preposterous architecture

First thing’s first:  regular readers of this blog know that I have a tendency to post somewhat irregularly.  Unfortunately, due to events beyond my control (i.e., my day job just moved to a new location and my computer monitor is now far more visible than it ever was at the old location), this is probably only going to get worse before it gets better.


I’ve been stressed out about the Goodreads challenge.  I am still 2 books ahead of schedule, but I don’t like only being 2 books ahead of schedule; there’s not a lot of breathing room.  But more to the point, I don’t like feeling like I need to read quickly just to hit some arbitrary number that I selected at the end of last year.

In any event, I finished David Means’ excellent and very trippy meta-Vietnam-memoir “Hystopia” this morning, which means I can now jump to “The City of Mirrors”, the just-released and final installment in Justin Cronin’s wonderful Passage trilogy.  I recently re-read the first two in order to get better prepared; I’d always adored the first book, but wasn’t quite as hot on the second.  After this re-read, though, I thought the 2nd book was much better – possibly because the first book was still fresh in my mind, and also possibly because I wasn’t rushing through the ending and so I found myself better able to follow what was happening.  I still think he’s better at writing about people than he is at constructing elaborate action set-pieces, and to that end the 2nd book is still problematic, but it’s still engaging.



As for games:  I’m finding myself having conflicting thoughts about Uncharted 4, the longer I stay away from it.  It’s tricky.  While I was playing it, I was thoroughly enraptured by it; the pacing is so fucking good and I always felt involved and invested in what was happening.  But now that it’s over, and I’ve read some more critical appraisals, I’m starting to wonder if it’s “THE BEST GAME EVER MADE.”  I certainly wouldn’t go quite as far as, say, David Shimomura’s disemboweling of it in Unwinnable, but there are some interesting points raised therein.

I had planned on replaying it, but as it happens, I’ve found myself more and more entranced by the new Doom.  It started off very slow, almost alarmingly slow – though I concede that this might’ve been because my initial hour or so was spent in that post-Uncharted 4 haze.  But it’s become quite enjoyable.

I don’t have the same relationship with Doom that most people do; I played the first few levels back in the day but I don’t think I ever beat it.   Same thing with Castle Wolfenstein.  The only games I had access to in those years, for whatever reason, were Duke Nukem 3D and then Quake 2.  I’m sure I bought the Xbox Arcade version of Doom, just to have it, but I don’t know that I did anything with it.

Point being, even in my limited experience, I’m familiar with the old Doom enough to recognize that this new Doom feels like it’s coming from the same place.  Certainly the movement feels similar.  The momentum through a combat arena feels the same – constant movement, jumping all over the place, nonstop action, and then a very pleasing break after that last kill, when the music calms down, and then you can begin to explore for hidden stuff (most of which I can’t find, even though I do look for it – even with my recon upgrades, I’m still missing things all the time).  It has the same confounding first-person platforming bits on preposterous architecture.   My first visit to Hell felt… well, not particularly hellish the way a more modern horror game might depict it, but it certainly felt like a Doom version of Hell should, which is appropriate.

I don’t give a shit about the narrative and, refreshingly, the game knows it.  It gives you just enough to point you in the right direction, but doesn’t overplay its hand; nobody’s playing this for the story.  (Which, again, is an interesting thing to experience after playing Uncharted 4, a game in which there are several different levels specifically dedicated to wandering around a person’s private residence, where every single item is part of a larger character study.)


So, yes:  it’s going to be quiet-ish around here for a little bit, until I can better figure out how to write without making it profoundly obvious that I’m not doing actual work-work.  Bear with me.

The End of Uncharted / The First Few Hours of Doom

It’s been a weird week, folks.  That’s all I’ll say about that.


I was hoping to have already written up – if not a “review”, at least a summary of my experience with Uncharted 4.  I finished the game last Sunday evening and then immediately went back and started it over again, this time playing it with the cel shader turned on (which also looks amazing, by the way – I mean, the vanilla U4 is already the best-looking game I’ve ever seen, and the cel shading isn’t a quick thing that Naughty Dog cobbled together; it changes the way you view the game, and somehow makes the violence refreshingly cartoonish).

I’d written on Twitter that it’s rare when a big-budget AAA game feels special.  And what I mean by that is simply that for all the spectacle of U4 – and there is plenty – there’s also a great deal of heart and soul.  There’s an attention to detail – not just in terms of environments, but also in terms of emotional storytelling.  A pause in a conversation; a look passing over a character’s face.  The Uncharted games are lauded for their conversational writing, but U4 also contains a great deal of words left unspoken.

Point being, in terms of blockbuster games feeling “special”, there aren’t many that I can think of.  In recent years, Witcher 3 certainly qualifies (even as I wonder if it’s truly AAA – though the definition of AAA is something for another post); BioshockRed Dead Redemption and Portal 2 certainly come to my mind as well.  I’m sure you can come up with your own examples of Big Games that went above and beyond the call of duty (pun intended) and tried to mean something.

Or maybe I feel this way simply because my expectations for Uncharted 4 were somewhat lower than I anticipated, considering how U3 felt very much like a big fat let-down after U2, and that I worried that U4 was just going to be one soul-less gunfight after another, with some technologically staggering but empty-feeling set-pieces staggered here and there.  That U4 is very much NOT this game, when it just as easily could’ve been, is maybe why I’m so relieved.

