Revisiting Watch Dogs 2

The wife and I have been talking about buying a record player for a while now, and I’m pretty close to pulling the trigger – especially since my mother-in-law just gave us a whole bunch of her old albums.  But I haven’t yet bought one, and there’s a couple reasons for that.

One:  we don’t listen to music very often in the house.  Now, part of me feels like I’ve failed as a parent because I, as a musician, haven’t exposed my son to enough music.  But the truth is that my wife and I like somewhat different things, and while the Venn diagram of our respective tastes does have some overlap, my son’s interests lie completely off the map.  Yes, he’ll listen to the Beatles in the car, but he’ll also want to listen to the “Sing!” cover version of “Shake It Off” a thousand times in a row.  And when we’re home and hanging out, he’s very insistent that we listen to no music at all, because it affects his ability to stack dominos.

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The other reason is that… well… it’s a very slippery slope for me as far as record-buying goes.  Because if I buy one, I’ll buy a hundred without even blinking.  I’ve even been going through my existing collection wondering what might sound better on vinyl.  I mean, yes of course I want to get the new Sgt. Pepper remaster on vinyl, and the OK Computer remaster, and then I’m sure the new Fleet Foxes album sounds amazing, and then the next thing you know I’m $10,000 in debt and my floors are sinking because my vinyl collection is too physically heavy.

So I’ve gotta be careful, is what I’m trying to say.

*   *   *

I think I’d mentioned not too long ago that I’d been diving into some of my gaming backlog, and I realized that I’d made two notable omissions.  One is a replay of Wolfenstein: The New Order, because killing Nazis is particularly life-affirming in this current political climate, and the other is a revisit of Watch Dogs 2.

I don’t think I wrote about Watch Dogs 2 when I first started playing it last year; and if I did, I can’t seem to find it.  I can’t recall why I stopped playing it, either, beyond probably just being overwhelmed by my backlog in general.  (It’s entirely possible that I bought it in the middle of a gigantic Xbox sale, and so I was playing a dozen different things at once, and one of them ultimately won out.)

In any event, it’s a weird game in all the ways that Ubisoft open-world games are weird, but it’s also strangely compelling in all the ways that the first Watch Dogs wasn’t.  This doesn’t necessarily forgive it for its narrative sins, nor does it absolve it for its bizarre sense of morality, nor does it get a pass for making me feel like a very, very old man.  But I’m continuing to play it, which means there’s something there that’s keeping me invested.

WD2 is ridiculous and wildly incongruous in terms of its tone, but I think it’s at least supposed to feel that way.  It’s silly and goofy and while it still has moments where it’s attempting to be earnest – i.e., that you’re part of a rag-tag group of hackers with a Robin Hood ethos – you at least don’t feel weird when your quiet attempts at hacking go awry and you end up having to shoot everyone in the face with machine guns that you build with a 3D printer in your hacker base.  And even though you’re hacking for the greater good, you’re just supposed to ignore the fact that you not only steal cars all the time, but you steal all the expensive stuff that’s left in the cars, and you’re also constantly stealing people’s money out of their digital accounts – you can’t help yourself, because the game conveniently highlights them in blue and makes it very obvious that they’re ripe for the picking.

The game’s biggest sin, of course, is that it makes me feel like a very old man who wants to yell at kids to get off his lawn.  I don’t know if this is because Ubisoft has accurately portrayed youth/hacker culture, or if a similar group of old men think they accurately portrayed youth/hacker culture, but the point remains the same – Marcus and the rest of the DedSec crew are annoying and ridiculous and I kinda want to punch them all in the face.  The game’s got a pseudo-version of Instagram in it and if you take selfies in certain spots you get rewarded with more selfie gestures (which sounds ridiculous when you type it out like this), and your friends make the DUMBEST FUCKING COMMENTS underneath each photo, and the whole thing is just so absurd.

And yet I must confess that in spite of this game’s desperate desire to be cool and hip and relevant to whatever millennial audience they’re hoping to attract, and thus it has alienated me utterly and completely, I apparently also don’t seem to care all that much because I’ve been playing it for most of the last two weeks; and so while I’ve stopped paying attention to the narrative, I have at least continued to remain interested in the tasks I’m asked to perform.  They are repetitive, as all these things tend to be, but at least they’re different.  As in the first game, it can be immensely satisfying to come across a group of bad guys and find a way to take them all out without even setting foot in their space.

