comfort food

Some random observations on a super-chilly Monday morning:

1. So yeah, I’m not gonna be finishing my 2016 Year In Review post any time soon.  There’s too much going on, there’s too little time in which to do it, and then there’s stuff like, well, how in the world am I going to have played enough of The Last GuardianFinal Fantasy XVDishonored 2 and the rest of it in order to know how I feel about them?

2. To that last point, let me talk about The Last Guardian for a second.  This is, for me, an exceedingly difficult game to discuss.  On the one hand, it’s totally up my alley; exploration and puzzle solving and a non-combative focus are exactly the sorts of things I like spending time with.  On the other hand, the controls are mind-bogglingly frustrating, the camera is among the worst I’ve experienced in years, and while I’m not necessarily one to complain about frame rate dips all that much, it’s so distracting in TLG that it completely takes me out of the experience.

And yet there was a moment last night that totally blew me away.  I’m still very early in the game, and I’d learned that my giant dog/cat/beast/friend likes eating these glowing blue barrels.  I’d found one tucked away in a corner, and I brought it over to the beast.  And then I watched the beast examine it, sniff it, approach the barrel with its paw, accidentally hit the barrel and then, very convincingly, react to the barrel’s movements (based on the ground’s physics – this was a completely unscripted moment).  It was breathtaking.  I’ve never seen something like that before, and due to the nature of how the moment played out, I may not see it again in this game.  Indeed, had I been looking the other way, I’d have missed it completely; there was no reason for me to look at what happened other than simple curiosity.

And then, shortly after that, I died about a dozen times trying to jump from a ledge to another ledge.  For a game to have been this long in development… I mean, to create the moment that happened in the previous paragraph, I get it – that’s the sort of programming work that would absolutely take years, especially if you want the player to believe it.  But the camera and the controls are so unbelievably and frustratingly broken… it defies belief.  I’m tempted to walk away from it until it gets patched, frankly, because I very much want to continue playing it without all this janky bullshit that’s getting in the way.

On the flip side, I don’t know if FFXV is something I can allow myself to care about.  I finished the very first mission series – I’d made it to the garage, I killed some bug things, I returned, I got my car back, I drove to the next place to return something; it’s all a bit… silly?  Its narrative tone is literally all over the place and I have no idea if I’m supposed to take it seriously or just enjoy the campiness (such as it is) or what.  I’m not a huge Final Fantasy fan, for that matter, so in this specific case I don’t necessarily feel like I’d be missing out if I skipped it.  And yet there’s something about it that’s compelling enough for me to hold on to it a little big longer.  It might be silly, but it’s 100% committed to whatever it is that it’s trying to do, and I kinda find that admirable.

3. To elaborate on my last post – I have finally crossed the 100K Achievement barrier.  The game in question that finally got me there was, of all things, the Sleeping Dogs remaster (which was a free download, and which I’ve already played on 360, PC, and a tiny bit on PS4).

4. As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve got a ton of games on my to-play list; I also went on a bit of a retail therapy binge on Black Friday/Cyber Monday and bought even more stuff, some of which I’ve already played on other systems; I also went and upgraded my hard drive capacity on both of my consoles.  What this essentially means, now, is that when I head down into the basement for gaming purposes, I am able to feed my wandering attention span at a moment’s notice without having to move.  And sometimes, this means I get to scratch some older itches.  So it’s true that I purposefully picked the Sleeping Dogs remaster in order to crash the 100K gate, because I knew there were ‘cheevos in the early going of that game; but it’s also true that I kinda like that game a lot, and I was in the mood to play it.  Similarly, even though I’ve got that aforementioned ton of new stuff to play, I’ve had a rather strange urge to play through Far Cry 4 again, and who am I to say no, when it’s sitting right there on my hard drive?

5. I truly can’t believe that it’s the week before Christmas.  This is good and bad; on the one hand, time is flying wildly out of control and it’s scary as hell; on the other, well, 2016 was a shitty year and good riddance to it.  But more to the point, I’m basically shit out of luck on scoring a PSVR any time before the end of the year, and that’s totally my fault for not staying on top of it when I had the chance.  (In fairness to myself, I didn’t actually get to try it out until last week, long after it had disappeared off of every shelf; that said, it’s still annoying to want something and not be able to have it.)

 

Random Ramblings: Wednesday Edition

Sometimes I sit down at my computer and open up a blank post and just sit there staring at the screen, hoping something pops into my head.  And then other times I’ll be doing something else and 600 different ideas start showing up and I have to stop whatever it is I’m doing so that I can write them down.  This doesn’t mean that any of these ideas are interesting, of course, but I’d rather write something down than nothing.  (This is how I tend to write lyrics these days, also, which is why it’s taken me over a year to work on this album, and even after all this time I’m still not where I want to be on that front.  But that’s another story.)

