moving on

“Hey everybody it’s Tuesday…”

Still trying to process yesterday’s tragic news.  The internet’s collective outpouring of love, support and grief went a long way  And of course now I’m wondering if there will be a Bombcast today, and, if so, whether I’ll be able to handle it.

As for things bumming me out that actually directly affect my life, today is doubly tough because it was my son’s first day of day care.  I had to drop him off before I left for work, and he was already unhappy before I finished getting him out of the stroller.   I peeked through the window right before I left, and he was sitting on one of the older women’s laps, crying, not wanting the offered pacifier.   Broke my heart to leave him, but I was already running late for work.

In any event, it seems a bit harder than usual to talk about videogames, so I’m going to cut-and-paste and re-write a draft from last week that I never got around to finishing, and maybe that will help me get back on track.

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Finished Call of Juarez: Gunslinger [July 1st].  That’s a fun little game, I have to say.  I may have made this comparison before; it’s Bastion plus Bulletstorm in the Old West, which is a better-sounding combo than you’d think.  It took me about 5 hours to get through the story, and while it really wasn’t towards the end of the game that I started to feel like I was getting good at it, I still had a pretty good time overall.   Certainly worth picking up in a Summer Sale, if such an offering is available, but even at $20 it’s money well spent.

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I also managed to finish The Last of Us over the long weekend.  I finished it on “Easy”, and I understand from reading other TLOU articles that doing so prevented me from really feeling the game, but I don’t buy that; the game was plenty difficult even on Easy, because Clickers will always one-hit kill you, and sometimes the PS3 controller doesn’t do what I ask of it.  I’m guessing the biggest advantage in Easy was that I had more ammo, but I still generally tried to stealth my way around whenever possible.

It’s a remarkable experience (that opening sequence is one of the best of all time), and it’s certainly a landmark technical achievement (certainly in the top 5 best-looking/sounding games of this generation), and yet it’s also a game that I don’t think I want to play again.  It’s too dark, too soul-crushing, too depressing; I’m glad I experienced it the first time, but I don’t see what I would gain through a second playthrough beyond finding all the hidden collectibles – and one does not play The Last of Us to find hidden collectibles.

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I mentioned this at the bottom of one of last week’s posts; I’ve gotten back into Need For Speed Most Wanted, which is surprising given how disappointed I was when I tried playing it on the 360 last year.  The PC experience is a completely different beast, however; it is absolutely gorgeous, for one thing, and the game experience feels a lot more polished and smooth than the 360 version.  And so now that it’s working the way it’s supposed to, I’m finally able to appreciate what Criterion was trying to do.

I think I was always going to be disappointed after it first launched, because even without the technical problems I was having on the 360, my primary issue was always that I really wanted NFSMW to be Burnout Paradise 2, and because it wasn’t, I couldn’t really judge it fairly and objectively.  The Need for Speed brand meant nothing to me, and my intense love of all things Criterion couldn’t save me from eventually walking away from the (still-excellent) Hot Pursuit.

But now that I’ve had a few months to forget about my first run and can finally see it with clearer eyes, I’m actually pretty impressed.  If anything, it’s a lot more like Burnout Paradise than I was willing to give it credit for – and I might even argue that it’s got a better (or at least more intuitive) career progression than BoP.

Sometimes I get intimidated by non-linear games – I mean, I appreciate that I have all this freedom, but unless I’m doing something constructive I feel lost and/or overwhelmed.  (This is why Skyrim‘s quests will always be more appealing to me than Minecraft‘s sandbox.)  What I do appreciate, though, is that even if you’re not racing, there’s still lots of side things to do – security gates to crash, hidden cars to unlock, billboards to jump through.  And in the meantime, if you actually want to advance in the game, there’s lots of ways to do that – each car you find has its own series of races to complete (with noticeable performance-improving incentives for finishing 1st), and once you accumulate enough of whatever the XP equivalent is, you can engage in the game’s version of Boss Battles.

