on Westworld, Batman and Bioshock, and Bethesda

1. I’ve been out of commission for longer than usual; we were out of town for a family wedding, and then the bulk of my evening free time was spent getting caught up on Westworld, which I adore.  I’ve said here before that I don’t often watch that much TV, and most of what I do watch is stuff that’s binge-ready (either because it’s a Netflix series like Stranger Things or the Marvel stuff) or that I completely missed during their regular run and which is now, in its current form, binge-ready (stuff like, say, Battlestar Galactica or Breaking Bad or what-have-you).

So I’m in an unusual place, then, with respect to Westworld; I’m watching it “live” (well, to be literal about it, I’m watching it on Monday evening after the kid goes to bed) and so I’m stuck on the same cliffhanger as everyone else.  I don’t have popular critical opinions cluttering my own perspective, as I’ve made it a point to avoid reading anything about it until after I get caught up.  And so what I can say about it is that, for the most part, I think it’s stunning.  The acting is fantastic (even if Jeffrey Wright doesn’t know how to wear glasses)…

…the cinematography is stupendous, and the writing is terrific.  The show is smart and confident and, thus far, knows exactly how much information they want to reveal with each episode, and I’m totally hooked.  I’ve read some stuff where people are frustrated with the pacing, or that they don’t like the mystery because it’s obvious where things are headed; I disagree.  Certainly I can see a number of different places where it can go, but there are too many things that remain enigmatic, and I’m happy for them to remain that way for the time being.

2. As far as games go, I’m still in this weird thing where I’m feeling disconnected from the game-playing process.  I’m in this weird lull in Forza Horizon 3 where I’m kinda just roaming around; I’m not feeling pulled towards Gears 4, even just to cheat and play ahead of my co-op campaign.

I rented the Bioshock remasters, mostly because I was curious about how they looked.  As far as the Xbox One versions, I was underwhelmed by the first game’s port; but then again, I’ve played that introduction sequence so many times that it’s no longer very interesting.  I skipped looking at B2 entirely and went straight to Infinite, and… yeah, that game’s world and presentation are still absolutely stunning, but the minute I started having to kill things, I could almost literally hear my brain checking out.

On the other hand, I also got the Batman Arkham Remasters, and those games still hold up.  With the occasional weird graphical glitch (on Xbox One), they are still gorgeous and fun and totally absorbing.  I’m breezing through Asylum at the moment and it’s just as terrific as it’s ever been, and I’ll happily play through City when I finish Asylum.

3.  I should probably offer an opinion with respect to Bethesda’s recent decision to no longer offer pre-release review copies to major outlets.  I can’t comment as a member of the press, because I’m not a member of the press; I’ve paid for (or paid for the rental of) nearly every single game I’ve ever played and discussed.  (Indeed, I think I’ve only ever received 2 codes for the purposes of writing reviews, and I didn’t get paid for either of those pieces.)

Anyway.  Do I think it’s bullshit?  Yes, of course.  Do I think it’s intensely hypocritical for publishers to deny critics a chance to review a game while also using those same critical voices to write preview pieces?  Yes, without question.  Do I think it’s ridiculous that Bethesda isn’t allowing professional critics to review their games before release, but that they are giving copies to prominent YouTubers and other “influencers”?  Oh boy oh boy, yes I do.

Will other prominent publishers follow suit?  And do I think this could start an alarming precedent wherein traditional games journalism and criticism becomes irrelevant?

Mmmmmaybe?

I think there will always be a place for long-form written criticism – this is what I want, and this is what I’d have liked to have done professionally – though I suspect that the audience for that particular style will, sadly, diminish in time.  Game journalism is moving into all sorts of weird directions, and a lot of it is heading towards video streaming (which might actually generate some revenue) and podcasting (which almost always doesn’t).  I, personally, have neither the time nor the inclination towards consuming my criticism in those forms, but that’s neither here nor there.

The fact of the matter is that Bethesda is doing this so that slightly-less-than-great review scores don’t affect pre-order numbers.  And yet pre-ordering, in this age of digital downloads, seems largely irrelevant, doesn’t it?  I mean, in the past, I pre-ordered physical copies at a Gamestop because, if I didn’t, then I was shit out of luck for weeks until a new shipment came in.  Amazon made this a little easier, though in my personal experience “release-date delivery” usually still meant “a day or two later”.  Right now, the only advantage to pre-ordering a digital download is the pre-loading of a 50-60 GB file; you’re basically spending $60 for the privilege of instant gratification.

There are people out there with takes much more knowledgeable than mine, obviously, and so I have no idea how much this is going to mess things up for the press.  But if nothing else, the practice of taking games out of the hands of critics in order to maximize day-one profits should finally and definitively answer the question as to whether Games are Art.

Asleep at the Wheel: E3 2015 prognosticaions and other ramblings

1.  Now that Fallout 4 has been officially revealed – and a new Gears of War game has been very strongly implied by the formation/re-naming of its development studio – it was put to Twitter to determine what unannounced game could possibly upstage those two.

I have two answers:  Red Dead Redemption 2, and/or Portal 3: Cake or Death (co-starring Eddie Izzard, obviously).

I’d of course love to see release dates (and gameplay footage) for Mirror’s Edge 2 and the new Crackdown, and certainly I’d like to know what Criterion is up to (as well as what Three Fields is doing (the new studio formed by Criterion’s founders)).  No Man’s Sky should be getting a more thorough rundown, and I’d love to get more information about The Witness.  I’d be incredibly surprised and pleased to hear more definitive information about the new Mass Effect game (and less surprised but certainly intrigued by a seemingly inevitable ME original trilogy HD remaster, and I’d buy that in a heartbeat if I could somehow import my save data from my 360 playthroughs).

On that note, now that the Uncharted HD trilogy has been more or less announced, one wonders what other last-gen games will be announced at E3 for a current-gen treatment.  I still maintain that a Bioshock HD trilogy is a no-brainer, though perhaps it would make sense to release closer to whatever’s next for that franchise; I also maintain that a Rockstar remastered box set of Red Dead 1, GTA4, Max Payne 3, and/or L.A. Noire is an impossible (but near-orgasmic) dream.

As I write this, I see that the first official Steam Machines will be coming out this fall.  If the specs are good, I might end up getting one of these – my current PC is starting to show its age, and it’d be nice to keep my gigantic Steam library as part of my rotation.  (I will hopefully be moved in to the new house by then, too, and so having a Steam Machine will make my gaming man-cave more or less complete.)

Beyond that, I’m kinda just curious to see how it goes.  I have no real expectations.  I am hopeful that I can live-blog my impressions of each press conference, though that may be impossible for various real-world reasons.

