on Westworld, Batman and Bioshock, and Bethesda

1. I’ve been out of commission for longer than usual; we were out of town for a family wedding, and then the bulk of my evening free time was spent getting caught up on Westworld, which I adore.  I’ve said here before that I don’t often watch that much TV, and most of what I do watch is stuff that’s binge-ready (either because it’s a Netflix series like Stranger Things or the Marvel stuff) or that I completely missed during their regular run and which is now, in its current form, binge-ready (stuff like, say, Battlestar Galactica or Breaking Bad or what-have-you).

So I’m in an unusual place, then, with respect to Westworld; I’m watching it “live” (well, to be literal about it, I’m watching it on Monday evening after the kid goes to bed) and so I’m stuck on the same cliffhanger as everyone else.  I don’t have popular critical opinions cluttering my own perspective, as I’ve made it a point to avoid reading anything about it until after I get caught up.  And so what I can say about it is that, for the most part, I think it’s stunning.  The acting is fantastic (even if Jeffrey Wright doesn’t know how to wear glasses)…

…the cinematography is stupendous, and the writing is terrific.  The show is smart and confident and, thus far, knows exactly how much information they want to reveal with each episode, and I’m totally hooked.  I’ve read some stuff where people are frustrated with the pacing, or that they don’t like the mystery because it’s obvious where things are headed; I disagree.  Certainly I can see a number of different places where it can go, but there are too many things that remain enigmatic, and I’m happy for them to remain that way for the time being.

2. As far as games go, I’m still in this weird thing where I’m feeling disconnected from the game-playing process.  I’m in this weird lull in Forza Horizon 3 where I’m kinda just roaming around; I’m not feeling pulled towards Gears 4, even just to cheat and play ahead of my co-op campaign.

I rented the Bioshock remasters, mostly because I was curious about how they looked.  As far as the Xbox One versions, I was underwhelmed by the first game’s port; but then again, I’ve played that introduction sequence so many times that it’s no longer very interesting.  I skipped looking at B2 entirely and went straight to Infinite, and… yeah, that game’s world and presentation are still absolutely stunning, but the minute I started having to kill things, I could almost literally hear my brain checking out.

On the other hand, I also got the Batman Arkham Remasters, and those games still hold up.  With the occasional weird graphical glitch (on Xbox One), they are still gorgeous and fun and totally absorbing.  I’m breezing through Asylum at the moment and it’s just as terrific as it’s ever been, and I’ll happily play through City when I finish Asylum.

3.  I should probably offer an opinion with respect to Bethesda’s recent decision to no longer offer pre-release review copies to major outlets.  I can’t comment as a member of the press, because I’m not a member of the press; I’ve paid for (or paid for the rental of) nearly every single game I’ve ever played and discussed.  (Indeed, I think I’ve only ever received 2 codes for the purposes of writing reviews, and I didn’t get paid for either of those pieces.)

Anyway.  Do I think it’s bullshit?  Yes, of course.  Do I think it’s intensely hypocritical for publishers to deny critics a chance to review a game while also using those same critical voices to write preview pieces?  Yes, without question.  Do I think it’s ridiculous that Bethesda isn’t allowing professional critics to review their games before release, but that they are giving copies to prominent YouTubers and other “influencers”?  Oh boy oh boy, yes I do.

Will other prominent publishers follow suit?  And do I think this could start an alarming precedent wherein traditional games journalism and criticism becomes irrelevant?

Mmmmmaybe?

I think there will always be a place for long-form written criticism – this is what I want, and this is what I’d have liked to have done professionally – though I suspect that the audience for that particular style will, sadly, diminish in time.  Game journalism is moving into all sorts of weird directions, and a lot of it is heading towards video streaming (which might actually generate some revenue) and podcasting (which almost always doesn’t).  I, personally, have neither the time nor the inclination towards consuming my criticism in those forms, but that’s neither here nor there.

The fact of the matter is that Bethesda is doing this so that slightly-less-than-great review scores don’t affect pre-order numbers.  And yet pre-ordering, in this age of digital downloads, seems largely irrelevant, doesn’t it?  I mean, in the past, I pre-ordered physical copies at a Gamestop because, if I didn’t, then I was shit out of luck for weeks until a new shipment came in.  Amazon made this a little easier, though in my personal experience “release-date delivery” usually still meant “a day or two later”.  Right now, the only advantage to pre-ordering a digital download is the pre-loading of a 50-60 GB file; you’re basically spending $60 for the privilege of instant gratification.

There are people out there with takes much more knowledgeable than mine, obviously, and so I have no idea how much this is going to mess things up for the press.  But if nothing else, the practice of taking games out of the hands of critics in order to maximize day-one profits should finally and definitively answer the question as to whether Games are Art.

Red Dead Rumination

So I guess we need to talk about this.

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Here’s my prediction:  tomorrow they officially reveal Red Dead Revolution, for a Spring 2017 release.  While I’d love to see a protagonist that isn’t an older white man – a POC, a Native American, a woman – I don’t think it’ll happen.  I would be surprised to see it as a pure sequel to Redemption; most Rockstar franchises exist independently of each other (with the notable exception of Max Payne, and even then that was Remedy).

The fact that there are seven characters in this image implies that there’ll be some sort of online posse element to the game; Redemption‘s online features were pretty great, all things considered, and considering how well GTAV online is going, I would imagine that this new game will incorporate a lot of those ideas.

But beyond that, I’m not going to speculate, since I’m almost always completely wrong about everything Rockstar does.  I will say this, though:  The Witcher 3 is now my gold standard for the open-world adventure, and when I played Witcher 3 it reminded me of Redemption in all the best ways.  So while I’m obviously incredibly excited for whatever this game turns out to be, I’m also setting some very, very high expectations.


