scenes from a mild mid-day panic attack

OK – I started this post last week and never got around to finishing it.  It’s not a particularly difficult post or anything; if nothing else it’s a collection of scattered E3 thoughts that I was trying to write down before my short-term memory said “fuck it, you don’t need this.”

Today, as I attempt to write this, I am feeling very anxious.  It’s the sort of anxiety that I’m recognizing as if it were from a bad dream – I feel like I’ve forgotten something terribly important, and there will be terrible consequences if I can’t remember it.  This feeling could also just be due to me drinking a very large iced coffee and taking a Claritin-D for allergies – so my heart is racing and yet I’m feeling spaced out.  For whatever it’s worth, as far as I can tell, I haven’t actually forgotten anything; today is my wife’s birthday, but that’s already been sorted out – gifts received, dinner reserved, etc.

So I don’t really have any E3 thoughts, as it turns out.  All the big press conferences happened when I was unable to watch them – I mean, I did watch a little bit of the beginning of Microsoft’s presser on Twitter on my iPhone, because I needed to get some Scorpio info – but that was probably about it as far as paying direct attention to the event itself.

Before you ask:  yes of course I’m getting an Xbox One X.  I’ve been saving money in a special savings account ever since it was first announced for that very purpose, and by the time it comes out I might even be able to pick up a 4K TV, too.

I’ve been spending most of my gaming time on the Xbox One lately, as a matter of fact; during their last big sale I ended up buying a bunch of games I already own on the PS4, because I’m an idiot who has started to feel the burn of Achievements again.  Truth be told – and I may have already said this here, but I’m too lazy to go back and check – I really do prefer the user experience of the Xbox far more than the PS4, even if the PS4 is the technically superior machine.  (Will I get a PS4 Pro if I do end up getting a 4K TV?  Probably/eventually, if it gets a price drop, and if I can easily swap in my 2TB hard drive.)

And as it happens, if you were to ask me what it is I’m playing these days, I’d be hard-pressed to give you a quick answer.  I’m kinda playing at least 10 different things all at the same time, some new stuff:

  • Dirt 4: kinda ugly, and has an unusually shitty UI (which is especially odd considering how glorious and pristine previous Dirt UIs have been), but very fun and contains possibly the best rumble technology I’ve ever felt – I mean, you can feel the curved grooves in the road.  It’s extraordinary if only for that specific reason.
  • Lego City Undercover: I bought this hoping my son would play it with me.  He’s sorta interested, sorta not.  As far as the game itself, it’s Lego GTA, and it’s quite charming.  It suffers from the same horrific platforming bullshit that has plagued every Lego game since the dawn of time, and it has a weird tone issue wherein it’s clearly aimed for young kids, but filled with references to movies that no young kid would ever go near.  But whatever.  Sometimes you just want to screw around in a consequence-free environment and break stuff into littler stuff, and this game does a really good job at that.
  • RIME:  Alternates between being a beautiful, serene exploration game and a frustrating, obtuse platformer.  I’d like to see this to the end, but who knows.

as well as a bunch of backlog stuff:

  • Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: because I got a little jazzed seeing the forthcoming Origins and wanted to remember what those games feel like; this is the first time in a long time that I can remember actually looking forward to a new AC game.  I remain hopeful that the 2-year break served the development well.
  • Fallout 4: because I stumbled across a fantastic video analysis of the game by Joseph Anderson, which does such a remarkable job of articulating everything I hated about FO4 that I kinda want to go back and play it again.  No, that does not make any sense, but does anything make sense these days?

 

I have more to post, I think, but I’m not quite in the navel-gazing mood at the moment and I’d prefer to save that stuff for a different time.  In any event, I’m alive and the Ativan has started to kick in.

(exhales)

Midweek Meanderings: Witcher v Fallout, Picross Praise

(Props to my buddy Greg for helping me find a temporary alternative to Random Ramblings.)

