Tag: forza

Further Adventures in Adulting

1. Hey, so, we bought a new car over the weekend.  I feel like I’m finally an Adult.  Yes, we have a child; yes, we bought a house.  But now we bought a new car, from a dealership, by ourselves.  I’m so terrified it’s going to break!  It’s not going to break.  BUT WHAT IF IT DOES?

Anyway, yeah, that happened.  And I know this is a cliche, but still – that new car smell is no joke.  There’s something kinda awesome about that smell.  It… smells like victory.

101-Apocalypse-Now-quotes

2.  Because we bought a new car, I had to take a personal day yesterday and get our parking stickers sorted out, and also deal with some pet/vet stuff.  And in between all that, I finally got a chance to watch Blade Runner 2049.  My short version:  it is a beautifully shot film, and even with its slow pace it’s still more engaging than the original film (which, I’m sad to say, is a film that I respect more than I enjoy).  But it’s also a bit problematic with how it shows women (they are either robot love slaves, ball-busting bitches, or trapped in literal cages), and quite frankly I never need to see Jared Leto in anything ever again.

3.  Speaking of problematic media, we also finally watched the first episode of the new season of Black Mirror last night – the USS Callister episode.  I have a weird uncomfortable relationship with that series, specifically because of Season 1’s “The Entire History of You”, which affected me in an unexpectedly deep and emotionally unsettling way, especially as I was in the process of re-reading my college diaries at the time for an unrelated creative project.  (If you’re familiar with the episode, you might understand why a sudden influx of forgotten memories might be emotionally traumatic.)  In any event, this new episode was quite good – the twist was genuinely unexpected and the ending was, unusually for this series, quite satisfying.  I’m not 100% sure I’m going to watch the remaining episodes, because there’s only so much technological dread I can handle at any given point, but still – it was nice to be pleasantly diverted for a little while.

4. So I finished Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon”, and even if it didn’t quite stick the landing, it’s an excellent read; he’s a marvelous writer and this is a very smart book.  Now up – a 2nd attempt at reading Zachary Mason’s “Void Star”, which from the book’s description is right up my alley, but in practice is a bit difficult to follow.  I’m kinda just padding for time – what I really want to read is the new Brandon Sanderson volume in the Stormlight Archive, but I feel like I need to re-read the first 2 books and then the mini-story that connects them to this new one, and as much as I like reading big books, knowing that I’ve got at least 2500 pages in front of me before I start reading anything new is a bit daunting.

5.  Game-wise, I’m still in this weird limbo of having this fancy new TV but nothing new to play on it.  I’d been putting Forza 7 through its paces, and that’s a fun game in limited doses – and since the last game I’d played in earnest was probably Forza 3 or 4, it’s kind of a neat deja-vu effect to revisit the same courses in radically improved fidelity.  Likewise, I saw that Forza Horizon 3 got its own Xbox One X Enhanced patch yesterday, and that game is definitely more up my alley.  The graphical enhancements are nothing to sneeze at, either; it looks utterly amazing.  Beyond that, I’m kinda half-heartedly going through my backlog, not feeling particularly attached to anything.  (Indeed, I keep forgetting that I have a ton of shit to play on the Switch.)  The next big AAA release that I have my eyes on is Far Cry 5, which is still a ways off.

That’s what I’ve got, folks.  Hope you’re well.

Weekend Recap: the lovely outdoors

With every passing day I become more and more happy that we made the move out of the city and into the ‘burbs.  I know our house isn’t in the most desirable part of town, and there’s a lack of kids Henry’s age that live near us… but it’s only a 3-minute drive to get to the nearest park, and any time we go to a playground we end up meeting parents with kids around his age, and in any case it’s just nice to be able to do things again.  Something in me has changed since we moved; I’m not paralyzed with the same sort of anxiety that made it so difficult to leave the house back when we lived in the city, and so we as a family can go out and do stuff that we couldn’t necessarily do as easily (or as willingly) before.


