2015 Resolutions and Anticipations

A Preface in Three Parts:

1:  I finished the Forza Horizon 2 Finale race last night.  I’ve apparently still got more to do, as the credits didn’t roll, but that was the big one.  If I were still keeping track of Achievements, and if I still had a category for “Favorite Achievement of the Year”, I suspect the 50 points I picked up for winning that 20-minute gauntlet would rank right up there with anything else I did this year.  After soaking in that victory for a bit, I then headed over to race in Storm Island, and WHOA, that shit is crazy.  Extreme weather, terrain, lighting and visibility – total madness, a complete 180 from the relatively calm and serene mainland campaign.  I’m not sure what the rest of the island is like, but that first race makes one hell of a first impression, and it shakes up the already-excellent formula enough to make it worth spending some more time in.

2:  I hemmed and hawed about whether or not I should buy it; I’d already sunk in a fair amount of time, and felt like I’d seen what I needed to see even if I only got halfway through…. but I also felt like I needed to finish it for real.  And so, in the end, Alien Isolation was on sale for $30 on PSN, and I picked it up, and it remembered my last save point from October.  So that’s something to look forward to.

3: I want to join the chorus in wishing Patrick Klepek the best of luck in his future endeavors.  His is a necessary, vital voice in this business, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.  On a purely personal level, he’s also single-handedly responsible for the biggest spike in traffic this site’s ever gotten (scroll down to #3), and so if nothing else I’m indebted to him for keeping this site visible, however marginally that visibility may be.


 

Pop Culture Consumption Resolutions for 2015:

  1. No more pre-ordering.  As you’ll see below, my “must-have” list of games for 2015 is relatively small, and given what we’ve been through in 2014 with nearly every significant AAA release bogged down by serious issues on release day, I don’t necessarily have any faith that these future releases will be released in an acceptable shape.  I can wait; I can rent.
  2. Along those lines, I’m going to try and beef up my commentary skills this year.  Maybe I’m being overly hard on myself, but most of my analysis is pretty superficial, and doesn’t necessarily get to the core of what’s actually going on.  Even this Cameron Kunzelman piece about how he doesn’t know how to describe Super Time Force Ultra still explains more about his experience playing it than I do on an average day.  I’m always aiming to be a better writer, but now I think I have a better idea of what “being a better writer” actually means (for the purposes of this blog, at least).
  3. I am going to stop.  playing.  Clicker Heroes.
  4. The backlogs are getting dealt with.  And if it means that I’m going to start keeping widgets on the sidebar to further shame myself into finishing stuff that needs finishing, then that’s what it means.
    • As far as my PC goes, I’m rapidly approaching the point where it’s not really capable of performing on par with my PS4 and XB1, but I still have a frighteningly large backlog to address on Steam that it can handle, and I’m gonna have to deal with that at some point.
    • And I still have a bunch of games on my PS4 that I haven’t finished – Shadow of Mordor and Far Cry 4 perhaps being the largest omissions, though there’s also Transistor, Valiant Hearts, and Oddworld New & Tasty.  (And also Sunset Overdrive on the XB1.)
    • Regarding my Kindle backlog – I’m cutting myself off and not buying any more books until I finish my to-read pile, which at this point is probably 20+ titles deep.  (I did end up buying the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, but that’s it.)

I also further resolve to SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT when stupid bullshit is happening out there in the world.  I can’t call myself an ally if I’m not doing anything to back that up.  I sincerely hope that 2015 provides less opportunities for shouting, but if it doesn’t, then I aim to shout as purposefully and effectively as I can.

Game Anticipations for 2015:  (with special assistance from this handy Game Informer page)
* denotes a game that I’m not 100% convinced will be coming out in 2015

THE MUST-HAVES

  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Witcher 3
  • Uncharted 4 *
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider *
  • Firewatch *
  • Superhot
  • Below

THE RENTALS, AT THE VERY LEAST

  • PGA Tour Golf (EA’s first without Tiger, after a year-long hiatus)
  • Crackdown 3 *
  • Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
  • Final Fantasy XV *
  • Mad Max *
  • Inside (from the makers of Limbo)

THE CURIOSITIES

  • The Order 1886
  • Bloodborne
  • Halo 5
  • Star Wars Battlefront
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain
  • Silent Hills *

Here’s hoping we all have a safe and happy New Year’s, and may 2015 be everything that 2014 wasn’t.  Cheers.

