I’m maybe 8 hours into Watch Dogs, even though I only finished Act 1 (of 5) last night. The reason why I’m 8 hours into the game but am barely 20% into the story is because the game is constantly interrupting me with other things to do besides the main story, and since playing the main story …

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the first few hours: Tomb Raider

March 7, 2013


[For some reason I feel it necessary to tell you that there’s a bunch of other posts I’m working on, including a special Subway Gamer 3DS post and a revival of the Everything Old is New Again feature (as I play the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time).  In the meantime, I need to talk about Tomb Raider, so here we go.]

I started writing this post yesterday, but I lost interest in it after a while; I couldn’t quite figure out what I was trying to say, and it soon became clear that I just hadn’t played enough of the game to know how I felt about it.  Of course, the whole point of these “first few hours” posts is to provide gut reactions and first impressions, but still – I wanted to at least get past the early tutorial stuff and experience a bit more of what the game had to offer, as that first hour is pretty linear.

So now I’m around 4 hours in; I just made base camp outside the helicopter in the shanty town, if that means anything to those of you who might’ve finished it already.  And I can sum up my experience thusly:  I am enjoying it very much, even if it is not quite the game I’d like it to be.

I never played the original Tomb Raider gamesand from what I understand I’m not necessarily missing all that much.  I did enjoy the 360 games, though – LegendAnniversary, and even Underworld, to a lesser extent.  And the XBLA top-down co-op game that came out a few years ago was quite fun, too.  Those games did well enough for me in the  exploration-to-combat gameplay ratio to make them entertaining; the combat felt obligatory, but at least it was over pretty quickly.  The stories were utterly ridiculous, but I didn’t really care – I liked exploring the tombs and solving the puzzles, and that was enough for me.   As for Lara Croft herself, well, she seemed to be a comic book character with superhuman parkour abilities and some overly generous (some might say borderline-gratuitous) physical endowments.  If I were a 13-year-old boy, it would be one thing.  But as a mid-30s man, it started to get a little embarrassing – sadly, this is pretty much par for the course as far as female videogame characters go.

character design

(source)

This reboot is clearly less about globetrotting and raiding tombs and more about trying to redefine who Lara is – she is young, inexperienced, and is frequently in a great deal of pain.   She is, refreshingly, not gratuitously sexualized; if anything, one could argue that she is perhaps overly victimized.  Terrible things happen to her with a frequency that would be almost comical if she weren’t constantly gasping in agony.

The key part of that last paragraph, though, at least as far as I’m concerned, is that there are hardly any literal tombs to raid – there are certainly some optional tombs to explore, but the three that I’ve found so far consist of basically one puzzle each and took me around 3 minutes to figure out and solve.   That being said, there are certainly a lot of environmental traversal puzzles, and tons of hidden objects to find, and I do enjoy those parts immensely.

In many respects, Tomb Raider reminds me less of, say, Uncharted, and a bit more of Far Cry 3 – especially as there’s one section in Tomb Raider where Lara has to climb a radio tower.  It’s a lot more linear than FC3, but that’s actually OK; the game gives me clearly explained reasons for pushing forward, and so while there’s no countdown urging me to the next objective, I find myself eager to see what happens next.

*       *       *

It’s been interesting (and a little confusing) to hear other people’s reactions to this new Tomb Raider reboot.   I’m only around 4 hours into it, after all, and I can’t necessarily speak to the things these professional critics are responding to – even when they talk in a non-spoilery way.  Rock Paper Shotgun’s review details an experience almost completely different from what I’ve been going through – their guy talks about this feeling of the game constantly interrupting you and your control over the action, but I haven’t really felt that way at all.  And this week’s Giant Bombcast discusses, among other things, the disconnect between Lara’s intense discomfort and revulsion at the things she has to do (like killing people), and the unlocks and perks you can unlock that let Lara perform incredibly gruesome kill maneuvers.