I said in my last post that the game felt remarkably well-paced, and that remains the case through the finale.  The gunfights are still my least favorite part of this franchise, but at least here they weren’t ever truly frustrating the way some of U2 and U3’s gauntlets were; you can anticipate when they’re coming in U4, and they’re over fairly quickly, and then the game just lets you take as much time as you want to explore.  (And play with the camera mode, of course, because HOLY SHIT this game is really, really, really ridiculously good-looking.)

And so while U2 might still have the most exciting set-pieces (the train, the giant climbable dagger, the Nepalese village), I think Uncharted 4 might be the best overall experience.  Certainly it has the most satisfying ending.

On that note, I’m reluctant to do a deep-dive because of spoilers, but I feel compelled to link to Carolyn Petit’s follow-up essay to her review – there are MAJOR SPOILERS in the essay, but it’s also incredibly insightful and well-written and speaks to a lot of the larger issues with the franchise as a whole.  (Funnily enough, I read that follow-up essay as I was beginning my 2nd playthrough; at one point she writes about Nathan Drake’s casual relationship with violence, and immediately after I finished reading that and went back to the game itself I found myself in a prison fight – arguably one of the more brutally violent sequences in the entire franchise.)

I may also be participating in a write-up of the game elsewhere, so I’m going to save some of my thoughts for that piece.  (And believe me, there’s at least 1000 more words I could write right now that I’m holding back on.)  In any event, Uncharted 4 is, for whatever it’s worth, my current front-runner for Game of the Year, and if anything manages to knock it from the top spot, I’ll be very impressed.


It is exceedingly weird to go from U4 to Doom; the two games couldn’t possibly be more different.  Maybe this is why I’m having trouble enjoying it.

Doom feels weird.  I almost wish it was running at 30fps if only so that the graphics would look less… artificial.  Again, it’s hard to come to Doom after spending nearly 20 hours with Uncharted 4, which is almost certainly the most dazzling graphical display I’ve ever seen.

I can appreciate the old-school feel it’s going for; it’s not slow and methodical, there’s no cover to duck behind.  Standing still is instant death.  You fly around the maps, blowing the shit out of everything you see, and even if I’m not necessarily in the mood for this type of thing at the moment, I can at least appreciate the endorphin rush as you melee staggered enemies and commit bloody atrocities in gleefully exciting ways.

To that end, I will agree with Polygon’s assessment that Doom has the best videogame shotgun in decades.  I’m just not sure if that’s enough to get me through the next 8-10 hours.

tidying up before a brief intermission

Just a note that I’m going to be pretty quiet this week, if I post here at all; the wife is going to be out of town, and so I’m going to be at home, working on music and hanging out with my kid and, yeah, probably just finishing up the various odds and ends in The Division.  If I post at all, it’s going to be elsewhere.*

Regarding The Division:  last week I wrote that I was struggling to stay motivated, and also that I will eventually need this game to end.  I kept assigning various goalposts to reach, just to give myself something to look forward to, and I’ve pretty much ticked off all the items on the to-do list:  I’ve seen where my office is supposed to be (as I expected, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the real thing); I hit level 30; I’m almost done with all the main story missions (I wiped out on the final boss in the final mission a few too many times last night, and it got too frustrating and the hour grew late, and so I turned it off).  All I plan to do now is to get all the wings in my main base up to 100%, which most likely means I just have to finish all the side missions and encounters (since I finished all of the main missions, save that last one).  I might screw around in the Dark Zone, too, but I don’t particularly care for PvP, which is not news to anyone.

I’m about halfway through Matt Ruff’s “Lovecraft Country“.  It’s got an interesting structure; it’s less of a novel and more of a connected set of short stories that are arranged in chronological order and contain the same characters, though each story is from a different POV.  With a title like Lovecraft Country, you’d expect there to be a fair amount of dreadful, otherworldly weirdness – and there certainly is, though it pales in comparison to the real, true horror that is American Racism.  I get far more terrified by that stuff than I do the occult business, and I suppose that’s because (a) the racism stuff is true, and feels very real, and as such (b) it works much better than the Lovecraftian stuff that exists within it.  Again – I’m only halfway through, and so I’m still not quite sure where it’s going.  But I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

Finally:  even though we bought the BluRay, we couldn’t help ourselves; and so, because our families were in town this weekend for our son’s 3rd birthday party, we watched the digital download version of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and GODDAMN I will never get tired of that movie.  I don’t care that it’s basically A New Hope retold, because it’s done so goddamned well.  (And if you haven’t already seen this shot-for-shot comparison of Eps 4 and 7, well, you should fix that.)

EDIT:  I knew I was forgetting something:  I played that Final Fantasy XV demo this weekend, and… was it supposed to be totally underwhelming and janky and kinda shitty?  Because it was totally underwhelming and super-janky and definitely kinda shitty.

Also downloaded the Doom beta, and attempted to get into a match (which took about 10 minutes just to find a lobby), but then I remembered I don’t give a shit about multiplayer, and so I deleted it, and that’s that.


 

* I started a new, personal, private blog last week.  I’m not going out of my way to publicize it, though I suppose even mentioning it here is doing the exact opposite of not publicizing it, but, I mean, look: blogging is weird.  If you want to read it, contact me privately and I’ll email you an invitation; no hard feelings if you’re not interested, though.