Anyway: last night I headed down to the basement to decompress and play something that wasn’t No Man’s Sky, and my brain went bananas.

My train of thought went something like this:

– It’s 8:30pm; the kid’s asleep, the wife is upstairs.   My rental copy of Deus Ex probably won’t show up until Thursday, but I really want to play it now.  But it’s 40GB+… even if I bought it, I still wouldn’t be able to play it until tomorrow night.  Maybe it’s a good thing that my poor impulse control and need for instant gratification has been trumped by my slow internet.

– So, then, let me get back into that Witcher 3 DLC that I’d put down a few months ago.  Oh, wait, shit, it’s been a few months and my hands are still used to No Man’s Sky‘s control scheme.  How do I play this game again?  And is this a thing that’s going to keep happening as I continue to get older, that I forget how to play games with complicated-ish controls?

– The difference between No Man’s Sky and The Witcher 3 in terms of how they handle their open world exploration could not be more different.

– I still adore The Witcher 3 – it’s one of my favorite games of all time, probably – but it’s not the sort of game that I can just dip in and out of.  I feel like I need to set aside a full day without interruptions in order to play it the way I’d like.

– Shit, I’m not enjoying Witcher 3 as much as I’d like.  Let me switch gears.  Do I want to restart Fallout 4, which is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a few weeks?  Is it even worth it, considering the influx of new stuff that’s about to land?  Can I allow myself to get into it, considering that I’d originally thought it one of the most disappointing games I’d ever played?  Or is it simply that Witcher 3 has completely ruined Bethesda’s RPGs for me?

– I’m gonna go back to No Man’s Sky.  Oh, shit, here’s a kick-ass ship that I can actually afford!  Hey, all right.  Whoops, it’s 11:30pm!  I should probably go to sleep.

* * *

Nathan Grayson’s piece over at Kotaku story about “The Guy With The Lowest Possible Rank In Overwatch” is wonderful.

“What I found was that the people in the 40s were much more willing to try and still work together because these are probably people like me who are winning some but losing more,” Brown said. “Then when I got into the 30s, I was starting to see people who still have vague hope.”

Overwatch’s season one skill rating system was never intended to be a straightforward progression. Through hard work and diligence, you could slowly, painstakingly gain a fraction of a rank, but if you lost even a couple times in a row, you’d almost certainly take a nasty spill down the skill rating ladder. Ultimately, the system was meant to balance out. You were supposed to move up and down within a general ballpark of numbers. Blizzard didn’t do a super great job of making that apparent, though. As Brown observed, that led to players with chips on their shoulders and burning mounds of salt in their hearts.

“In the mid-30s, I met the angriest people in the world,” Brown said. “It’s somewhere in that mid-30s and upper 20s [area], these are just the angriest people in the world. They think they should be doing better and they’re really not good enough, or these are just people stuck on really bad streaks.”

* * *

Confession: I thought I’d gotten over it, but apparently I miss Achievements.  Especially since it appears I’m within striking distance of 100K.  I could almost certainly break 100K this year if I played all multi-platform games on XB1 (or at least the ones where I wouldn’t necessarily notice a graphical downgrade – like South Park).

I wish the major outlets would go back to including console comparisons in their reviews the way they used to in previous generations – or even at the beginning of this one; I feel like I can’t make an informed decision until Digital Foundry does their analysis, and they almost never have one out before the release day of a significant title.  (i.e., Deus Ex.)

* * *

I have given up on my 2nd book so far this year.  The first was “Girl On The Train”, and now I’m adding “A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall”.  I’m not sure if my being 1 book away from completing my Goodreads challenge has anything to do with it, but I ran out of patience far earlier than usual.  I’m willing to put up with an awful lot of pretension, but this was too much.

 

 

ch-ch-ch-changes; the first few hours of Far Cry 3

[Before I get into today’s post, I must link to this newly leaked footage of Ruffian’s cancelled Streets of Rage reboot.  Streets of Rage was one of my JAMS back in the Sega Genesis days; my brother and I played all 3 games for hours and hours and hours.  I’ve been wanting an HD remake for years, and Ruffian seemed like just the right developer to pull it off (even if Crackdown 2 was a shitshow), and so this is very much the epitome of a happy/sad thing.]