I don’t know if it’s my memory that’s shot, or if it’s simply that I keep thinking I’ve written something here but didn’t (you should know that even if I’m not posting here every day, I usually spend have a “new post” tab open for most of my available computer time, and more often than not I’ll trash whatever it is I’ve written) but in any event please forgive me if I’ve already said this:  Spofity’s personalized “Discover Weekly” playlist has turned me on to more good music since it started than I can possibly hope to count.

As a musician, I suppose I ought to be more conflicted about using Spotify as my primary music service.  I used to spend between $600-$1000 a year on new music; now I spend $120/year for my monthly subscription.  I know that the artists earn a tiny, tiny fraction on each stream instead of what they’d get in a straight-up album purchase, and that Spotify’s equity disbursements are not actually doled out the way they ought to be (i.e., you’d think that the artist you listen to gets paid based on what you stream, but instead “Spotify doesn’t pay on a “per song stream” model, exactly: the total royalty pie is split among all rights holders based on the percentage of total Spotify streams their songs garner“, and this royalty rate is not necessarily split equally between artists and the labels, and it’s certainly more favorable to big artists instead of indie bands), and if I wanted to make any money from my album, I’d rather people bought it outright than stream it.  Of course, at this point in my life – approaching 40, with a wife and a child and a mortgage and a day job I can’t realistically quit to go on tour, especially since I can’t pay a band and nobody wants to see a 40-year-old man with social anxiety on tour – I’d simply be happy if people listened to it, and I know that if I put “Untrue Songs” on Spotify, a great many more people would listen to it.  That album sold enough for me to recover my sunk costs and get a few cups of coffee afterwards, but I’m not sure anyone else bothered to track it down besides those initial sales.

Regardless – that’s not even the point.  The point of this section is that Spotify’s algorithms are better at finding good music than I was prepared to give them credit for.  I now look forward to each Monday’s playlist refresh, and I’ve even started a separate playlist with my favorites because there’s at least 4-5 songs in each week’s list that are keepers.

I bring this up also because some of the stuff I’ve been listening to has been so fucking good that it’s causing me to rethink my own music-making approach.  Like I said a few weeks ago – I have a bit of a creative inertia problem; when I’m rolling, I can’t be stopped… but when I stop, I stop, and it takes me forever to get moving again.  Sure, I could blame some of that on the move, but we’re all moved in now, and all my stuff is set up, and yet I’m still not quite back in the swing of things.  That said, there’s three albums that I’ve discovered this week that are fucking my brain up – in a really good way – and I’m back to wishing I had more available hours in the day.

Maybe I need to find a collaborator.  When I can’t get my shit together on my own, it’s often useful to have someone else to bounce ideas off of, and to feed on that collaborative energy to make something brand new.  There was a music festival in town last weekend, and it was some of the first live music I’ve seen in… years?… and the bands were quite good, and now I’ve got an itch to play with other people again.  This is usually a good sign that my creative gears are starting to turn again, so even if I don’t end up starting a new band, I’m hopeful that at the very least I’ll start writing new music again (or at least finishing the stuff I recorded earlier this year).


I’m already about 1000 words into this Metal Gear Solid V piece and I’ve only put, like, 6-7 hours into the game itself.  I can’t say much about the piece – or the game, for that matter – but I can say that I do not hate it, and indeed there are parts of it that I quite like – not the least of which is the ability to play one mission and then turn the game off without dealing with a 45-minute unskippable cutscene.

That said, I do find that I need to cleanse the palate every once in a while, and so I’m very glad to have Forza 6 in my life again.  I’d been a Forza loyalist through the first 4 installments, and then I fell madly in love with the Horizon offshoots, and didn’t really feel bad about skipping out on Forza 5 since I had other stuff on my plate at the time.

