Weekend Recap: Gloom and Doom

I had a great weekend, and that’s despite the fact that I was terribly sick for the majority of it.  Imagine how great a weekend has to be for that to be the case, that you can go to bed on Sunday night feeling at peace with the world even though you’ve been coughing your brains out and feeling like a huge lump of crap for 72 hours.

A lot of this has to do with my brother and his fiancee who stayed with us for the weekend.  They are lovely, lovely people, and my son adores them, and they even babysat for us while the wife and I took a desperately-needed nap on Saturday afternoon.  On Sunday evening, my wife and I asked our son what he wanted to be when he grew up.  He replied, without hesitation, “A cool person like Uncle Jono.”


I also learned that my almost-4-year-old son loves OK Go videos and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”, as featured in the animated movie “Sing”.  And for some reason this made me happy.  I don’t particularly care about Taylor Swift one way or the other but Henry was into that song, dancing uncontrollably all over the living room floor.  My wife and I couldn’t believe what we were seeing.

So, yeah:  good family visits, my son being adorable, and Trump’s healthcare debacle going up in flames were more than enough to make up for a super-shitty chest cold.  For a moment, all felt right with the world.

*   *   *

I am struggling with my feelings about Mass Effect Andromeda.  The one thing that makes it easier, I guess, is that I’m not alone in my disappointment.  I am a die-hard Mass Effect fan; this was one of my only must-have games coming out this year; I am very much wanting to give Bioware the benefit of the doubt.  If it was any other developer, I would’ve given up on this game a dozen hours ago; I keep hearing rumblings that it gets better the farther in you go, but I’m not quite sure what that actually means.  The gunplay is fine, for whatever that’s worth – for all intents and purposes it’s probably the best it’s ever been.  But I don’t play these games for the combat; I play them for the stories, the characters, the exploration.  And almost all of that stuff is either broken or badly written, and often it’s both.

I have no investment in my character; I don’t care about what I’m doing; I don’t like any of my crewmates – which feels odder than it should since Bioware seems to have gone out of their way to make sure you know that you can bang any or all of them eventually; most importantly, I have absolutely no idea how the upgrade and stat-leveling stuff works (I’m mostly content to simply auto-level for the time being until I get sufficiently powerful enough that I feel comfortable with a complete re-spec).  I do appreciate that my dialogue options are less obviously good/bad than they were in the earlier trilogy, which makes me feel more comfortable answering questions naturally, but I also find myself skipping through dialogue scenes because the voice acting is dull and lifeless and I read much faster than they speak.

Sometimes I feel like ME:A is what No Man’s Sky would’ve been like with a narrative.  Make of that what you will.  I’m not sure that patches are gonna fix what’s broken here.

*   *   *

I will say this – my ambivalence towards ME:A means that I’ll probably return to my backlog sooner rather than later, especially since as far as I can tell there’s nothing I absolutely HAVE to play until Red Dead 2, which is supposedly releasing in September.  I might actually get back to Final Fantasy XV; I’d like to finish Yakuza 0; I might even consider getting back into Gears of War 4, because why not.

*   *   *

Are you watching Legion?  You should be.  That show is fucking insane in all the best ways and I adore it.  I know it’s not for everybody – a lot of my Facebook feed is filled with people who are fed up with it – but it’s 100% meant for me, and I can’t get enough of it.  I may very well binge watch the whole season again once it’s over.


Side Quests: Avoiding The Big Story

The big story is that I am not yet ready to talk about Mass Effect Andromeda.  I can offer a ton of first impressions, almost none of which are positive.  I can also bury these impressions under the mountain of goodwill that I’m trying to hold on to, with respect to Bioware and the Mass Effect franchise.  I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, because they’ve earned it.  But YE GODS this game feels like a broken, buggy, unpolished mess.  I don’t really understand this need to radically re-invent the wheel as far as certain mechanical things are concerned – the first 3 games had an intelligent and intuitive user interface, and while I appreciate the desire to spice things up for a next-gen debut, the finished result feels decidedly unfinished.  The simple act of tracking a quest requires at least 3 button presses too many; I still have no idea how to add mods to my weapons, or how to switch my weaponry at all.  Now, granted, I’ve only just landed on Eos; I’m still barely into the actual proper game.  And Bioware RPGs are notorious for always starting off slowly.  But this feels like a mess.  I’ve already said too much.

Instead, let me talk up some other things that aren’t terrible.

First:  read this Kotaku review of Everything, which I downloaded immediately after reading.  If tonight’s run of ME:A remains as impenetrable as last night’s, I’m headed towards Everything ASAP.

