Weekend Recap: Forza Horizon 3

1. This was a lovely weekend.  Glorious, brisk autumnal weather; met up with friends every single day, both old and new; had one of the best bloody marys I’ve ever had in my life; really, the only way it could’ve been better is if all my sports teams hadn’t decided to collectively shit the bed at the same time.  I’ll credit my new head meds that I didn’t take that too much to heart.

2. I will not be watching the debate tonight.  I mean, look: my mind was made up a long time ago, and tonight’s shitshow is going to accomplish nothing beyond raising my blood pressure beyond acceptable limits.  If this infograph below doesn’t spell out how absurd tonight’s playing field is, I don’t know what else to tell you.  If “smile more” can seriously equal “stop lying” in terms of importance, then this nightmare will never end.

3. I tweeted last night:

I meant to follow this up with some further observations, but I couldn’t put my controller down long enough to type them out.  In any event, Forza Hoziron 3 is wonderful.  I think the thing I appreciate the most is that it’s genuinely and sincerely interested in me having fun on my own terms.  Indeed, the game’s earnestness and sincerity encompass almost every facet of the game’s design; even the cheesiness of the “narrative” seems well-intentioned.  Unlike other “car culture” games whose hyper-machismo bullshit gets incredibly irritating after just a few minutes, FH3 is inviting and welcoming and friendly.  I have no idea if car festivals like the one Horizon is attempting to recreate actually exist; I have literally no interest in car culture or anything beyond making sure my own car is gassed up and not falling apart.  I am very content to simply drive around and explore FH3’s vision of Australia, and the game actively encourages this sort of behavior.  In a way, I’m actually kind of glad that the Xbox One’s screenshot capabilities are so clumsy, because otherwise I’d be taking pictures nearly every other second.  At one point last night I was driving in the outback, and the in-game sun had begun to set, and suddenly the stars started to appear… and kept appearing… and suddenly there were, like, millions of them, and it was so breathtaking that I could barely keep my car on the road.

4. I may have hit the wall as far as Picross 3D: Round 2 is concerned.  I’ve seen the credits roll, I’ve unlocked all the stamps, and so all that’s left are some brutally difficult puzzles, and I’m the sort of perfectionist that needs as few errors as possible or else I automatically restart, and I find myself accidentally selecting the wrong color (which I still can’t believe I’m doing after all this time)… the short version is that I’m getting more frustrated than anything else.  So I think I’ll take a little break from that.  At least – I won’t bring it into work with me anymore.

5. The Nix continues to be amazing.  There’s a chapter right in the middle of the book that takes the form of a Choose Your Own Adventure, and it’s one of the most brilliant things I’ve read in ages.

I think that’s all I’ve got for the time being.  I’m hoping to get my hands on XCOM 2 for console later this week, as my PC did not meet minimum specs when it was released there earlier this year; I’d like to post some impressions of that, though it’ll be tough to get FH3 out of my mind.

the fall release calendar

1. I keep waffling on how personal I can allow myself to get on this blog.  But since other social media avenues are closed to me at the present moment, and since it’s been at least a week since I last posted, I might as well explain – I’m on some new head meds, and even though it’s only been a week, I seem to be doing rather well.  So that’s good!  It’s not necessarily an easy thing to admit, but I don’t want to create the impression that I am somehow ashamed of taking prescription medication for depression or anxiety; the quality of my life was not good, for a long time, and it seems to be getting better, and that’s the most important thing.

2.  I am nearly halfway through Nathan Hill’s “The Nix”, and it is amazing.  I’d read reviews that compared the author to both DFW, DeLillo and Pynchon, and so I bought the book almost immediately, like some sort of reflex had just been triggered.  I suppose I can see a bit of that comparison – there are occasional passages in which Hill articulates a particularly neurotic train of thought that covers every conceivable base, in much the same way that Wallace did in “Infinite Jest”, but beyond that the book is very much its own thing.  And while I’m only halfway through, it’s certainly one of the best books I’ve read this year.

3.  I found myself listening to Jane’s Addiction’s “Up The Beach” not too long ago, and I decided to declare it the best opening song on an album post-1985.  (Why 1985?  I don’t know, but I knew that going back farther would make any discussion impossible to reconcile.)  I started a thread on Facebook about it, and got some other very worthwhile candidates, and so I’ve created a Spotify playlist with most of the suggestions that cropped up.  This is by no means definitive (nor is it sequenced in any particular order beyond where they appeared in the original discussion thread), and it is obviously a bit too white-guy heavy, and so if you’ve got further recommendations, by all means send ’em my way.