2.  A whole bunch of boffo iOS games have come out lately.  Last night saw the release of You Must Build a Boat, the sequel to the much-beloved 10000000, as well as Hitman: Sniper, which is very much like that PC demo from a few years back.  I’ve also been playing the shit out of Lara Croft Relic Run, which might be the most ambitious endless runner ever made; and I’m also helplessly addicted to Ball King, which is a free basketball shooter with lo-fi graphics but really good physics, which makes hitting tough shots ridiculously satisfying.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Twenty, which is a maddeningly addictive hybrid of Drop 7 and Threes.

3.  I’ve taken a 2-day break from The Witcher 3.  I’ve been meaning to write about it all week but haven’t been able to put my thoughts in order.  (I’m about to hit level 15, and I’m kinda just messing around with side-quests in Novigrad.)

My original thesis was that I loved it to death, and that I loved it specifically because I didn’t feel alienated by how it goes about its business (the way I felt about, say, GTA V or Far Cry 4 or any other AAA game of recent years).  Witcher 3 scratches a lot of the same itches that Red Dead Redemption does (which is great), and it also solves some of Red Dead’s narrative problems by making Geralt exactly the sort of person who would do random things for people – that’s his job.  And I also love that when he’s given stupid stuff to do, he’s really funny about it – for example, there’s an early story sub-quest wherein you have to find a goat for the local witch doctor.  Geralt rolls his eyes but knows he has to do it, and when he finds the goat (by ringing a little bell), he says something very much like “Hurry up and follow me, you stupid piece of shit”, which is something that had me literally laughing out loud right up until we both got jumped by a bear.  I love that each person you meet has their own quest line, which makes you feel more invested in what they have to say and how they’re helping you along in your own quest.  I said this before but it bears repeating – I love that the conversation system isn’t always obviously good/bad, which makes role-playing that much more immersive; more often than not, Geralt will have an option to say the thing that I personally would say, and I appreciate the level of nuance that the writers have carefully crafted into each situation.

That being said, I can’t help but notice that everybody is white, and that all the ladies with speaking roles have their boobs hanging out all the time.  I suppose I can appreciate the argument that, while more diversity in games is necessary, it isn’t always appropriate, but I can’t not notice that of the hundreds and hundreds of digital people and dwarves and elves and monsters and fiends and such that I’ve come across in Witcher 3, not a single one of them is a person of color.  Again – I appreciate that this is a Polish-made game that reflects Slavic mythological fantasy, but I also note that nearly every speaking voice is that of a Brit, and that this game was built to be sold to a Western audience.

On the lighter side, I do hope they patch in a photo mode.

4.  I finished Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves earlier this week; I’m not about to write a full review of it here, but the short version is that it’s my favorite thing he’s written in quite a long time.  It has more than a few spots where it’s a little dry, and the subject matter of the final third is a bit…. hmm… troubling?  Is that a good way to describe eugenics, even if it’s done out of necessity and not out of some sort of Hitler-inspired craziness?  In any event, it’s stuck with me ever since I put it down, and I may end up needing to read it again soon.

Weekend Recap: tying up loose ends

I am currently playing The Waiting Game, a dispiriting “race against the clock”-type deal wherein I hope to receive my fixed-up Vita before April 17, my last day in the office before I leave for vacation.  As I have not yet received the box they sent me to mail the Vita back, it’s not looking good.  (I have not yet received my snazzy Vita travelling case, either, but since there’s no working Vita to put it in, I’m not sweating it.)

I finished 3 games over the weekend that merit discussion, though.  Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

1.  Monument Valley is an iOS puzzler – imagine Fez with level designs by M.C. Escher – currently available for $3.99.  It is an absolutely gorgeous game, filled with very clever puzzle design and accented with lovely sound effects.  It is also only 10 levels long and I beat it in under an hour.  Normally I’m not the type of person who gets up in arms when it comes to high prices for short play experiences – I was very happy to pay $20 for Gone Home – and I’m not necessarily up in arms here, but I would certainly understand your frustration if you laid out 4 bucks for a game that you could finish during your evening commute, especially since there’s not a tremendous amount of replay value once you’ve figured out the solutions.  That being said, the game’s creator, when asked in a Touch Arcade Twitch stream if new levels were coming, said: “Looks like we will. People seem to want more levels.”  I know I do.

2.  I did end up finishing Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Ep. 2, though the last few combat sections were brutally difficult and annoying and I nearly rage-quit a few times.  Even though I’ve played all the games (well, all the Irrational ones at least – I can’t recall if I finished Bioshock 2, and I only played the first 5 minutes of Minerva’s Den), I’m not necessarily sure that I’m as knowledgeable about the lore and the supporting cast of characters as I suppose I should’ve been, in order to better appreciate the finer intricacies of Episode 2’s plot points.  The final reveal is interesting, to be sure, though I’m not sure it enhanced anything for me.  I’m glad I played it, I guess, but I just wish I didn’t hate the gameplay as much as I do.

3.  Also finished Infamous: Second Son.  I’m kinda still playing it, too – once I finished the story (and received the fourth of four powers), I then started going back and doing all the side stuff that I couldn’t be bothered with during the regular story.  (Also:  I didn’t realize the campaign was going to be as short as it was, so I ended up finishing the game long before I thought I would.)  It’s certainly the prettiest PS4 game I’ve seen, and it sets a very high graphical standard for open-world adventure games to follow; but it’s also an Infamous game, and I always seem to forget that Infamous games start out kinda fun and then become somewhat forgettable.  The good/bad karma thing is, as always, kinda dumb, and unfortunately the story just isn’t interesting enough to warrant a second playthrough to see how things would change.  This very well might be one of the easiest open-world games to get to 100% completion – there’s not a whole hell of a lot to do, side-mission wise, and all the “hidden” stuff is actually placed on your map once you clear out an enemy base.  I will probably continue tooling around and trying to get to 100%, if only because it really is that gorgeous to look at.

This coming week:  not really sure what it’s looking like, gaming-wise.  I’m kinda still playing through Strider and Rayman Legends on the PS4, and I may give some of the side-missions in MGS: Ground Zeroes a shot.  And depending on what happens with my Vita, I may or may not end up buying FTL for my iPad.

 

ups and downs

I’m fighting a horrific head cold, so bear with me as I try to remember what’s happened this week:

1.  The biggest news is that I’ve got some serious Vita problems.

In my previous post (Monday), I’d said (at the very end) that the memory card for my new Vita had finally arrived, but the Vita itself wouldn’t work on my office wi-fi, and so it was still useless.  So I finally got it set up Monday night, and then promptly downloaded all the stuff that I’d already had in my PSN library – Fez and Steamworld Dig, for starters, and then using my $10 credit to help pay for Final Fantasy X HD.  PS+ people also get Uncharted and Wipeout for free, so I started downloading those as well…

…and they literally didn’t finish downloading until Wednesday morning, before I left for work.  That should’ve been my first clue that something was off.

My second clue was that there was this weird vertical line running down the left-hand side of the screen – very faint, but sort-of looking like the red line on loose-leaf paper.  Which eventually faded away.