Second:  holy shit, iOS has had some INCREDIBLE games land in the last few weeks.  I’d already been charmed by Little Folks and lost hours to Slayaway Camp and Tavern Guardian, but then this murderer’s row of kick-ass happened, one right after the other:

  • Ticket to Earth, a puzzle RPG unlike anything I’ve ever seen before;
  • Bit City, a city simulator from the people that made Tiny Tower (another game I lost many, many hours to);
  • Cosmic Express, another charming (and quite difficult) puzzler;
  • Pavilion, a “4-dimensional adventure game” with a gorgeous art style;
  • TypeShift, a new and very addicting word game from Zach Gage;
  • Kingdom: New Lands, which is some sort of resource-gathering thing with an absolutely gorgeous pixel art style reminiscent of Sword & Sworcery;
  • Euclidean Lands, which mixes Monument Valley‘s Escher-like aesthetic with Rubik’s Cube gameplay;
  • Beglitched, one of the weirder and more charming variants of match-3 I’ve come across;
  • Death Road to Canada, the newest game from Rocketcat (one of my favorite mobile developers); and finally
  • Card Thief, which is some sort of stealth/solitaire/board game mashup that’s as ingenious as it is clever.

Any one of those games will tide you over for quite some time, let me tell you.

Third:  I finished Horizon: Zero Dawn at the end of last week.  I submit that it’s entirely possible that one of the reasons why I’m so frustrated with Mass Effect’s missteps is that HZD does everything correctly.  HZD is polished, intuitive, and graceful in all the ways that ME is broken, frustrating and clumsy.  It’s a remarkable game, and I only hope that it’s not forgotten at the end of the year, overshadowed as it is by the new Zelda.  Incredible world-building, fantastic production values, highly engaging combat, very involving gameplay.  If the story is somewhat predictable, the experience of playing it is anything but.

The Post-Turkey Blues

Here’s hoping you all had a lovely holiday; we certainly did.  Lovely extended family hang time, minimal traffic, and then we got home and did our holiday decorating.  Life is good.  Even though I’m turning 40 in just over a week.

1. As of this morning’s commute, I am 76% into City On Fire, which I am very much enjoying after somewhat of a slow start.  All of the disparate narrative arcs and character threads are suddenly converging with extreme haste, and I feel like I could probably knock out the remaining ~200 pages in an hour or so (if I could find an hour to spare).  I may have said this before, but it bears repeating in any case – for a 900+ page book, City on Fire is paced incredibly well; you don’t often think of these sorts of massive tomes as “page-turners”, but, well, there you go.

I won’t be finalizing my Books Of the Year posts until I finish this one, especially given that it’s got some of my favorite sentences tucked away in its corners.

2. I’m a few more hours into Fallout 4 and my disappointment grows with each step I take.  As my available gaming time shrinks over the next few weeks (my wife and I have been devouring Jessica Jones of late, which is excellent; I’ve also gotta get my ass in gear and start finishing this album), I find myself becoming less and less forgiving of games that make me feel like I’m wasting time, and unfortunately that’s where I kinda am as far as FO4 is concerned.

I will concede that this might be my fault, somehow.  That my expectations for a Bethesda open-world RPG on new hardware might have been asking too much; similarly, it could be that my recent experiences playing other open-world RPGs like Witcher 3 – and also having just finished the finely polished Rise of the Tomb Raider – might have influenced my thinking and judgment.

Still, though, there’s something somewhat… hmm… amateurish about Fallout 4.  It’s ugly, it’s buggy, it doesn’t explain itself well (even when it’s tutorializing), and its UI is fucking horrendous.

I recall reading something, somewhere (it might have been this?), about how Bethesda’s teams are small on purpose, that they are willing to sacrifice certain things (bug squashing, graphical fidelity, etc.) in order to better focus on other things (atmosphere, narrative, etc.).   I suppose that’s admirable in certain respects.  But it doesn’t make me less inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.  Again – I know I’m repeating myself here – I’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours playing Bethesda games, and there’s a certain amount of jank that I know I should be expecting when I play these things.  But I’m finding the lack of polish more and more distracting, and it makes the stuff I do like that much more frustrating.  I want to explore – Bethesda still creates that feeling, that yearning to see what’s behind the next corner, better than anybody else – but I don’t want to be miserable while I’m doing it.

