Stumbling out of the gate

I’m a thousand words into my Games of 2018 post without even having settled on a definitive ranking of my Top 9, for whatever that’s worth – and then I considered trashing the whole column and doing something similar to my Books post (which coincidentally looks a lot like Stephen Totilo’s recap), BUT:

Last night I played the first hour of Astro Bot on PSVR and now everything is in flux. I hadn’t turned on my VR unit for pretty much the whole year, but I’d rented Astro Bot, Tetris and Moss and figured I’d give them each a fair shake before deciding if I should just get rid of the thing. Tetris is basically super-trippy Tetris, which is either your thing or isn’t. (I like Tetris, but I’ve never been particularly good at it, and I’m not sure that VR is the extra kick in the pants that I needed.) And I haven’t even put Moss into the PS4’s disc drive.

But Astro Bot…. wow. Even for a relatively simple platformer, it genuinely feels like a new thing, and it’s also just so goddamned cute and charming and delightful. It felt like magic. I finished the first world and was absolutely floored by it. And given that games aren’t often a vehicle for pure joy these days, I am definitely going to need to finish the whole thing before I can fully reconcile the rest of my Games of 2018.

And speaking of which, one of the games that gets a substantial write-up in that post would be Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which I’ve now sunk over 70 hours into and I’m starting to see the finish line off in the distance. I’ve wrapped up 2 of the 4 major campaign storylines, and the other 2 are somewhat tied into each other anyway, and so that’s where I’m spending the rest of my time when I’m not in VR-land. (Or when I’m not playing the hard parts in Super Mario Odyssey for my son.) I would like to see the credits roll before I figure out where to rank it inside the AC franchise; it has so much in common with Origins that it’s hard to think of the two as separate games, and I don’t think I actually made it to the “end” of that one, either. In any event – it’s good! It’s janky and clunky, as AC games tend to be, and it’s really hard to play it without thinking of Red Dead Redemption 2 (and vice versa), but in and of itself it’s quite something.

In other news, I’m upping the ante on my Goodreads challenge – 40 books, instead of 30, which still shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Since I put up that Books post, I finished 4 more:

  • Jeff Tweedy’s excellent memoir “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)”;
  • Bethany Morrow’s art deco sci-fi story “Mem”, which has a really interesting premise but also a lot of unanswered questions;
  • Ottessa Moshfegh’s astounding “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”; and
  • Tara Westover’s mesmerizing “Educated”, which deserved every bit of praise it received.

And I’m already 2 books into 2019 – I finished Nova Jacobs’ “The Final Equation of Isaac Severy”, which was pleasant but slight, and Oyinkan Braithwaite’s short and savage “My Sister, the Serial Killer”, and now I’m reading Richard Powers’ “Overstory”, which is just absolutely gorgeous. There is something to be said for escapist fiction – it’s easy, it’s fast, it’s something else to think about for a little while – but there’s also something to be said for reading a real-deal Novel, where the language is more like music than anything else. I’d read a previous novel of his, “Orfeo”, and I appreciated his poetry even if the novel fell a little flat; but “Overstory” feels like a genuine work of beauty.

Anyway – this is just to say that the 2018 Games post will be coming eventually, and that in the meantime I’m still here. Hope you’re all doing well.

overwhelmed

I’ve been trying to post here all week, and I just haven’t been able to get more than a few thoughts together before everything falls apart.  (Probably a good sign that I should stay away from NaNoWriMo this year.)

I’d wanted to write about my anticipation for Red Dead Redemption 2, and how it very well may be the last big AAA game that I get that excited for.  The original RDR is one of my favorite games of all time, and I’m almost always inclined to give Rockstar the benefit of the doubt.  And then, of course, the story came out that the making of RDR2 involved several weeks of 100-hour/week crunches, and my heart broke a little bit, and it became very difficult to approach the game with a clean slate.

There is crunch in every industry and discipline – the lawyers I work for routinely work 60-70 hour weeks; when I was in bands, we’d work for 20 hours straight in order to finish a 5 song EP.  When I was in high school, working on a play, our dress/tech rehearsals would routinely go until the wee hours, and that meant I had little time for homework, or sleep, or anything.  The point being – crunch happens.  But when it’s exploited, and pressured, and there’s no compensation, then we enter a grey area of outright cruelty, and that’s a difficult thing to reconcile when it comes to enjoying a leisure activity.

Still, I never got around to writing that thing, and then the game came out, and… well, if I were to present my first impressions, I’m not really sure what I’d say.

Because the thing is, I’d already sunk at least 35 hours into Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which I also haven’t written much about, and the change of pace between ACO and RDR2 couldn’t be more different.  Even though they’re both gigantic and utterly gorgeous open-world games about exploration, they are so diametrically opposed in just about every other respect that it gives me whiplash just thinking about them.

Side note:  within the last 2 months, I’ve played Spider-ManTomb Raider, ACO and now RDR2.  These are all third-person action adventure games, but the control schemes for each of them are just different enough that it usually takes me a good 20 minutes to remember what the hell I’m supposed to be doing.  I don’t know if this means I’m getting too old, or if I should just stick with one game at a time, or what, but it’s awfully confusing.

In any event!  Here’s the thing.  I never thought I’d say this, but I’m saying it:  I think I’m going to put RDR2 to the side while I finish ACO.  They are equally deserving of my full attention, and it’s just too confusing to switch between them, and as it happens I’m probably past the halfway mark in ACO anyway, so I might as well keep going.

It also doesn’t hurt that ACO is remarkably friendly and approachable in all the ways that RDR2 is not.  RDR2 is almost antagonistic in terms of how it requires you to approach it compared to ACO; it’s much slower, and there’s a great deal of minutiae you have to deal with (i.e., feeding and grooming your horse, doing chores for your camp) – and while I respect that, and while I appreciate that what Rockstar seems to be saying is that if you’re going to get the most out of your RDR2 experience you need to play it “in character”, so to speak, it can also be a huge pain in the ass.

In ACO, it doesn’t matter where I am – I whistle and my indestructible horse shows up.  Combat is fluid and intuitive.  I can climb over anything without worrying about stamina; I can jump from the highest peak without taking fall damage.  If I’m in a dust-up with some bad guys I can set my fucking swords on fire and crowd control becomes a minor inconvenience.  Meanwhile, I’ve only played maybe 6-8 hours of RDR2 and quite a lot of that time has been me slowly ambling over to where I think I left my horse.  Or (slowly) running away from the law because I meant to greet someone and instead I shot them in the face.  Or just pressing A for minutes at a time because there’s no auto-horse function.

I am willing to meet RDR2 on its own terms, but right now there’s just something about how instantly gratifying ACO is and given how crazy the world is right now I kinda just want to lean into that feeling.  I see a question mark on the map and I head towards it without a care in the world.