The Bombers also talk about what they wish this game actually was, though, and in that I can absolutely agree.  While I appreciate that the combat in the game is actually pretty good, it’s still the part that I like the least.  What I (and they) love is the exploration and puzzle solving.  I felt this way in Far Cry 3, and Uncharted (both 2 and especially 3), and even Skyrim to a certain extent (not that there’s many puzzles to solve in Skyrim, of course).  I would love a game that forgoes combat altogether and simply gives you a world to explore and solve.  That sort of game is probably too risky to spend AAA development money on, but it’s clear to me from listening to critics and talking with friends that there’s definitely an audience for that sort of experience; hell, look at the success that Dark Souls found in catering to a niche audience.

guns and games and a challenge for 2013

December 17, 2012


I’m feeling somewhat heartsick today.  It’s a combination of a bunch of different things; insomnia/anxiety at 3:30am, a distressing situation at my job, a lack of productivity over the weekend… and, of course, the events in Newtown, CT.

I’m 37 years old; this is, sadly, not the first mass shooting I’ve lived through.  But it is the first one that affected me this much.  I watched President Obama’s speech at the Newtown vigil last night with my arm around my wife and my hand on her pregnant belly, tears pouring down from our faces, knowing that our little boy is going to be arriving in just a few months, and that there will be times when he’s out of our immediate line of sight, and that we will feel helpless.

I don’t believe that violent video games cause mass shootings any more than violent movies and music do.  But in light of what happened on Friday – and in keeping with what I was already talking about last week before everything happened – I’m feeling a bit weird about playing shooters right now.

*     *     *     *     *

Let me back up.

Part of the lack of productivity I mentioned above was due to a hectic weekend schedule and a post-Newtown shitty mood, but it was also certainly due to the marathon Far Cry 3 sessions I engaged in, since I felt too lethargic and shitty to do anything else.

I’m at an interesting crossroads, as far as the game goes.  I looked at a walkthrough just to see how far away from the end I was, and it turns out I’ve only got 2 missions left.  The mission I’m currently stuck on, the 2nd-to-last one, is rather difficult.  It’s difficult for a lot of reasons, not least of which is because it’s shockingly poor in design (especially when compared with the rest of the scripted missions).*  I gave it around 5 or 6 tries last night before giving up, feeling that the game suddenly turned on me.

That being said, I’ve also ascended every radio tower, crafted every craftable, and liberated every outpost; this means that, aside from the wild animals, there is literally nothing else to shoot on the rest of the islands.** This means I’m free to actually explore – to find all the hidden relics and lost WW2 letters and all the other nooks and crannies that I’ve not had time to check out, all without having to fire a weapon.  As this is the aspect of the game that made me fall in love with it in the first place, I think I’d be quite content to never actually finish the narrative.

The narrative is where the game’s more or less fallen apart for me, is the thing.  While I appreciate that the game is actually attempting to say something (in that you start out as a whimpering trust-fund douchebag and gradually turn into a sociopathic killing-machine douchebag whose friends (the same friends who you’ve been trying to rescue) are super-creeped out by you and your murder-lust (they actually look into the camera (i.e., your eyes) as if they don’t recognize you)) – in other words, the game is saying that killing hundreds of people doesn’t necessarily make you a hero – the game also requires you to kill hundreds of people in order to advance the narrative; you don’t have a choice in the matter.***

(That the game also frequently turns key plot points into hallucinogenic metaphors is a bit much, too.  It’s all a bit heavy-handed and ham-fisted and reeks of deus ex machina.)

Getting back to the crossroads, though – while the narrative is getting absurd and the act of firing a gun (even if it’s virtual) feels a bit distasteful, I still very much want to run around on the island and find all the cool stuff it has to offer.  And if so I stay away from those last two missions, I’m utterly free to do that.  And even if I never finish the story, I would have definitely gotten my money’s worth – I’ve sunk at least 20 hours into the game already, and to do all the side quests and find every last treasure would take at least a dozen more.