3. The irony in my disappointment about Fallout 4 is that I’m now finding myself really, really, really wanting to play Just Cause 3.  For all the times I’ve whined about how tired I’m getting of having to kill things in order to advance, I’m finding myself in the perverse position of sitting on my gaming couch and, more than anything else, wanting to explode the shit out of everything I possibly can, and JC3 would appear to be the answer to this desire.  As of this moment – 1:30pm – there aren’t any reviews out that I’ve seen, though the early scuttlebutt on Twitter is that there are some atrociously awful loading times.  This isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, though, as long as it’s the sort of thing that can get patched quickly.



on managing expectations

In last week’s entry, I sounded pessimistic about the Fall 2015 videogame release schedule.  Not much has changed since then; unfortunately.  We had company on Saturday and I was laid up with a nasty head cold on Sunday, and so I only had a few hours of game time, and yet I was still kinda non-plussed at the end of it.  I played an hour or so of the remastered Dishonored; it looked fine – about on par with my PC – but I’d already played those first few missions a lot, and I wasn’t feeling particularly inclined to play them once more, Achievements notwithstanding.  I also played an hour or so of the remastered Gears of War, and it looks very much like how I remember it looking, which is probably the best you can hope for in a remastered port; it’s just that, as with Dishonored, I’m not really sure I feel like playing through the rest of it.  Calvino Noir has gotten fair-to-middling reviews in the few outlets that have bothered to write anything about it, which is a bit disappointing, and Madden 16 simply isn’t my cup of tea.  So there’s that.

This week is Metal Gear Solid V and Mad Max.  I’m going to take a wild guess and presume that the release date review embargo for Mad Max probably means that it’s not going to score all that well, and also that launching it on the same day as MGSV probably means that its publisher isn’t expecting that much of a return.

Review scores are not necessarily the be-all end-all for me, of course; I have been mystified by the Metal Gear franchise at every turn and even though this latest installment has gotten impossibly high scores from nearly every outfit that’s looked at it, I can’t help but feel incredibly skeptical about it.  I didn’t particularly care for Ground Zeroes, and if this is simply a much larger version of that, with a plot even more ludicrous and ridiculous, well… let’s just say I’m glad I’m not buying it.

Here’s the thing, though, and it’s maybe a point that I should probably have emphasized a lot more during this last year or so of general gaming apathy; I’d love to be proven wrong.  I’d love to sit down with either one of these games and get sucked in and have a good time.  That’s why I still write here, that’s why this blog exists.  I have precious little time for gaming these days, and so I’d like the time I do get to play to be well spent.  I genuinely hope that I can sit down later this week and rip open my rental copy of MGSV and get sucked in – if not to the impossibly ridiculous story, then at least into the moment-to-moment experience of exploring the environment.

Not all is doom and gloom as far as games are concerned, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw some love towards some iPhone games that have been kicking serious ass of late.  To wit:

  • Lara Croft GO, which is a strategy-action-board-game hybrid that feels far more accessible and interesting than Hitman GO, the game that preceded it; I was able to finish the entire thing without needing any help, which was very rewarding.  I’d recommend playing it on an iPad as opposed to an iPhone (if only because the larger screen makes it considerably easier to find the hidden collectibles), though my iPad 3 did not run it particularly well.
  • PAC-MAN 256, which is a novel combination of both Pac-Man and Crossy Road, and which works far better than you might expect; and
  • Sage Solitaire, which is a poker-ish solitaire game built by the guy who made the excellent SpellTower, and which is fiendishly addictive and maddeningly frustrating.

While we’re on the topic of enjoying the moment-to-moment experience of a carefully crafted world, I want to pour one out for the dearly departed Hannibal, one of my all-time favorite television shows and which featured as thorough of a mic drop in its finale as one could’ve hoped for.  Nobody else watched this show, which is why it only lasted three seasons, but they were three of the most gorgeously photographed and exquisitely acted and straight-up BOLD seasons of network television I’ve ever seen in my life.  Not since Twin Peaks have I been so genuinely unnerved by something on a major network; there are images from nearly every episode of this show that I will never be able to get out of my head (the totem pole, the angel wings, the mushroom garden, the increasingly horrible fate of poor Dr. Chilton, etc.).  It’s been a hell of a ride, and I hope they can secure financing for a filmed version of the 4th season’s arc.  If Wet Hot American Summer can come back as a serialized Netflix show, then anything’s possible.