 

4. I’ve been trying to finish most of the games I play this year, but I decided to give up on finishing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.  This is mostly due to the fact that I was right near the end of the game and I was suddenly asked to make a choice, and I realized that not only did I not care about either of the options presented to me, but that I had literally no idea what the hell was going on.  I’d been content to find sneaky and non-lethal ways to infiltrate buildings and do whatever task needed to be done, and had stopped paying attention to the why at some arbitrary point that was, I realized, too far back to return from.  There are a lot of interesting critical analyses of why DE:MD’s story is fucked up and/or irresponsible and/or bad and/or misses an opportunity to take current political issues and do something interesting with them, but I never got anywhere close to seeing the game’s story in that sort of detail.  I instead found myself focused on the mechanics, because that was the thing that was enjoyable; the story was never particularly engaging, and then by the time I realized that the story mattered, it was too late.

5.  We are about to enter the fall release schedule, which means shit’s gonna start getting real.  I’d already bought the ultimate edition of Forza Horizon 3, which means I get to start playing it tomorrow.  (Possibly tonight at midnight?  If I’m awake?)  But I’m not sure there are any must-plays that are grabbing my attention more forcefully than others.  I mean, I’ve got a bunch of these upcoming games in my rental queue, and I did pre-order Gears 4, but I’m not quivering with anticipation.  Maybe it’s the meds?

I did stop myself from ordering the Bioshock remasters; I still might get them, but I’m waiting for a Digital Foundry verdict first.  I’m currently replaying Batman: Arkham Knight on Xbox One, because (a) cheevos and (b) procrastination.  That game still holds up, though I can say definitively that the PS4 version looks better.  If that matters.

Anyway, as far as the schedule is concerned, Kotaku posted a release calendar; my personal picks are in bold.

September 23

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided System Rift | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Story DLC

September 27

  • FIFA 17 | PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One | Sports
  • X-COM 2 | PS4, Xbox One | Strategy
  • Forza Horizon 3 | PC, Xbox One | Driving
  • Dead Rising 2 HD | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice | 3DS | Platformer
  • LEGO Dimensions Wave 6 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure
  • Darkest Dungeon | PS4, Vita | Dungeon Crawler

September 30

  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits | 3DS | RPG
  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls | 3DS | RPG

October 4

  • Warhammer End Times: Vermintide | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

October 7

  • Paper Mario: Color Splash | Wii U | Action Adventure
  • Mafia III | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Five Nights At Freddy’s: Sister Location | PC | Horror

October 10

  • 100ft Robot Golf | PS4, PS4 VR | Robot Sports

October 11

  • Gears of War 4 | PC, Xbox One | Third-Person Shooter
  • Dragon Quest Builders | PS4 | Action RPG, Sandbox
  • WWE 2K17 | PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One | Sports
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider Blood Ties/Lara’s Nightmare | PC, Xbox One | DLC
  • Duke Nukem 3D 30th Anniversary World Tour | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Memories

October 13

  • PlayStation VR | PS4 | Hardware  [I will obviously need to read some reviews and/or determine if I need to upgrade my OG PS4 to the Slim or the Pro before plunking down any money on this.  People appear to be having cathartic, out-of-body experiences with Rez Infinite, though, and who am I to say no to something like that?]
  • Batman: Arkham VR | PS4 VR | Action Adventure
  • PlayStation VR Worlds | PS4 VR | Action
  • Battlezone | PS4 VR | Action
  • Harmonix Music VR | PS4 VR | Music
  • Hustle Kings | PS4 VR | Pool
  • Rez Infinite | PS4 VR | Music Action
  • Shadow Warrior 2 | PC | First-Person Shooter

October 16

  • Skylanders Imaginators | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure

October 18

  • Batman: Return To Arkham | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Lego Harry Potter Collection | PS4 | Action Adventure

October 21

  • Battlefield 1 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Horse Simulator
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization VI | PC | Strategy

October 25

  • Dark Souls III: Ashes Of Ariandel | PC, PS4, Xbox One | DLC

October 27

  • Just Dance 2017 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U | Dancing
  • Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Fighting
  • World of Final Fantasy | PS4, Vita | RPG
  • Harvest Moon: Skytree Village | 3DS | Simulation

