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.

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* 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!

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