My third clue wasn’t even a clue.  Wednesday afternoon, during a slow moment at work, I pulled out my Vita and decided to give Uncharted a try.  I got around 30 seconds into it when the graphics started glitching out, and then the game suddenly froze up.  I powered the Vita down, waited a little bit, and then tried to restart – but the Vita wouldn’t restart.  Screen stayed black, no sound, and then the machine would turn off.  Contacted support – tried doing a forced restart into safe mode three times – still nothing.  So now I’m sending it off for repairs.  I am doubtful that I will get it back before my upcoming vacation, which is a little over 2 weeks from now.

On the bright side, Fez is still wonderful, and I’m really glad to have it in a portable version.

2.  I finished one playthrough of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes.  I am unsure if I will play through it again, although the release calendar is still a bit dry for the foreseeable future, and there’s certainly a hell of a lot more to do.

My feelings about the MGS franchise are well-known and not worth repeating here.  As for this particular game, well:  Ground Zeroes has some of the best moment-to-moment gameplay the series has ever seen, and it uses the open world remarkably well (even if that world is small – and probably it’s done well because it’s small), and I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that kinda does want to play through it again and see all the stuff I didn’t see the first time.  And maybe I’d also do all the side missions and all the other stuff that’s there, because based on my post-game stats it’s abundantly clear that I’ve barely scratched the surface.  (And so the common pre-release complaint about having to spend $40 for 1 hour’s worth of gameplay is clearly ludicrous, because there’s obviously a lot more here to do.)

But the game is also fucking ridiculous, and impossible to take seriously, and features some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard.  I don’t know why people are so up in arms over Kiefer Sutherland’s casting; he barely utters a word, and in any event the words he does utter might as well be gibberish.  I don’t know if it’s the translation that’s so terrible, or if it’s that the translation is slavishly faithful to what’s actually terrible in the original Japanese*, but ultimately the problem is simply that it’s dumb.

There’s a lot of discussion (that I’m too lazy/sick to link to) about how it’s often unfair to credit one person as the “Game Maker” when a big-budget AAA game is often the work of hundreds of people – but MGS has always been Hideo Kojima’s baby, and the number of times his name appears in the opening titles and closing credits** means that he’s OK with all this.  Even though he’s said numerous times that he’s tired of Metal Gear and longs to do something else, he’s continually given enormous resources to keep cranking these things out, and so he continues to stick with it.  And there’s a part of me that admires his willingness to out-crazy himself with each successive effort.  But this isn’t Saints Row, which at least has the benefit of being clever.

I am beginning to feel that Kojima is turning into George Lucas, surrounded by an army of minions who are terrified of saying “No, don’t do that.”

3.  I am becoming weary of Infamous: Second Son, even as it continues to graphically dazzle.  The Infamous games have always been fun but also somewhat shallow, and that is definitely the case here.

4.  I am hoping to finish Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Ep. 2 by the weekend.  I continue to enjoy it in spots, and also deeply hate it in spots.  It is guilty of very lame and tired design cliches, such as the continued over-use of audio logs and the very, very tiring trope of wandering through a series of enemy-free rooms, finding the thing you’re looking for, and then – abracadbra, those enemy-free rooms are suddenly conveniently swarming with bad guys.  It is also still consistent with the original game, in that these beautiful paradises are completely devoid of normal human beings.  With a few notable exceptions, everyone you meet in the game (in person, at least) is an enemy.  It makes these fantastical worlds feel hollow.

5.  Anyone in NYC who has even the slightest interest in pinball should stop what they’re doing and head over to Modern Pinball NYC, over on 3rd Avenue between 26th and 27th streets.  I was there last night for the prelude to a NYVCC meeting, and it was love at first sight.  I’m a huge pinball fan but I’m also a homebody, and so most of my pinball time these days is spent either in Pinball FX2 on the 360 or in Pinball Arcade and Zen Pinball on my iPad.  And while those digital editions are fun in their own right, nothing beats the real thing.  Great selection of tables, both old and new, and they’re constantly being maintained – which is a treat in and of itself, getting to see the belly of a pinball table, which is insane.  Highly recommended.  I may end up throwing my birthday party there later this year.

10007245_10152266988925865_1208936234_n

__________

* This is the same problem I had with Murakami’s “1Q84”.  I’ve loved all of the English versions of his previous work, but I found the writing in 1Q84 to be pedestrian and sophomoric and completely devoid of his usual poetic voice.

** SPOILER ALERT – I am also aware that in one of the bonus side missions, Kojima himself is an actual character in the game.  So, yeah.

weekend recap: notes and errata

This weekend we celebrated my son’s 1st birthday, and as such there was not a tremendous amount of time for gaming – so I’m still in a holding pattern as far as Infamous Second Son and MGS Ground Zeroes are concerned. Still, there’s a couple things that I wanted to talk about, so here we go:

1.  In my haste to get that Tokyo Police Club post out the door, I completely forgot to include what is arguably the most important point I was trying to make:

In this current social and economic climate, where trying to make a living as a professional musician is arguably as difficult as it’s ever been because nobody buys records anymore and revenue from streaming services like Spotify is laughable at best, and for a band that’s trying as hard as it possibly can to prove to both its old fans and its potential new ones that it didn’t hit its creative peak 8 years ago, it takes an astounding set of brass balls to have the first (and best) song on your new album be nearly 9 minutes long.  And because the song is so good precisely because of how well-constructed it is, and because editing it for the purposes of making it a single kinda defeats the song’s whole purpose, it seems improbable that it’ll see any significant radio/airplay.  (It is fortunate – and probably much appreciated by the record label – that the 2nd song (“Hot Tonight“) is also quite catchy and hummable and ear-wormy.)  But still:  I remain impressed that they did what they did.  Bands don’t often get a chance to make more than 3 albums these days before either getting dropped from the label or just imploding naturally.  If this album tanks, it may very well be the end of TPC – I suspect there’ll be a solo album or two from the singer, but you can only hang on to your dream for so long before the bills start to pile up.

2.  I did manage to squeeze in a little bit of Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Pt. 2.  I’m not quite sure how far I am into it, and so I’m reluctant to discuss it in great detail.  But there are certainly things about it that merit discussion.

My relationship with the Bioshock franchise is in a difficult place, to be honest.  I’m still in love with the technical side of the game – the graphics and audio remain superlative, and it’s very difficult to play the game without wanting to take screenshots at every single moment.  It is more that my appreciation for the games’ narrative ambitions – even if they’re not entirely coherent – are directly at odds with their gameplay, which I’ve always found problematic.  As it happens, I fell in love with BAS2 pretty much immediately, and remained enthralled with it… right up until I picked up my first weapon, and then my heart sank a bit.