*     *     *     *     *

I was originally going to start this post with a hypothetical challenge; would it be possible for me to play any games in 2013 that didn’t involve the firing of a gun?  Then I remembered that Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider and GTA5 were coming, and that pretty much ended that – I won’t be missing any of those games unless my wife or my newborn son is on fire.  BUT.  I think I’m going to try and get through as much of 2013 as possible without playing any shooters.  This will dramatically lower the amount of games that I end up playing – I’m looking at my Gamefly queue and this one single criteria pretty much omits everything besides Tiger Woods 14 and the South Park RPG.  That’s kinda fucked up, wouldn’t you say?  No Dead Space 3.  No Gears of War Judgment.  No Splinter Cell, no Metro Last Light, no Aliens: Colonial Marines.  No Metal Gear Revengeance or whatever the hell it’s called, although my history with Metal Gear games probably precludes me from enjoying it anyway.

I might just end up doing this by default – what with the baby, and the fact that I’m not particularly interested in those games, this might be easier than it looks.  If anything, this will cause me to seek out the kinds of non-shooter games that I know are out there but that I’ve ignored.  This might work out after all.

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* Why is it so shitty?  Let me count the ways.

  • The game, up to this point, has generally prioritized stealth as opposed to going in, guns blazing.  But this particular mission has you driving into a fuel depot with your compatriot working the mounted gun in the trunk, and you’re blowing the shit out of everything.  That doesn’t make it a bad mission on its own, but it does beg the question as to why stealth was so necessary before.
  • As it’s one of the last missions in the game, it’s supposed to be more difficult.  And in this case, “difficult” means a never-ending supply enemies spawning from empty rooms.  Empty-room enemy-spawns are a lazy, cheap way of making something artificially difficult.  And why there are 300 soldiers guarding this particular fuel depot is a narrative mystery.
  • Some of these enemies are “heavies”, which means they’re decked out in bomb-proof gear.  To the player, this means they’re bullet sponges (which is, again, super-cheap).  But, also – why are they wearing such gear in the first place?  If it’s to guard against fuel explosions, why aren’t all the soldiers wearing them?  Sure, that’s impractical, but since when does anything need to make sense?  Speaking of which, this is also a tropical island – those guys have gotta be sweltering.
  • One more time – enemies appearing out of rooms that you’d previously known to be empty is bullshit.

** I probably shouldn’t have used the word “literally”, since this is only true if you don’t count the bulletin board assassination missions, which I may or may not bother with.  My growing distaste for mass carnage notwithstanding, I did enjoy the strategy that went into liberating the outposts; there were only a limited number of guards (unless you let them sound an alarm), and each outpost had its own unique layout, which meant that each scenario was unique.   It could be looked at as a puzzle to be solved, is what I’m trying to say.

*** I can’t apologize enough for that sentence’s structure.

more FC3 prattle; some amateur rumination on game design

December 13, 2012


I’m having one of those days where I’m super-stressed out because of work and I’d like nothing more than to sink some quality brain-time into a post, but I’m having trouble thinking of anything to talk about other than “ZOMG Far Cry 3 is amazing.”

I sunk a fair amount of time in it last night –

  • first, taking care of some busywork (i.e., doing some Path of the Hunter missions in order to max out certain crafting paths – I can’t remember all the ones I’ve finished, but I know as of last night I’ve at least got the biggest wallet, the biggest syringe kit and maybe the biggest ammo pouch, which were the 3 most important things on my to-do list);
  • second, trying a few of the assassination missions (which are a bit contrived and probably not something I’ll keep pursuing – I haven’t found any tangible rewards beyond money and XP, unlike the Hunting missions which are the only ways to get certain crafting material);
  • third, getting distracted from the first and second tasks above by checking out some happened-upon ruins and picking up some relics (which aren’t necessarily all that rewarding, either, but these ruins scratch that Skyrim itch of pure exploration for exploration’s sake, which is something I’ll get to in a bit); and then
  • finally, diving into some actual story missions.  I’ve posted some screenshots from those missions below – I’m not sure if they constitute spoilers, since there aren’t any map locations or enemies, but they do show places that you can’t see on the actual island.  I’m close to the end of Chapter 5 – Buck’s sent me on something of a treasure hunt.