_____________________________

I’d be hard-pressed to explain just what’s happened to me over the last few weeks; it could be that the anxiety medications are finally kicking in, or it could be my shift from trepidation to acceptance and now genuine excitement about being a new father, or it could be the simple act of driving a car into New York City and thereby kicking a deeply-held fear square in the teeth.  I suppose it’s some combination of all of those things, but whatever it is, I’ve been feeling like a new, changed man.  And it feels good.

(It feels good even though I turn 37 on Saturday, which is a weird, crooked number that is much closer to 40 than I feel comfortable with.)

In terms of gaming, this feeling of change has manifested itself already, without me even realizing it.  For one thing, as my friend Gred correctly pointed out, I feel a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders now that I’ve given up on Assassin’s Creed 3.  Ever since I started this blog as my half-hearted attempt at breaking into professional game criticism,  I’ve felt compelled to play (and try to finish) as much as I can get my hands on, even if only so that I can be part of the conversation – even if that conversation is really just me listening to podcasts and reading smart people on Twitter.  The reality, of course, is that I am not a professional game critic, and I just don’t have the time to spend playing stuff I don’t enjoy just for the sake of being an observer of other people’s conversations.  And now that I can accept that, I kinda like it.

Continuing in that vein, I will not be playing Hitman: Absolution.  I’ve never been able to get into that franchise in previous entries, and their horrendously ill-conceived Facebook ad campaign (covered here with the usual great aplomb by Leigh Alexander) turned me off completely.  I don’t want anything to do with that game or that franchise ever again.

Switching back to the “changed-man” vein, I am playing Far Cry 3.  This is notable (for me, anyway) for three specific reasons:

  • I had absolutely no intention of ever playing this game until the reviews starting coming in;
  • I’m playing it on my PC, instead of the 360; and
  • I’m willingly playing a first-person shooter, even though I’ve been bitching endlessly about shooter fatigue.

And since I’m into bullet points today, I’ve chosen to play FC3 on my PC because, among other things:

  • my 360 has been making terrible sounds lately and I’d really like it to last until GTA5 (unless there’s a PC port; this also goes for Bioshock Infinite);
  • because I don’t want to kick my pregnant wife off the living room couch if she’s comfortable;
  • because the game probably looks better on my medium-grade PC than it would on my 360; and because… drumroll…. 
  • I kinda don’t give a shit about Achievements anymore.

As for the game itself… I’ve heard it described as “Skyrim in the jungle with guns”, and even though I’ve only played for an hour or so, I certainly can see how that description makes sense.  This is one of the most dynamic open worlds I’ve ever seen; things are happening around you constantly, and not just necessarily to you but to your enemies as well.  As an example, I was wandering around hunting for boar when a group of pirates happened to drive up and began attacking me; but then a pack of rabid dogs started attacking them, whereupon I just hung back, patched myself up, and made sure I was ready for whoever survived.  This was not a scripted sequence – this is just something that happened.

And even though I only played for a short time, my shooter fatigue never kicked in.  This is partially because the game is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s really easy to get lost in the scenery.  It’s also partially because there is SO MUCH TO DO.  It’s not just shooting enemies; it’s hunting animals and gathering plants, and about using the materials you get in those hunts and gatherings to craft materials that you absolutely need in order to survive.  There are radio towers you must ascend and disable – which, as in Assassin’s Creed, opens up an area of the world map.  There are pirate outposts you must reclaim for the natives, which turn into fast-travel points.  There are these Trials, which are essentially shooting gallery mini-games, which reward you with points and XP.  Yes, there’s XP – this is just as much an RPG as it is a shooter, with skill trees and abilities and such.

I can only give the game two knocks thus far.  The first is that the main bad guy’s name is alarmingly close to my own last name – they’re not spelled the same, but they’re pronounced almost identically, and he’s a scary motherfucker, and more than a little intimidating.  (The opening sequence of FC3 is absolutely outstanding, and the bad guy’s performance is a particular stand-out.)  The second, more problematic issue is that the game’s display never shuts up.  The game is constantly reminding you of your primary objective, even if you’re deliberately doing a side objective; it is also constantly telling you every time it updates its in-game encyclopedia/codex/whatever, which is unnecessary and annoying and requires too many button presses to get rid of.  This can be frustrating, in that the developers have crafted this amazing, immaculate world for you to explore, which you are constantly being interrupted from exploring.  They won’t just let you be.  Granted, there are wild animals and forest fires and pirates pretty much everywhere, so it’s not like you’d ever truly be at peace in the world – but at least you can be immersed in that experience without constantly being reminded that there’s other stuff you need to be doing.