I’m not a car enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination; I own a car out of necessity and it’s a hand-me-down at that.  I like driving games for the same reason I like golf games – they’re usually very pretty, they require minimal focus, and the feeling of executing something well is just rewarding enough to keep on going.  This is a way of saying that I don’t come to Forza for the cars as much as I come for the tracks.  The first 3 or 4 Forza games reused a lot of the same tracks, so much so that I’d sometimes think I’d put the wrong disc in the tray.  Forza 6 feels a lot more fresh in this respect; the tracks aren’t the same old, same old.  Indeed, some of the tracks remind me of other games I haven’t thought about in a while – there’s a track in Prague that reminds me of Project Gotham Racing for some reason, and some of the new rain/fog effects make me think of DiRT.  (We need a new DiRT game, by the way.)

the first few hours: NFS MW

In order to distract myself from worrying about tonight’s election results, here’s my one-word review for Need For Speed Most Wanted, a game that at one point was one of my most heavily anticipated games for 2012:

*sigh*

Before I went to bed last night, I opened up a post here and wrote down my gut reactions:

  • frustration
  • kinda ugly
  • wildly inconsistent – too easy to crash (SOMETIMES)
  • mini map is in an inconvenient location
  • cops are annoying, and it can sometimes be unclear why they’re after you
  • and yet i played it for 2 hours without stopping.

I said this yesterday, and it bears repeating – I’m not sure how objective I can be about this game.

On the one hand, the Burnout franchise is my one true love in the racing genre, and I’ve probably put more time into both Burnout 3 and Burnout Paradise than all other racing games combined. So I’m willing to cut Criterion a whole bunch of slack, even if what I really want is Burnout Paradise 2 and couldn’t give less of a shit about the Need For Speed brand.

On the other hand, Forza Horizon came out of nowhere to become one of my GOTY contenders; as far as open-world racing games go, it has set the bar remarkably high, and it’s pretty much all I’ve been playing for the last 2 weeks.

NFS:MW feels a bit off, is the thing.

It has police chases, because it’s a Need For Speed game and that’s what a NFS game is, but the chases aren’t exciting as they were in Criterion’s previous NFS game, the excellent Hot Pursuit. Indeed, they become a nuisance after a while – there’s nothing quite as annoying as finishing a race only to then have to spend up to 10 minutes trying to shake the cops (who aren’t chasing anybody else, I might add).

It offers Burnout-esque rewards for taking down your opponents, but until you’ve improved your car (which you can only do by winning races), taking opponents out actually slows you down, allowing the super-rubberband-y AI to speed past you. This happened to me on numerous occasions last night, and it was unbelievably frustrating.

Indeed, there are many reasons why “frustration” was the first thing I wrote in my gut reaction list above. It’s frustrating that the game is inconsistent with what actually makes you crash – sometimes you can sideswipe an oncoming car and nothing happens, but sometimes you can just lightly nick some random piece of geometry and then everything grinds to a halt. It’s frustrating that sometimes the game will offer up some very visible green arrows to tell you there’s a turn coming up, because more often than not there are no green arrows at all and you’ll miss the turn entirely. It’s frustrating that the mini-map is located in the lower-left-hand corner of the screen, which is very difficult to look at while trying to avoid police cars at 150 miles an hour. It’s frustrating that the crashes – which are usually Criterion’s strength – feel endlessly long and drawn out and more or less ruin your race, especially when they happen 100 yards from the finish line, which is something that happened at least 4 or 5 times to me last night – again, because the game was unclear as to what would actually cause a crash or not. It’s frustrating that there’s perhaps too much NPC traffic on the roads, if only because the NPC traffic only seems to negatively affect your progress; there were a number of times last night where the AI cars in front of me just bounced off of oncoming traffic, which is something that almost never happened when I tried it.

The game is also uncharacteristically ugly, at least by Criterion standards (and certainly when compared to Forza Horizon, which generally looks quite stunning).  The car models are pretty sharp, but the buildings and environments seem a little fuzzy and grainy, and the textures can pop in and out sometimes.  And even though I installed the game to my hard drive, there was a surprising amount of slowdown and dropped frames – even in the menus, which is just weird.