1. My future as a professional games journalist is, obviously, going nowhere.  So I’m grateful that Patrick Klepek keeps saying what I’m thinking, and saying it much better than I can – in this case, about how The Witcher 3 has ruined Bethesda RPGs for us both.  As he notes, I think the biggest reason why I couldn’t get into Fallout 4 – a game I’d been anticipating like crazy, a game I was so excited about I spent an extra $50 or whatever for the special Pip-Boy edition, which I’ve used exactly once – was because Witcher 3 raised the bar for open-world RPGs so incredibly high that FO4 was doomed to be a disappointment from the get-go.  Fallout 4 doesn’t feel particularly different from Skyrim or Fallout 3 or anything – nor does it even look that different, for that matter – and it suffers for it, I think.  I never felt the pull to just go in a random direction and explore the way I did in previous Bethesda games, and I think it’s because, for whatever reason, Fallout 4 felt particularly uninspired.  The whole thing looks and feels very last-gen – which is not necessarily a bad thing, given how much I adore Fallout 3 and Oblivion – but I couldn’t help wanting something new and fresh.  Bethesda owns iD, right?  Shouldn’t it be able to use their graphics tech?

2. I am reminded, yet again, that I need to get back to Witcher 3 and finish Blood and Wine.

3. OK, so have I mentioned yet that Picross 3D – Round Two is one of my favorite games of the year?  I have only two complaints, and neither of them are necessarily the game’s fault:

  • I’m about 180 puzzles into it, and I’m playing on the hardest difficulty, and I’m usually able to finish every puzzle with 1 error at most.  And that 1 error is, 99.9999% of the time, because I hit the wrong button, not because I made a mistake in deduction.
  • The 3DS is murder on the wrists after more than 20 minutes, especially when lying down in bed.

Other than that, it’s easily in my top 3 for GOTY.

4. For the bulk of this current console generation, my platform of choice has been the PS4.  As I’ve mentioned, however, I’ve been hoping to crack 100K on the ol’ Achievements by year’s end, and so I’ve been mostly playing Xbox One games of late.  And I must say – while it’s true that multi-platform games look better on the PS4, I really like the Xbox One experience.  For starters – the Elite controller is, bar none, the best controller I’ve ever used.  The Xbox One’s interface is so much more enjoyable to navigate – sure, the store could use some work, and neither of the two consoles has quite figured out the ideal way to look at your cloud-stored games – but, by and large, I’ve really enjoyed using the Xbox One over the last few weeks.

Remind me of this paragraph when the PS4 Pro comes out in a few weeks, by the way.  I don’t have an HDR-enabled 4K TV, nor do I have any inclination towards getting one at this particular moment in time, so there’s literally no reason why I should get the PS4 Pro beyond having a marginally better experience with PSVR (assuming that PSVR is worth picking up in the first place); and so if Microsoft’s upcoming Scorpio console is as amazing as they’re touting it to be, I kinda feel like that’s the upgrade I should continue saving for.

5. My 3-year-old has started being interested in games.  And I’ve been struggling to figure out what to let him play that he could actually make sense of.  I bought Minecraft: Xbox One edition because I figure that’s an inevitability, and he liked chopping down trees and such, though he can’t figure out the controls.  So I’m opening up the floor here:  are there any good games for 3-year-olds with super-simple control schemes, where he wouldn’t necessarily need my help in terms of moving around?  Is 3 too young to expect that sort of thing?  Do I have to buy a Nintendo console?

Random Ramblings: Wednesday Edition

Sometimes I sit down at my computer and open up a blank post and just sit there staring at the screen, hoping something pops into my head.  And then other times I’ll be doing something else and 600 different ideas start showing up and I have to stop whatever it is I’m doing so that I can write them down.  This doesn’t mean that any of these ideas are interesting, of course, but I’d rather write something down than nothing.  (This is how I tend to write lyrics these days, also, which is why it’s taken me over a year to work on this album, and even after all this time I’m still not where I want to be on that front.  But that’s another story.)

Anyway: last night I headed down to the basement to decompress and play something that wasn’t No Man’s Sky, and my brain went bananas.

My train of thought went something like this:

– It’s 8:30pm; the kid’s asleep, the wife is upstairs.   My rental copy of Deus Ex probably won’t show up until Thursday, but I really want to play it now.  But it’s 40GB+… even if I bought it, I still wouldn’t be able to play it until tomorrow night.  Maybe it’s a good thing that my poor impulse control and need for instant gratification has been trumped by my slow internet.