Frankly, it can be just as satisfying to just cruise around and see what’s going on – the digital San Francisco in this game is quite fascinating to explore.  Indeed, one of the things I most appreciate is that unlike other Ubisoft open-world games I could name, the map isn’t that cluttered with ridiculous things, and the hidden things that you do come across are actually quite useful.  Those Instagram selfies I mentioned earlier?  They help you level up and earn followers – followers are basically XP, and the more XP you get the more Research Points you can earn, and those Research Points help you unlock perks and powerups and such.  And so if I need a break from the story (such as it is), I’ll just go hunting for Research Points.

I’m a little surprised that Ubisoft didn’t mention the Watch Dogs IP during their E3 press conference – or maybe they did, but nobody remembered – and perhaps it’s just as well, given that it’s hard to know what this game is meant to accomplish beyond being a more tech-savvy and less blatantly misogynistic Grand Theft Auto clone.  That being said, WD2 is certainly engaging enough to check out – and given that it’s been on a sale a lot lately, you may want to give it a look.

 

scenes from a mild mid-day panic attack

OK – I started this post last week and never got around to finishing it.  It’s not a particularly difficult post or anything; if nothing else it’s a collection of scattered E3 thoughts that I was trying to write down before my short-term memory said “fuck it, you don’t need this.”

Today, as I attempt to write this, I am feeling very anxious.  It’s the sort of anxiety that I’m recognizing as if it were from a bad dream – I feel like I’ve forgotten something terribly important, and there will be terrible consequences if I can’t remember it.  This feeling could also just be due to me drinking a very large iced coffee and taking a Claritin-D for allergies – so my heart is racing and yet I’m feeling spaced out.  For whatever it’s worth, as far as I can tell, I haven’t actually forgotten anything; today is my wife’s birthday, but that’s already been sorted out – gifts received, dinner reserved, etc.

So I don’t really have any E3 thoughts, as it turns out.  All the big press conferences happened when I was unable to watch them – I mean, I did watch a little bit of the beginning of Microsoft’s presser on Twitter on my iPhone, because I needed to get some Scorpio info – but that was probably about it as far as paying direct attention to the event itself.

Before you ask:  yes of course I’m getting an Xbox One X.  I’ve been saving money in a special savings account ever since it was first announced for that very purpose, and by the time it comes out I might even be able to pick up a 4K TV, too.

I’ve been spending most of my gaming time on the Xbox One lately, as a matter of fact; during their last big sale I ended up buying a bunch of games I already own on the PS4, because I’m an idiot who has started to feel the burn of Achievements again.  Truth be told – and I may have already said this here, but I’m too lazy to go back and check – I really do prefer the user experience of the Xbox far more than the PS4, even if the PS4 is the technically superior machine.  (Will I get a PS4 Pro if I do end up getting a 4K TV?  Probably/eventually, if it gets a price drop, and if I can easily swap in my 2TB hard drive.)

And as it happens, if you were to ask me what it is I’m playing these days, I’d be hard-pressed to give you a quick answer.  I’m kinda playing at least 10 different things all at the same time, some new stuff:

  • Dirt 4: kinda ugly, and has an unusually shitty UI (which is especially odd considering how glorious and pristine previous Dirt UIs have been), but very fun and contains possibly the best rumble technology I’ve ever felt – I mean, you can feel the curved grooves in the road.  It’s extraordinary if only for that specific reason.
  • Lego City Undercover: I bought this hoping my son would play it with me.  He’s sorta interested, sorta not.  As far as the game itself, it’s Lego GTA, and it’s quite charming.  It suffers from the same horrific platforming bullshit that has plagued every Lego game since the dawn of time, and it has a weird tone issue wherein it’s clearly aimed for young kids, but filled with references to movies that no young kid would ever go near.  But whatever.  Sometimes you just want to screw around in a consequence-free environment and break stuff into littler stuff, and this game does a really good job at that.
  • RIME:  Alternates between being a beautiful, serene exploration game and a frustrating, obtuse platformer.  I’d like to see this to the end, but who knows.

as well as a bunch of backlog stuff:

  • Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: because I got a little jazzed seeing the forthcoming Origins and wanted to remember what those games feel like; this is the first time in a long time that I can remember actually looking forward to a new AC game.  I remain hopeful that the 2-year break served the development well.
  • Fallout 4: because I stumbled across a fantastic video analysis of the game by Joseph Anderson, which does such a remarkable job of articulating everything I hated about FO4 that I kinda want to go back and play it again.  No, that does not make any sense, but does anything make sense these days?

 

I have more to post, I think, but I’m not quite in the navel-gazing mood at the moment and I’d prefer to save that stuff for a different time.  In any event, I’m alive and the Ativan has started to kick in.