I’m also not really all that crazy about the music selection, though I’d probably place the blame on EA for that.  There is no DJ Atomica; and while normally that would be a good thing, here the soundtrack feels like it was curated strictly by EA’s licensing partners; it’s all very drab and forgettable modern rock.

And yet – I did play the game rather compulsively for around 2 hours last night, despite how frustrated I was.  The world is pretty big, and I found myself enjoying the free-roam exploration side of the game – crashing into locked gates, crashing through billboards, competing with the 2 or 3 people on my friends list who’ve also played the game in speed cameras and jump distances.  The Autolog stuff is still the best in class – not that Forza Horizon is shabby in that regard, but everything here is presented very cleanly and clearly, and so it’s very easy to see how I stack up against my friends among a comparatively wide statistical array.

Ultimately, I can’t help but feel that EA is hamstringing Criterion a bit here by asking Criterion to make a game that they don’t necessarily want to make.  Everybody wants more Burnout; I’m not sure anybody was asking for yet another Need for Speed game.  Cramming Need For Speed on top of what ought to be Burnout Paradise 2 ends up making a bit of a mess.  I suppose I can appreciate Criterion maybe wanting to hold off on the real Burnout Paradise 2 until the next generation of consoles arrive – that’s certainly something worth waiting for.   This game, however, really just feels like EA’s desperate need to make its own IP still relevant, at the expense of quality IP that gamers actually want.*

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* This feeling is strangely and ironically reinforced by all the billboards in the city covered with the names of the various EA studios – EA Sports, Bioware, Visceral Games, etc.

a postcard from Brooklyn, post-Sandy

So, first thing’s first – everyone’s OK here at SFTC HQ.  As far as the hurricane goes, I came out pretty great – never lost power, heat, water or internet.  I’m a little stir crazy, I guess, since me and the wife have been more or less stuck inside since Monday, but that’s fine.  There are hundreds of thousands of fellow New Yorkers who did not get off so easy, and my heart breaks for them.

Our neighborhood is one of the few that survived pretty much unscathed, but we’re certainly not in the clear.  Because all the ports are closed, and because mass transportation is still screwed up and the roads in and out of the city are filled with traffic, supplies aren’t getting in.  The local grocery stores and bodegas are running low on pretty much everything; the gas station a few blocks away from my apartment is out of gas, surrounded by perhaps a dozen vacant cars.  And I would make the argument that when supplies finally arrive, they really ought to go to the neighborhoods that really need it first, of which there are far more than mine.

It’s a little messed up, to be honest.  I’ve been living in New York City since 1997, and I’ve never seen anything like this.  As horrible as 9/11 was – and I don’t mean to diminish how traumatic it was – the city never felt quite as isolated and cut-off as it does right now.  And I mean that in the literal sense – it is damned near impossible to get anywhere in the city, as tunnels and bridges have been closed and traffic has been nightmarish.  It’s true that mass transit has sort of returned today, but going from Brooklyn to Manhattan via subways and buses is still an exercise in futility – see this Gawker post, for example, and know that the picture in that link represents but one-sixth of the actual situation.

Still, the city is picking itself up, slowly but surely.  Indeed, the mail came today for the first time since last Saturday.  (Alas, my Gamefly copy of Assassin’s Creed 3 was not part of the delivery.)

Anyway, even though I’ve been stuck at home for the last few days, there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of gaming, to be honest.  When the TV has been on, the wife and I have more or less been glued to NY1 to stay updated, and we’ve only taken breaks to watch James Bond movies.  I’ve managed to squeeze in a little bit of Forza Horizon here and there, and last night I spent a little time with XCOM.

XCOM, as it turns out, is a perfect “horror” game.  I can only play it in 30-minute chunks, actually, because (a) the battlefield gameplay is absurdly tension-filled, and (b) I am a huge pussy. And even though I’m playing it on Easy, it’s still monstrously difficult at times; when shit starts going wrong, it goes wrong really fast and before you know it your entire squad is either dead or zombie-fied.  I thought I’d been making good progress, actually – I’d cleared a few alien abduction missions without losing anyone, and the world council was very pleased with my overall performance, and I’d finally been able to create the Skeleton Key that granted me access to the alien base.  My squad was filled with experienced soldiers who wielded top-of-the-line equipment – those laser sniper rifles are insane – and I carelessly assumed that even with my overly cautious and methodical play style, I wouldn’t have too much trouble.