– So, then, let me get back into that Witcher 3 DLC that I’d put down a few months ago.  Oh, wait, shit, it’s been a few months and my hands are still used to No Man’s Sky‘s control scheme.  How do I play this game again?  And is this a thing that’s going to keep happening as I continue to get older, that I forget how to play games with complicated-ish controls?

– The difference between No Man’s Sky and The Witcher 3 in terms of how they handle their open world exploration could not be more different.

– I still adore The Witcher 3 – it’s one of my favorite games of all time, probably – but it’s not the sort of game that I can just dip in and out of.  I feel like I need to set aside a full day without interruptions in order to play it the way I’d like.

– Shit, I’m not enjoying Witcher 3 as much as I’d like.  Let me switch gears.  Do I want to restart Fallout 4, which is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a few weeks?  Is it even worth it, considering the influx of new stuff that’s about to land?  Can I allow myself to get into it, considering that I’d originally thought it one of the most disappointing games I’d ever played?  Or is it simply that Witcher 3 has completely ruined Bethesda’s RPGs for me?

– I’m gonna go back to No Man’s Sky.  Oh, shit, here’s a kick-ass ship that I can actually afford!  Hey, all right.  Whoops, it’s 11:30pm!  I should probably go to sleep.

* * *

Nathan Grayson’s piece over at Kotaku story about “The Guy With The Lowest Possible Rank In Overwatch” is wonderful.

“What I found was that the people in the 40s were much more willing to try and still work together because these are probably people like me who are winning some but losing more,” Brown said. “Then when I got into the 30s, I was starting to see people who still have vague hope.”

Overwatch’s season one skill rating system was never intended to be a straightforward progression. Through hard work and diligence, you could slowly, painstakingly gain a fraction of a rank, but if you lost even a couple times in a row, you’d almost certainly take a nasty spill down the skill rating ladder. Ultimately, the system was meant to balance out. You were supposed to move up and down within a general ballpark of numbers. Blizzard didn’t do a super great job of making that apparent, though. As Brown observed, that led to players with chips on their shoulders and burning mounds of salt in their hearts.

“In the mid-30s, I met the angriest people in the world,” Brown said. “It’s somewhere in that mid-30s and upper 20s [area], these are just the angriest people in the world. They think they should be doing better and they’re really not good enough, or these are just people stuck on really bad streaks.”

* * *

Confession: I thought I’d gotten over it, but apparently I miss Achievements.  Especially since it appears I’m within striking distance of 100K.  I could almost certainly break 100K this year if I played all multi-platform games on XB1 (or at least the ones where I wouldn’t necessarily notice a graphical downgrade – like South Park).

I wish the major outlets would go back to including console comparisons in their reviews the way they used to in previous generations – or even at the beginning of this one; I feel like I can’t make an informed decision until Digital Foundry does their analysis, and they almost never have one out before the release day of a significant title.  (i.e., Deus Ex.)

* * *

I have given up on my 2nd book so far this year.  The first was “Girl On The Train”, and now I’m adding “A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall”.  I’m not sure if my being 1 book away from completing my Goodreads challenge has anything to do with it, but I ran out of patience far earlier than usual.  I’m willing to put up with an awful lot of pretension, but this was too much.

 

 

disconnection

I’m feeling a little disconnected lately, which might explain why I’ve been quiet here.

The biggest problem I mentioned in my last post – that of my almost-3-year-old son refusing to go to bed – is starting to wind down, so that’s something positive, at least.  Of course, my wife is sick, and the kid has a bit of a cough as well, and I’m very much feeling on the verge of catching something, too.  We’re all falling apart, is what I’m saying.

That said, I’m feeling guilty about whining.

I’m trying to tone down the amount of whining I do on social media, which is actually a bit easier than I expected, given that almost all forms of social media are driving me crazy right now and make me far less inclined to post than I normally would be.  Facebook keeps hiding posts from friends; Twitter is a garbage fire; Tumblr is filled with ads and every once in a while a random naked person will show up, unannounced and uncalled for, and so that’s off-limits.

I’m also starting to reach critical mass in terms of the upcoming election.  I’m disgusted and anxious and not at all prepared to move to Canada.


