The Game:  The Order: 1886 Current Status:  3-4 hours in, halfway through Chapter 9 (out of 16) The conventional wisdom on The Order: 1886, as far as I can tell, is the following: for a $60 game, it’s far too short and has no lasting value beyond the initial campaign for a third-person cover shooter, …

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Not to be too melodramatic here, but I’ve been feeling bummed out about games lately, and I came pretty close to shutting this blog down. To be more specific:  I felt disconnected from a hobby that I’ve been passionate about for almost 30 years.  I felt like I wasn’t able to connect with games anymore, …

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the first few/last few hours: Forza Horizon, Dishonored

October 25, 2012


Before I get started, I want to sing the praises of the WordPress spam filter, which does a great job day in and day out of filtering out all the nonsense.  Like, literal nonsense.  Whoever’s coming up with the text for these spam comments is out of their minds.   Sometimes, though, the spam robots get lucky – and like the 1,000,000th monkey who typed out a Shakespearean sonnet on his typewriter, today’s comment is a thing of beauty.  Just know that my apprehension at inviting sort of spam recursion loop by pasting it here is outweighed by my desire to spread joy and love and poetry wherever I go.

You know what I’m talking about.I quit!A barking dog doesn’t bite!Most people eat, write, and work with their fight hands.You’re welcome.A bad workman quarrels with his tools.Do you realize that all of these shirts are half off?It appears to be a true story.We are divided in our opinions.It feels like spring I’ve been here before

There’s so much to love here.  And not just because “fight hands” yields a marvelous synchronicity with my new favorite iOS game (which just came out last night), Punch Questalthough that is a wonderful touch.

Anyway.  I needed to share that.

As for GAMEZ, I said goodbye to Dishonored last night, and said hello to Forza Horizon.

I had a bad feeling about Dishonored going into last night’s session, to be honest.  I was already in a weird place about it, and there was a part of me that knew that putting it down for 3-4 days wouldn’t soften its edges.  So, yeah; I played for about 20-30 minutes or so and quickly realized that I just wasn’t ever going to get back into it.  The magic was gone.  It no longer felt like an organic, natural environment; I was simply recognizing patterns and exploiting their weaknesses.  The story wasn’t ever compelling enough to keep me moving forward, either – especially since every review more or less panned the ending – and so I decided that I didn’t want to spend my time feeling bad about not liking a game anymore.

I remain in awe of the many things the game does right.  And I salute the developers for taking a chance with a new, bold IP at this stage of the hardware cycle.  I do feel guilty for not finishing it, for whatever that’s worth.

*     *     *     *     *

It took a little while for Forza Horizon‘s charms to become apparent to me.  As much as I love driving games, I don’t really care about cars or car culture, and would never willingly find myself in the middle of the desert at some car/music festival, which is the game’s central premise.  In fact, there’s an awful lot of cut scenes in the beginning of the game – perhaps too many – that go out of their way to sell you on the concept that you’re in this amazing place, doing this amazing thing, meeting all these amazing people, etc.  Say what you will about the problems with silent protagonists; I could not identify with my dude, nor did I ever have any intention of doing so.  I wanted to drive.

And about 30 minutes later, I found myself in driving game heaven.

Once the game removes the tutorial training wheels, you will find yourself on a stretch of open road, free to do whatever you want.  And the game keeps track of everything you do, so even if you’re mindlessly driving (and admiring the gorgeous scenery), you’re also earning points and money simply through the act of drifting, driving on the opposite side of the road, crashing into special signs (that unlock discounts at the garage), narrowly avoiding traffic, etc.  There are also Horizon Waypoints (or something like that – I can’t remember what they’re called) which enable fast-travelling, should you not want to drive to the other side of the map for an event.  Each waypoint features 3 mini-events, the completion of which reduces the cost of fast-travelling.  But that’s besides the point.  The point is that the simple, pure act of driving – not racing, not doing tricks – yields tangible rewards.

love this sort of thing.  This is very much why Burnout Paradise was such a revelation – you were given a huge world to explore, and you were encouraged to explore it.  It wasn’t just window dressing; there were valuables hidden away in every nook and cranny.  I’m not sure how deep Forza Horizon travels down this particular rabbit hole, but the time I spent with it last night was very encouraging.

This is just the kick in the ass the franchise needed, I think.  The regular games are still fine, best-in-class, sure, but they’re also very repetitive – you race the same tracks in the same cars year after year, with marginal graphical improvements and subtle tweaks to performance.  There is an audience for that kind of game, certainly; I’m somewhat of a member, having bought each edition.  But Forza Horizon feels fresh and new and invigorating, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be seeing more of it in the future.

weekend recap: honorable intentions

October 22, 2012


[I had grand visions for this post, but then (of course) work got in the way, and so I have no idea if what follows is coherent or interesting or what.  Many apologies.]

Lots to talk about, and some of it has nothing to do with gaming.  In fact, I might as well dive in and get this shameless plug out of the way right now:  I’ve finally, FINALLY built a website for all my music-doings.  Please feel free to visit vosslandiamusic.com and check it out; there will be more content coming soon, but for now it’s, well, what it is.

Back to the subject at hand, now.  This was another in a series of inadvertent three-day weekends; I’d been somewhat successfully battling a cold last week but I woke up on Friday having lost the cold war, as it were, and so I stayed home and sneezed and coughed and decided to get caught up on gaming stuff, since the living room was all mine.

Last week I wrote about my Dishonored glitch:

…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.

As it turned out, there was a patch ready for me to download Friday morning, but when I loaded my last save, the quest was still glitched out.  So I did end up restarting from the beginning, which also made it much easier, since I already knew what I was doing (and had a much better idea of how to do it better).  Took no time at all to get caught up to where I’d been glitched, and everything seemed to be working fine at that point.  Made much progress, then; I happened to glance at a walkthrough online just to see how far into it I was, and it would appear that if the game has three Acts, my next mission would be the end of Act 2/beginning of Act 3.

Here’s the thing; I kinda don’t know if I care enough about the game to bother finishing it.

And yet the game matters enough to me that I would really like to know why I’m feeling so apathetic about it.

This particular problem is made thornier in that after I took my leave from Dishonored on Friday, I also spent a great deal of time with the first bit of DLC for Borderlands 2, which is absolutely fantastic; and also that my weekend eventually got pretty busy with things wholly unrelated to gaming (see first paragraph above).  Also: my rental copy of Forza Horizon should be arriving later this week, which I’m very anxious to get my hands on; and next week comes Criterion’s Need For Speed Most Wanted, which is looking every bit like the spiritual successor to Burnout Paradise that I’ve been craving for years.  (And meanwhile my XCOM campaign lurks on in the background.)  Basically, I’m very much aware that I’ve got a very limited amount of time in which to give the rest of Dishonored the attention it probably deserves, so there’s a weird sort of pressure there.  I fully acknowledge that this isn’t Dishonored’s fault.

HOWEVA.  There are some things that are Dishonored’s fault.

Before I get around to killing it, though, let me first sing the praises of the art direction, which are absolutely wonderful.  Let me also say that my favorite parts of the game are, basically, everything I do before I have to dispose of my target.  I love Blink-ing around* – it’s fun and useful and arguably even more satisfying to pull off than Batman’s quick-evade.**  I love exploring every nook and cranny of the environment, which is very much designed to reward such exploration – every open apartment window on a non-ground-level floor holds at least one goodie (and, also, tells some wordless, sad story in its tableau).  I love doing reconnaissance, basically, and the game’s tools for performing such recon work are exquisitely designed and endlessly rewarding.

But, yeah, then I have to actually go about my business.   And that’s where I run into problems.

The game tells you that it’s better to not kill.  But it also gives you lots of ways to kill.  And sometimes you run into a situation where there’s nothing you can do but kill, unless you decide to reload your last save, and that can be tedious.  Furthermore, as far as I can tell, the game only tells you of the benefits of acting non-lethally during loading screens – nobody in the game actually tells you to not kill anyone.  Indeed, your handlers at the Hounds Pit are asking you to kill people in order to advance their cause.  Your sidequests generally offer you a way to achieve the same result without killing, and after each mission I’ve gotten a rather handsome reward waiting for me in my room, but I’ve also had to kill a number of guards in order to get where I need to go, too, and nobody gives me much grief about that.  It’s not like I’ve gone on a murder spree or anything – my overall chaos meter still reads “Low” at the end of each mission – but I’m certainly not getting the Achievements for mercy, and in any event, that kind of meta-challenge ends up changing the reason why I’m playing in the first place.

**SLIGHT STORY SPOILERS AHEAD, ALTHOUGH THE KEY WORD IS SLIGHT** The story isn’t terribly interesting, either; it’s not bad, but neither is it the sort of tale where I’m wondering what happens next.  The supernatural business seems a little hokey.  Hell, the assassins who appear in the beginning of the game are very much Blink-ing their way around, which leads me to believe that the Outsider isn’t necessarily laying all his cards on the table, and that’s not terribly surprising.  And in looking at that walkthrough I mentioned, I couldn’t help but notice that I’m about to be betrayed, but let’s be honest – that sort of “twist” is something you can see a mile away.  **END SPOILERS**

I suppose it was the end of the mission I’d just finished that really soured my attitude.  The mission required me to attend a masked ball being hosted by 3 sisters, one of whom I needed to kill/abduct.  The recon work in determining which sister to nab was enormously fun, and the mansion itself was a wonder to explore and examine.  But then I actually had to do the deed, and it must be noted that the manner in which I knocked out the sister and carried her to her waiting boatman/captor resulted in one of the most unintentionally hilarious chase sequences I’ve ever had the misfortune of participating in.  Here’s the point, ultimately: while the poor execution in the woman’s abduction was undoubtedly my fault, it was the game’s reaction to what I did that made me wonder why I’d bothered being so careful and stealthy in the first place.   It’s actually a bit difficult to describe just what happened, except to say that in a game that at that point had been remarkably graceful and poised, the game suddenly became very artless and charmless and basically just turned into very obvious AI routines that ultimately were defeated with comically swift decapitations of startled guards.  I’m doing a terrible job describing what happened, I know.  The result, though, is the important thing – all the grace and skill I performed in my stealthy preparation were rendered moot; once everything went to shit I bulldozed my way to the ending and achieved the exact same result, since my mark was never killed.  So why even bother being stealthy?  Why bother performing well?  Suddenly the rich, detailed world of Dunwall instantly transformed into a clunky collection of polygons and AI scripts.

Now, granted, the game’s artifice had already been made glaringly obvious by the aforementioned glitch.  Still, as a regular player of games, you take that stuff as part of the deal; code breaks all the time, the world’s an imperfect place.   It’s only when I’d surrendered to the game’s fiction and then had it clumsily torn from my hands that I started wondering just what the hell I was doing with my time.

_________________________
* Indeed, I was weirdly disappointed when I jumped over to Borderlands 2 and found that I had to walk everywhere, like a chump.

** I’m blanking on the name of this technique – it’s how you traverse long distances in Arkham City, swinging around, vaguely Spiderman-ish.

weekend recap: the sneeze and the fury

October 15, 2012


[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.

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