 

Weekend Recap: foliage

1.  We were away for a wedding this weekend, and so there isn’t much going on in the way of SFTC-relevant posting.  But I must reiterate how wonderful it is to be away from the internet these days.  No hashtags, no doxxing, no bullshit; just a few beautiful autumn days with good friends, free of day job worries and parental responsibilities.

2.  I’ve been down on the Xbox One a lot on this blog, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want one; even though I’m really happy with my PS4, I’m still an Xbox fanboy at heart, and I’ve been hoping for something to push me over the edge (and being able to import all of my Pinball FX2 tables from the 360, while much appreciated, wasn’t quite enough.)  As it happens, Microsoft’s finally delivered the one-two punch I needed:  both Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 have been getting good-to-great reviews, and now Microsoft has announced a temporary $50 price cut starting this weekend.  Would it surprise you to learn, then, that all of my dreams last night were about buying an Xbox One?

3.  So last week I said I’d been debating putting Alien Isolation down, and last night I finally made the decision to pull the plug.  I think I’m about halfway through it; I’m currently in the level where I’m trying to access the APOLLO core, and I had to turn in all my weaponry, and all the Working Joes are immune to EMP mines.  The “turn in all your weapons” trope felt a little contrived, frankly, and progressing through the level was becoming more frustrating than anything else, and I don’t particularly care about the game’s fiction to keep butting my head against the wall.  I’ve kept my save file just in case I get the itch to finish it down the road, but I sent the disc back to GameFly and, for the moment, I’m considering myself done with it.

4.  This means that, barring a spontaneous Xbox One purchase this weekend, I’ve got a little bit of time to try and get back into Shadow of Mordor before this year’s final 3 AAA GOTY contenders arrive in November (i.e., Assassin’s Creed Unity (or “AssUnit”), Far Cry 4, and Dragon Age Inquisition).  It’s been so long since I last tried playing it that I might as well start over from scratch – I don’t think I was that far into it, and hopefully I’ll now have an easier time figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do.

5.  I didn’t quite know what to read after getting turned upside down by The Bone Clocks last week; I’d started reading John Le Carre’s A Perfect Spy but that’s not exactly a palate cleanser.  So, instead, I started Annihilation, the first book in the “Southern Reach trilogy” by Jeff VanderMeer.  And that was, in fact, the correct choice.  Each book in the trilogy is incredibly short (at least when compared to everything else I’ve been reading lately); I think it only took me 2 days to finish that first book (and I had a busy weekend).  I’m now 3 chapters into the 2nd book, Authority, and I’m hooked.

The First (and Last?) Few Hours: Alien Isolation

[Before I begin, I’d like to bestow hearty congratulations to Davey Wreden, whose magnificent Stanley Parable has sold one million copies.]

I do not know if I will finish Alien: Isolation, but I’m not sure that I need to.  I’m probably 7-8 hours into it by this point, and a rather large percentage of that time has been spent hiding in lockers and under desks, and, I mean, I get it.

For all its flaws (and it has a bunch, of which I’ll get to in a second), A:I has triumphantly succeeded in a very specific and important way; instead of aping the frenetic shoot-em-up action of the sequel (which would really just make it your standard sci-fi shooter), it understands what makes the first movie so great, which is to say that it’s captured the feeling of helplessness and pure dread better than anything else I’ve played in recent memory.

You have to hide in this game, because you cannot fight.  This is not to say that you’re powerless – you do have weapons, and you can certainly use them to kill, if you must.  But firing a gun will almost always draw the attention of the Alien, and once the Alien spots you, it’s more or less “game over, man.”

And if you’re playing this game with a good set of stereo headphones, every single goddamned noise you hear will set you on edge, ducking for cover, holding your breath and quickly opening your motion tracker to figure out where the sound is coming from.  I’m not sure I’ve experienced ambient noise design this effectively creepy since the first Bioshock.