 

And, of course, I’m disconnected from the things I normally talk about here.

Book-wise, I’m re-reading Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, which I’d been thinking about recently (especially after reading Christopher Buckley’s The Relic Master), and which I felt obligated to pick up in light of Eco’s passing.  It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and yet I’m having trouble fully engaging with it this time around for some reason.

Music-wise, I’m still struggling with writing lyrics, and in the meantime I’m not listening to anything particularly inspiring.  On a related note, I have to say that my weekly Spotify Discovery playlists have been awfully lackluster this year; the ratio of hit/miss is way, way off, especially as compared to last year.

Games-wise… I’m a big pile of “meh”.  I’m very much intrigued by The Division, and I’m looking forward to playing it in co-op, but I’m also wary of it; the beta showed off a lot of high points as well as a lot of lows – the writing in particular is just awful, and a lot of the mission designs felt very familiar (i.e., the final encounter in the Subway Morgue is a very typical “hold your ground for an arbitrary length of time”, and I was tired of that kind of mission in Destiny).  I tried playing a little bit of Fallout 4 last night, given that it’s been patched up quite a bit of late, and… yeah, I still don’t give a shit about that game.  I’m inching along in my NG+ of Witcher 3, but the Hearts of Stone expansion is for level 61+, and I’m still only at 43 or so; that’s an awful lot of ground to make up, and as much as I love that game I’m not sure I have it in me to repeat it.  Later this week my rental copy of Far Cry Primal will arrive, and as I’ve been lukewarm on that franchise for the last few iterations, I’m not sure that I’ll be fully engaged with it – even if the Stone Age setting is novel.

So, yeah.  I’m scared of American politics, I’m culturally out of sorts, and I’m physically falling apart.  I hit the trifecta.

The Last Weekend of my 30s

1. I had an epiphany the other day.  I’ve been reading “The Monster at the end of this Book” to my son for the last week or so – he loves it, and I love reading it to him.  It’s the sort of book that I can’t help but act out; I immediately hear it in my brain in Grover’s voice, for one thing, and certain words are drawn in such a way that I instinctively react to them as I say them out loud.

The epiphany part of this is that, as I continue to read this book every night, and re-live my own childhood as I read it to my son, I’ve realized that the book’s emphasis on conversational rhythm has had a profound effect on my own writing style.  I know I’m prone to excessive hyperbole, but I’m also prone to italics and digression and I have a very informal writing style; I try to write as if I were talking, or at least as if I were transcribing my thoughts in the way that I think about them.  (I hope that makes sense.)  There are plenty of books that I’ve read in my life that I’ve unconsciously absorbed into my writing style, but I’m not sure that any of them ever had the same sort of influence that this one did.  I mean, look at those pages!

2. The wife and I finished Jessica Jones last night; wow wow wow, is all I can say.  I don’t really watch that much TV these days, but I’d heard too much good stuff about JJ to ignore it, and my wife is as big a Marvel fan as anybody, so it seemed like a no-brainer for us to watch it together, and I’m so glad we did.  At the pivotal moment of the finale, I literally jumped off the couch, did a touchdown dance, and high-fived my wife.  There’s so much to be said for the show’s unconventional casting, and feminist point-of-view, and this and that and the other – which is a terrific achievement in and of itself, and better critics than I can explain why; at the end of the day, it’s a rich world with (mostly) well-drawn and well-acted characters, and David Tennant is possibly the best villain in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Very excited for the forthcoming Luke Cage show, and in the meantime I’ll probably have to go back and watch Daredevil now.

3. I was going to do a “first few hours” post about Just Cause 3, but I honestly don’t even know where to begin with it.  Yes, wing-gliding is amazing, and once you get the hang of the traversal system there’s really nothing quite like it.  And yeah, shit blows up real good.  But it’s abundantly clear that it’s not a finished game, and it’s lacking some sorely-needed optimizations; loading times are atrocious – hell, even the in-game map doesn’t load all that well, frames drop all the goddamned time which greatly diminish the impact of all those awesome explosions, and I often have no idea what I’m supposed to do next.  But there’s also a weird tone issue, where I can’t tell if the game is meant to be super-ridiculous and over-the-top (Saints Row), over-the-top but also maybe a bit grounded in some subtle geo-political observational satire (Crackdown), or just a playground where it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing or why you’re doing it (fucking around in GTA).  It’s clearly ridiculous, but it also feels like it’s lacking purpose beyond simply blowing shit up.  Which makes the experience feel a bit more shallow than I’d like.  I’m not saying I need this game to mean anything; I’m just observing that without any real narrative motivation, I’m finding it hard to stay interested in it.