 

Murder, Mayhem and the Matching of Colored Spheres

Couple things to talk about today:

1.  I think I’m done with Diablo 3.  Haven’t touched it in over a week.  It’s basically come down to this choice:  I can either keep re-running Act 3/4 of Hell difficulty until I scrounge up enough gold to buy the equipment I’d need to survive Inferno, or I can just move on with my life.  Starting over with new characters is not really all that appealing to me, either; I’ve played every level so many goddamned times now, and being a wizard or a witch doctor instead of a monk won’t make left-clicking any more interesting.  Ultimately, I definitely got my money’s worth, even if I’m still unsure about how much I actually enjoyed the experience.

2.  My shift from the PC back to the couch meant that I got to play (and finish) Spec Ops: The Line over the weekend.  I wasn’t really planning on playing it;  I only rented after listening to a bunch of Giant Bombcasts.  It’s a hard game to recommend based purely on its gameplay – it’s a third-person action shooter in a military setting, and it’s not like that’s an empty genre that needs filling.  That being said, it takes some very bold moves with its storytelling, and it asks you to do some pretty unsavory things, the repercussions of which are somewhat hard to swallow.  It’s an ambitious game, even if it doesn’t really appear to be at first glance.  It’s also gruesomely, spectacularly violent, and if it makes you feel guilty about all the murdering you’re doing, it also makes sure you see it in slow-motion, where a well-placed head shot literally makes your target’s head explode.  Also, Nolan North says “fuck” a lot and gradually goes insane, which is in many ways the proper response after killing hundreds and hundreds of people (unlike, say, Nathan Drake, who manages to stay calm, cool and collected after killing hundreds and hundreds of people).   As usual, I highly recommend checking out Tom Bissell’s piece in Grantland for further, better-written insight.  (And I’ll probably do a more spoiler-heavy write-up later this week; while the game’s story is based on Heart of Darkness, and while it wears its Apocalypse Now influence proudly on its sleeves (perhaps too proudly – the 60’s soundtrack feels downright anachronistic), there’s another movie whose influence on the story – particularly the ending – is perhaps even more obvious, but to say it basically gives it away.)

3.  Speaking of incredibly dark videogames, I am now fully caught up with The Walking Dead.  I don’t watch the TV show, but my wife is a big fan, and so we’re playing the game together – I drive, she makes the decisions.  Both episodes thus far are quite good – great writing, great voice acting, great art direction.  Tough choices.  And I love the touch at the end, where the game shows you how your decisions compare with everyone else who’s played.   It seems that Episode 1 was pretty even-handed, with the general public mostly split around 50/50 – Episode 2’s results, on the other hand, seemed to be pretty one-sided.  Curious to see how that’ll affect Episode 3’s beats.

4.  All this grisly murder requires an occasional cleansing of the palate, and to that end I am profoundly grateful for last week’s XBLA release of Zuma’s Revenge.  Nothing feels so refreshing after slaughtering thousands of virtual people quite like the matching of brightly colored spheres.  Similarly, I am very much looking forward to this week’s release of Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD.

5.  I’m not the Achievement Whore that I used to be, but I guess it’s worth noting that at some point last week I crossed 80,000.

6.  Finally, I just want to give Valve’s Steam Summer Sale a hearty “fuck you.”  I’ve bought too much already, and we’re not even a week into this thing:

  • SOL: Exodus
  • Legend of Grimrock
  • Saints Row the Third (which I’ve already finished on the 360 – but how could I pass it up for 75% off?)
  • Indie Bundle 2 (Botanicula, EYE, Universe Sandbox, Oil Rush, Splice)
  • Anno 2770

 

 

 

 

2011 in review (so far)

Well, it only took about 7 years, but I finally accomplished something this weekend that’s been very subtly driving me crazy – my Xbox Gamerscore finally ends in a ‘5’.  There was a 6-point achievement in Rock Band 3 for linking my band (“The Vosstones”) to the Harmonix website, and for some reason it finally worked today – I’d tried hooking it up a long time ago, but for some reason it never took.  (Indeed, it took a while to get working today – not entirely sure what changed, but whatever.)

I’m trying to remember what got my Gamerscore off in the first place – I’m thinking it was one of the early Ghost Recon games, or possibly Cloning Clyde, a long-forgotten XBLA title.  Whatever it was, having those strange numbers in my score was always a little irritating (and that’s probably why they don’t really crop up all that often these days); I couldn’t ever have a nice round number.   And so now, since most ‘cheevos end in either ‘5’ or ‘0’, I can finally get to an aesthetically pleasing plateau.