Unlike other “horror” games, it does not revel in grotesque imagery – indeed, while the game’s environments are graphically impressive, its humans are surprisingly weird-looking, and while there are plenty of dead bodies strewn about, they’re never disgusting or gross – if anything, they’re kinda just sad.  Nor is A:I’s horror mostly based in jump scares; I’m almost never startled.  I mean, I’m in a constant state of worry anyway, because of the sounds in the vents, or because my motion tracker will occasionally beep with alarm, or I’ll see the glowing, super-creepy eyes of the Working Joes off in the distance.  And if I am surprised, I am also then immediately flooded with more worry and anxiety, because the monster is right there, and if I can’t hide in time then not only will I die, violently, but I’ll also lose the last 20-30 minutes since my last save, and ugh.

Now, about those flaws I mentioned.

The save system has been frequently mentioned in reviews as a negative design flaw; there’s no checkpoint system, and because the Alien (almost) never appears in the same place twice, you can either lose 20 seconds or 20 minutes if you’re not careful.  I’ve been a victim of this problem, but I can’t really call it a design flaw; it seems like a deliberate choice, and it’s one of the few ways that a horror game can actually make you feel that there are stakes involved.   That said, it’s a system that can also be abused; if you find a save point, you can also just forge ahead loudly and un-stealthily and see what there is to see, knowing that if you die, you won’t have lost very much, and that you’ll know how to better achieve your objective when you try for real.

The objectives, though?  Those things that you have to do in order to progress?  Ugh.  So dumb.  So inelegant.  So basic, artless, arbitrary, forgettable, cliches that were tired a dozen years ago.   The reason why I don’t care if I see the end of this game is because I barely care about what I’m already doing.  I need to find medical supplies to aid my colleague; but they’re on another level of the ship, because of course they are.  I get to that level; I find a doctor.  The doctor agrees to help, but only if I help him first, and I’ve already forgotten what it is I need to do for him, and in any event I have to do everything myself because of reasons.  Meanwhile, the Alien is near, and while there are lots of people on the ship, the Alien seems mostly interested in chasing me.

Whatever – I find the medical supplies and return to my fallen comrade.  And the head of the ship’s security system is there, too!  How fortuitous!  Except he’s also sending me out on security missions, which is not my job.

It’s great that the player character, Ripley fille, is a tough, no-nonsense woman who holds her own as well as anyone else in the game.  She is nobody’s princess; nobody needs to rescue her.  It’s just a shame that the stuff she’s being asked to do is so mundane.

 

 

of Aliens, White Vans and Bone Clocks

Probably not a lot of posting this week, for reasons I can’t quite get into.  I mean, it’s Wednesday already, you’ve probably figured that out.

I’m not quite ready to do a First Few Hours of Alien Isolation, though maybe later this week I’ll have played enough to give a solid impression.  It’s super-creepy, incredibly immersive, and it hits all the right notes for fans of the first Alien movie (of which I am one).  A short, gut impression is that it feels like Dead Space set in the Alien universe, with the best ambient sound design since the first Bioshock.  Headphones (or a good soundsystem) are mandatory.

I finished reading John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van the other night, and it is remarkable; certainly one of the best books I’ve read this year.  I went into it more or less blind; I knew of the author’s reputation as one of the best lyricists of this era (though I must confess I haven’t listened to his band, The Mountain Goats); I have a few friends who think very highly of him.  And as for the book itself, I was dimly aware that the narrator had been in a terrible disfiguring accident in his youth and that he runs an interactive role-playing game through the mail; that’s pretty much it.  To say much more is probably too much.  It’s startlingly well written and uniquely insightful, and that ending.

Currently reading David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, which I had been intimidated by for months but finally started yesterday, and it’s already knocking my socks off.  Man, it’s really nice to be in one of those grooves where every book you read is really enjoyable and satisfying, isn’t it?  I’m looking over my “2014 Books Read” list and of the 13 books I’ve finished, I can’t give anything lower than a B-.  That’s a nice run.

Your mandatory reading for today – if you didn’t read it yesterday – is Kyle Wagner’s piece about Gamergate.

And your hashtag of the day is #StopGamerGate2014.