I’m spending too long talking about a game that came out last year that nobody else is playing, but still – if it shows up on sale (and I happened to pick it up for $15 during an Amazon Digital Download sale), it’s a damn fun time – especially (as I noted above) if you’re playing on PC, which is miles ahead of the 360 version.

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Finally, I can’t not talk about the GTA V gameplay trailer that came out this morning.  Obviously, if you’re reading this post you’ve already watched it, but just in case you want to watch it again:

I don’t really know what else to say about it, other than I love how Rockstar’s been doing these “informercial”-ish trailers for the last few years.  (I seem to recall Red Dead Redemption getting this sort of treatment, and certainly Max Payne 3 had some as well.)

And I suppose I could point out that it appears as if they’re adapting certain elements of RDR’s combat system, which is very good news indeed.  (One of the reasons why RDR remains one of my favorite games of all time is because the gunplay was immensely fun and satisfying in all the ways that GTA IV‘s was not.)

And while I don’t necessarily see this game getting as far-out crazy as San Andreas did (i.e., I’d be very surprised to see a jetpack), it certainly does look as though they’re incorporating a lot more of the side stuff that made San Andreas as compulsively playable as it was (i.e., tennis, parasailing, long-distance cycling, etc.).  As long as there’s no David Cross-narrated model plane combat side mission, we’re good to go.

GTAV news

Rockstar just put out a fan-submitted Q&A regarding GTAV, which can be found here.

There’s some questions about customizable weaponry, maps, multiplayer, etc.  But the two key points of information that I was most curious about are:

(1)…In order to provide the best possible experience for such a massive and detailed world, the game will have installation requirements on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation®3 systems. For Xbox 360, Grand Theft Auto V will ship on two discs; Disc 1 will be used for a one-time mandatory install and Disc 2 will be used to play the game. After the install, players will be able to enjoy both Grand Theft Auto V and Grand Theft Auto Online without any need to switch discs.

This initial install will require an Xbox 360 Hard Drive or an external 16GB USB flash drive with at least 8 GB of free space. If using a USB flash drive it must be at least USB 2.0 with a minimum 15mb/s read speed and formatted for Xbox 360 use. A new USB flash drive is recommended to ensure optimum performance.  For PlayStation®3, the game ships on one disc and will install content as soon as you insert the game. The install is roughly 8GB, and players will be able to play as soon as the install is complete.
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(2) The only versions of the game that we have announced are for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation®3 which are set for a September 17th worldwide release. We don’t have anything to share about the possibility of a next-gen or a PC platform release at this time and we are completely focused on delivering the best possible experience for the consoles people have right now.
In response to a question as to the differences between the PS3 and 360 versions of the game, Rockstar replies:
“Players can expect the same great gameplay experience on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms as they have both been developed in tandem.  Like all of our games, trust that we’re committed to making sure Grand Theft Auto V looks and runs as great as possible regardless of whether you pick it up for PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, and we are excited for fans on both platforms to experience Grand Theft Auto V this September. We expect any visual differences to be completely negligible.”
I had always planned on playing GTAV on my 360 (since I imagine that’s where most of my gamer buddies would play it, and I wouldn’t mind checking out the multiplayer), but for some reason I’m a little hesitant now.  I’m sure the 2-disc thing isn’t a big deal, and I pretty much always install my games to the 360 hard drive anyway, since the disc drive and the internal fan tend to make a lot of noise when a disc is spinning.   If you’re reading this and you’ve only played the PS3 versions of Rockstar’s games this generation, how are they?  If you’ve had a chance to compare/contrast between PS3 and 360, which did you prefer?
Their answer regarding PC and net-gen platforms sounds to me like a big fat “yes”, but probably not until mid-2014 at the earliest.  Which is fine.  It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve bought the same game on multiple platforms.
Still, I must ask, since this is the one game I can’t miss this year:

belt tightening

Last night, the wife and I had a tough conversation about money.