4.  I’m not necessarily ready to give up on Fallout 4 just yet, but I haven’t played in a couple days and I haven’t found myself missing it.  I’m going to get to Diamond City, which appears to be the first real “hub”, and if the game opens up in a pleasing way, then I might find myself drawn in.  Otherwise, I’ll have a PS4 Pip-Boy Edition for sale, if anybody’s interested.

5.  I’m going to be 40 tomorrow.  I’m not as freaked out by that as I thought I might be; I think turning 30 was a bigger deal, if only because I distinctly remember waking up on my 30th birthday and having my entire body ache for no particular reason.  Frankly, I’m in better health now than I was back then; my hair is grayer, of course, but I’ve gotten a lot of my various physical and mental health issues dealt with and as such I’m able to enjoy myself, my family and my life a lot better than I’d been able to.  So it’s all good.

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.

 

 

Weekend Recap: Falling Out

First impressions are everything.  Back in my theater school days, our teachers told us that the audition process really only took 5 seconds; that in the time it took for you to open the door and walk to the center of the room, the casting agents saw 99% of what they needed to see.  Doesn’t matter how well you prepared your monologue, or if your accents are up to snuff, or how good your pratfall skills are; it’s simply the gut reaction to seeing you emerge and present yourself.  It’s over before you even open your mouth.

This applies to pretty much everything, regardless of medium.  The first sentence of a book; the opening notes of a song; hell, even the title screen to a movie – these all set the stage for what happens next.

And so it is to my great chagrin and disappointment that the opening hour or two of Fallout 4 has fallen utterly flat for me.  If I hadn’t spent hundred upon hundreds of hours with Bethesda’s other open-world RPGs and were therefore inclined to give FO4 the benefit of the doubt, I’d be seriously considering selling my Pip-Boy edition on eBay.

The irony, of course, is that I haven’t played enough of it to properly articulate my feelings as to why I’m feeling so out of sorts with it.  Which means that I need to play more of it.  Which I don’t want to do, at all.

What I can say, though, even in the tiny amount of time I’ve spent with it, is that it looks old.  Antiquated.  Like an iteration of the Fallout 3 engine, only with a more diverse color palette.  Certain environments are clearly copied and pasted, and even in the town of Sanctuary, which is pre-fab even before the bombs start falling, it’s distressing how obvious it is. Characters’ mouths don’t match up with the words they speak, which would’ve been excusable 10 years ago.  The game feels stiff and stodgy in my hands – and while this might be because I just spent 50 hours playing both Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Rise of the Tomb Raider, where character movement is meant to be incredibly fluid, it’s still a thing that I’m feeling, and I can’t help it.

It also doesn’t help that the game doesn’t explain itself at all.  The only reason why I know about crafting and resources and scavenging is because I read a whole bunch of preview and review coverage.  There’s a workshop in the very first town you come to once you escape the Vault, and while there’s a very brief tutorial that shows you how it works, it doesn’t explain why it’s something you need to know, and in any event there’s nothing you can really do with it at that point anyway – so why bother introducing it?  I have successfully modded a pistol, but I’m sure I’m going to come across some better guns soon enough; should I bother?

I’ve also succumbed to some serious radiation poisoning already – far more than I ever received in FO3, and this is just from doing some very minor off-the-main-path exploring in FO4’s first hour – and the potions that I thought would fix that don’t seem to be working.  So either I’m doing something wrong, or there’s a bug, or… I don’t know.  Hopefully there’s a doctor nearby that can patch me up, because if I’m going to be down a full third of my maximum health for the next hundred hours, I might as well just re-roll and try again.