That this episode switches the emphasis from shooting to stealth is a very smart move, and in retrospect it feels incredibly obvious, and I’m certainly not the first to make the observation that it’s entirely possible that the entire franchise might’ve benefited greatly from being a stealth-focused shooter right from the get-go.  It’s just that…. well… considering how much intelligence went into crafting every other element of these games, making the game combat-focused above all else feels like an easy reach towards the lowest common denominator of audience.  I’ve felt this way ever since the first game, and even though the stealth approach feels a lot more natural, I still kinda hate it.

Still – I won’t fully speak my peace until I’m finished with the episode.

3.  Last week was a bit of an emotional downer, as far as things go, and so in my melancholic state I went and did a silly thing and ordered a PS Vita.  I also ordered a protective case and a 32gb memory card.  The problem is that while the Vita and case arrived on Thursday (as promised), the card is still nowhere to be found – it should’ve arrived on Friday, and I’m hoping that it didn’t get lost entirely.  And because the memory card is not here, the Vita itself is completely useless – I can’t even turn it on and get it set up without it.  (And because the Vita only works with these specifically branded memory cards, I can’t just run out to Staples and buy a non-Sony one.)  I know this is old news, but it’s infuriating that the Vita is set in such a stupid manner.

UPDATE:  the card literally just arrived as I typed that last sentence.  Woo-hoo!

UPDATE 2:  the Vita won’t work on my office wi-fi, so I can’t actually do anything just yet.  Boo-hoo!

THE GAMES OF 2013

I.

2013 was a year of great change and transition, and as you might expect it was both very good and incredibly surreal.  On a personal level, I became a father; I released a solo album; I moved into a new apartment; I got over my fear of brain pills and started taking anti-anxiety medications (and they appear to be working); and I became a contributing member to the New York Videogame Critics Circle, which is a pretty nice break for a nobody like me.  These are all significant and happy milestones.

As a gamer, well:

Let me say this right up front:  this right here is a videogame blog, so when I say things like “Being a new father means that I don’t have as much time to play games”, I am very much NOT wanting to sound like a callous, privileged asshole whose newborn child is an inconvenience.  Please understand that the non-gamer part of me literally cringes when I say stuff like that, and also understand that I hate that I’m not a good enough writer to find a better way of putting it.  I love my kid, and I love the time I spend with him more than anything else in the world.  He’s changed my life for the better in more ways that I’m probably even aware of.

1002046_10152035801995865_1411893274_n

THAT BEING SAID, yes, of course, having a kid has completely changed my gaming habits.  How could it not?  I used to have all-day marathon gaming sessions, but I obviously can no longer binge the way I used to; more to the point, I don’t game at all when the kid is awake, and I’m very self-conscious about loud TV noises when he’s asleep in the next room.  (Which is why I still remain absolutely shocked that I was somehow able to find 50 hours in which to finish GTA V earlier this year.)   Because of all this, I ended up moving my gaming setup from the living room to the office, and so nearly everything I played of any significance was played on the PC, in my comfy office chair and my kick-ass headphones.

I know I’m prone to excessive hyperbole here, but it cannot be overstated enough: moving to the PC changed everything for me.   It’s why I’m not necessarily foaming at the mouth for a PS4 or an XBO, and why I’m instead contemplating a new graphics card or (more likely) a Steam Machine.  It’s why I’m no longer shackled to the crippling addiction of Achievement hunting.  It’s why I’m now a lot more excited about the indie game scene than the next AAA blockbuster.

[It’s also why I feel a little bit lonelier, I suppose.  I have a few good friends on Steam, but nothing compared to the dozens of people I’d see on Xbox Live every day.  Of course, I’ve never been all that big on multiplayer (and neither are most of those XBL friends, come to think of it), so it’s not like I was missing out on epic online battles (at least, not that I’m aware of).  Still, there’s just a large segment of friends that I’m now kinda cut off from, and it’s weird.]

The other big thing about having a kid and the resulting loss of free time is that, as you’ll soon see, my ratio of games finished to games played is so completely out of whack that I clearly have no business buying a next-gen console any time soon.

II.

Here’s the question that ended last year’s introduction:  “When was the last time you played a game and experienced joy?”

It wasn’t necessarily a rhetorical question; at the time that I was working on that piece, I was still half-heartedly dicking around in Far Cry 3 (a game that tried (and failed) to be subversive about violence in videogames) while still reeling from the Newtown school shooting (which was actual violence, and which was actually horrifying).  I was in a sort of weird crisis, to be honest; I was starting to feel sickened from all the virtual killing I’d been doing, and it was making me feel disconnected from something I’d loved since my childhood.  I was genuinely interested in knowing if there was more to this medium than guns; if it was possible to achieve a win state without having to wallow in bloodlust; if one could go from point A to point B without having to kill anything.  I wanted to know if games could make me feel something beyond the simple satisfaction of killing enough things to get to the next checkpoint; hell, I just wanted to feel something.  I was seriously contemplating going through 2013 without playing any game that involved the pulling of a trigger, even if it meant missing out on games that I’d genuinely been looking forward to.

In the end, I bailed on that challenge.  But because I had to switch up my living room couch for my computer chair, I ended up playing a far wider variety of games this year than I ever expected, and I also ended up feeling some pretty powerful feels, when all is said and done.

III.

Speaking of feels, normally I avoid talking about game industry news in these year-end posts, but 2013 featured two game-related stories that I feel should be brought up, being that they affected me and people I know personally.

(1)  I couldn’t continue with this post without mentioning the passing of the late, great Ryan Davis.  It’s weird to talk about being a fan of a gaming journalist, but I was a Ryan Davis fan, ever since his early Gamespot days.  Even though we’d never met or corresponded in any way, I still felt like we would’ve hit it off if we’d somehow been introduced; his gregariousness would certainly have made me feel welcome.  It is still weird to not hear his voice introducing the Bombcast; indeed, the Bombcast has not been the same without him.

(2)  I also couldn’t talk about 2013 without mentioning the internet; specifically, how awful it is, and how, despite my desire to become a professional gaming journalist, I kinda sorta want nothing to do with it.  This craziness has been around for a long while, of course, but this was the first time that I started to take it personally, even if none of it was ever directed my way.  This was the year in which noted game developer and notorious troll-feeder Phil Fish not only ragequit Twitter entirely, but took Fez 2 with him.  This was the year in which a Call of Duty engineer made a small mathematical adjustment to the damage of a gun and received death threats in return.  This was the year in which a Gamespot review that gave GTA V a 9 out of 10 resulted in over 20,000 vile, hateful, evil comments.  (That the review was written by a good friend of mine only made it feel worse.)  This was the year in which there were so many instances of rape and death threats directed at female journalists and game developers for no reason other than their gender that it eventually somehow became a non-story, which is unbelievably distressing.  I don’t have an answer for this, and I don’t know how the victims of this incessant abuse are able to deal with it.  It makes me unbearably sad.  It reflects poorly on us all.

*sigh*

And that’s why I don’t talk about news in these posts!  Let’s get on with the show.