October 28

  • Titanfall 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Third-Person Shooter
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition | PC, PS4, Xbox One | RPG

November 1

  • Shantae: Half-Genie Hero | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, Vita | 2D Platformer

November 4

  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare | PC, PS4, Xbox One | First-Person Shooter
  • Mario Party Star Rush | 3DS | Party

November 7

  • Lego Dimensions Wave 7 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure

November 10

  • PlayStation 4 Pro | PS4 | Hardware

November 11

  • NES Mini | Nintendo | Retro Console
  • Dishonored 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

November 15

  • Watch Dogs 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Road Rage | PS4, Xbox One | Racing
  • Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

November 18

  • Pokémon Sun | 3DS | RPG
  • Pokémon Moon | 3DS | RPG
  • Killing Floor 2 | PC, PS4 | Survival Shooter

November 29

  • Final Fantasy XV | PS4, Xbox One | RPG
  • Star Trek Bridge Crew VR | Oculus, Vive | Simulation

December 1

  • Syberia 3 | PC | Adventure

December 2

  • Gravity Rush 2 | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Steep | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Extreme Sports
  • Super Mario Maker 3DS | 3DS | Mario Maker

December 6

  • The Last Guardian | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Star Trek Bridge Crew VR | PS4 VR | Simulation
  • Dead Rising 4 | Xbox One | Action Adventure

Midweek Meanderings: Witcher v Fallout, Picross Praise

(Props to my buddy Greg for helping me find a temporary alternative to Random Ramblings.)

1. My future as a professional games journalist is, obviously, going nowhere.  So I’m grateful that Patrick Klepek keeps saying what I’m thinking, and saying it much better than I can – in this case, about how The Witcher 3 has ruined Bethesda RPGs for us both.  As he notes, I think the biggest reason why I couldn’t get into Fallout 4 – a game I’d been anticipating like crazy, a game I was so excited about I spent an extra $50 or whatever for the special Pip-Boy edition, which I’ve used exactly once – was because Witcher 3 raised the bar for open-world RPGs so incredibly high that FO4 was doomed to be a disappointment from the get-go.  Fallout 4 doesn’t feel particularly different from Skyrim or Fallout 3 or anything – nor does it even look that different, for that matter – and it suffers for it, I think.  I never felt the pull to just go in a random direction and explore the way I did in previous Bethesda games, and I think it’s because, for whatever reason, Fallout 4 felt particularly uninspired.  The whole thing looks and feels very last-gen – which is not necessarily a bad thing, given how much I adore Fallout 3 and Oblivion – but I couldn’t help wanting something new and fresh.  Bethesda owns iD, right?  Shouldn’t it be able to use their graphics tech?

2. I am reminded, yet again, that I need to get back to Witcher 3 and finish Blood and Wine.

3. OK, so have I mentioned yet that Picross 3D – Round Two is one of my favorite games of the year?  I have only two complaints, and neither of them are necessarily the game’s fault:

  • I’m about 180 puzzles into it, and I’m playing on the hardest difficulty, and I’m usually able to finish every puzzle with 1 error at most.  And that 1 error is, 99.9999% of the time, because I hit the wrong button, not because I made a mistake in deduction.
  • The 3DS is murder on the wrists after more than 20 minutes, especially when lying down in bed.

Other than that, it’s easily in my top 3 for GOTY.

4. For the bulk of this current console generation, my platform of choice has been the PS4.  As I’ve mentioned, however, I’ve been hoping to crack 100K on the ol’ Achievements by year’s end, and so I’ve been mostly playing Xbox One games of late.  And I must say – while it’s true that multi-platform games look better on the PS4, I really like the Xbox One experience.  For starters – the Elite controller is, bar none, the best controller I’ve ever used.  The Xbox One’s interface is so much more enjoyable to navigate – sure, the store could use some work, and neither of the two consoles has quite figured out the ideal way to look at your cloud-stored games – but, by and large, I’ve really enjoyed using the Xbox One over the last few weeks.

Remind me of this paragraph when the PS4 Pro comes out in a few weeks, by the way.  I don’t have an HDR-enabled 4K TV, nor do I have any inclination towards getting one at this particular moment in time, so there’s literally no reason why I should get the PS4 Pro beyond having a marginally better experience with PSVR (assuming that PSVR is worth picking up in the first place); and so if Microsoft’s upcoming Scorpio console is as amazing as they’re touting it to be, I kinda feel like that’s the upgrade I should continue saving for.