Our 3-month old son (that’s him in the site’s header image, by the way) had his first “transition” daycare visit this morning, and he starts going in earnest in 2 weeks.  And for us to be able to afford daycare – and keep ourselves in baby supplies, and pay the rent and the rest of our bills, and also eat – well, we’re already cutting it pretty close, and there’s not a hell of a lot of wiggle room.  I’ve also got some rather sizable debt to pay off, too, and while I’ve made considerable progress on that front I’ve still got a ways to go, which makes this all the more anxiety-inducing.

Something’s got to give, basically.

And after some online banking and some soul-searching (and a little bit of drinking), I came to the realization that the only thing I really spend any extra money on these days is games.

This kinda sucks, as you might imagine – I am a self-professed consumer whore – but the more I think about it, this is not the worst time to be a broke gamer.   If I’m truly honest with myself, there’s really only one game coming out this year that I need in any sort of non-negotiable way.  Steam will have having its Summer Sale any minute now, too, and I could probably see myself picking up one or two things on my wishlist if they’re discounted enough – but let’s be honest here, after all the previous Steam Sales, there’s really not all that much that’s left for me to buy.  And I can certainly pare down my Gamefly account to one game at a time, as opposed to three, to be able to handle the rest of the to-do list.

Hell, let’s look at that to-do list (aka my GameQ) while we’re here, and I’ll take this opportunity to debut a new feature I’m calling Keep or Cut:

  • Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS) – I don’t even know what this is, to be honest – I’d just heard some positive word of mouth, and I wanted any excuse to keep my 3DS busy.  Will most likely CUT.
  • Mario & Luigi Dream Team (3DS) – if I can finish The Last of Us quickly enough, I should be able to rent this close to its release date.  Since Mario Golf: World Tour got pushed to 2014, this is the only must-have 3DS game I can see for the rest of 2013.  KEEP.
  • Saints Row 4 – I’m a big Saints Row fan, but I’ve had my doubts about this ever since they first announced it.  I do not expect high review scores, though I’d love to be pleasantly surprised.  KEEP, but with reservations.
  • Splinter Cell: Blacklist – this was always only going to be a rental.  Chaos Theory was the high watermark for the series, and everything since then has been pretty disappointing.  Haven’t seen any indication that I should revise my expectations.  CUT.
  • Rayman Legends – Assuming this is as delightful as Origins was, this is an automatic KEEP.  Though I really ought to go back and finish Origins first.
  • GTA V – I’m not sure why this is still on my rental queue, as I’m probably going to pre-order it as soon as I finish this post.  (Still hoping for a PC release, though.)  KEEP.
  • Beyond: Two SoulsIs this the PS3’s final swan song?  More to the point – do I care?  While I remain in awe of David Cage’s wild ambition, I never finished Heavy Rain and didn’t really enjoy what I’d played, either.  Still, I’m cautiously optimistic, so this gets a KEEP.
  • Batman: Arkham Origins – as far as I can tell, this is the last “big” release of 2013 for current-gen consoles that I have any real interest in, since I don’t care about Call of Duty and I’ve lost all my faith in Assassin’s Creed.   But we all know this isn’t a Rocksteady joint, and this game is starting to smell like a cash-in.  CUT.

Now, you’ll notice that there’s no next-gen titles on this list.  That’s because I probably can’t afford a next-gen console this year; but even if I could, I still haven’t yet decided between the PS4 and the Xbox One.  I’m obviously leaning towards the PS4, but if Microsoft continues its backtracking ways and decides to play ball with indie developers by putting a less-restrictive self-publishing policy in place, well, that might keep the pendulum swinging the other way.  In any event, the only real “next-gen” game that speaks to me in any meaningful way is Watch Dogs, and that’s also coming to PC – which is a platform that already speaks to my current gaming habits anyway.

And speaking of the PC, the other clear upside to being on an austerity budget for the foreseeable future is that there’s really no excuse anymore for me to not finally tackle the GIGANTIC backlog of unfinished games I have in my Steam library.  Hell, even if I only stuck to seeing all the stuff in Skyrim that I never saw on the 360, that would be plenty.  (Now I just need to get over my seething Skyrim rage, which I’ve never quite managed to quell.)

I kinda don’t feel so terrible about this anymore.  I’ll call that a win.

a to-do list of sorts

It should sort of go without saying that posting here is going to be pretty light for the next few weeks.  Taking care of my newborn son takes up a fair amount of time, and the time I have that’s left over is generally spent trying to get back to sleep as quickly as possible.   There’s just not a whole hell of a lot of gaming going on.

But I think that would be the case even if I weren’t changing diapers and trying to stay awake.  The release calendar is light, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.  The only real must-have on my schedule for the rest of the year is GTA5, which doesn’t come out until September.  Certainly I’m intrigued by Metro Last Light, and that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon or whatever the hell it’s called looks pretty amazing, and I guess there’s some neat-looking 3DS stuff coming out over the next few months, but the pickings for fresh content are slim.

So I’m thinking that this is a marvelous opportunity – when I can carve out a few hours – to get back into games that I never finished.  As there’s no real grand critical conversation that I feel that I’m missing out on, and since there’s no rush to finish something new before it gets spoiled, I feel like I could take my time and finish the games that, for whatever reason, I needed to put down.

Tops on this to-do list is Dishonored, especially as the new DLC that came out this week looks pretty great.    I’d gotten pretty close to the end on the 360, but I think I’d gotten turned off by how rote the violence was getting.  And yet my memories of it now are quite fond, actually, especially in light of all the things about Bioshock Infinite that turned me off.  I’d already picked it up on the PC during a holiday Steam sale, so that’s as good a reason as any to give it another ago.

Also, for some reason, I’ve been thinking more and more about getting back into my PC save of Skyrim.  A friend of mine has been playing it pretty continuously since it came out – he’s level 81 or something by now – and I’d asked him if, after all that time, there was still stuff he hadn’t yet done.  Turns out there was plenty he hadn’t done, and in the meantime he was still enjoying doing the non-mission stuff, too.  Now, I’d put that game down on the 360 in a fit of disgust, after sinking over 80 hours into it; too many quests were bugged, too many glitches broke my immersion, and I just stopped giving a shit about the stuff I hadn’t yet done.  I’d given my 360 copy to a friend and to be honest I don’t really care if I ever get it back.  But now, having been away from it for so long, and figuring that at least some of the bugs ought to have been squashed by now, and knowing that it looks pretty goddamned spectacular on my PC… well, I’m curious to give it another ago.   And maybe I’ll make a conscious effort to stay away from the critical path and try doing some of the stuff I know I’d been putting off on the 360.

And I’d like to see if I could finish Antichamber.  I can’t remember where I left off with it, so I might as well start over and try to brute-force my way back to where I’d gotten stuck.

I’m also pretty curious about Starseed Pilgrim, even though it’s brand new.  I suppose I’m curious about it also because I’m thinking about getting Fez again once it comes out on Steam in a few weeks, and for some reason the two games remind me of each other.  I’d gotten over 100% in Fez on the 360, but apparently I hadn’t truly finished it, and I was afraid to go back and dive in once Polytron decided to not patch certain game-breaking bugs.

On the 3DS side, I’ve put Etrian Odyssey 4 to the side – I’m in this weird limbo where I don’t have any quests but I’ve clearly got a long ways to go before the game ends, so I’m kinda just grinding, which isn’t all that interesting – and have fully invested myself in Super Mario 3D Land.  I’m in the last level of World 8, which, as I understand it, means that I’m only 50% of the way through.  That game is pretty goddamned terrific, even if it’s occasionally frustrating.

I’m sure there’s other titles that should go on this list, but I can’t remember what they are.  I can’t remember much of anything these days, to be honest; it’s a wonder I can put matching socks on my feet before I walk out the door.  In any event, I’m too annoyed with Bioshock Infinite right now to give it a proper second run-through, anyway, so I might as well try to have some fun.