I dabbled a little bit in Star Wars Battlefront last night, too – just some of the solo tutorial stuff, if only so that when I finally do some co-op or general online mayhem, that I know what the hell I’m doing.  It’s gorgeous, which I suppose goes without saying.  It’s also a big shallow and a little dumb, but you know what?  That’s kinda my speed, when it comes to online multiplayer.  Mindless action, where I can just turn my brain off and blow shit up with buddies?  I can dig it.


 

I also played maybe 10-20 minutes of Hard West, which is best described as XCOM in the Old West, and that game is pretty neat!  It’s not optimized for the Steam Controller, though, and I’m either gonna need to find my 360 controller or just use a mouse and keyboard like a regular person.


The wife and I had a movie date yesterday afternoon and caught Spectre, which was better than I’d been led to believe.  Sure, it dabbles a lot deeper into the grosser parts of the classic, misogynistic Bond mystique than any of the previous Daniel Craig films – like basically raping Monica Bellucci literally hours after her husband’s funeral for no particular reason – and Cristoph Waltz isn’t particularly sinister or eeeeee-vil, but overall?  Not a bad way for Craig to make his exit, if this is indeed his last Bond film.  I might be more forgiving than most critics if only because this was the first time that the wife and I got to go to the movies in several months, and it was easy enough to turn off the critical-thinking parts of our brains.

 

 

 

Shameless Plugs, Raiding Tombs, GOTY prep

1. OK – first thing’s first, my gigantic essay about my history with the Metal Gear Solid franchise is finally available in this similarly gigantic Unwinnable double issue.  It’s one of the longest things I’ve ever written, and if you’re a big fan of MGS then (a) you’ll probably hate it, although it also follows that (b) you’re probably not reading my blog.  But anyway, if you want to read 3000+ words about me v. Kojima, get to it!  There’s a ton of other great stuff in this issue, and I’m pleased as punch to be in it.

2.  As it turns out, I was correct after all – I only had a little bit left in Rise of the Tomb Raider, and it went pretty much as I expected it to.  After the credits rolled, I went back into the story (where there’s an additional coda before you regain control), finished the last Challenge Tomb, and now I’m at 91% completion.  That’s not bad for a first run!  That remaining 9% is still pretty substantial/time-consuming, and it’s not really all that impossible to achieve, either, so I may end up going for 100% if I get overwhelmed by Fallout 4.

My quibbles with RotTR’s story aside, I think it’s an excellent sequel to an already excellent first game, and I’m very happy indeed with where the franchise currently stands.  I think the move to make it a timed console exclusive probably did wonders in terms of focusing development; there’s a level of polish here that really shines through, and it’s abundantly clear that a lot of love and care went into building this thing.

And while I’m still a little “meh” as far as the combat goes – especially as everything else is really, really good – the game doesn’t feel as grotesque about murder as, say, Uncharted.*   There’s still too much killing, and I’m not sure that any of these kinds of games will ever be able to avoid it – even the first 3D Prince of Persia had too much of it and didn’t really know what to do with it.  But at least there’s a LOT more non-combat stuff to do here, and I’m all for it.

3.  So here’s what the rest of the gaming year is looking like:  I’m gonna be starting Fallout 4, possibly tonight.  There’s gonna be some Battlefront, and maybe my buddy and I will continue to slog through Halo 5 in online co-op.  I’m going to give Just Cause 3 a rental, just ‘cuz.  And… I think that’s it, as far as new stuff goes.  I do kinda want to get back to some of the Witcher 3 DLC, even though the New Game + mode was kicking my ass in ways that were not all that pleasurable.

Which means that I guess I can start working on GOTY stuff in earnest, or at least once I get 10-20 hours of Fallout under my belt.


* Indeed, after having recently replayed the first halves of all three of the original PS3 games, I’m a little concerned about the upcoming Uncharted 4; the parts that I love of those games do not appear to be the same parts that everyone else does, and I suspect that U4 will be far more combat- and action-heavy than I’d like.

 

Avoidance

I’ve written here before about the Fear of Missing Out, and my compulsion to play as many of the Hot New Games as soon as possible in order to be a Participating Member in the Larger Conversation, which really just means that I’ll be able to read other people’s essays and Twitter conversations and have at least a passing, baseline understanding of what they’re talking about.