I’m currently reading Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, which I’m enjoying, though not nearly as much as I enjoyed his debut novel, The Gone-Away World, which is one of the most fun books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in quite some time.  I loved that book so much that I ended up buying the rest of his published output, and I suppose I should’ve expected a bit of a letdown after Gone-Away World’s brilliance; I’m not done yet, of course, and there’s still plenty of book left for me to get knocked out by – he has a remarkable way with words, of course, and even if the plot isn’t quite as riveting, his prose is still genuinely fun to absorb.

revisiting Brutal Legend

I was home sick today, and so I decided to spend some of my convalescence by downloading the Steam version of Brutal Legend, a game that I still own (and never finished) on the 360.

Brutal Legend - The Wall

This is what I wrote about Brutal Legend back when I was first playing it in October 2009:

I don’t quite know how to express how bummed out I am about Brutal Legend. The art direction is stupendous, and the world itself is just fantastic. I love driving around and exploring the world and seeing all the incredible stuff there is to see, and my compulsive need to seek out hidden collectibles is very well satisfied. The dialogue and cut-scenes are fantastic, and even though the side missions are incredibly repetitive, they almost never last more than a few minutes, and the rewards generally result in neat stuff in Ozzy’s Garage.

But goddamn, the stage battles completely suck all my enthusiasm out of the game. It eventually got to the point where I had completed every side mission and found every hidden thing I could possibly find, just because I wanted to play the game as much as possible without having to go through the stage battles. And, of course, the story can’t progress unless you do those stage battles, and therein lay the tragedy.

I don’t necessarily hate real time strategy games, I’m just not very good at them, and Brutal Legend’s brief tutorials don’t really help me in terms of figuring out what the hell is going on, and the game does such a terrible job of providing adequate feedback, especially when I’m on the ground trying to kill people because my army refuses to move. Once you start getting wounded, and the screen starts turning red and the heartbeat starts pounding louder, you’re almost always dead, and I’ve yet to figure out why. Even when I try to fly away, I die. And even though I’ve eventually won every stage battle I’ve participated in, I really don’t understand why, and the whole thing just feels shoddy and poorly implemented.

I have all the respect in the world for Tim Schafer; I’ll play anything the man works on. But I’m starting to feel that there’s more to a game than art direction and funny dialogue; ultimately, a game either succeeds or fails based on how much fun it is to play, and Brutal Legend is not very much fun at all.

This is Tim Schafer speaking about the game with Rock Paper Shotgun today:

“When Brutal Legend was done, a lot of people wanted the wrapper to it – the heavy metal world – to be [the only unique thing about it],” he said. “They basically wanted the heavy metal funny version of God of War. A very simple hack and slash game. That’s a real tough call for me. It’s hard to say, ‘There’s this other thing that’s not the thing you’re trying to do. The thing you care about and that you love. There’s this other version of it that’s totally different and it would be more successful. Why don’t you make that version?’”

“Maybe it would have been more successful. It would have been more accessible and simpler and easier for people to grasp. But it wasn’t the thing that got me up in the morning and made me want to make the game.”

I am sad to report that my opinions of the game have not changed one bit.  The world is still wondrous, the art direction is still mesmerizing, the characters are still memorable and marvelously performed and animated, the dialogue is still witty and smart, and the story is still engaging… but the gameplay is still shitty.   I understand where Tim is coming from in that RPS quote – making a simplistic hack-n-slash game is probably not as inspiring as coming up with this RTS-esque system – but if you’re going to commit to a complicated system over the more obvious route, then you’ve got to make sure that your audience can follow along with you.  I’m sure some people understood how the game worked, but I never could.  And after my time with it tonight, I’m not sure I’ll ever get there.

It’s also worth bringing up that this PC port is not without some noticeable problems.  Lots of weird graphical glitches and bugs pop up all the time – the mouse cursor will appear in the middle of the screen at random even though I’m playing with a controller, some of the upgrade options in Ozzy’s Garage are totally glitched out, and the audio has a tendency to come and go during the pre-rendered cut-scenes.  (As I type this, I see that Steam just downloaded a 50MB patch; maybe that will help smooth out these rough edges.)

Despite my pessimism, I really would like to see a sequel – this world is too amazing to be lost to time.  I just hope that if they get the chance to make one, that they’ll be able to take as much time as is necessary to make sure the game part works.  Double Fine’s games have never come up short in the story department, or the art department, or any of the other technical/creative departments – they’ve only ever shown their weaknesses during the parts where you actually have to play them.  As I said above, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Tim and his company, and I’ve played pretty much everything they’ve put out, and will continue to do so – I’m certainly waiting with bated breath for the Kickstarter Adventure (whose progress I’ve been trying to not follow, actually).  I wish nothing but success for Double Fine.  I just can’t help but feel that success will only truly arrive once their games are as much fun to play as they are to experience.

the beginning of the end

I’m currently re-reading Justin Cronin’s excellent “The Passage“, primarily to get reacquainted with the world and the characters and the story before diving into the sequel.  But I’m also just totally in love with the book itself, and I’m probably enjoying it even more the second time around.  Cronin is a masterful storyteller, to be sure, but I think I’m most impressed by his words.  The man just knows how to write a sentence; no detail is superfluous, no word feels out of place, and every paragraph has a perfect rhythm that sweeps you along to the next one.  For me, there are few pleasures like being sucked into a great book.

