The First Few Hours: Transistor, Wolfenstein

I’m heading off the grid in a few hours; the wife and I are celebrating our 10-year anniversary and, as such, I will be doing everything I possibly can to not look at the internet for a few days.

Before I go, though, I did want to jot down some thoughts on this week’s big releases.

1.  Transistor, the latest game from Supergiant, certainly appears at first glance to be cut from the same inspirational cloth as their previous release, Bastion: it’s got a remarkable art style, a striking musical backdrop, and a bit of running commentary (from your sword).  The gameplay is quite different than its predecessor, of course; it’s actually got one of the most unique combat systems I’ve ever gotten my hands on.  It’s one part hack/slash, one part turn-based strategy, with both parts happening at the same time.  It sounds complicated, and it sort-of is, at first.  Certainly the special powers you acquire are not all that well explained, and while it’s cool that you can link them together to create unique combinations, it’s not particularly intuitive, and I find myself feeling confused rather than empowered.   I trust that the story will get around to explaining itself a bit more, as the game starts in medias res and hasn’t yet fleshed itself out.  I’m still early on, but I’m feeling a bit put off.

2.  Wolfenstein: The New Order, on the other hand, is something I wasn’t expecting at all – an old-school shooter dressed in next-gen finery, and executed really, really well.  The biggest knock against it from the major sites is that it has a rather inconsistent tone; in one moment you’re surrounded by surprisingly three-dimensional characters that’ve been through hell and back, and in the next moment you’re shooting the crap out of dozens of Nazis and their mechanically-enhanced dogs, all the while scooping up food, ammo and armor like they were candy.  The food in particular makes Bioshock‘s trash-eating look quaint, but it’s also a throwback to the original game, and somehow it works.  I’m happy to turn off my brain for it; the game (and the Dualshock 4) feels quite good in the hands, and the various set pieces I’ve encountered so far are pretty spectacular.  (I’m currently in the London Science Museum, a little bit past the area celebrating the Nazis’ successful moon landing.)  And there’s so many secrets!  So many nooks and crannies!  Oh, man, I know I’ve complained of shooter fatigue but this is very much hitting the spot.

3.  I’ve also been dabbling a bit more in Final Fantasy X on the Vita.  It’s… well, having never played it originally, I’m not really sure what to think about it.  It certainly looks quite nice, and the combat is well-tuned, but the sphere grid is… um… completely insane?  And also the dialogue is mostly ridiculous, and the voice acting is not doing the script any favors?  It’s hard to know how much of it I’m supposed to be taking seriously.  The overall story has a certain momentum that I can stick with, but each moment-to-moment cutscene is just… silly.  I’m rather inexperienced when it comes to Final Fantasy games, having only actually finished 13-1 (before I knew it would have 2 sequels) and having dabbled a bit in a few others, so I have no idea where FFX ranks among the hard-core fans.  I gather it’s mostly notable because it was the first FF game to be fully 3D?  Is that right?  Anyway, the most difficult part for me is finding the time to play it; I’m not thrilled about the idea of pulling it out on the subway, and the Vita is too conspicuous to play at work, and my home-play time is gonna be mostly devoted to Wolfy and Watch Dogs (and Transistor, when I decide to switch it up).

Lastly, I’ll have a piece going up on Monday over at Gamemoir about my guesses for Rockstar’s next title, and I’m also hoping to have this other thing for Videodame that’s turning out to be one of the more difficult and intimidating things I’ve ever written.  I’m a little nervous about it, mostly because it’s me talking about things that I generally don’t talk about, and explaining why I don’t talk about them.  And then I think I’m finally doing something for Unwinnable, and I’m aiming for the first week of June for that one.  It’s weird to be doing more writing about gaming than actually gaming, but that’s also why I’m doing all this in the first place.

Enjoy your weekend, everybody!

moving on

“Hey everybody it’s Tuesday…”

Still trying to process yesterday’s tragic news.  The internet’s collective outpouring of love, support and grief went a long way  And of course now I’m wondering if there will be a Bombcast today, and, if so, whether I’ll be able to handle it.

As for things bumming me out that actually directly affect my life, today is doubly tough because it was my son’s first day of day care.  I had to drop him off before I left for work, and he was already unhappy before I finished getting him out of the stroller.   I peeked through the window right before I left, and he was sitting on one of the older women’s laps, crying, not wanting the offered pacifier.   Broke my heart to leave him, but I was already running late for work.

In any event, it seems a bit harder than usual to talk about videogames, so I’m going to cut-and-paste and re-write a draft from last week that I never got around to finishing, and maybe that will help me get back on track.