Buck (the character) is a disgusting, vile human being (who’s acted phenomenally well, by the way), and I certainly hope he gets what’s coming to him at the end of this particular mission arc, but these missions are among the most fun I’ve had in the game.  You’re off in these hidden underground ruins, looking for a mystical object; you’ll start off by doing some relatively painless first-person platforming, then you’ll encounter a group of enemies who are trying to open a locked door; you’ll dispatch those enemies, open the door they couldn’t unlock… and then it’s just you and these places, no enemies in sight (save for a few snakes and komodo dragons here and there), exploring without consequence, free from external pressure.  Even if the ruins themselves are extremely linear, and even if the “puzzles” barely qualify to be identified as such, it’s still a rush.  (They feel like extremely simplified (but gorgeous) versions of the catacombs in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, now that I think about it.)

I love that this stuff is in the game.  I love that while this is a big-budget, AAA first person shooter, that the game has the balls to take the shooting out of the equation entirely (even if it can’t remove your guns from your field of vision, as in the screenshots above).  I love that just as much as how much I love how truly dynamic this world actually is – how you can spend 10 minutes silently sneaking around an outpost, tagging enemies, plotting your attack, only to have a fucking grizzly bear run into camp and maul everything to death.

*     *     *     *     *

In my post the other day I attempted to make the case that there’s too much killing in games.  Or, rather – that most games require the elimination of enemies (whether by gunfire, swordplay, magic, jumping on a turtle’s head, etc.) in order to achieve a win-state; that this has become, more or less, the default concept in contemporary game design.   There are certainly notable examples where this is not the case (PortalJourney, and Fez come to mind), but those examples are few and far between, and they certainly don’t sell nearly as well.   

After that post, I had an enlightening Twitter conversation with @WGP_Josh, and we hypothesized about how awesome a combat-free Tomb Raider or Uncharted would be.  I’m guessing that a lot of  game designers – well, rather, game publishers – are frightened by the silence of pure exploration, and so they feel that it’s necessary that in between the truly free-form stuff like puzzle solving and narrative development there’s gotta be a lot of BANG and BOOM and rag-doll physics and basically anything that can justify a multiplayer suite.

I’ve been thinking about this problem ever since.  I know nothing about game design, and so I have no idea what comes first – the narrative?  the art?  the main character?  the marketing budget?  the gameplay hook?  the desired player experience?   I feel, in my gut, that those last two are probably the most important, but I truly don’t know.

If I were to design a game, I think I’d probably focus on that last bit – the desired player experience – and then try to figure out what sort of action the player would have to do in order to best achieve that experience.*  But I’d also want to make sure there was a compelling reason for the player to want to continue, and so I’d develop some sort of narrative thrust, however basic, to keep the player engaged.   Weirdly, I think art and sound come last in this equation.  I mean, I’m a graphics whore through and through, and I’d want my game to look and sound great, but I do think you need to keep the player engaged first by making sure the game’s primary action is compelling.

And here’s where the problem lies.  What is that primary action?  What is the hook?  What is the way from Point A to Point B – even if it’s the player, not the level designer, who ultimately determines that path?  Judging from the vast majority of the games that have been released over the last 10 years, it seems that the easiest answer is “combat.”  When those games then actually focus on the combat and make sure it’s something special in and of itself – i.e., Bulletstorm, the Rocksteady Batman games, even (dare I say) Gears of War – well, that works.  But then there’s something like Portal, which removes combat from the game completely, and yet is still incredibly gripping and absorbing and engaging.

I sincerely hope that someday I can find out the answers to these questions first-hand.

*     *     *     *     *

Also: check out this amazing behind-the-scenes piece about Double Fine from Polygon.  And this interesting piece from Chris Dahlen over at Unwinnable about the undeserved anonymity of game design.

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*And when I think about my favorite games of the last 10 years, and I think about my favorite bits in each of those games, I realize that they all have several things in common.  And then I really start thinking about learning how to code.

weekend recap – birthday boy makes good

December 10, 2012


I’m having a tough time getting words to come out of my brain today.  I started writing this post around 4 hours ago, and between constant work interruption and my utter inability to maintain any semblance of focus, I’ve made it no further than this introduction.

It’s not that I went all wild and crazy for my birthday this weekend; far from it, in fact.  But it is true that I’ve not been sleeping well lately, and when my alarm clock went off this morning I felt very much like I was dead.  I took one of those mindless 20 minute shower-trances where I would stare off into space and then suddenly wonder if I had already put shampoo in my hair, or if I was simply waiting the required 3-5 minutes before I could rinse.