I say this only because my experience playing Assassin’s Creed 3 is very much the opposite of what I’m feeling when I’m reading The Passage.  AC3 feels like a depressing slog; the already-tenuous narrative is now fraying and starting to make very little sense, both in Connor-time and (especially) in Desmond-time, where the cutscenes between Desmond and that weird ghost lady are just flat-out dreadful – the ghost lady’s dialogue is flowery and pretentious and desperately trying to sound important and mean something, even though it sounds like nonsense.  I suppose I could try to see past this if the gameplay was still holding up, but it’s not.  I just escaped from a New York City prison, and while that sounds interesting in theory, in practice it was dreadfully dull and I just wanted the damned thing to be over with.  I’m not sure I’m going to keep playing, and while a part of this makes me a little sad (as I really want to care about this franchise again), the truth is that I don’t like feeling that I’m wasting my time.

So, while I wait for Gamefly copies of Lego LOTR, Hitman and Far Cry 3 to arrive, I’ll probably start diving into my Steam Sale purchases.  I didn’t go too nuts this year, but I did buy enough to keep me busy for a few months:

  • Tropico 4
  • Yesterday
  • Thirty Flights of Loving
  • Resonance
  • Batman Arkham City GOTY
  • Dishonored

Those last 2 require some explanation, I guess.  I’d already played Arkham City on the 360, and I’d found over 300 of the Riddler’s challenges, too, but I’ve found myself thinking about it lately and figured I couldn’t go wrong for $7, especially since my PC makes it look really, really nice.  Similarly, I guess I kinda felt bad about quitting on Dishonored, and since it was 50% off, I figured I’d give it another ago, now that at least I know how to play it a lot better than I did, previously.

In all, I spent less than $40 on 6 games, most of which have gotten great reviews, and since as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing worth playing until either Bioshock Infinite or GTA5, whichever comes first, I might as well dig in.

weekend recap: the sneeze and the fury

[Note:  this post may be a bit rambly and incoherent; I’ve got a bad head cold and I’m working under maybe an hour of unrestful sleep (though I also did eventually have one of the most hilariously frustrating dreams I’ve ever had).  I did make it into work for some reason, though, so if this post does get rambly, it may also get distracted.]

Things to talk about today:

  1. Had to put Dishonored down due to a weird, game-breaking bug.  May take the opportunity to start over from scratch.
  2. Gave up on Resident Evil 6.
  3. Spent some quality time with XCOM Enemy Unknown.
  4. The difference between bad video games and bad movies.

1.  I was finally starting to get into Dishonored‘s groove.  At first I was incredibly intimidated by it (as I sort of am with most stealth games), as I wanted to try to be as stealthy as possible and not kill anyone, but I kept accidentally screwing up and suddenly finding myself in sword fights (that I often lost).  After a while, though, I decided that if the object of the game is to have fun, and if the game does in fact give you options for killing people in spectacular ways in addition to making it easier to sneak around, then, dammit, I was going to play it however the hell I wanted to.  To wit: mostly stealthy, but if push came to shove, then dudes were getting shivved.  No muss, no fuss.  And so everything was going great.  I was around 45 minutes into the third mission, doing a sidequest for Slackjaw who was going to help me gain entry into the Cat Parlor (or whatever it’s called).  I completed Slackjaw’s quest, and was on my way to head back to his distillery to turn it in, when the game suddenly told me I’d failed the quest, and even though none of his men were trying to kill me, he certainly was.  I didn’t understand what I’d done wrong.  Tried re-loading several times, tried entering stealthily as opposed to waltzing right in – but no matter how I entered the zone, as soon as I’d crossed some invisible barrier, the game decided I’d failed.  This was very, very frustrating (as you might imagine), and since I didn’t see any solution (beyond waiting for a patch), I decided to take it out of the 360’s tray and leave it alone for a little while.  Some quick googling revealed that a lot of people are having the same problem – not everyone, but enough for me to feel like it’s not just my own peculiar problem.  That being said, since I don’t know when the patch is coming (if indeed it’s coming at all), I might just take the opportunity to start over from scratch, now that I actually know what I’m doing.   (I’m still terrible at the melee combat, but I’m much better now at stealth.)

2.  In my annoyance at having to put Dishonored to the side, I decided to give Resident Evil 6 one last concerted push before sending it back.  To that end, I played a little bit more of Jake’s questline – his is the most action-oriented, he runs quickly, and it’s not so methodical as the other two.  Started running into weird problems early on, though, where Jake would only pick up certain objects.  In a game like RE6 where ammo is always scarce, it is INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING when you’re completely out of ammunition and there’s 3 boxes RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU that for whatever reason the game won’t let you pick up.  (And not just that it wouldn’t register a button press – it seemed to imply that I couldn’t carry any more, which was the exact opposite of my problem.)  Now, between the Dishonored bug and this apparent bug, and the fact that my 360’s been making some loud noises when I start it up, I started wondering if there was a larger issue at work, even though I don’t know how a hardware issue would affect lines of code on a disc.  Still, though, I continued to push on until HOLY SHIT THE SAME ENEMY THAT I’VE BEEN FIGHTING FOR THE ENTIRE GAME SHOWED UP AGAIN.  When even your poorly-written characters are incredulous about the shit that’s happening to them, to the point where they actually say out loud how goddamned ridiculous it is that they have to keep fighting the same monster over and over again, MAYBE IT’S TIME TO DO SOMETHING ELSE.

3.  So, what with Dishonored’s unfortunate glitch, and RE6’s bullshit, and the aforementioned loud noises that my 360’s been making lately, I decided to go back to my PC and spend some time with XCOM Enemy Unknown, which had been getting short shrift of late.  I am very pleased to report that unlike some games I could mention, XCOM actually works as advertised.  And even on the easiest difficulty setting, it is still challenging – there’s nothing more terrifying than moving your guys into what you think is appropriate cover, only to have a bunch of thin men show up and move to your un-covered flank, blasting you into smithereens.  I lost one of my best soldiers in such a manner, as it happens, and while I exacted a swift and merciless revenge on his killers, I’m still a little bummed about it.  That this feeling is the game’s intention is what makes the game special, and that it’s executed so well is what makes it remarkable.

4.  The wife and I re-watched Prometheus this weekend.  We’d seen it in the theater, and I can’t speak for my wife but I found it to be one of the most disappointing movie experiences I’d ever had.  Part of this is certainly because my own expectations were sky-high – those trailers looked absolutely amazing, and I was very much looking forward to what was appearing to be a well-made, hard science fiction / horror movie.  Instead, what I got was an exquisitely photographed piece of shit, with plot holes larger than the actual movie, stock characters that were loathsome when they weren’t being mind-bogglingly stupid, and Guy Pearce in some of the worst old-man makeup in cinema history.   I am not surprised (but still disappointed) to report that it’s even worse upon a second viewing.  Frankly, it was the sort of terrible that is normally associated with video game storytelling – indeed, one might make an apt comparison here to Resident Evil 6, another highly-anticipated game that ended up being a piece of shit in part because of its awful approach to narrative.  At least with Prometheus, the movie ends, eventually, thankfully, and I never felt like it was my fault that it was so terrible; it’s not like I could ever get better at watching it.  Whereas with RE6, I’m sure I could get better at shooting enemies, even if the game is maddeningly inconsistent at telling me if I’m doing any damage; I could also scour every nook and cranny of every level in order to find hidden skill point packages, and then replay every level over and over again to find those same skill point packages, and then eventually have enough points so that I can level up my characters with more powerful weaponry, higher ammunition counts, better defensive skills, etc.  This, in turn, might make the combat a little less dreary (if only because I could get through it a lot faster).  The game’s narrative problems, though; that’s not something I can improve with skill points.

maybe the last RE6 post for a while

As noted here and elsewhere, today marks the release of 2 probable GOTY contenders, XCOM Enemy Within and Dishonored, which means that any plans I might have made to finish Resident Evil 6 will most likely be put on hold for the foreseeable future.  I’m sure no one will mind/notice.

That being said, I played one more chapter of the Chris/Piers storyline last night, putting me at 2 chapters into each story.  I had to fight a boss that I’d already beaten (in Jake’s story), but even though I now had a much better idea of what the hell I was supposed to do, I still had a very difficult time doing it.