THE YEAR IN ACHIEVEMENTS:  As of 1/1/2013, my score was 86295, when I finished the Leviathan DLC for ME3.  As of 12/23/13, it’s 87915, and it’s highly unlikely that number will change any time soon, considering that I’m barely playing my 360 these days and that I’m all but certain I’m getting a PS4 first.  In any event, this is by far the lowest yearly increase since I bought the 360 in the first place, and this is probably the last year that I pay attention to it or include it in these posts.

BEST MECHANIC:  There’s no runaway winner in this category like there was last year with Dishonored and “Blink”.  But I suppose it should be noted that the control scheme in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is perhaps the only control scheme I’ve ever played that, because of narrative events, caused me to cry (in a good way).

GAMES FINISHED:  I said in the introduction that this year’s ratio of games finished to games played was absurd.  According to my Google spreadsheet, I played 71 games this year, but only finished 15.  This is embarrassing, but there are several reasons for this.  Firstly, the baby’s arrival meant that my game time was limited, and so I wasn’t going to waste my time with stuff that wasn’t grabbing me right off the bat – there were lots of Gamefly titles that came and went often on the same day.  Secondly, quite a few of the games on my spreadsheet are 3DS games, but I’m starting to realize that I never have a good time to play them; I don’t like bringing the 3DS out on the subway, and playing it at work is a terrible idea for obvious reasons, and if I play it at bedtime my hands cramp up and my eyes start freaking out, and so I’m not sure I ended up making any significant progress on any of the 3DS games in my library this year.  But if I’m being totally honest, I’m going to assign most of the blame on Steam Sales, which make games on my wishlist appear far more appetizing than they should, and which is an affliction that obviously affects us all.  I’m already prone to poor impulse control anyway; Steam Sales mean that I’m continually biting off far more than I can be expected to chew.

  • The Cave (one playthrough, at least – you need to play 3 times to see everything, and even though the game is pretty short, I didn’t like it enough to play it that much)

  • Devil May Cry

  • Tomb Raider (twice)

  • Bioshock Infinite

  • Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

  • The Last of Us

  • Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

  • Gone Home

  • Saints Row 4

  • GTA V

  • Rain

  • Beyond: Two Souls

  • Assassin’s Creed 4

  • The Stanley Parable (I think I finished it, at least)

Did Not Finish, Would Like to Finish Someday:

  • Antichamber (came pretty close, I think, but my hard drive crashed and I lost that save forever)

  • BIT TRIP Runner 2 (which I’d like to go back to, definitely – it’s certainly my favorite soundtrack of 2013)

  • Etrian Odyssey 4 (currently stuck in a weird spot and I don’t know how to advance; it’s been months since I picked it up, though, and I’m not sure I’d know where to go if I started again)

  • Ni No Kuni (which I recall enjoying, but then the baby came and I got a bit distracted)

  • The Swapper (to be finished in 2014)

  • Shadowrun Returns (to be finished in 2014)

  • Fire Emblem: Awakening

  • Dishonored DLC

  • Shadow Warrior (to be finished in 2014)

  • Rayman Legends (to be finished in 2014)

  • LEGO Marvel (to be finished in 2014)

  • Zelda: Link Between Worlds (to be finished in 2014?)

  • Papers Please (to be finished in 2014)

  • Mario & Luigi Dream Team

Barely Started:

  • Amnesia: Home for Pigs

  • Civ V: Brave New World DLC

  • Kentucky Route Zero

  • XCOM: Enemy Within

  • Fire Emblem Awakening

  • Gunpoint

  • Eldritch

  • The Wolf Among Us

Did Not Finish, Couldn’t Get Into (But Still Respect):

  • Remember Me

  • Animal Crossing: A New Leaf

Did Not Finish, Do Not Want to Finish:

  • Splinter Cell Blacklist (pretty sure this franchise is dead to me now, too)

  • Castlevania 3DS (I’d spend more time typing out the full title than I did playing the game)

  • Metro Last Light (meh, personified)

  • Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate (the 3DS game is tedious, confusing, and kinda ugly)

Notable Games I Did Not Play:

  • Dead Space 3

  • Metal Gear Revengeance

  • SimCity

  • God of War: Ascension

  • Starcraft 2: HoS

  • Gears of War: Judgment

  • Crysis 3

  • Grid 2

  • Spelunky (PC)

  • Pokemon X/Y

  • The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

  • Battlefield 4

  • Call of Duty: Ghosts 2

  • Tearaway (though it makes me think about getting a Vita)

  • any of the PS4/XONE exclusives

Best voice performance

  • Gone Home – Sarah Grayson as “Sam”.  There is no game here without Sam’s story, and Ms. Grayson’s performance is true and genuine and heartbreaking.  She’s given a great script, to be sure, but without an effective actor the game would never hit the same emotional peaks.  (As I said in my review for the NYVCC, “Indeed, the success of Sam as a character is making me rethink my position on the tired trope of audio diaries as exposition.”)

Best soundtrack:

  • BitTrip Runner 2, and I say this even though I haven’t finished the game – the soundtrack is on Spotify and it’s excellent.  It’d clearly make for a great exercise soundtrack, I think, and if I ever get around to exercising on a regular basis I might have to try that out.  And as far as runner-ups are concerned, there was a Disasterpeace remix album of Fez songs that was quite nice, although it’s not exactly a 2013 game.

Most Disappointing:

  • I didn’t play it, but it sounds like Dead Space 3 was pretty terrible; it also seems to have killed the franchise, which is a real shame.

  • As for games I did play, The Cave was charming and quirky, but not nearly as awesome as I’d hoped, and the idea that I’d have to play it three times to see everything was very quickly tossed out before I’d finished it once.  On the flip side, Bioshock Infinite and GTA V were both incredible experiences and staggering technological achievements, and I finished them both and don’t regret the time I spent with them, but they also had some very significant and glaring flaws, and I haven’t felt compelled to revisit them the way I thought I would.  (Side note:  I quite liked the Burial at Sea DLC for Bioshock Infinite, even if it was similarly flawed.)

A Once-Favorite Franchise I’m More or Less Ready to Give Up On:

  • It’s hard for me to come to terms with the fact that the last Splinter Cell game that I genuinely enjoyed was Chaos Theory, on the original Xbox.  I did my best to give this year’s edition a fair shake, but I was completely disengaged with it halfway through the 2nd mission.

Best Gaming Podcast:

  • Bombin’ the AM with Scoops and The Wolf.  Two smart, funny dudes (and the occasional terrific guest) who actually talk about shit I care about, twice a week, in a reasonable amount of time.  (If I can get real here for a second, I’m finding the regular Giant Bombcast to be damn-near impossible to listen to these days.  It’s rare that I have 3 hours in a given week to listen to it, and I don’t find myself ever needing to hear Jeff and Vinny riff for 45 minutes about sandwiches or plumbing supplies or go-bags or wrestling or early 90s hip-hop.  Indeed, the cult of personality that has lately enveloped Giant Bomb has made it a site that I’m just not spending that much time with anymore, with the notable exception of PK’s “Worth Reading” columns.)