Speaking of which, my Gamerscore is currently at 72615.  I can’t recall exactly where I was at the beginning of the year – my 2010 year in review (which I wrote in early December) put me at around 64,200 – but in any event, I’ve climbed up quite a bit.  I knew this year was going to be good, and that I’d be playing a lot, but goddamn – that’s almost 9000 points in about 8 months, and we still haven’t hit the peak of the release season just yet.

And in keeping with that, I figured this would be a good time to do a year-so-far recap, since, well, why not.

The Game of the Year (so far):

  • Portal 2 – current front-runner for GOTY, and while I’m very much looking forward to seeing how Skyrim, Uncharted 3 and Batman try to usurp the throne, I don’t want to make it sound like Portal 2 is just a placeholder for the top of the list.  I’ve played this game on every platform it’s currently available for, multiple times, and even writing about it now makes me want to go back and hang out with Wheatley.  I’m also looking forward to playing this again when it’s time to refresh my memory for the real GOTY post; hopefully I’ll have forgotten some of the puzzle solutions by then.
The Very, Very Good:
  • Dead Space 2 – I’m glad I finished this one; it was a very enjoyable experience (although not particularly scary, or even all that creepy, aside from that eyeball sequence).  And believe me, I’m a huge sissybaby when it comes to scary movies and books and stuff.  The very first time a dog jumped through the window in RE2, I think I literally jumped 3 feet out of my chair.
  • Bulletstorm – I kinda miss this game, to be honest – once I finished the story and did some of the extra bonus stuff, I traded it back to Amazon towards something, and whenever I hear people talk about it I remember how much fun I had with it.  It is everything that Duke Nukem Forever wasn’t.
  • You Don’t Know Jack  – I can’t let this one get lost in the shuffle.  I’ve had a BLAST with this game every time it’s come out, whether I’m alone or with a group of friends.
  • Bastion – I finally finished this earlier this week, when I was home sick from work.  It’s a lovely, charming, exceedingly well-crafted experience, and a ton of fun to boot.  Had a great time exploring the world.
The Very Good:
  • Little Big Planet 2  – even though I was ultimately a little disappointed with this game, at least compared to the first one, I still think it’s a pretty remarkable experience.  I just wish I wasn’t so reluctant to try the level creation stuff.
  • Mortal Kombat – even though I’m not really a fighting game enthusiast, I must tip my hat to MK – it’s probably the most complete fighting game experience ever made.
  • L.A. Noire  – the more time I spent away from this game, the better I think of it.  It’s got a number of flaws that seem particularly glaring when you’re actually dealing with them – the open world is totally unnecessary, frankly, and the interrogations seem a bit broken and not particularly well-written enough – but the things that it does right are truly incredible.  And the applications for the facial tech seem pretty exciting, frankly – I’d even accept a delay to Mass Effect 3 if it meant they could get that tech in there.
  • Dragon Age 2  – it’s true that this got really repetitive after a while, but I still liked it enough to finish it.  it’s to Bioware’s credit that even an acknowledged misstep can still be a pretty good time.
  • Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet  – not quite as deep or engaging as, say, Shadow Complex, but still a pretty fun little game.
  • Stacking  – DoubleFine’s mini-titles have been a really nice direction for the company, and while I finished this game pretty quickly, I could easily see myself going back for a sequel.  Charming as all hell.
  • Trenched – I feel terrible that I haven’t finished this one – I had an absolute blast with friends when it first came out.  One of the best online co-op experiences I’ve ever had, actually.

Infamous 2, DNF, and other ramblings

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since the last post, so for that I apologize.  The good news is that I’ve got a LOT to talk about today.

The short version:

  • finished Infamous 2
  • played a bunch (perhaps too much) of Duke Nukem Forever (PC)
  • played a tiny bit more of The Witcher 2, escaping prison and getting to the first real town
  • played a bit of Child of Eden and wished I still did drugs
  • got thoroughly obsessed with Plants v. Zombies
  • did a bunch of Achievement-hunting in L.A. Noire
  • speaking of which, hit the 70,000 mark in Achievements

The long version:

I was home sick for 2 days last week, and that fact directly correlates to the first two bulleted items above.  I had gotten a few hours into Infamous 2 over the previous weekend, and ended up powering through the rest of it last Monday.  I’m a little bummed out about Infamous 2, to be honest with you.  It’s a better package than the first game – it looks better, for one thing, and the first game looked pretty good already.  The game lets you start with all your powers, too, so you’re kicking ass right from the get-go, and the new powers are, for the most part, pretty neat.  The voice acting is surprisingly good, even if the script is kinda hokey.  The city itself is visually interesting.  The “good” ending is satisfying, and shockingly devoid of cliffhangers – I have absolutely no idea how Infamous 3 would start, is all I’ll say.  (I didn’t see the “evil” ending, and maybe that’s where a sequel would pick up.)

So, then, if I was such a big fan of the first game – a game scratched my Crackdown itch in a big way – and the second game is, by and large, a better iteration of the first, why am I bummed out?  I guess it’s because the game is, ultimately, forgettable.  The story isn’t particularly interesting or unique, and the moral choices lack any ambiguity whatsoever – good and evil are very clearly defined and color-coded and you’ll never spend more than a second or two making up your mind.  The city, for all its visual flourish (and let me reiterate that point, as the city really does look fantastic and the sky is especially jaw-dropping)  is curiously devoid of audio – cars don’t make noise, nor do most of the pedestrians, and sometimes the player’s footsteps don’t even register.  I don’t know if it’s just a bug, or if the audio was simply unfinished, but it creates a very strange disconnect – it makes the city feel lifeless.*

I’m glad I played it, I suppose – it certainly filled the idle hours of an unplanned sick day – but I’m also glad I rented it.

———————————-

So that was Monday.  Tuesday was a second sick day, and since I’d already finished Infamous 2 and sealed it up in its Gamefly envelope, I was a bit at odds as to how to occupy the hours.  And then I remembered that Duke Nukem Forever was finally out.  And even though I’d read tons of horrible reviews by then, I succumbed to 14 years of temptation, and clearly went against my better judgment and downloaded it on Steam.  (To be fair, the PC version is, supposedly, the least horrible of the 3, at least in terms of visual fidelity.)

Here’s the thing – after playing the first few hours, I’d actually planned to write something of a defense of DNF in this space last week.   Yes, it’s grotesquely misogynistic and sexist and incredibly stupid, even in terms of adolescent humor (which is odd, since it’s rated M and young teenagers aren’t supposed to be able to play it).   It isn’t funny, it isn’t erotic, its cultural references are incredibly dated and probably wouldn’t have been all that funny if it had been released when all those references were still relevant.  First-person platforming is almost always a bad idea, and there’s way too much of it in the first few hours.  Still, though, there was something about it that brought me back to those heady days of 1996, when I was playing Duke Nukem 3D on my brother’s computer on my weekends home from college.  I was trying to put myself back in the mindset that I might have been in if the game had come out in the late 90s – early 00s, and there are brief glimpses in the early hours that brought me back.

Of course, the game is, ultimately, a piece of shit.  I got hung up on a boss a little more than halfway through the campaign and ended up putting the game away for a few days; I eventually beat that boss (no idea how) and then got stuck about an hour later, and that’s where I currently am.  I don’t really want to go back to it.  I suspect that I will eventually finish it, but only because I’m avoiding doing something else.   It’s just that, well, the game makes me sad.  I was one of the many that had been looking forward to this game’s release, and while it wasn’t necessarily in the front of my mind for the last 14 years, I’d never forgotten about it.  When the first few advance reviews came out and killed it, there was a part of me that figured that those scores were somewhat reactionary – they were so aggressively negative that they were almost hard to take seriously.  As it turns out, they were right.  There is absolutely nothing in the game, from what I’ve seen, that would explain what the hell took so long.  The gameplay is dated in all the worst ways, and for a game that goes out of its way to break the fourth wall, it has a surprising lack of self-awareness.

The biggest problem with DNF, I think, is that there’s too much Duke.  Back when I was playing DN3D, I wasn’t really paying attention to Duke at all – I was paying attention to the crazy environments, to all the hidden secrets, and to all the cool shit I could do.  Duke would spout out some one-liner from a movie every so often, and that was fine – it’s just that for all intents and purposes, his bad-assery kinda spoke for itself.  In DNF, Duke won’t fucking shut up, and nobody in the world tells him to shut up.  The world of DNF is a monument to Duke, for some reason, and that gets old incredibly quickly – especially since he’s such a fucking douchebag.

It is true that DNF could never hope to compete with expectations.  But it is also true that the game looks like it wasn’t even tryingSerious Sam rewrote the rules when it came to over-the-top gunplay, exploration and crazy enemies, and this year’s Bulletstorm further refined those rules and created something genuinely unique and fun to play.  DNF was created in a vacuum by people who apparently hadn’t played anything else since 1997, and was written by sociopathic 13-year-olds who love boobs and kicking monsters in the balls.  I still think that there’s a future for Duke – I don’t think Gearbox would’ve spent the time and money acquiring the IP if they weren’t going to do something with it – but I worry that the travesty that is DNF will sully that game’s potential.