Part of the problem, as you’ve surely heard by now, is that each storyline has its own gameplay style/focus.  Leon’s story is classic Resident Evil – slow, methodical exploration of scary-looking buildings.  Jake’s story involves a lot of running, jumping and obstacle avoidance.  And the Chris/Piers story is mostly combat-focused – Chris is a machine-gunning heavy, and Piers is a sniper.  That each story has its own style is fine, I suppose, but why then is each story bogged down by the same contrivances?

Specifically, Chris/Piers start each mission with very little ammunition.  This is a classic staple of the Resident Evil experience, but in this particular case it is literally nonsensical.  Considering that Chris and Piers are military personnel, why the fuck are they chronically low on ammo?  How would they expect to win any battles or kill any monsters without bullets?  (I am reminded of a similar complaint during a pivotal scene in the movie Aliens – “What are we supposed to use, man, harsh language?”) 

Indeed, if Piers is the sniper, why does he almost never have any sniper ammunition, especially considering that his other weapon is a piece of shit machine gun that requires at least 5 headshots just to slow an enemy down?  This makes absolutely no sense, and consequently leads to extreme frustration; I spend most of my time running around kicking dudes to death just to save my ammunition (even though I have not yet sufficiently leveled up my sniping skills so that it would make much of a difference – Piers jerks his scope around as if he’d drank 8 cups of espresso before heading out into the field, making long-distance sniping comically impossible).  In a way, I suppose it actually helps that the J’Avo – the mutated insurgents in the Chris/Piers storyline – display some of the least impressive AI I’ve ever seen in a game this side of 1998; they either stand in place, oblivious, or they run right past me.  (However, their snipers are better than Oswald, those fucking assholes.)

So, to get back to the top of this post – I’d already beaten this boss as Jake, who doesn’t have that much ammunition to begin with.  But I figured Chris and Piers, being military dudes with powerful guns, would be able to take the B.O.W.s down with a little more finesse.  No such luck; I had to do the same exact shit in the exact same way, still receiving no apparent feedback as to how I was progressing – and this time, without being able to rely on my weapons.  What’s the point?  I didn’t learn anything in the 2nd encounter that I hadn’t already learned in the 1st, except that I had a better idea of who Chris and Piers were (though I didn’t need to replay the boss to learn that stuff).

I’m starting to wonder, now, why I’m so determined to see this game through to the end; the more I think about it, the angrier I get.

compare/contrast: Tintin vs. Uncharted 3

Last week marked the DVD and On-Demand release of a whole bunch of films that the wife and I wanted to see in theaters but missed, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which was pretty good), David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (which was OK), and The Adventures of Tintin.

I have no connection with the Tintin source material.  I recognized the cartoon character’s visage but never read the books, and my only interest in the film was that it looked amazing, and that it had a bunch of voice actors that I liked (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost) and that Edgar Wright had a hand in the script.  And, of course, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson considered this a passion project of sorts, and who am I to argue if two titans of film want to collaborate on something near and dear to their hearts?

The movie itself?  Kinda dumb, actually.  I mean, it looked incredible – it’s probably the best looking CGI film I’ve ever seen – but we had a lot of problems with it right off the bat.  Tintin looks like a teenager, but he lives alone and carries a loaded gun, even though he’s just a newspaper reporter.  (Indiana Jones never carried a gun!)  Tintin befriends a sea captain locked away in his cabin – this captain turns out to be, among other things, a serious alcoholic, and this is ostensibly played for laughs even though the depths of his cravings become somewhat ludicrous.  It’s also got the worst score that John Williams has ever written – I mean, it’s bad, to the point where it was literally distracting from the scenes it was meant to accompany.  (His scores have always been emotionally manipulative, but that’s usually the point.)  And the film doesn’t really end so much as kinda peter out, like a slowly deflating balloon.

It kinda felt like we were watching a videogame, to be honest.  And the more I picked up on that feeling, the more I realized just how similar Tintin was to Uncharted 3.

from inappropriatelyadorable.tumblr.com

(Amazing Nathan Drake pic via inappropriatelyadorable.tumblr.com.)