(exhales)

Moody in Manhattan

Serious, heavy-duty case of the Mondays going on here.  I came this close to taking a mental health day, except my son was also having a serious heavy-duty case of the Mondays, and if I can’t set a good example for him, then what am I even doing being a parent?  So here I am, twitchy and over-caffeinated, just trying to make it through the day, one endless hour at a time.

I have a bunch of random, scattered thoughts littering my head this morning, so, look out:

1. I don’t know what else to say about 45 other than I’m exhausted and feeling like I’m approaching some sort of breaking point, where I’m going to have to forcibly remove myself from the news in order to maintain some sort of equilibrium.  This quote from Josh Marshall says it a bit better:

The terror attack in London is not Donald Trump’s fault of course. But his response to it is hard to fathom even for him… Actually, I wouldn’t say it’s hard to fathom. It’s not even surprising. We’ve known and seen this withering deficit of shame and grace before when he tweeted out “appreciate the congrats” in response to the Orlando club massacre last year. I’m not even sure what the word is or if there is one. But the one I am struggling to find is the experience of not being remotely surprised by the President’s action and yet marveling that the expected action – or transgression in this case – has managed to find a new depth of awfulness to penetrate and explore.

Emphasis added.  I spent most of my therapy session this weekend trying to get this stuff off my chest.  A lot of my anxiety issues in my 20s and 30s – back when I was actively avoiding therapy and medication – were because I felt out of control, or that things were happening to me that I was unable to control, or simply that if I couldn’t exert some form of control over what was happening to me, then I was doomed.  I’ve gotten a lot better in the last few years with this; if things are out of my control, then I am (for the most part) able to accept that, and I can instead try to step back and be objective about whatever it is that’s bothering me and take stock of what I can control, and then deal with the rest when it finally happens.  The thing with Trump, though, is that it would appear that nobody can control the nonsense that flies out of his mouth or fingers, and his insanity will have a very real and tangible effect on my life and of my child’s life.  Every day it gets worse and worse and it feels like the worst kind of nightmare.  I do try my best to keep it together, and if nothing else I indulge in every form of self-care I can think of.  But as I said above, it’s exhausting.  I don’t know how this circus can continue.

2. You know what’s good?  Music is good.  I haven’t written about music in a while.  I haven’t written any music in a while, either, but that’s a different story.

I’ve been listening to music a lot lately – or, rather, I’ve been listening to music with great intensity lately.  The new remix of Sgt. Pepper?  Holy shit, it’s incredible.  (And I say this mostly through listening via Spotify on my shitty work headphones.)  If it’s not too much to ask, I’d very much love it if all of the pre-Abbey Road albums could get the same sort of 3-dimensional stereo support that this Sgt. Pepper album got, because it’s amazing.

Sgt. Pepper isn’t my favorite Beatles record – that distinction gets tossed around between Abbey Road, Revolver and The White Album, and I must confess that Magical Mystery Tour is up there, too – but there’s also a mythic quality to Sgt. Pepper that those other albums simply don’t have.  When I think of my favorite Beatles songs, I tend to gloss over the Sgt. Pepper album just because they all feel connected in a way that the rest of their catalog doesn’t.  But goddamn, this remix makes it feel vital in a way that it simply never has before.  “Getting Better”, in particular, is staggering to behold – I don’t think I’d ever appreciated just how magnificent the arrangement of that song is.  One can start to see, now, how mind-blowing Sgt. Pepper must have sounded when it was first released.

Another album that is also blowing my mind, in a completely different way, is Elder’s “Reflections of a Floating World.”  I’d never heard of these guys before last week, and I acknowledge that they’re a bit more on the heavy stoner-metal side of things than what I normally listen to, but whatever – it’s awesome.  Listen to “The Falling Veil”, if nothing else.

3. E3 2017 is next week and I am surprisingly apathetic about it.  This may simply be because I expect that most of what will be announced will be stuff that isn’t coming out until 2018 at the earliest.  Indeed, a lot of the most exciting-sounding stuff from last year’s E3 was for games that still haven’t come out yet.  I may or may not live-tweet the press conferences; I’m not really sure I have the energy to sit through everything.  I don’t even really know what it is that I’d like to hear, beyond a reasonable price for Project Scorpio (and that Scorpio will improve performance to existing Xbox One games the way that the PS4 Pro does for PS4 games).  That’s really all I’m hoping for.  I’d like PSVR to get some new stuff, too, though I’m not necessarily holding my breath.

OK, it’s lunch time.