How wrong I was.  I cleared the first room easily enough, but then I entered the second room and encountered the Chyrssalids for the first time, and within 5 minutes my entire squad was overrun.

The turn-based nature of the game is actually a large part of the horror.  I suppose “dread” might be a better choice of word, because that’s ultimately what the feeling is; you know that no matter how long you stall in trying to figure out what to do, one of your soldiers is totally fucked.  You might have to walk away, go to the bathroom, get a glass of water, all the while thinking of a solution – but when you get back to the computer, your soldier (who has the only medkit, because you weren’t paying attention) is still about to get destroyed, and your other squadmates are either out of position or, even worse, are out of ammo and need to waste a turn to reload.

It’s a marvelous game, and I hate it.  I hate that I love it so much, and I hate that I keep having to walk away from it because I can’t take the tension.  Considering how much tension there is in NYC these days anyway, there’s only so much more I can take.

There’s not much more to report.  My copy of Need For Speed Most Wanted is apparently at my office, but I’m not going into Manhattan until the subways are running again (which probably won’t be until Monday at the earliest).  And as I said above, my copy of AC3 is in USPS limbo, though hopefully it’ll arrive tomorrow.  But really, the most important news is that everything here is OK; we are safe and warm and our dogs are keeping us company.  

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.

Resistance 3, Ico, Rage

I just want to see this written down in one place.

October 4:  Rage.  (Dark Souls.)

October 11:  Forza 4.

October 18:  Batman: Arkham City.

October 25: Battlefield 3.

November 1:  Uncharted 3.

November 8-11:  Skyrim, Modern Warfare 3.  (MGS HD collection.)

November 15:  Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Saints Row the Third.  (Need for Speed: The Run, Halo Anniversary.)

Fuck.  Me.  Depending on your personal tastes, that’s at least 7 potential GOTY contenders coming out in the next 2 months.  I know that I’m never going to play Dark Souls, and I kinda don’t really give a shit about Modern Warfare 3, and my enjoyment of Battlefield 3 will be directly proportional to the number of close friends on my friends list who are also playing it with me, but still.  Fucking hell.

——————–

This post is long overdue; since my last post I’ve finished Resistance 3  and Ico, played an hour or so of Shadow of the Colossus, and spent about 10 hours with Rage.  Plus a whole bunch of iPhone stuff.

————————-

It’s been exactly 1 week since I finished the campaign and I’m already starting to forget what Resistance 3 was like.  Part of that is because, well, I’ve been super-busy and I’ve been playing a lot of stuff, and there’s only so much that the ol’ brain can hold at one time – but I suppose it’s also because the main thing that went through my mind throughout the entirety of R3’s campaign was that it was basically Half-Life 2 without the gravity gun.  Not just because there’s one level which is straight-up Ravenholm, by the way.  And I suppose, in a strange sort of way, it’s a sort of compliment – if you’re going to steal, steal from the best, and there really aren’t that many HL2 clones out there.  And to its credit, while R3 doesn’t have a gravity gun, it does feature one of the best weapon arsenals I’ve ever played with.   Every weapon is unique and powerful and levels up with repeated use, which is a fantastic incentive to not just stick with one thing (I’m looking at you, Gears 3 Lancer).

Resistance 3 also looks terrific; I’d have to see R3 and Killzone 3 side-by-side to do a proper face-off, but my gut says that R3 has a staggeringly good lighting engine, whereas Killzone 3 felt a bit crisper – I think I’d said at the time that K3 looked like a playable Final Fantasy cutscene.  You know, now that I’m looking at that K3 post, I can definitely say that R3’s campaign was infinitely less frustrating than K3’s was.  R3’s campaign is well-paced, well-designed, never overtly frustrating or unfair.  I suppose there were a few times where I felt like I never had enough ammo, but considering that I seem to feel that way in a lot of games these days (especially Gears 3 and Rage), maybe that’s more reflective of me being a wildly inaccurate shooter in general.

