“the texture of the search itself”

“It’s all right,” dialogue boxes assure her, “it’s part of the experience, part of getting constructively lost.”
Before long, Maxine finds herself wandering around clicking on everything, faces, litter on the floor, labels on bottles behind the bar, after a while interested not so much in where she might get to than the texture of the search itself.
– Thomas Pynchon, “Bleeding Edge”

I’m 8 chapters into the new Pynchon book, and I am continually amazed at how such an famously reclusive author who is also, at this point, an old man, can still get it when it comes to popular culture.  The quote I pulled above describes a Second Life-esque game experience (the book takes place in 2001, 2 years before Second Life was officially released), but that phrase at the end – “the texture of the search itself” – is the thing that’s hitting me square in the solar plexus.  It’s precisely that feeling of pure exploration for exploration’s sake that makes games like Journey feel so utterly transcendent – or, likewise, of simply wandering around in Skyrim (or other Bethesda RPGs) and seeing what pops up along the way.

And it’s also very much why I’m still playing GTA V, despite my weariness of the game’s many faults; for as much as the game’s narrative can fly off the rails, and the characters are simply poorly motivated (when they’re not being actively repulsive), the world is so incredibly detailed that I tend to tune the other stuff out.  Kotaku’s been featuring some videos that highlight just how subtle some of these details really are (this one in particular is pretty amazing); my personal favorite thing that I’ve seen is how, after a head-on collision with an oncoming car, the driver of the other car will silently, but with great anger, flip you the bird.

Rockstar’s Social Club says that I’m 65% complete.  I’ve finished 59 of the game’s 69 missions, plus a few miscellaneous activities here and there.  I’m definitely in the home stretch, as it were; there’s “one last job” to pull off, though we haven’t started planning it yet.  The point I’m slow in getting to is that I’m probably not going to write any more about it until I’ve finished the main story, so that I can then try to put the whole thing together.

Other things that I’m hoping to write about this week include:

  • Beyond: Two Souls, which will probably arrive on Thursday or so from Gamefly;
  • Marvel Puzzle Quest, which came out on iOS last week and which I’m pretty disappointed with;
  • Cookie Clicker, which is currently running on my browser at home (I’m generating 4.5 billion cookies per second);
  • Picross titles that I just discovered are in the 3DS eshop (sadly, they are only 2D puzzles, which are not nearly as interesting or as fun to solve as Picross 3D (on the 2DS), but it’s still Picross, so…); and
  • Minerva’s Den, which I got for free when 2K upgraded everybody’s copy during the switch from GFWL to Steam.  I’d originally played Bioshock 2 on the 360 and was summarily disappointed by it, and so I’d sent it back before Minerva’s Den was released; I then picked up Bioshock 2 on the PC during a sale but couldn’t access Minerva’s Den, for some reason; now I have it, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to try, being that I’ve heard such amazing things about it.  I actually gave it a quick spin over the weekend and realized that I’d forgotten how to play the original Bioshock – and while the PC version offers controller support, they never re-wrote the in-game button prompts to tell you how to do things with the controller, so it might be a little while before I get the hang of it.

>Bioshock 2 – final thoughts

>More apologies. I finished Bioshock 2 over the weekend and have been meaning to write a quick thing about it, but time has gotten away from me. But let’s be honest here – the game itself isn’t all that inspiring to write about.

It’s not necessarily a bad game; it’s just unnecessary. And yet, ironically enough, I would love to keep exploring the world of Rapture. My favorite moments in Bio2 – as they were in Bio1 – were the moments in between battles, when I could take in the architecture and explore all the nooks and crannies of such a meticulously designed world. Make no mistake – Bio2 may be uninspired as a game, but its vision of Rapture is just as sumptuous to take in as in the original.

Let’s just say this – Bio2 does work better as a game. The combat mechanics are a lot more solid and satisfying, and the clunkiness of the first game’s interface has been replaced by a much more efficient design. (And this must be said – it’s awfully nice to not have to hear “Welcome to the Circus of Values!” constantly, unceasingly.)

But there’s also a great deal of Bio2 that feels awfully contrived; the constant babysitting of Little Sisters (of which I struggled with at first and eventually got better at) is the worst offender, but pretty much all of the game’s forward momentum is clearly scripted and inelegantly presented. And I am really, really tired of the game’s strict adherence to plot development via tape recorder and offscreen narration; after a while I just tuned it out, and as a result I’m still not quite sure what the hell I was doing or why I was doing it. It feels lazy, and the voice acting and dialogue is too stylized to feel urgent. My own personal motivation for finishing the game at all was that in spite of all the aggravations that the game foisted upon me, I just wanted to see more of Rapture.