5. My 3-year-old has started being interested in games.  And I’ve been struggling to figure out what to let him play that he could actually make sense of.  I bought Minecraft: Xbox One edition because I figure that’s an inevitability, and he liked chopping down trees and such, though he can’t figure out the controls.  So I’m opening up the floor here:  are there any good games for 3-year-olds with super-simple control schemes, where he wouldn’t necessarily need my help in terms of moving around?  Is 3 too young to expect that sort of thing?  Do I have to buy a Nintendo console?

Random Ramblings, Thursday edition

Today’s song of the day:

It’s been a while, so let’s get caught up.

1. The more I think about it, the more underwhelmed I am by Sony’s reveal of the PS4 Pro.  Let’s leave aside the total lack of anything regarding PSVR – nothing I saw yesterday compelled me to upgrade my current PS4; if anything, I’d rather spend that money on upgrading my PS4’s hard drive.  I mean, if I want to get the most out of the PS4 Pro, I’d need a 4K TV (which I don’t have), and I’d also need to make sure that it supports HDR (which, apparently, not all 4K TVs do).  Fundamentally, the content simply isn’t there yet to necessitate the upgrade, and while HDR is certainly intriguing I’m not sure it’s essential – and in any event, my OG PS4 is getting the HDR upgrade next week anyway.  If I have to shell out money for a console upgrade at this point – and I’m nto sure I do – I’m leaning heavily towards next year’s Microsoft Scorpio.

2. I’ve successfully completed my Goodreads challenge, and am now currently at 37 books finished for the year.  I don’t have a secondary number to hit; I’d rather just take my time and enjoy what I read from here on out.  I’m also probably not going to participate next year; it’s an extra layer of stress that I definitely don’t need, and as far as record-keeping is concerned I’m already tracking what I read in a GoogleDoc, because I’m ridiculous.

2a. My end-of-year “Favorite Sentences of 2016” post might end up being on the short side of things; while I’ve enjoyed a lot of what I’ve read, I haven’t found myself highlighting a lot of beautiful phrases.  To wit: I just finished reading Ted Chiangs’ “Stories Of Your Life and Others”, a rather remarkable collection of speculative science-fiction-ish stories (mostly because the title story is the source of the upcoming film “Arrival“, which I very much want to see); each story is incredibly fascinating and certainly very well written, but I never found myself lingering over a particularly affecting phrase.  This is not an indictment of the book at all, but rather just something I’ve noticed in terms of my own reading.  I think it’s fair to say that in order to meet my Goodreads Challenge number, I opted to read shorter books with heavy genre trappings, and while those kinds of books are highly enjoyable, they don’t necessarily feature poetic prose.

3. I’ve hit something of a wall with respect to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and I’m not sure if I’m going to stick with it.  There’s a sudden difficulty spike at my current stage of the game – all of Prague is on lockdown, which makes getting around town incredibly difficult, at least in terms of my current character build – and I’m so far removed from the narrative’s motivations that I’m tempted to call it a day.  While I do enjoy some of the gameplay loops – i.e., enter an area, scout out hidden pathways, sneak around, hack stuff, get out without being seen – I’m struggling to stay invested in the story, which is just this side of Kojima-esque silliness.

4. On the flipside, I am thoroughly addicted to Picross 3D: Round 2, which is the first thing I’ve used my 3DS for in maybe 2 years.  It is a little strange that you’re not actually solving the puzzle on the 3D screen – that is, in fact, what I’d been hoping to do – but whatever; I love it anyway.  Solving a puzzle feels like sculpting a figure out of marble, in much the same way that playing Rock Band feels like playing music – it’s not 1:1, obviously, but it produces the same creative euphoria.  I worry that if I continue to bring my 3DS to work, I will get fired.

5. I’ve also been playing some indie games on XB1, as I continue in my quest to hit 100K.  I finished Valley, which I don’t really know how to talk about – there are parts of it that are wondrously exhilarating, and other parts that are a bit of a slog, and the ending – such as it is – felt a bit underwhelming.  I’m also about halfway through The Turing Test, a first-person puzzler not unlike Portal or The Talos Principle; the narrative is a bit clumsy in its execution but the puzzles themselves are satisfying to solve (at the moment, at least).


I’m continuing to feel somewhat withdrawn and hermit-like – this is something I’m working on, privately – so please bear with me if it gets even more quiet around here than usual.