Certainly worth a rental, although if the release calendar above is any indication, I suspect everyone’s going to have their hands full over the next few months.

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Ico probably deserves a post of its own.  If I had the time, I’d give it.  As it stands, though, it’s just gonna get sandwiched here in this mega-post and I’ll have to come back to it when I finish Shadow of the Colossus.

I finished it in a little over 5 hours – which I think is an appropriate length.  It’s a little strange for me to have been looking forward to playing it for 10 years and then end up finishing it in 2 sittings, but, well, I didn’t own a PS2, so what are you gonna do.

It’s an astonishing experience.  That’s a strong word for a game that feels more like a poem or a dream, but that’s really the only word that seems to apply.  The gameplay holds up – there’s nothing about this game that feels dated or outmoded except maybe the stationary camera (which, to its credit, never gets in the way) and the combat (only because it eventually can feel like an annoyance, like in the first Prince of Persia game, although I have more to say about that later).  It is so delicately atmospheric and textured and just warm and it inspires any number of feelings that most games never even think to touch on.  It’s been said for years that the way Ico runs with Yorda is the sort of thing that melts your heart – Ico is hard-charging, Yorda is taller but more delicate, and so you feel the push and pull in the controller’s feedback – but even the save mechanic is moving and evocative – the way Ico just collapses into the couch, and then Yorda sits next to him, hands almost touching.

The part that really gave me chills, though, was right towards the end.  SPOILERS BELOW.  It’s hard to talk about spoiler warnings for a 10-year-old game, but then again, this package was intended specifically for people like me who’d never played either Ico or Shadow, so if you’re like me, consider this your warning.

***HERE BE SPOILERS***

All throughout the game, Ico is protecting Yorda from these shadow creatures.  Who they are and what they want with Yorda is a mystery, but then, everything in the game is a mystery; you go with it.  Anyway, at the end of the game, Ico returns to re-rescue Yorda, and he finds himself in the very room where the game started – a room filled with these large hollow stones, stones which would appear to be similar to the one that Ico was imprisoned in at the beginning of the game (and then subsequently escaped from).

Anyway, so he gets back to the room, and then he fights a seemingly endless supply of shadow creatures.  It took me a little while to notice that with each creature I killed, one of the stones would light up.  And then I noticed that each of the creatures I was killing had horn-like features around their heads – very much like Ico himself.  AND THEN I STARTED GETTING CHILLS ALL OVER MY BODY, because it occurred to me that these shadow creatures were probably the ghosts of the other horned exiles who’d been imprisoned in this castle, and THEN I realized that it isn’t that the creatures were trying to kill Yorda before – it’s that they were in love with her, too, and wanted to bring her back to her world.

***HERE END SPOILERS***

I could be wrong about this theory, of course.  The game is intentionally vague about a great many things.  But I love that it let me come up with that idea, even if it’s wrong, because it changed the entire context about what I’d been doing.

Anyway.  I’ll have more to say about this when I get around to finishing Shadow.

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As for Rage.  I’m about 10 hours in; I’m a few missions into the 2nd disc.  I’m enjoying it.  Firstly, the hyperbole surrounding the graphics cannot be overstated; it looks phenomenal.  It looks next-gen, frankly.  Yeah, the textures get a little blurry if you stand up close, but when the game’s in motion and you’re running around (or driving around, as the case may be), it looks stunning.  It feels like a more-linear Borderlands, and not just because of the similarities in setting.  The shooting is great, although as noted above I’m apparently a terrible shot, and I find myself running out of ammunition even if I’m well-stocked going into a mission.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the game, for me, is how downright pleasant and happy a lot of the game’s NPCs seem to be.  Granted, I just got to the 2nd city, which seems to be a bit darker and the boss-man is kind of a jerk, but even so – everyone’s real eager to help and explain what’s going on, and they’re all unusually supportive and friendly, and I guess that just seems odd.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but I guess I figured people would be a little edgier and suspicious?  Not that past id games have featured much in the way of NPCs before.

Anyway.  I’m hoping to wrap that up this week.  My rental copy of Forza 4 should be arriving soon, although I may just end up sending it back; the reviews all seem to say that it’s the best one in the franchise, but perhaps a little too similar to Forza 3, which I must admit I’m a little burned out on.  Next week is Batman and from there on out it’s non-stop madness.

>Progress

>The quest for 50K is going much better than I’d originally anticipated; I’ve got 6 weeks to get 327 points. I’m pretty sure I can get that relatively quickly from Assassin’s Creed 2, with an assist from Left 4 Dead 2. So, hooray for that.

This past weekend was a little weird, gaming wise, but when I think about it it actually worked out to my advantage. The weekend’s primary goal was working on music, but every once in a while I needed a break, and so I’d dive in to something on the 360; and since I’d finished Modern Warfare 2‘s campaign already, I didn’t feel pressured to pick one thing and finish it.

I keep grinding away in Forza 3; I kinda messed up and bought the wrong car for an upcoming race in the Season Play mode, and so now I’m just going through tournaments in an effort to make that money back. I can’t remember if I made the analogy here or in an email, but here goes anyway: Forza reminds me a lot of the Tiger Woods games, in that there’s an absolute ton of stuff to do, a lot of which I’ve already done in previous versions in the franchise. On the flip side, Forza 3 does not in any feel like it’s treading water, the way the Tiger games have for the last few years.

I’m also still running around in GTA4: BOGT, which is making me love the original GTA4 a little less. The game just feels dated; not in its story or setting, but in its actual gameplay mechanics. Combat feels incredibly clumsy, and the game is just brutally punishing if I fail a mission – I lose cash, armor (if I had it) and ammo (which doesn’t get replenished), plus time keeps moving forward so if I had something I wanted to do at a certain time, I probably don’t get to do it if I have to keep doing a mission over and over again. Saints Row will never be confused with GTA in terms of story and emotional resonance, but in terms of having fun and not being endlessly frustrating, it’s not even really all that close anymore. The Houser brothers are starting to make a little bit of noise about GTA5; I know there’s tons to think about in terms of making a great GTA game (story, setting, dialogue), but I would suggest that they also add some refinements, if not a complete overhaul, of the way the game is actually played. Let us recharge our health; let us have mid-mission checkpoints; let us not be punished so harshly for failure.

I’m starting to get really excited about 2010 Q1; specifically, Mass Effect 2. And it occurred to me that I never finished my 3rd playthrough of ME1, so I decided to give that a bit of a whirl. As it happens, I’d stopped playing near the end of the last DLC they released; said DLC was more or less a glorified combat tutorial, which is arguably the least successful aspect of the original game. But whatever – I turned down the difficulty and plowed through the last few missions and got 100 Achievements for my efforts, and then I saw where I actually was in the story, and then I decided to call it a day. (If you’re familiar with the first game, I’d just gotten off the Citadel and hadn’t yet started those first 3 long missions you get in order to advance the story; in other words, I’d have a looooooooong way to go.)

And then, in a bit of idle panic, I downloaded the Torchlight demo from Steam, just because I’d heard it was good and I was curious to see if my aging PC could run it. The short answer is yes, it can, and shortly thereafter I’d purchased the full version and now I’m totally hooked.

This week: Assassin’s Creed 2, Left 4 Dead 2, and the God of War Collection for PS3.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to Pandemic Studios, who very well might be getting shut down today. Mercenaries was one of my favorite games on the original Xbox, and Star Wars Battlefront was a lot of fun, and even Destroy All Humans! was worth a few chuckles. I’m hopeful that Saboteur will at least be a fine farewell from one of the more ambitious developers out there.