So let me say this, then. If there must be another Bioshock game, let it be something different. Get away from the Big Daddies and the Adam and the plasmids and the combat and all that shit. Give me more of Rapture. Give me characters that actually talk to me, face to face. I would ABSOLUTELY play a Bioshock Zero prequel if it meant seeing Rapture in its heyday, before all the badness happened. Fuck, let me play it as Andrew Ryan, SimCity style. I’ll even settle for a 3D point-and-click adventure game, if it came to that. I want to walk around and see shit that I’ve never seen before. Rapture is one of the most atmospheric worlds ever created – let me soak it in, rather than making me run through it and kill things for no apparent reason, other than that I have to.

At the end of the day, Rapture is the star of the show, and the fiction is what gives it weight. The combat is certainly OK, and I guess you need it in order to sell millions of copies, but it’s not nearly as interesting as the world itself. There are lots of stories that can be told in the city at the bottom of the sea; I would much rather see one of those, than having to go through the same motions as before.

>Bioshock 2: the first hour

>I don’t like going to bed angry, but that’s exactly what happened to me last night.

I was back in Rapture, you see. And even though I had been highly skeptical about Bioshock 2 and repeatedly questioned the necessity for its existence, I found myself as absorbed and invested in the new game as I had been in the original. The thing that I loved most about the first game – more than the story, more than the combat – was the atmosphere; I loved exploring every nook and cranny and the original game constantly rewarded such exploration with loot, backstory and, if nothing else, incredible tableaux. And the first hour of Bio2 felt much the same way – I was enthralled with the world, again, and running around and exploring was just as rewarding as it used to be.

But more than that, the game certainly felt better – the combat was more responsive, and the duel-wielding of plasmids and weapons makes perfect sense. OK, so the story is a little obtuse, and the storytelling method is so identical that it feels somewhat cheap, but that’s OK – the world of Rapture is still among the most vivid and unique as anything in the medium.

And then I got to the part of the game where you have to defend a Little Sister while she harvests ADAM, and I nearly threw my controller out the window.

Let me back up here a second. A lot of people gave the original Bioshock a lot of shit for taking strange liberties with the audience’s suspension of disbelief – i.e., the unprompted self-inflicted plasmid injection at the beginning of the game, the idea that year-old potato chips found in garbage cans actually increase your health, etc. – but I fell for it anyway. The most controversial element in the first game, though, was the way it handled death. If you died, you respawned at the nearest “Vita-Chamber”, and the world would be just as you left it.

In Bio2, death is handled somewhat differently, and it makes me want to kill it.

So here’s the scene. (I’m still at the very beginning of the game, so I’m not really spoiling anything.) I’ve adopted my very first Little Sister. In order for me to get to the next level in the game, I need to inject myself with a plasmid that will let me shoot fire out of my hands. And in order to get that plasmid, I need ADAM. And to get ADAM, I need to escort a Little Sister to a particular dead body and defend her against Rapture’s crazies. (In this particular case, I need to harvest ADAM from 2 dead bodies; I’m at the 2nd body.)

And now, I need to set traps, because we’re in the corner of a room and as soon as I set this little girl down, we’re going to get swarmed. So I set up all the traps I’ve collected over the last hour, replenish my ammo, and hack the nearest health-vending machine, and I set the girl down. The crazies come pouring in, and in spite of my traps I’m soon overwhelmed, and right before the girl is done harvesting, I die.

I respawn in the Vita-Chamber directly behind the girl. And now, I’m in a bit of a pickle – all the ammo I used in my last fight is gone, all my traps are gone, the health machine is toast, the sentry bot I hacked is destroyed, I have no plasmid energy or medical packs, I have no money because I spent it all replenishing my ammo before I died, and – to top it all off – as soon as I recover what I can and get set to defend the girl again, I notice that the girl has to start harvesting from scratch. Harvesting appears to take between 1-2 minutes; there’s no way I’ll have enough ammo, let alone anything else that might help. So I die, again. And again, and again, until I can loot enough from the accumulating corpses to put up a halfway decent fight, although it won’t nearly be enough.

I spent close to 45 minutes trying to get past this fucking area last night, and never even got close to succeeding. And furthermore, I didn’t think to save before that section started, because I didn’t think I’d be getting my ass kicked so thoroughly this early into the game, so I’m probably going to have to replay the entire level again in order to be properly equipped.

And that fucking SUCKS.

%d bloggers like this: