Tag: dishonored

Weekend Recap: Order out of Chaos

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, it hardly reinvents the wheel, and the combat is bland and uninspired
  • it’s absolutely gorgeous, though the decision to force black bars on the top and bottom of the screen (to enhance the cinematic widescreen effect) means you see less of the world than you’d like
  • but still, holy shit, the game is gorgeous
  • there’s not much to do beyond shooting, and while there are lots of nooks and crannies off the very narrow path, there’s not as much hidden secret stuff as you’d expect, and the stuff that’s there isn’t particularly interesting or provides any tangible benefit to the player
  • given that Nikola Tesla is basically the game’s version of James Bond’s Q, you’d expect the weaponry to be a bit more diverse than it actually is
  • in any event, the weaponry you encounter in the world is not adequately explained (which is to say it’s not immediately apparent why you’d pick up one weapon as opposed to another when given the choice)
  • also:  lots and lots of QTEs, which are dumb

I can’t really argue with any of that; and yet I’m still finding myself enjoying the game quite a lot.

I think what we’ve got here is essentially an incredibly polished first draft.  The game’s world feels rich and deep, and the characters are acted quite remarkably well, even if the script is somewhat lacking in urgency and certain elements of the plot feel somewhat under-developed.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a sucker for finely delivered British accents that I’m allowing myself to gloss over the story’s shortcomings.

As to whether the game is worth $60 – well, I’m renting it, so I’m not feeling shortchanged.  But I think there’s something to be said about a game’s length in proportion to its intrinsic value.  Not all games need to be 100 hours long in order for me to feel like I got my money’s worth.  I loved Dragon Age Inquisition but there’s a fair amount of padding in that game, and once I finished the main story I lost any and all desire to finish my considerable amount of sidequests.  Meanwhile, I’ve played the considerably shorter Portal and Portal 2 more times than I can count, and I enjoy them every time I do.  Length isn’t the issue; it’s making sure that every moment feels as though it matters.

To that point, I don’t feel like my time is being wasted in The Order: 1886.  It’s not without some considerable problems, but I’m having more fun than I thought I would.  Maybe it’s the graphics whore in me, too – but goddamn, this game is spectacular to behold, even despite the fact that a lot of it is dark and dreary.  I would love to see Dishonored 2 run this well.  (It also reminds me a fair amount of last year’s ill-fated Thief reboot, for whatever that’s worth; games inspired by London in the late 1800s are apparently a thing now, but when they’re done well it’s quite breathtaking.)

a light glimmers in the dark

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, and I wasn’t sure if it was because I’d gotten older and harder to reach, or that the games themselves simply didn’t care about trying to reach me.  I felt increasingly at odds with the community at large, what with hostile comment threads and Twitter bullying, horrendous attitudes on sexism, sexuality, race and equality.   I’d begun to feel alienated from one of the only things that really made me feel like I belonged anywhere.

And then, all of a sudden:  Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons comes out and hits me square in the solar plexus.

And now, earlier this week: sterling reviews for the latest DLC for Dishonored (which prompted me to go finish The Knife of Dunwall), Saints Row IV, and possibly one of the most anticipated indie games of the year:  Gone Home, which I’m in the process of purchasing right this very minute.  Not to mention Plants v Zombies 2, which I’ve been doodling around with on my iPhone.  And also Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, which I’ve played about an hour or so and which so far is a very good-looking Mario & Luigi RPG, which suits me just fine.

Oh, and then this GTAV trailer, which is fucking insane:

Maybe it was just the summer doldrums bringing me down.  But I’m back, baby!

EDIT:  I can’t believe I forgot to mention Papers, Please and the inexplicably well-reviewed new Splinter Cell.  Sweet mercy, it’s been a pretty amazing month.

apologies and eulogies

I was going to start this post by apologizing to Dishonored, but before I do I must address this news item that just appeared on my Twitter feed – Kotaku is reporting that as a consequence of the EA layoffs, there is no Tiger Woods game in production for next year, and that the franchise’s future is in doubt:

I have learned, from persons with knowledge of the series’ development, that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 15 is not happening. On any platform. EA’s plan was to outsource that edition of the game, to give the in-house team two years to make Tiger Woods 16, taking advantage of all the PS4 and the next Xbox would have to offer. When CEO John Riccitiello gave his resignation last month, that plan was scrapped as a cost-saving move. The game hasn’t been reassigned to the Tiger Woods team, either. Some of its personnel already have been sent to other teams in the EA Tiburon studio for the time being.

I went to an EA Sports spokesman with that rumor and was told they wouldn’t comment on it, which is not surprising. The latest game came out only a month ago, and publicly traded video game companies have investor relations divisions that don’t want people chattering about unannounced products, especially ones that have been unofficially canceled.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour is a 16-year-old annual series, one that presumably pays royalties to two parties—Augusta National Golf Club and Tiger Woods himself. It’s admirable that the development team got a two-year window to put out a game that would be truly distinctive, rather than incrementally updating or porting over something after publishing three titles in 33 months. But if EA Sports really does put it the series on ice for a year, that is a remarkable decision.

On the one hand, I think the Tiger franchise could actually use a year off, especially so as to really impress when it finally debuts on next-gen systems.  I distinctly remember Tiger’s first appearance on the 360, which was, to put it incredibly mildly, a half-baked piece of shit.  And while I’m enjoying this year’s edition – to the extent I’ve actually had a chance to play it, which admittedly isn’t much – it does feel a little stale.  But on the other hand, HOLY SHIT.  This is unprecedented.  This isn’t like the NBA Live fiasco, where the games themselves were utterly broken and the franchise needed to be shut down to get its shit together; Tiger might be stale but the game still fundamentally works.   If the franchise is being put on hiatus as a cost-cutting move… man.  That doesn’t bode well.

*       *       *       *       *

Last October, I had to put Dishonored away.   In this blog post, I went off a little bit.   I’d gotten frustrated by a late-game mission, and that was right after I’d finished the previous mission in a hilariously stupid, inept fashion:

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.

I didn’t actually explain what I’d done, of course; I set up the mission for you and then tried to explain how clumsy I was and how stupidly the game reacted to me, but I never got into the clumsiness.  Now that I’ve finished the game – and specifically completed that particular mission in a much less ridiculous fashion – I don’t think the game was prepared for how stupid I was.  Indeed, I give the game credit for at least letting me finish it in the clumsiest way possible.

So, then, let me explain what I’d done wrong, and then what I did right.  Slight spoilers ahead, but only slight – it’s less about the plot and more about the actual mission.  Think of this as less of a spoiler and more of a walkthrough / what-not-to-do.

As noted above, the mission asks you to attend a masked ball that is being held in a very elegant mansion.  Your task is to find one of three sisters who has committed certain nefarious deeds; as you don’t know what the sister looks like, and since they’re all wearing masks anyway, it is up to you to figure out which sister is the guilty one, and then dispatch her without being caught.  As with all missions, there is also a non-lethal way to solve this puzzle – the sister in question has a secret admirer who is also at the party, and he asks you to knock her out and deliver her unconscious body to her in the basement, where he will ferry her out on a boat, never to be seen again.

Now, the first time I’d done this mission, I’d done some recon work in the upstairs of the house, and I’d been able to figure out which of the three sisters I needed to nab.  And I’d also decided to knock her out and give her to the admirer, rather than just killing her.  But I didn’t quite know how to get her alone, and so, in my haste and growing frustration, I simply put a choke-hold on her in the corner of a dark room and then – hilariously – ran through the house, carrying her, fellow party-goers shrieking in panic, guards chasing me and shooting at me, until I somehow escaped capture and made it to the basement.  It was completely absurd and stupid and I felt dumb when I somehow managed to get credit for finishing the mission.

So this second time, I still did my recon work in the upstairs of the house, but this time I also managed to find (and actually read) the chosen sister’s diary, wherein she revealed her growing paranoia that someone was after her.  And so when I approached her at the party, a dialogue option appeared that wasn’t there before, and I managed to convince her to go with me to the basement so as to avoid being assassinated.  This, as you might imagine, resulted in a much more elegant solution; there was no panic, there was no comedy of errors.  We simply walked downstairs, and when we were alone, I knocked her out and brought her to the boat.  Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

The rest of the game, at that point, was uncharted territory, but I was able to see it with a fresher perspective and much better mastery of my skills.  (And, it should be noted, I didn’t care as much if I had to kill someone.  I still stopped/reloaded if I found myself in a situation where stealth was not an option; I always prefer sneaking around to out-and-out combat, as combat rarely stays one-on-one – inevitably a swarm of guards arrives, and there’s just not much you can do at that point.)  The plot twist wasn’t terribly surprising, though, and the end of the game was actually quite anticlimactic – I sort of assumed that there’d be a big boss fight or something, but in the end I simply snuck around a room, opened a door, and then the game was over.

All in all I enjoyed the game – the art style is impeccable and “Blink” remains one of my all-time favorite modes of videogame traversal.  The story wasn’t as good, and some of the voice acting felt a little dull, but it was never distracting.  Steam usually has it on sale every other month; if you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s an easy recommendation at 50% off.

I am now very excited to play the recently released DLC, “The Knife of Dunwall” – indeed, that was one of the primary reasons why I wanted to finally finish the main game in the first place.   And now that I know who this main character is… well, that’s all the more reason to give it a go.

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

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

[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

[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.

the first few hours: promising, very promising

I put an hour into both XCOM Enemy Unknown and Dishonored last night, which is obviously not nearly enough time to give those games their proper due.  That being said, I am a firm believer that what a game shows you in its first 10 minutes is very often a good indicator as to the general quality level of the experience you’re about to embark on, and on that note, I feel pretty confident in saying that these games are looking very good indeed.

XCOM

Two things I should point out before I start:  (1) I am very intimidated by strategy games, be they turn-based or real-time, which also means (2) I never played the original XCOM games.  I am approaching this game as a recent convert to the genre, specifically because of the noob-friendliness of Firaxis’ own Civilization Revolution (which, in turn, got me into Civ 4 and Civ 5).  I have no allegiance to the original games.  What I’m interested in, then, is a compelling experience, and with an option to turn the difficulty down to the easiest setting (just so I can get my feet wet, and so that I can better understand how the game systems work without getting vaporized).

The tutorial walks you through each move; the first two missions still hold your hand a bit, but you have a bit more freedom to work with.  I managed to finish the first post-tutorial mission with everybody alive (though one dude got dinged up a bit); in my second mission, I lost a rookie and two other soldiers are in sickbay, out for at least 2 weeks with some serious poison damage.    (I have not yet renamed my soldiers, but I am already somewhat attached to my most powerful guys, and I can already see myself making sure they have the most cover at any given time.)

I am still intimidated once I’m on the battlefield, but in a way that’s a boon – my abundant need for caution at every turn also happens to be the proper way to play the game, and because the controls are incredibly easy and intuitive to use (I’m using a 360 controller, though I’m playing on the PC), I find myself getting more and more comfortable.  Even though there’s no greater feeling of dread that moving your guys into what you think is a proper cover position, only to see enemies suddenly appearing directly behind you.  Ordinarily I’d say this is a cheap shot, but the game never makes it feel unfair – there’s almost always a better vantage point that I should’ve seen, and in any event, this is war – people will die.

I love the in-between bits the most, I think.  I love looking at the base of operations (presented as if it were an ant colony, which is a useful subliminal reminder of that old saying about a boot stomping on an anthill), talking with my various departments, starting research projects, outfitting my soldiers, etc.  It’s elegantly presented and does a fantastic job of making you feel like you’re a vital part of the story.

DISHONORED

I am already enjoying the hell out of Dishonored even though I’ve died a lot in the game’s first hour.  Quite a bit more death than I’d anticipated, if I’m being honest.  My intention was to play as non-lethally as possible, but it’s not always easy to tell when you’re hidden in shadow and when you aren’t, and thus I’m forced to shoot and stab in order to escape, and since I’m still getting the hang of the controls, I don’t always escape.  I’m tempted to delete my current save and just start over from scratch, in an attempt to really make sure I understand what I’m doing and how the stealth mechanics work.

My terribleness at the game aside, I love everything I’ve seen thus far.  The art direction is quite stunning (even if some of the textures on the 360 are a bit blurry and pixelated) and the little of the city I’ve seen looks remarkable.  And I love how many hidden secrets there are, and how well the game rewards you for going off the beaten path.  There is remarkable detail in every corner of the world.