Favorite Articles:

What I’m Hoping to See Announced in 2014 (even if it doesn’t come out in 2014) (and even though this list can only be based on existing IP because I can’t get excited for brand-new IP that I don’t yet know about):

  • Fallout 4, built with the Rage engine (the game’s been confirmed, even if the engine hasn’t)

  • Uncharted 4  (confirmed by a teaser trailer)

  • new Batman game built by Rocksteady (rumored)

  • or something else built by Rocksteady, I’ll buy it anyway

  • a new, next-gen Criterion-built Burnout game

  • Portal 3

  • Red Dead Redemption 2

  • a new Crash Bandicoot game (and maybe there’s hope for this yet:  http://www.polygon.com/2013/11/25/5142830/activision-wants-to-resurrect-crash-bandicoot-series)

  • Mark of the Ninja 2

  • Shadow Complex 2

  • Tomb Raider 2 (in this new rebooted series)

  • new Deus Ex

iOS GAMES OF THE YEAR:  I really ought to just make a separate category for PikPok and Adult Swim, as pretty much everything they put out is terrific; there were a ton of great games for iOS this year, and here are the best of the best:

  • XCOM

  • The Room Two

  • Flick Kick Football Legends

  • Giant Boulder of Death

  • Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol

  • Infinity Blade III

  • Angry Birds Star Wars 2

  • Puzzle and Dragon

  • Spirit Stones

  • Device 6

  • Year Walk

  • Ridiculous Fishing

  • Rayman Fiesta Run

  • Colassatron

TOP 10 (with profound apologies everything in my “Did Not Finish But Would Like To Someday” list, and especially to The Last of Us, which is certainly a good game but not an experience I can claim that I enjoyed, and also The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, which everyone else acknowledges is amazing and which I’ve already acknowledged I can’t quite get into):

10.  Call of Juarez: Gunslinger.  The Call of Juarez name does not inspire much confidence, and I certainly didn’t expect very much (even if I’d heard some good things).  An absurdly low Steam Sale price got me to pick this up, though, and I’m really glad I did; it’s a fun little Western with great shooting mechanics and which has a lot of fun with narrative structure and the idea of the “tall tale.”  And the boss duels were pretty terrific, too.  My pick for most underrated / overlooked game of the year.

9.  Saints Row IV.  Considering what happened to THQ, and considering that this was originally supposed to be a DLC mission pack for Saints Row 3, it’s amazing that this turned out as well as it did.  If nothing else, it somehow managed to out-crazy the already crazy SR3, and frankly I have literally no idea how they’ll top it in the next one.

8.  The Stanley Parable.  Speaking of games having fun with narrative structure, this is also the funniest game since Portal 2, and also one that has moments of startling beauty and emotional resonance.  Perhaps this is more “art game” than “game”, but it’s still an experience that shouldn’t be missed.

7.  Bioshock Infinite.  Perhaps it’s my own fault; perhaps my expectations were too high, and so this game was never going to be good enough.  Or perhaps its just that the great and insightful critical responses to the first game made me hyper-aware of this game’s logical flaws and fallacies.  Or maybe it’s just that I’m tired of shooters, and there was so much shooting in this game.  Whatever the case, I didn’t enjoy this as much as I wanted to.  But I can’t deny that there’s a tremendous amount to love and appreciate in this game, too – the graphics, the sound design, the art direction, the world, the music, the characters, the ending…

6.  GTA V.  I’ve written far too many words about this game already.  The short version is that even though the game’s story is silly (to put it kindly), and the three main characters are morally and ethically reprehensible, and the game’s treatment of women is profoundly sad – despite all of that, the world that Rockstar has created here is truly remarkable, and it’s about goddamned time that the gameplay has finally caught up with the rest of the industry.   While I wonder if I’m getting too old for this series – which is a thought that feels thoroughly depressing – I still hold out hope that Rockstar will get the narrative stuff straightened out for GTA VI.

5.  Devil May Cry.  I’m not a fan of the earlier games in the franchise, but I am a fan of Ninja Theory, and what they’ve done with this reboot is pretty incredible.  This was a visually stunning game, and it felt great to play – this might be my 2nd favorite melee combat system behind Batman, frankly.  Can’t wait to see what they do next.

4.  Tomb Raider.  Apparently I wasn’t so keen on this the first time I played it, but for some reason I felt compelled to replay it later on and then I fell in love with it.  Sure, the grotesque death sequences are a little much (as are the constant grunts and howls of pain), and maybe the ending was a little hokey, but I thought this was a fantastic reboot of an important franchise; it made Lara a real person instead of a hyper-sexualized automaton, and it made the violence matter.  Killing a person (or even an animal) shouldn’t be easy, and you can feel how it chews her up as the game progresses, even as she learns to harden herself from it.  Speaking of which, the gameplay was quite good – this might’ve been the first Lara Croft game with genuinely fun combat, frankly.  I hope that for the next one, they put back some of the tombs and the puzzles – that’s what I really play these games for, and I’m hoping that now that they’ve better established who Lara is, they can now put her in some interesting situations.

3.  Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.  I’ve written too much about this (and too recently) to recap it effectively here, so I’ll keep it short – I was all but ready to give up on Assassin’s Creed, but then this came out and now I’m fully engaged again.  Hell, I still want to go back and finish all the stuff I hadn’t yet gotten to.  A very welcome return to a much beleaguered franchise.

2.  Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.  This sorta came out of nowhere; I don’t recall hearing that much about it before I picked it up, although I must’ve heard something that compelled me to check it out.  In any event, I’m forever grateful that I did; I had an absolutely delightful time with it.  And then, of course, there’s that ending… Like I said earlier, I’m not sure that a control scheme has ever moved me to tears, but there you have it.

1.  Gone Home.  Here’s that question again, the one I asked at the beginning of last year’s GOTY post, and the one that I brought up again earlier in this one:  “When was the last time you played a game and experienced joy?”  There are so many things to say about this game, and there are a lot of people who’ve said it a lot better than me – go back and read those links I posted earlier.  It’s rare to see a game affect people so deeply and profoundly; indeed, it’s rare that gamers let themselves be moved.  We generally play games knowing that, for the most part, we’re not playing it for the story – and games are, for better or worse, generally built with that philosophy in mind.  All I knew about this game going into it was that it was kind of spooky, and that it was a game of pure exploration – no combat, no enemies, no ticking clock.  And for the first third of it, I thought I was playing in a haunted house – there’s one particular jump scare that still spooks me when I think about it.  Of course, the game turned into a deep and moving love story, and my tears at the ending were genuine tears of joy.  A truly special experience and a game that I’ll always remember.

taking in the sigh(t)s

I’m taking a brief respite from the 360/PS3 post; I just crossed the 4,000 word barrier (!) and yet most of the draft is still in bullet-point format (!!), so there’s a lot yet to write.  On top of that, my desire to make sure I’m not forgetting anything is making it difficult to keep everything organized; I’ll be reviewing older posts looking to fill in nominee slots for a certain category and then suddenly I’ll stumble across a mention of, say, Viva Pinata, and suddenly I’m off chasing yet another rabbit hole…

…But I’m also heavily caffeinated right now and I need to keep on typing, so, here’s whatever this post is going to be:

1.  I’d bought Papers, Please a little while ago but somehow it got lost in the shuffle.  Last night I finally gave it a spin.  It’s hard to explain what’s so engaging about being a passport agent at a vaguely Soviet-European border crossing in 1982, and so I won’t bother to try.  And really, the thing that hit me the hardest isn’t even the game itself, but rather how emotionally similar it is to my actual, real-life job.  I should probably keep quiet about that comparison, being that this blog is public, but still; if you’ve played the game, then you’ve felt the stress of trying to process as much work as possible while trying to make as few mistakes as possible (though you will inevitably make a mistake and receive one of those little passive-aggressive notices that pop up informing you that you’ve made a mistake, but it’s just a warning – this time), all the while knowing that your family is depending on you and that you never have enough money to have all the things you need.  After the second or third day of work I returned home to a message saying that my child was sick and needed medicine, and of course I thought of my own son, and I kinda had to stop playing for the night.

2.   I also played about 30 minutes of Burial At Sea, Part 1, the new DLC for Bioshock Infinite.  It is incredibly weird (and also very, very cool) to be back in Rapture in its heyday, filled with people not-yet-fucked-up from Plasmid/Vigor overuse.  I probably spent more time taking screenshots than I did actually paying attention to the game.  All the reviews I’ve read say more or less the same thing – the first half is magical, but the second half is where it falls apart (coincidentally, it’s when you start shooting) – and so, for the time being, I’m content to take my time exploring and taking in the sights.

3.  I think I mentioned this already, but it bears repeating – if you haven’t yet picked up Rayman Fiesta Run for your iOS device, please do so immediately.  It’s gorgeous and fun as all hell.

SFTC 400: a bit of a downer

WordPress says this is my 400th post, although that number includes the old posts at the now-defunct blogspot URL and some drafts-in-progress.  Still, though, 400 posts!  Let’s celebrate this historic milestone by talking about anxiety, depression, and my poor impulse control as it relates to Steam Summer Sales.

You see, every time there’s a Steam sale, I get all excited and tingly – which is ridiculous, because according to the Steam Calculator, I already own everything and I’ve only played less than half of it:
  • Games owned: 338
  • Games not played: 166  (49%)
…and so not only do I get excited and tingly for no good reason, but I also, then, find myself getting a little disappointed that there’s nothing new on sale that I haven’t already bought.
Of course, that doesn’t actually stop me.  As of Monday afternoon, here’s my current haul (10 games, approximately $40):
  • Dirt 3
  • Super Puzzle Platformer Puzzle
  • The Last Remnant
  • Home
  • Rogue Legacy
  • Sword & Sworcery EP
  • Thomas Was Alone
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  • Bully: Scholarship Edition
  • Toki Tori 2

There’s more stupid irony to come, as you might expect.  3 of the games on that list are games I’ve already played and simply wanted better-looking versions of (Dirt 3, Sword & Sworcery, Bully).  I’d heard good things about Home and Thomas Was Alone, and since I keep saying I’m tired of shooters I figured I’d get on board with some quality indie non-shooters.  I can’t necessarily explain The Last Remnant, other than that every once in a while I get a JRPG itch, and this was $6 or something.  Toki Tori 2… well, for some reason Steam had given me a 10% discount coupon, which on top of the sale discount made it a no-brainer.  Blood Dragon was stupid cheap, and I still sorta-like Far Cry 3.  But the ultimate point that I’m driving at is that of the 10 games on that list above, Rogue Legacy is the only one that I had a genuine hunger for, and while it was modestly discounted it wasn’t even part of the actual sale.

And yet, here’s the dumbest part of this whole enterprise:

Even though I’ve added 10 new games to my already absurd collection, you know what I ended up playing the most this weekend?  Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider, which are games that I’d already beaten quite thoroughly earlier this year.

I don’t know why.  I suppose I was curious to see what this Steam Badge thing is all about; I’m still not 100% sure what they are or why I need them, and I’m not about to start annoying my friends list in hopes of completing a set, but after playing for half an hour or so and coming back up for air, I’d see that I’d unlocked a new badge, and so that’s an easy enough carrot to chase.

But I think there’s more to it (i.e., the replaying of finished games) than mere curiosity over Badges.  I think that I just wanted to travel over familiar ground.

This happens sometimes, especially when I’m feeling anxious and/or depressed.  I suppose I’ve been feeling a bit of both, lately. Truth is, I’m in a bit of a life-rut.  I mean, I love my kid, and I love my wife, and those are the most important things and that’s all well and good.  But I’ve been super-stressed out about money, my day job, my music career, my flailing attempts at creativity, my kid’s future and my ability to provide for him, and etc.  And so there’s been times lately when I sit down in front of my computer and I look at my “Installed Games” folder and I’m overcome with a sort of paralysis – I have too many choices, and none of them are scratching the right itch, and so rather than try something new that might be confusing or “arty” or difficult or non-intuitive, which are normally things that I’m intrigued by, I end up going towards the thing that I already know and am familiar with.

Along those lines, I’ve also been punishing myself by replaying a little bit of XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  Playstation Network was offering free copies for PSN users, and so I felt compelled to download it and see how it felt on my TV, and I played for a few minutes… but the PC version just looks and feels better, and there’s also something about playing it in my tiny, cramped office that adds to the tension, so I went back to the PC version.   I’d lost my old game save when my hard drive crashed, so I’ve been starting anew, and it’s been an interesting experience getting back into it – I’m not playing nearly as stupidly as I did the first time around, for one thing, though it’s still very tense and I can only play it for 30 minutes or so before the tension overwhelms the fun.

Regarding the rest of the Steam Sale:  I’m trying to hold off, though there’s really not much else that I’d be picking up at this point that I don’t already have.  I suppose I’d like to see Gunpoint come back – it was up for a community vote and lost, but considering that Dishonored came back after losing a vote, perhaps this one will come back as a featured item.  I’d tried the demo and liked it, but I also knew that at a certain point I’d probably get flustered and frustrated with it… so I’d rather pay less if I’m going to get it.

What about you guys?

the last two weeks

So I’m just going to say this up front:  this is going to be a weird post to write.  I’ll do my best to keep it easy for you, but even getting these first few sentences out has been a lot more difficult than I’d anticipated.