Anyway, here I am, in a quiet moment at work, with my mind (when it’s working) far away in the land of Far Cry 3.

I suppose it’s good that I can’t really think right now, because even though I’m having an enormous amount of fun with FC3, it’s the sort of game where I’m afraid that over-analyzing it will ruin it.  It’s like, yes, it was enormously astute of some critics to point out how bizarre it was that eating years-old potato chips in Bioshock actually granted health bonuses instead of taking them away, but the game was still awesome; likewise, if I spend too much time thinking that even though the protagonist in FC3 goes from “I’m afraid of even looking at a gun” to “Holy shit this flamethrower is fucking amazing!” in a very short amount of time, killing human beings by the dozens along the way, he still says “Ewww…..” while skinning his hundredth animal.

I mean, look – there’s a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief that any gamer needs to have while playing a game with guns.  Leaving aside mechanical tropes like regenerating health and the ability to take more than one bullet hit and not immediately fall down dead, there’s lots of things that gamers need to ignore in order for a game’s narrative logic to not completely fall apart.  I’ve talked before about Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake and the dizzying amount of cognitive disassociation necessary for the gamer to accept that Drake isn’t a serial-murdering psychopath (who, according to my stats, murdered over 700 people in Uncharted 3) but rather a fun, charming ruffian who gets in and out of “scrapes.”   This is all to say that while I appreciate FC3’s writers trying to make the player character less of a mutant super-soldier and more of a normal dude, they either need to fully commit to the premise and have him get used to skinning animals, or just leave it alone altogether.

As for the game itself.

I’d finally gotten to the point where I’d done so much dicking around (exploring, ascending radio towers, reclaiming outposts, hunting and crafting, etc.) that I actually had too much XP – i.e., it seems that a lot of the skill tree is locked until you do more story missions.   And while screwing around is fun in and of itself, it turns out that you can have more fun if you have access to some of those locked skills.  So, I turned back to the story last night and decided to see what’s what.

Whaddya know, the story missions are also pretty awesome.  I escaped from a burning building and rescued my girlfriend, and now I’m on some sort of vision quest for the island’s high priestess, where I’ve made my way to a shanty village called “Badtown” and hooked up with some far-out CIA dude who’s having me run errands for him.

The narrative is still taking shape; there’s now apparently a super-villain that even the psychopathic Vaas must answer to, and I’m not quite sure where this high priestess / jungle mysticism thing is going, but as long as I get to continue running around and do the things I’m already doing, I’ll be happy.

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I also finished the story mode in Lego Lord of the Rings, which was a lot of fun (albeit with the same stupid platforming bullshit that has plagued the Lego games since the beginning), and I’m slowly going through the game again with the intent of getting 100%.  My wife is a huge LOTR fan, too, and she’s been having fun watching the strange incongruities that can happen in the post-completion phase of the game, like having Sauron and Frodo run around together solving puzzles.

3 amazing things

December 7, 2012


I don’t know what this says about me as a person, but I find that I’m generally much happier when the books I’m reading and the music I’m listening to and the games I’m playing are really good.  As it happens, I’m reading a great book,* and I’ve been getting back into some old music I’d forgotten about,** and after the crushing disappointments of both Need For Speed Most Wanted and Assassin’s Creed 3, I’m fully invested in at least 3 great games.

 

1.  Let me continue to sing the praises of Far Cry 3, for starters.  I hereby fully apologize for any disparaging comments/thoughts/opinions I might have had pre-release.  I never really cared about the earlier games, and the E3 presentation didn’t do all that much to impress me, but MAN.  Now that I have it in my hands?  It’s giving Borderlands 2 a serious run for its money for Game of the Year.

I spent 2 hours last night in the game, not even doing any story missions – just hunting and crafting, liberating outposts and climbing radio towers.  It’s quite shocking to see how pretty much everything AC3 got wrong, FC3 is getting right – starting with those radio towers.  In AC3, you basically climbed the same 2 or 3 buildings, or the same 1 (one) tree.  In FC3, though, each radio tower is its own mini-platforming puzzle.  It’s nothing terribly difficult to figure out (at least, not yet – I’ve only unlocked 4 or 5), but it keeps the experience fresh each time – not to mention, of course, that some radio towers are also festooned with assorted wildlife.  I managed to climb one tower last night before almost getting eaten by a fucking leopard, who jumped out of nowhere – and by the time I got up to the second floor, the leopard was being stalked by 3 fucking gila monsters.

There are real, tangible incentives for doing at least some of this side stuff – the hunting in particular is actually pretty necessary as the amount of stuff you can carry at the beginning of the game is barely enough to keep you alive.  I haven’t done any of the assassination missions, and I’ve only done one of the Great Hunt missions, but I’ve also been plenty busy as it is just exploring and opening up the map.  I’m almost a little reluctant to truly dive into the story until I’ve crafted enough stuff, actually – and it’s just as well, since I’m still having a blast.

2.  I’ve mostly found the Lego games to be quite charming and fun and playfully respectful of their respective franchises, if also occasionally stuffed with maddeningly frustrating platforming elements.  But I’ve gotta hand it to Traveler’s Tales – Lego LOTR is one hell of a package.  The Lego formula works to absolute perfection with this IP, and the improvements they’ve made – to the camera, to the hubworld, to pretty much everything – are quite staggering.  The trademark Legoese has been replaced with actual dialogue from the movies, which is a little odd at first, but it generally works quite well.  Precision jumping is still shitty, but thankfully there’s not a tremendous amount of it.  If you’re a fan of either Lego or the LOTR movies, there is absolutely no excuse not to play this game – this is a guilty pleasure that’s 100% guilt-free.

3.  I’ve made no secret of my fanboy status with respect to the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and so I gobbled up yesterday’s iPad release of GTA Vice City before I got out of bed.  Ironically – and I know this is a somewhat controversial thing to admit, given that I’m most certainly in the minority – Vice City is probably my least favorite entry of the post-III-era console games. ***   Still, that said, it’s obvious that there’s still a tremendous amount to love, and the fact that I can play it on my iPad – and the fact that it looks and sounds as good as it does – is nothing short of amazing.  The iPad controls are about as good as they can be, given the nature of the touchscreen – they make sense, and it’s pretty easy to get up and running in a short amount of time.  I don’t know how much time I’m going to spend actually playing it – I didn’t really play all that much of the iOS version of GTA3, either – but I love knowing that I have it on my iPad.  (It stands to reason that San Andreas is in the works, right?  I would definitely play the hell out of that one.)

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* Justin Cronin’s “The Twelve“, which is perhaps not quite as good as “The Passage” but it’s still pretty great.  Also, I can’t say enough good things about the new Kindle Paperwhite – it’s totally worth the upgrade.  And the X-Ray feature is indispensable.

** including stuff like Cornelius, Tony Allen, and especially Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate’s “In The Heart of the Moon”

*** This is something I’ll most likely have to address when I get around to the inevitable GTA5 wishlist post, which is most assuredly in the works.

ch-ch-ch-changes; the first few hours of Far Cry 3

December 5, 2012


[Before I get into today’s post, I must link to this newly leaked footage of Ruffian’s cancelled Streets of Rage reboot.  Streets of Rage was one of my JAMS back in the Sega Genesis days; my brother and I played all 3 games for hours and hours and hours.  I’ve been wanting an HD remake for years, and Ruffian seemed like just the right developer to pull it off (even if Crackdown 2 was a shitshow), and so this is very much the epitome of a happy/sad thing.]

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I’d be hard-pressed to explain just what’s happened to me over the last few weeks; it could be that the anxiety medications are finally kicking in, or it could be my shift from trepidation to acceptance and now genuine excitement about being a new father, or it could be the simple act of driving a car into New York City and thereby kicking a deeply-held fear square in the teeth.  I suppose it’s some combination of all of those things, but whatever it is, I’ve been feeling like a new, changed man.  And it feels good.

(It feels good even though I turn 37 on Saturday, which is a weird, crooked number that is much closer to 40 than I feel comfortable with.)

In terms of gaming, this feeling of change has manifested itself already, without me even realizing it.  For one thing, as my friend Gred correctly pointed out, I feel a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders now that I’ve given up on Assassin’s Creed 3.  Ever since I started this blog as my half-hearted attempt at breaking into professional game criticism,  I’ve felt compelled to play (and try to finish) as much as I can get my hands on, even if only so that I can be part of the conversation – even if that conversation is really just me listening to podcasts and reading smart people on Twitter.  The reality, of course, is that I am not a professional game critic, and I just don’t have the time to spend playing stuff I don’t enjoy just for the sake of being an observer of other people’s conversations.  And now that I can accept that, I kinda like it.

Continuing in that vein, I will not be playing Hitman: Absolution.  I’ve never been able to get into that franchise in previous entries, and their horrendously ill-conceived Facebook ad campaign (covered here with the usual great aplomb by Leigh Alexander) turned me off completely.  I don’t want anything to do with that game or that franchise ever again.

Switching back to the “changed-man” vein, I am playing Far Cry 3.  This is notable (for me, anyway) for three specific reasons:

  • I had absolutely no intention of ever playing this game until the reviews starting coming in;
  • I’m playing it on my PC, instead of the 360; and
  • I’m willingly playing a first-person shooter, even though I’ve been bitching endlessly about shooter fatigue.

And since I’m into bullet points today, I’ve chosen to play FC3 on my PC because, among other things:

  • my 360 has been making terrible sounds lately and I’d really like it to last until GTA5 (unless there’s a PC port; this also goes for Bioshock Infinite);
  • because I don’t want to kick my pregnant wife off the living room couch if she’s comfortable;
  • because the game probably looks better on my medium-grade PC than it would on my 360; and because… drumroll…. 
  • I kinda don’t give a shit about Achievements anymore.

As for the game itself… I’ve heard it described as “Skyrim in the jungle with guns”, and even though I’ve only played for an hour or so, I certainly can see how that description makes sense.  This is one of the most dynamic open worlds I’ve ever seen; things are happening around you constantly, and not just necessarily to you but to your enemies as well.  As an example, I was wandering around hunting for boar when a group of pirates happened to drive up and began attacking me; but then a pack of rabid dogs started attacking them, whereupon I just hung back, patched myself up, and made sure I was ready for whoever survived.  This was not a scripted sequence – this is just something that happened.

And even though I only played for a short time, my shooter fatigue never kicked in.  This is partially because the game is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s really easy to get lost in the scenery.  It’s also partially because there is SO MUCH TO DO.  It’s not just shooting enemies; it’s hunting animals and gathering plants, and about using the materials you get in those hunts and gatherings to craft materials that you absolutely need in order to survive.  There are radio towers you must ascend and disable – which, as in Assassin’s Creed, opens up an area of the world map.  There are pirate outposts you must reclaim for the natives, which turn into fast-travel points.  There are these Trials, which are essentially shooting gallery mini-games, which reward you with points and XP.  Yes, there’s XP – this is just as much an RPG as it is a shooter, with skill trees and abilities and such.

I can only give the game two knocks thus far.  The first is that the main bad guy’s name is alarmingly close to my own last name – they’re not spelled the same, but they’re pronounced almost identically, and he’s a scary motherfucker, and more than a little intimidating.  (The opening sequence of FC3 is absolutely outstanding, and the bad guy’s performance is a particular stand-out.)  The second, more problematic issue is that the game’s display never shuts up.  The game is constantly reminding you of your primary objective, even if you’re deliberately doing a side objective; it is also constantly telling you every time it updates its in-game encyclopedia/codex/whatever, which is unnecessary and annoying and requires too many button presses to get rid of.  This can be frustrating, in that the developers have crafted this amazing, immaculate world for you to explore, which you are constantly being interrupted from exploring.  They won’t just let you be.  Granted, there are wild animals and forest fires and pirates pretty much everywhere, so it’s not like you’d ever truly be at peace in the world – but at least you can be immersed in that experience without constantly being reminded that there’s other stuff you need to be doing.

 

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