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I don’t have all that much to say about The Witcher 2.  I enjoy my time with it, but it’s also somewhat intimidating and I don’t really know what the hell is going on.  I play for 30 minutes at a time and then put it aside.

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I don’t have all that much to say about Child of Eden, either.  It’s trippy as hell, and I suppose I’d have spent a bit more time with it if I were still doing drugs.  I’m sober, though, and as such there was only so much craziness I could stand.  It plays like a psychedelic Panzer Dragoon, I guess.  It’s certainly aspiring to be… something, which is more than I can say about DNF.  I read some review of it that bemoaned its attempts to revive the “Games as Art” debate; but that’s exactly what this is.  You would expect to play something like this in a children’s museum, or something.  It’s certainly interesting, but there wasn’t really all that much to it that kept me involved.

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I can’t explain my sudden obsession with Plants v. Zombies.  It’s been out for a few years now and as a long-time Popcap fan I’ve certainly been aware of it; I think it was one of the first apps I downloaded for iOS, but I never played it.  I guess at some point last week there was an iOS update for it that included a bunch of intriguing features, and that got me interested enough to fire it up, and now I’m a man obsessed.  Which is weird, because my general experience playing that game is one of intense stress and anxiety.  There’s so many plants to keep track of, and so many zombies to plan ahead for, and when a level is really humming along the board is absolutely chaotic.  I’m already dealing with anxiety issues as it is, and so I can’t explain why I would torture myself with non-stop PvZ sessions.  But such is life.  I finally beat the adventure mode on my iPhone, and now I’m thoroughly entranced with the Zen Garden and all the meta-stuff there is to do.  And I suspect that I’ll get around to playing my XBLA and PC/Mac versions as well.

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I ended up doing a lot of Achievement hunting in L.A. Noire this past weekend – I finally 5-starred all the cases, found all the film reels and landmarks, drove 194.7 miles, completed all the street crimes, etc.  According to the Social Club I’m exactly 94% complete.  I don’t know that I will ever find every single vehicle, nor am I sure I want to.  Honestly, it was just nice to finally get to actually explore the world; I never bothered with it when I was actually playing the game, as I just wanted to focus on the cases.  There’s a surprising amount of city to be found, as it turns out; the game itself uses hardly any of it, which seems a bit wasteful.   I do kinda wish that I had the PS3 version; I didn’t really mind the disc swapping when I was playing the story, but in a weekend like this where I’m doing a bunch of completion-ist stuff, it’s somewhat of a pain in the ass.

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I can’t quite remember which Achievement it was that put me over the 70K mark, but, well, it happened.  I’d like to hit 75K by the end of the year, although that might be a little bit out of reach.

 

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*  This is a big deal, actually.  In my experience, open world games live or die based on the worlds themselves.  This is why Crackdown 2 was such an incredible disappointment; this is also why Red Dead Redemption is a masterpiece.  Infamous 2 takes place in New Marais, a fictional city inspired by New Orleans; you would think this would be a slam-dunk in terms of atmosphere, but instead it feels, well, dead.

>50K!

>That didn’t take very long at all, actually. I hit 50K late last night in Assassin’s Creed 2, after finishing a particularly flashy bit of killing.

AC2, by the way, is amazing. My initial concerns were probably just me trying to keep my expectations in check; I’m now at least 5-6 hours in and I’m totally in love all over again. In fact, I think the only reason why I’m awake so early on a Sunday (especially since I was playing until around 1:30 in the morning) is because I’m so anxious to jump back in.

My only real complaint is that sometimes the controls get fucked up. For the most part, the game tries to keep thing as simple as possible and so it’ll more or less guess what you’re trying to do and just let you do it without a series of convoluted button presses, but sometimes it guesses wrong and sends you careening backwards off a ledge instead of up the side of a wall.

OK – Venice, here I come!

>Progress

>The quest for 50K is going much better than I’d originally anticipated; I’ve got 6 weeks to get 327 points. I’m pretty sure I can get that relatively quickly from Assassin’s Creed 2, with an assist from Left 4 Dead 2. So, hooray for that.

This past weekend was a little weird, gaming wise, but when I think about it it actually worked out to my advantage. The weekend’s primary goal was working on music, but every once in a while I needed a break, and so I’d dive in to something on the 360; and since I’d finished Modern Warfare 2‘s campaign already, I didn’t feel pressured to pick one thing and finish it.

I keep grinding away in Forza 3; I kinda messed up and bought the wrong car for an upcoming race in the Season Play mode, and so now I’m just going through tournaments in an effort to make that money back. I can’t remember if I made the analogy here or in an email, but here goes anyway: Forza reminds me a lot of the Tiger Woods games, in that there’s an absolute ton of stuff to do, a lot of which I’ve already done in previous versions in the franchise. On the flip side, Forza 3 does not in any feel like it’s treading water, the way the Tiger games have for the last few years.