I have not yet bought PSVR, but I’m seriously starting to think about it.  It’s the only VR system I can sort of afford, and it seems to be getting pretty positive reviews, and I know it’s only a matter of time before I succumb to peer pressure and buy it anyway.

It might be the thing that keeps me interested in gaming, actually.  I’m finding myself having a harder time staying engaged with what I’m playing these days – I’m not sure if it’s because of the new head meds I’m on, or if I’m just not playing anything all that great, or what, but I’m not feeling particularly gung-ho about anything right now.

To wit:

I gave up on Mafia 3 after about 30 minutes with it.  The very first mission glitched out on me, and everything about it felt janky.  I very much appreciate and respect what the narrative is trying to do, believe me; but my limited time and my dwindling reserves of patience make it difficult for me to give anything the benefit of the doubt.

I am holding on to my rental copy of XCOM 2 for a little while longer, even if I’m still terribly intimidated by it.  I’d like to at least get a few more missions into it before deciding whether or not I should bail.

I had promised a buddy that I’d play Gears 4 in co-op with him, but he was away last week and so I ended up playing the prologue and a tiny bit of the post-opening credits sequence.  I don’t really know what to say about it; it’s Gears, looking as spiffy as ever, and there’s lots of shooting and hiding in cover and such.  At this point I feel like co-op is probably the better way to play it, since at the very least I can tune out the narrative.

I played the new Croft Manor DLC for Rise of the Tomb Raider; whoever described it as Lara Croft’s Gone Home is pretty much right on the money.  I’m missing 2 artifacts, and while I’m eager to break the 100K Achievements mark, I don’t know if I care about it enough to go back and hunt them down.

I also finished Virginia, which had been getting some rather intriguing press of late.  I found it interesting, but I’m not 100% sure I understand what I saw; the use of jump-cuts is rather unique in game storytelling but it’s also the sort of thing that calls attention to itself, and if it’s not serving an apparent purpose it really just becomes distracting.  I found it pleasantly enigmatic but it’s not sticking in my head the way it is for others; so it goes.

 

Lest you think I’m just shitting on everything I touch, I do need to salute Picross 3D: Round 2.  I’ve gotten a Rainbow medal on every puzzle; the only thing I could conceivably do is go through each puzzle where I made one mistake and try to ace it instead.   It’s the most enjoyable puzzle game I’ve played in ages, and I must admit that it was nice having my 3DS back in my rotation for a little while.

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I am most likely sitting Battlefield 1 out, and I haven’t decided if I’m going to rent Titanfall 2 or the new Call of Duty either, which means the next thing on my must-play list appears to be… Dishonored 2.

checked out

So it’s been, what, 3 weeks since I started taking new head meds?  Something like that.  I have definitely noticed a change; the mood swings are almost totally gone, and if I feel blue every once in a while it’s not an all-consuming despair.  I’m also a bit more fatigued, which I suppose goes hat-in-hand with being mellow.  I might be a bit more numb, possibly.  Like: when the whole Hoboken train accident happened last week – an accident that I apparently missed being in the middle of by about 10 minutes – I felt a bit more detached and far less anxious than I expected myself to be.  And even though my commute now involves having to go back to dealing with the pit of despair known as Penn Station again, I’m at least able to look at the bright side of it – my wife and I get to sit next to each other on the train, which is something we’ve never been able to do in the 16 years we’ve been together.

The flip side to all this is that, as I noted above, I feel somewhat more numb about almost everything.  I bring this up here because, well, this is a blog that’s primarily about videogames and how I play them, and to be perfectly honest with you I’ve been finding myself somewhat checked out.  I had some weird issues last week where my controllers weren’t pairing with my consoles – this is a thing that’s happened before with my PS4, but this was the first time it happened to my Xbox One, and it’s certainly never happened for both consoles at the same exact time – and I found that I didn’t particularly care, one way or the other, because I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.  The only console game I’m playing with any sort of gusto is Forza Horizon 3 – which is a game that is specifically designed to be played however you want to play it, and right now I’m content to simply cruise around, take in the sights, do some silly non-race stuff, unlock a few new cars, and then log off.

My rental copy of XCOM 2 arrived last week -a game that I’d been looking forward to for months – and I’m finding myself more or less totally disinterested in it.  I finished the tutorial, but haven’t been able to get more than 15 minutes into the very first proper mission without finding myself putting the controller down and looking at my phone, or going upstairs to get a snack.  I don’t know if it’s simply that the game is intimidating, or that I’m bad at it, or if it’s the head meds that have turned off the part of my brain that is receptive to the itch that XCOM was supposed to scratch – but whatever the reason, I’m just not feeling it.

Similarly, the wife and I have been watching Luke Cage, and even though we’re only 5 episodes in, we’re starting to run out of steam with it.  We want to love the show, and certainly there’s a lot to love about it (the music, the casting, the idea), but there’s certain aspects of it that seem weird to us.  More specifically, the writing seems all over the place.  Why is Luke such a negging dick to Misty Williams?  Why does everyone seem to deliver their lines in such a stilted, totally unnatural way?  These are little things that take us out of the show, and we’re finding ourselves falling a bit out of its rhythm.

Anyway, this is all a long way of saying that I’m feeling a bit removed from the sorts of things I normally talk about on here, and if I’m silent in the coming weeks, that’s probably why.  It’s entirely possible that one of the big fall game releases will come along that shakes me back into a feeling of urgency, and when that happens I’m sure I’ll be back here in a big way.  But for right now, I’m enjoying a bit of silence, and I hope that’s OK with you guys.