To that end, I should say right now that I have not yet played Fallout 4.  And I’m OK with that, even if it’s ridiculous; after all, I did spend some not-unsubstantial money on the Pip-Boy edition.

I’m rationalizing my decision to wait by saying that (a) I’d rather wait until the bugs are patched out, and (b) hey, I’m really enjoying Rise of the Tomb Raider and I feel like NOBODY’S talking about that one, and so if someone’s going to be talking about it, why not me?

But a larger truth about my reluctance to start Fallout 4 is that I’m a little intimidated by it.  As much as I love Bethesda’s open-world games – and I’ve devoured Oblivion, Skyrim and Fallout 3 to death – they are tough nuts to crack open at the start.  Even just creating a character causes a fair amount of paralysis; if I throw my previous Fallout experience out the window and just start from scratch, I have to agonize over each stat point, and how I want to look, and even the gender I’d like to play.  I don’t want to build someone that sucks; my first time building a character in FO3, I built this incredibly strong melee character (since that’s how I normally roll in the Elder Scrolls games) and it took me 4-5 hours of frustration and constant death to realize that strength and melee toughness is no match for at least basic gun skills.  I want to build the right character, and I don’t know enough about what I’m going to face to know how to get it “right”.

It’s interesting to me that, ordinarily, I like being able to create my own character.  I certainly love it in Bioware’s games; I steered my FemShep through the entirety of the Mass Effect trilogy twice, and I loved my Dragon Age: Inquisition character.

[QUICK TANGENT ALERT]

One thing that I’d like to eventually explore here is the psychological difference between playing your own customized character and playing as a known quantity (i.e., Lara Croft, Nathan Drake, Master Chief, any Assassin’s Creed protagonist, etc.).  Certainly you have a much greater degree of ownership over your own created character than you would with a franchise star like Lara Croft if only because Lara Croft doesn’t have any dialogue trees; her interactions with other people are scripted and filmed and that’s when you get to put the controller down.  And yet part of the experience of playing as Lara is that she is an interesting and compelling character in her own right, and you want to see what happens to her; you’re guiding the adventure, even if you’re not in control of the plot. (If I were to actually pursue this line of thought, obviously I’d have to talk about the Bioshock games, which go to great lengths to subvert whatever sort of autonomy you think you have over your avatar.)

[END TANGENT]

Anyway, so:  I’m playing the hell out of Rise of the Tomb Raider and it’s definitely pushing all the necessary buttons right now.  It’s only when I’m not playing it that the cracks start showing.

Certainly there are nits to pick here and there – shooting feels slow and unresponsive, which might be the game’s subtle reminder to play stealthily because the game rewards you with a hell of a lot more XP that way, and there’s a skill you can unlock that auto-headshots up to three enemies with your bow that essentially clears out rooms faster than they can be re-filled.  But this is hardly that big a deal, in that the combat sequences (thus far, at least) are over with relatively quick (unlike, say, in the Uncharted games, which rely on extended gunplay sequences to their detriment).

The story is… well, I’m trying very hard to give it the benefit of the doubt.  When I’m playing – well, to be more specific, when I’m moving Lara around on the screen – everything is well-paced and exciting and  fun.  The title screen says I’m 53% complete, but I’m not sure if that takes into account all the non-story stuff, which I’ve been doing as much of as possible. I’m very happy to just meander about and collect hidden things and search for challenge tombs and stuff – and even fast travel to previous areas with my newly-aquired gear that allows me to enter previously inaccessible areas – and all this can often feel very much at odds with the urgency of the narrative; but that also implies that I’m paying close attention to it.  I’m not necessarily on board with the story as much as I am the overall experience; the story itself falls apart under close scrutiny.

****SLIGHT STORY SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THE FIRST HALF OF THE GAME***

Unlike poor Peter Dinklage in Destiny, the dialogue is quite good and well-acted for the most part; but the story is relatively flat and by-the-numbers.  One character (who was only in one or two scenes in the beginning) is revealed to be the enemy (which wasn’t particularly shocking, given the context of the reveal); another “friendly” character is somewhat mysterious, but the only real shock will be if he isn’t who all signs are pointing him to be.