  • Tintin has incredible visuals and features highly realistic motion capture animation; Uncharted 3 is one of the best looking games ever made and features highly realistic motion capture animation.
  • Tintin stars Andy Serkis, a ubiquitous presence in motion capture performances; Uncharted 3 stars Nolan North, who is arguably even more ubiquitous in video games than Andy Serkis is in CGI films.
  • Tintin is followed by his trusty sidekick, Snowy; Nathan Drake is followed by his trusty sidekick, Sully.
  • Tintin is a nice enough kid, but isn’t afraid to fire a gun; Nathan Drake killed over 700 bad guys in my U3 playthrough.
  • Tintin, in his search for a lost artifact, finds his way to an old chateau; Nathan Drake, in his search for a lost artifact, finds his way to an old chateau (although Drake’s chateau also has millions of spiders and is consumed by fire.)
  • Tintin then finds his way onto a gigantic ship, although I forget exactly why; Nathan Drake also finds his way onto a gigantic ship, and I also forgot why.  There are even parallel shots in both the movie and the game with the main character running along the ship’s sides.  (I’d find youtube video here, but I’m lazy.)
  • Tintin is involved in a plane crash in the middle of the desert; Nathan Drake is involved in a plane crash in the middle of the desert.  Mirages galore.
  • Tintin is involved in a chase scene in a Middle Eastern market; Nathan Drake is involved in  several chase scenes in Middle Eastern markets, although Drake is also pretty heavily drugged.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  I’m not suggesting that there was plagiarism at work; both the game and the movie were in development for years, and aside from Nathan Drake’s obvious inspirational debt to Indiana Jones, the two intellectual properties couldn’t be more different.  But the similarities were striking – not to mention the fact that despite the enormous technological prowess that went into making these two entertainments, they were both, ultimately, disappointing.

Happy New Year, etc.

I don’t mean to start 2012 on a down note, but here we are.

The main thing on my plate these days is The Old Republic.  My Bounty Hunter/Mercenary is now level 18; I’ve got a bitchin’ spaceship and I’m doling out death and destruction all across the galaxy.  I’m really enjoying my time with it.  As noted the other day, though, my wife is also a full-blown TOR addict; she, in fact, pulled an 11-hour marathon yesterday, which is something that even I haven’t ever done.  She’s having somewhat of a more frustrating time than I am, though, even though she claims she’s still having fun with it.  (I’m definitely going to do a podcast with her in the near future.)

So while she was Jedi-ing yesterday, I was left with my 360.  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, except that I’m not really into anything at the moment.  As I said last week, I’ve started to sour on Skyrim, which is a bummer.  I finished the Civil War side-quest yesterday – or, at least, I think I did.  Maybe I didn’t.*    The whole thing was unclear, and in any event it was incredibly anti-climactic, riddled with bugs and strangely staged in-game cutscenes where the music was (a) louder than the dialogue, and (b) on an endless loop, which tended to decrease the tension with every subsequent replay.     Now that I’ve beaten the main story, and I’ve discovered most of the stuff that there is to discover, there’s really not a lot pulling me back to the world – it’s certainly not the narrative, which feels positively clunky and dead next to The Old Republic.

I also put some time into the Stranger’s Wrath HD remake on PSN.  The best thing about HD remakes – when they’re done well – is that they don’t diminish your memories of how those games used to look.**  The Oddworld games were always quite pretty, but they were running on primitive hardware (compared to today), and one only needs to look at the PC port that appeared on Steam last year to see how far graphics have come in only 5 or 6 years (or however long it’s been).  The PSN HD remake looks absolutely fantastic – they’ve re-skinned and re-textured pretty much everything, down to the last pixel.  The gameplay is still refreshing and inventive – the live ammo thing is still pretty clever – although the level design feels a bit archaic, with lots of canyons funneling you into small clearings, where the action is.

Finally, I continued to dabble in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, which remains profoundly disappointing.  I feel terrible about saying this, but I think I’m gonna trade AssRev in.   I’ve played – and loved – each of the three previous games to death, and yet this game feels totally foreign to me.  The controls are far too complicated – there are two different buttons you need to press just to run – and it’s ridiculous that I’m fighting the controls at this point, being that I’ve already sunk probably 100 hours in the franchise already.  Does that make sense?   I used to know how to kick ass and run around and could stealthily eliminate an entire town square, and now I can’t even figure out how to climb a wall.  It should feel familiar, and instead it feels clunky and overly complicated and – most depressingly – uninspired.  I sincerely hope that the inevitable Assassin’s Creed 3 is more of a re-boot – this franchise needs a kick in the ass.


*I got the “Hero of Skyrim” achievement for capturing Solitude?  I have a feeling that there’s yet one more piece to that puzzle, involving the Thalmor.

**  Microsoft might not have been wrong when they made the 360 not-totally backwards-compatible – some of those previous-gen games look kinda terrible running on today’s demanding resolution standards.  Just look at the recent iOS port of GTA3 – yeah, it’s great that it’s running on my iPhone, but it also looks kinda old.

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