had forgotten what the overall rhythms of the gameplay experience feel like. Unlike other prominent RPG DLC missions, this is not merely a quest with some side objectives; this is an entirely new and rather large landmass, with at least a dozen heavy-duty side-quests that I’m compelled to tackle if only because I’m still underleveled for the main quest.
I haven’t even really begun to mess with the whole “I own a vineyard and a country villa” angle, if only because I’d already foolishly spent a lot of money improving a different DLC merchant before I realized what I needed it for.
The long and short of it is: godDAMN I love this game. I love how this game is built; each quest has its own pace and its own “hook”, and the characters you meet are almost always interesting. It’s nearly impossible to predict how a given quest will flow; even the monster-hunting quests, which are the closest thing this game has to a “cookie-cutter” approach, are different in terms of your combat tactics.
Here’s another thing about Witcher 3 – it’s completely ruined Bethesda’s RPGs for me. I was already having trouble enjoying Fallout 4, and now I know I’ll never be able to go back to it after this. Same goes for Skyrim and Oblivion and the like; even if Bethesda remasters them for current-gen consoles, they’ll still feel clunky and archaic. Playing Fallout 4 after playing Witcher 3 is similar to what it’s like to play GTA 3 after playing GTA 5; even though I adore GTA 3, it’s damn-near impossible to play given how shitty the controls are. And Fallout 4’s cutscenes and writing just simply aren’t as sharp or as interesting as Witcher 3; and Geralt is infinitely more compelling than any blank cipher I come up with.
But whatever – I’m not here to be sad about Bethesda, I’m here to celebrate The Witcher 3 – one of the finest games of this generation, and one of my favorite games of all time. I’m so glad to have a compelling reason to revisit it, and I’m even happier that this DLC is, so far, really, really good.
* This reminds me of a question that popped up on Twitter not too long ago – what games will you always keep on your hard drive? My PC, when it was working, had a 1.5TB hard drive and so everything stayed on it. My XB1 doesn’t really get used all that often, but I will always make sure that Pinball FX2 stays on, and I suppose I’ll always keep the latest Forza Horizon title on. (I did recently delete and then re-install Sunset Overdrive, because I forgot how to play it and the only way to re-tutorialize is to completely wipe out any record of you playing it, both locally and in the cloud, and I can’t believe this hasn’t been fixed yet.) As for the PS4, my primary console of choice – well, I’ve had to do a fair amount of juggling in the last year or so, but I suppose I’ll always make sure I have room for Witcher 3 and Rocket League.