More to the point, though, Lara is asked repeatedly why she’s searching for this game’s Macguffin, the Divine Source (“because my father killed himself over it!”), and what she intends to do with it if she should find it (“I… don’t really have a satisfactory answer for this!”), and how her quest is any different from what the bad guys are doing (“I don’t have an answer for this, either, but I’m the good guy, here, so, gimme”).

I would refer you to Carolyn Petit’s review and commentary for further analysis at this point.  I’d also refer you to it if only because it’s really well written, and includes my number one gripe about internet comments:

Some readers–those, for instance, who attack less-than-glowing reviews of highly anticipated games that haven’t even been released yet and that they haven’t yet had a chance to play–aren’t interested in actual criticism. They are interested in being told that their emotional investment in a particular game, their anticipation of it, the sense of greatness that they have already imbued this particular entertainment product with, are all justified, that the game they have yet to play is indeed going to be fucking awesome.

I’m still enjoying TR, and I certainly plan on finishing it, and I’d like to think that by the time I do, Fallout 4 will have received some of the patches it apparently needs.  I’ll also be squeezing in some Battlefront from time to time; I think it will supplement Rocket League as my quick multiplayer palate cleanser.

The First Few Hours: Rise of The Tomb Raider

There’s something about November, man.  Last year around this same time – in fact, if Facebook’s memory feature is correct, it’s almost to the day – I was beginning work on a NaNoWriMo memoir and took a deep dive into my college diary for some research, and emerged into a huge whirlpool of regret and depression, and I spent the next few weeks/months under a haze of the sort of wistful, melancholic nostalgia that is, for me, very difficult to shake off.  And now here we are, a full year later, and I’m finally getting back to work on the album that evolved from that failed memoir experience, and because I’m trying to write lyrics – and because I’ve had to forcibly remove myself from friendships that have proven very difficult to handle, emotionally, I’m once again drowning, aching, feeling bad.  I’m writing good music again, but most of my waking hours are spent under that haze of sadness and regret and I can feel myself withdrawing from everyone and the whole thing just sucks.


Yesterday was ridiculous.  These two things showed up at the same time.

image image

I kept Fallout 4 running just long enough to make sure that my PipBoy app was connected to my PS4; I didn’t start creating a character or anything else.  I think I said this the other day, but in any event I’ll repeat myself:  until the first wave of patches starts coming in, I’m going to concentrate on other things.

As for the Steam Link and Controller; I have mixed results.  I hooked up the Link to my gaming TV in my basement, which is on the opposite side of the room from my PC, both of which are one floor below my wi-fi router.  The streaming reception isn’t all that great, unfortunately, and I’m not sure how to fix it easily without using hundred-foot-long wires.  The controller is… interesting.  The ABXY buttons aren’t located where my right thumb wants them to be, which can be confusing.  I only used the controller to move around the menu screens, and so I haven’t yet put them through any sort of gaming duress, but even just moving around the Big Picture menu took a tiny bit of adjustment.  I still have a rather ridiculous Steam backlog to get caught up on; I suppose I’ll be going back to my PC for that, until I can get the Link interference issue straightened out.


This is all moot, anyway, since my primary gaming focus for the foreseeable future will be with Rise of the Tomb Raider.  I played for about 2 and a half hours last night; I put it down when I got to the second campsite.

My initial gut reaction is very positive indeed.   For starters, it looks terrific – the ice walls that Lara climbs in the beginning sections look particularly stunning.  (I already know I’m going to play this again when it eventually comes out on the PS4, though; I can’t help but feel that the PS4 version will look even better.)

It’s also taken the crafting and hunting and resource gathering of the first game and multiplied it by an exponential amount; but instead of being annoying or anxiety-inducing, the way that hidden collectibles in Assassin’s Creed games can be, everything you find here is useful in some way, which also adds the bonus of making sure you cover every available inch of the map – there’s tons of hidden stuff, and it’s all super-fun to find and use.

I’ve still only seen a tiny fraction of what’s on offer, but even at this early stage I can confidently say that it basically feels like a bigger, better version of the last game, and that’s exactly the kind of thing I want to be playing right now.  And so I shall.