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Finished Call of Juarez: Gunslinger [July 1st].  That’s a fun little game, I have to say.  I may have made this comparison before; it’s Bastion plus Bulletstorm in the Old West, which is a better-sounding combo than you’d think.  It took me about 5 hours to get through the story, and while it really wasn’t towards the end of the game that I started to feel like I was getting good at it, I still had a pretty good time overall.   Certainly worth picking up in a Summer Sale, if such an offering is available, but even at $20 it’s money well spent.

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I also managed to finish The Last of Us over the long weekend.  I finished it on “Easy”, and I understand from reading other TLOU articles that doing so prevented me from really feeling the game, but I don’t buy that; the game was plenty difficult even on Easy, because Clickers will always one-hit kill you, and sometimes the PS3 controller doesn’t do what I ask of it.  I’m guessing the biggest advantage in Easy was that I had more ammo, but I still generally tried to stealth my way around whenever possible.

It’s a remarkable experience (that opening sequence is one of the best of all time), and it’s certainly a landmark technical achievement (certainly in the top 5 best-looking/sounding games of this generation), and yet it’s also a game that I don’t think I want to play again.  It’s too dark, too soul-crushing, too depressing; I’m glad I experienced it the first time, but I don’t see what I would gain through a second playthrough beyond finding all the hidden collectibles – and one does not play The Last of Us to find hidden collectibles.

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I mentioned this at the bottom of one of last week’s posts; I’ve gotten back into Need For Speed Most Wanted, which is surprising given how disappointed I was when I tried playing it on the 360 last year.  The PC experience is a completely different beast, however; it is absolutely gorgeous, for one thing, and the game experience feels a lot more polished and smooth than the 360 version.  And so now that it’s working the way it’s supposed to, I’m finally able to appreciate what Criterion was trying to do.

I think I was always going to be disappointed after it first launched, because even without the technical problems I was having on the 360, my primary issue was always that I really wanted NFSMW to be Burnout Paradise 2, and because it wasn’t, I couldn’t really judge it fairly and objectively.  The Need for Speed brand meant nothing to me, and my intense love of all things Criterion couldn’t save me from eventually walking away from the (still-excellent) Hot Pursuit.

But now that I’ve had a few months to forget about my first run and can finally see it with clearer eyes, I’m actually pretty impressed.  If anything, it’s a lot more like Burnout Paradise than I was willing to give it credit for – and I might even argue that it’s got a better (or at least more intuitive) career progression than BoP.

Sometimes I get intimidated by non-linear games – I mean, I appreciate that I have all this freedom, but unless I’m doing something constructive I feel lost and/or overwhelmed.  (This is why Skyrim‘s quests will always be more appealing to me than Minecraft‘s sandbox.)  What I do appreciate, though, is that even if you’re not racing, there’s still lots of side things to do – security gates to crash, hidden cars to unlock, billboards to jump through.  And in the meantime, if you actually want to advance in the game, there’s lots of ways to do that – each car you find has its own series of races to complete (with noticeable performance-improving incentives for finishing 1st), and once you accumulate enough of whatever the XP equivalent is, you can engage in the game’s version of Boss Battles.

I’m spending too long talking about a game that came out last year that nobody else is playing, but still – if it shows up on sale (and I happened to pick it up for $15 during an Amazon Digital Download sale), it’s a damn fun time – especially (as I noted above) if you’re playing on PC, which is miles ahead of the 360 version.

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Finally, I can’t not talk about the GTA V gameplay trailer that came out this morning.  Obviously, if you’re reading this post you’ve already watched it, but just in case you want to watch it again:

I don’t really know what else to say about it, other than I love how Rockstar’s been doing these “informercial”-ish trailers for the last few years.  (I seem to recall Red Dead Redemption getting this sort of treatment, and certainly Max Payne 3 had some as well.)

And I suppose I could point out that it appears as if they’re adapting certain elements of RDR’s combat system, which is very good news indeed.  (One of the reasons why RDR remains one of my favorite games of all time is because the gunplay was immensely fun and satisfying in all the ways that GTA IV‘s was not.)

And while I don’t necessarily see this game getting as far-out crazy as San Andreas did (i.e., I’d be very surprised to see a jetpack), it certainly does look as though they’re incorporating a lot more of the side stuff that made San Andreas as compulsively playable as it was (i.e., tennis, parasailing, long-distance cycling, etc.).  As long as there’s no David Cross-narrated model plane combat side mission, we’re good to go.

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