My last post here was written on Friday, March 29th; I had intended to write a more critical, spoiler-laden post about Bioshock Infinite but wasn’t quite ready to do it, and so I half-assed a post about iOS games and Tiger Woods 14 instead.  Still, Bioshock Infinite was running around in my brain, and I figured I’d maybe play the opening again over the weekend and see if I could start putting my thoughts into some order.

My wife went into labor Saturday evening, and my son was born on Sunday morning, March 31st.

Since then, I’ve been in this delirious, sleep-deprived haze of feedings, diaper changes and naps.  Taking care of a newborn is not unlike maintaining a very delicate plant; or, to put it another way, it’s a lot like some sort of free-to-play resource management sim where everything is on a timer – 3 hours until next feeding; prepare a 2 oz bottle; press A repeatedly to burp; change diaper; very slowly put baby back in crib for nap; race back to bed, set alarm, sleep.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

I don’t mean to diminish the experience of having a baby by comparing it to Farmville, of course; there is no happier sensation in the world for me right now than in those post-feeding, post-diaper-change moments where I get to hang out with him, have him sit on my lap and hold my fingers with his tiny hands and watch him take in the world around him.  It is bliss.

Anyway, that’s where I’ve been.

As you might imagine, there’s been very little gaming in my life over the last few weeks.  I’ve played a few more rounds of Tiger Woods 14 during naptimes – the game is still very good, and even though I’ve already run into some paywall issues the game lets me get around it relatively unscathed.  I’ve also gotten back into Super Mario 3D Land, which I’d put down when I’d gotten into Etrian Odyssey 4 a few weeks back.

I’ve also started replaying Bioshock Infinite in an attempt to see if the revelations of the ending change the way I approach the beginning.  You know what?  It has changed – it’s kinda dumb, now.  Let’s just take the very beginning as an example.  That amazingly creepy lighthouse that you ascend at the beginning?  It doesn’t make any sense anymore.  The first time you do it, after seeing that blood-stained note on the door and then the dead body on the 2nd floor – you get creeped out, you want to know what’s going to happen next.  But the second time?  After you know what you know?  It doesn’t make any sense.  Why is that note on the lighthouse door so threatening?  Who is that dead body – why was he killed, and who killed him, and since there’s a still-lit cigarette next to his corpse, where is the killer, anyway?

The world of Columbia is still the best thing about the game, but I’m finding myself very disappointed in almost everything else about it.  The action still feels obligatory, lazy, and not really all that fun; the fact that nobody else uses vigors besides you feels downright nonsensical; and the fiction – the reason we get excited about the Bioshock brand in the first place – simply doesn’t hold up for me the second time around.  These games really just ought to be subtitled: HUBRIS IS BAD.

At some point I’ll get around to writing this in greater detail, but it’ll have to wait until I’m a bit less sleep-deprived and a bit more level-headed and coherent.  In the meantime, there’s been some outstanding writing about the game by people who do it much better than I do, and I’ll link to them below:

 

Bioshock Infinite – part 1

I’m currently in Day 2 of a horrific stomach bug, so I’m home again.  Yesterday, my day was spent finishing Bioshock Infinite.  Today, my day will largely be spent thinking about how to talk about it.

In fact, I may have to do this in two posts, ultimately – one post devoted purely to how the game actually plays and looks and sounds and feels, and then another post about the story, necessarily filled with lots of spoilers, because, for better and for worse, there are things that need to be talked about.  I think I can combine elements of the second into this first post without getting too spoilery, though – or at least I’ll do my best to keep spoilers well advertised.

You know, I don’t even know if I can do this properly yet.  I’m still getting my thoughts together about the game, and trying to reconcile the stuff I liked with the stuff that didn’t make any sense, and it’s frustrating because I want to write this post RIGHT NOW instead of hours or possibly days from now, when the thoughts actually arrive.

That said, this is someone on tumblr’s reaction to the Bioshock Infinite ending, and it sums up my reaction pretty well, too:

So.

THE GAME:  Whatever misgivings I might have about the story and certain other aspects of the game’s narrative, one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that Columbia is arguably an even more engrossing place than Rapture.  It is an astonishing place; pretty much every where you look you’ll see something amazing.  (I had to stop taking screenshots after a while, since it was getting ridiculous.  And if you’d like to see some of those screenshots, you can click this link.  I’ve labeled a few of them as spoiler-ish, and so you don’t have to see them unless you want to.  I hard a hard time choosing which one I wanted to be my desktop background – I ended up going with this one.)

My concern over the shooting and murdering wasn’t necessarily misplaced – indeed, Elizabeth and Booker have more than a few conversations about all the killing that goes on and how hard it might be to live with yourself after you’ve killed someone, and there’s a bit more I could say here but that should probably wait until the spoiler post.  The combat itself is fine; it’s never been why I like these games, but it works well enough.  Still, I was far more interested in exploring the world and opening locked doors and finding hidden passages and even listening to recordings.  As my friend Caro put it, regarding that last bit:

Yeah, so.  Mechanically, the combat works fine, although I really only used a few guns, and even fewer Vigors (i.e., Plasmids).  Some of the Vigors are introduced rather lazily, actually, and I almost missed picking a few of them up.  Not that it would’ve changed my playstyle very dramatically, though – I mainly used Shock and Fire (not their real names) for crowd control before mopping up baddies with machine guns and shotguns.  Most of the Vigors felt like afterthoughts, to be honest – as if the developers needed something to fill out the radial menu.

But there’s another reason we need to talk about those Vigors.  There’s a fantastic Gameological (AVClub) review which I might as well quote directly since John Teti says exactly what I was thinking, and the whole review is worth a read:

Other parts of the BioShock carryover simply don’t make sense. It’s all well and good that the plasmids of the old game have been rechristened as Vigors for Infinite, but in the [first] BioShock, plasmid abuse was an integral part of Rapture’s downfall. More to the point, plasmids made sense in the culture of Rapture, where self-worship was the norm, and man’s freedom to improve his lot was sacrosanct.

Where do Vigors fit into Columbia? I don’t know, and neither does Infinite. There are advertisements for Vigors all over the city, and you can find bottles of the stuff lying around, but very few Columbians use them. In a society that espouses racial purity, you’d think Vigors would be more of an issue. After all, they can turn a person into a demigod regardless of race. But this never comes up. If anything, [the main villain] Comstock appears to tacitly embrace the sale of Vigors. There’s a difference between plot holes, which are excusable, and a disregard for internal logic. Vigors belong to the latter category.

And along those lines, it seems downright odd that there would be so many ammunition vending machines all over the place, especially since there’s this whole uprising/revolution that Comstock is trying to hard to quell.  I can’t necessarily speak more about that until I get to the spoiler post, but purely in terms of game mechanics, it’s striding a very fine line between aiding the player in combat and distracting the player’s brain who’s trying to make sense of everything they see.  In a game like this, where you can tell that every single object has been placed with deliberate care and purpose, it just seems weird.

I should probably stop now, before I start saying things that I shouldn’t say in a non-spoiler post.