I’m also still running around in GTA4: BOGT, which is making me love the original GTA4 a little less. The game just feels dated; not in its story or setting, but in its actual gameplay mechanics. Combat feels incredibly clumsy, and the game is just brutally punishing if I fail a mission – I lose cash, armor (if I had it) and ammo (which doesn’t get replenished), plus time keeps moving forward so if I had something I wanted to do at a certain time, I probably don’t get to do it if I have to keep doing a mission over and over again. Saints Row will never be confused with GTA in terms of story and emotional resonance, but in terms of having fun and not being endlessly frustrating, it’s not even really all that close anymore. The Houser brothers are starting to make a little bit of noise about GTA5; I know there’s tons to think about in terms of making a great GTA game (story, setting, dialogue), but I would suggest that they also add some refinements, if not a complete overhaul, of the way the game is actually played. Let us recharge our health; let us have mid-mission checkpoints; let us not be punished so harshly for failure.

I’m starting to get really excited about 2010 Q1; specifically, Mass Effect 2. And it occurred to me that I never finished my 3rd playthrough of ME1, so I decided to give that a bit of a whirl. As it happens, I’d stopped playing near the end of the last DLC they released; said DLC was more or less a glorified combat tutorial, which is arguably the least successful aspect of the original game. But whatever – I turned down the difficulty and plowed through the last few missions and got 100 Achievements for my efforts, and then I saw where I actually was in the story, and then I decided to call it a day. (If you’re familiar with the first game, I’d just gotten off the Citadel and hadn’t yet started those first 3 long missions you get in order to advance the story; in other words, I’d have a looooooooong way to go.)

And then, in a bit of idle panic, I downloaded the Torchlight demo from Steam, just because I’d heard it was good and I was curious to see if my aging PC could run it. The short answer is yes, it can, and shortly thereafter I’d purchased the full version and now I’m totally hooked.

This week: Assassin’s Creed 2, Left 4 Dead 2, and the God of War Collection for PS3.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to Pandemic Studios, who very well might be getting shut down today. Mercenaries was one of my favorite games on the original Xbox, and Star Wars Battlefront was a lot of fun, and even Destroy All Humans! was worth a few chuckles. I’m hopeful that Saboteur will at least be a fine farewell from one of the more ambitious developers out there.

>The Quest for 50K, or, the world’s saddest violin playing just for me

>Today is November 3, 2009, and my Achievement total is currently sitting at 48,723. That gives me 2 months to get just under 1300 Points. Hitting 50,000 wasn’t necessarily a stated, determined goal of mine, but I hit 40K on my birthday last year, and getting 10,000 points in a year seems like something worth pursuing. However, I’m not entirely sure I’m going to be able to cross the 50K threshold in time, and maybe there’s a tiny part of me that’s a little bummed out about it.

Yes, I’m going to be busy with other stuff over the next 2 months; we all are; the holidays are nearly upon us and we all have stuff to do. But I’m also just not entirely sure that the games are going to be there.

There are 5 major Xbox360 games left in the calendar year, as far as I’m personally concerned: Dragon Age: Origins (currently shrinkwrapped, sitting in my messenger bag), Modern Warfare 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Assassin’s Creed 2, and Saboteur. I’m also still heavily invested in Borderlands and Forza 3.

So that’s 7 games, not including Brutal Legend which I don’t know that I’ll ever finish (and certainly won’t get any multiplayer achievements for), and not including the 500 points for both episodes for GTA4, which I’ll be lucky if I get half of.

I can rule out getting more than 300-400 in both MW2 and L4D2; I don’t really play multiplayer all that much, and in the case of MW2 I’m sure I’ll only do the campaign on Normal difficulty. I’m sure I can rack up 400-500 in Assassin’s Creed; I have no idea how much time I’m going to put into Saboteur, and if it gets shitty reviews I might just hold back from renting it altogether. So it’s really about finishing Borderlands (which supposedly isn’t all that difficult), getting as much as I can out of Forza, and doing my darnedest with Dragon Age, which is anywhere from 40-100 hours that I probably don’t even have.

It’s going to be close. It would certainly be nice if the 360 did something cool to mark the event; I’d even settle for a “I got 50K gamerscore and all I got was this stupid t-shirt for my avatar” thing. Most likely, though, I’ll cross 50K and nobody will know but me; I’ll pour myself a glass of single-malt scotch, pat myself on the back, and then blog about it here, for an audience of none.