Weekend Recap: tying up loose ends

I am currently playing The Waiting Game, a dispiriting “race against the clock”-type deal wherein I hope to receive my fixed-up Vita before April 17, my last day in the office before I leave for vacation.  As I have not yet received the box they sent me to mail the Vita back, it’s not looking good.  (I have not yet received my snazzy Vita travelling case, either, but since there’s no working Vita to put it in, I’m not sweating it.)

I finished 3 games over the weekend that merit discussion, though.  Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

1.  Monument Valley is an iOS puzzler – imagine Fez with level designs by M.C. Escher – currently available for $3.99.  It is an absolutely gorgeous game, filled with very clever puzzle design and accented with lovely sound effects.  It is also only 10 levels long and I beat it in under an hour.  Normally I’m not the type of person who gets up in arms when it comes to high prices for short play experiences – I was very happy to pay $20 for Gone Home – and I’m not necessarily up in arms here, but I would certainly understand your frustration if you laid out 4 bucks for a game that you could finish during your evening commute, especially since there’s not a tremendous amount of replay value once you’ve figured out the solutions.  That being said, the game’s creator, when asked in a Touch Arcade Twitch stream if new levels were coming, said: “Looks like we will. People seem to want more levels.”  I know I do.

2.  I did end up finishing Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Ep. 2, though the last few combat sections were brutally difficult and annoying and I nearly rage-quit a few times.  Even though I’ve played all the games (well, all the Irrational ones at least – I can’t recall if I finished Bioshock 2, and I only played the first 5 minutes of Minerva’s Den), I’m not necessarily sure that I’m as knowledgeable about the lore and the supporting cast of characters as I suppose I should’ve been, in order to better appreciate the finer intricacies of Episode 2’s plot points.  The final reveal is interesting, to be sure, though I’m not sure it enhanced anything for me.  I’m glad I played it, I guess, but I just wish I didn’t hate the gameplay as much as I do.

3.  Also finished Infamous: Second Son.  I’m kinda still playing it, too – once I finished the story (and received the fourth of four powers), I then started going back and doing all the side stuff that I couldn’t be bothered with during the regular story.  (Also:  I didn’t realize the campaign was going to be as short as it was, so I ended up finishing the game long before I thought I would.)  It’s certainly the prettiest PS4 game I’ve seen, and it sets a very high graphical standard for open-world adventure games to follow; but it’s also an Infamous game, and I always seem to forget that Infamous games start out kinda fun and then become somewhat forgettable.  The good/bad karma thing is, as always, kinda dumb, and unfortunately the story just isn’t interesting enough to warrant a second playthrough to see how things would change.  This very well might be one of the easiest open-world games to get to 100% completion – there’s not a whole hell of a lot to do, side-mission wise, and all the “hidden” stuff is actually placed on your map once you clear out an enemy base.  I will probably continue tooling around and trying to get to 100%, if only because it really is that gorgeous to look at.

This coming week:  not really sure what it’s looking like, gaming-wise.  I’m kinda still playing through Strider and Rayman Legends on the PS4, and I may give some of the side-missions in MGS: Ground Zeroes a shot.  And depending on what happens with my Vita, I may or may not end up buying FTL for my iPad.

 

ups and downs

I’m fighting a horrific head cold, so bear with me as I try to remember what’s happened this week:

1.  The biggest news is that I’ve got some serious Vita problems.

In my previous post (Monday), I’d said (at the very end) that the memory card for my new Vita had finally arrived, but the Vita itself wouldn’t work on my office wi-fi, and so it was still useless.  So I finally got it set up Monday night, and then promptly downloaded all the stuff that I’d already had in my PSN library – Fez and Steamworld Dig, for starters, and then using my $10 credit to help pay for Final Fantasy X HD.  PS+ people also get Uncharted and Wipeout for free, so I started downloading those as well…

…and they literally didn’t finish downloading until Wednesday morning, before I left for work.  That should’ve been my first clue that something was off.

My second clue was that there was this weird vertical line running down the left-hand side of the screen – very faint, but sort-of looking like the red line on loose-leaf paper.  Which eventually faded away.

My third clue wasn’t even a clue.  Wednesday afternoon, during a slow moment at work, I pulled out my Vita and decided to give Uncharted a try.  I got around 30 seconds into it when the graphics started glitching out, and then the game suddenly froze up.  I powered the Vita down, waited a little bit, and then tried to restart – but the Vita wouldn’t restart.  Screen stayed black, no sound, and then the machine would turn off.  Contacted support – tried doing a forced restart into safe mode three times – still nothing.  So now I’m sending it off for repairs.  I am doubtful that I will get it back before my upcoming vacation, which is a little over 2 weeks from now.

On the bright side, Fez is still wonderful, and I’m really glad to have it in a portable version.

2.  I finished one playthrough of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes.  I am unsure if I will play through it again, although the release calendar is still a bit dry for the foreseeable future, and there’s certainly a hell of a lot more to do.

My feelings about the MGS franchise are well-known and not worth repeating here.  As for this particular game, well:  Ground Zeroes has some of the best moment-to-moment gameplay the series has ever seen, and it uses the open world remarkably well (even if that world is small – and probably it’s done well because it’s small), and I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that kinda does want to play through it again and see all the stuff I didn’t see the first time.  And maybe I’d also do all the side missions and all the other stuff that’s there, because based on my post-game stats it’s abundantly clear that I’ve barely scratched the surface.  (And so the common pre-release complaint about having to spend $40 for 1 hour’s worth of gameplay is clearly ludicrous, because there’s obviously a lot more here to do.)

But the game is also fucking ridiculous, and impossible to take seriously, and features some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard.  I don’t know why people are so up in arms over Kiefer Sutherland’s casting; he barely utters a word, and in any event the words he does utter might as well be gibberish.  I don’t know if it’s the translation that’s so terrible, or if it’s that the translation is slavishly faithful to what’s actually terrible in the original Japanese*, but ultimately the problem is simply that it’s dumb.

There’s a lot of discussion (that I’m too lazy/sick to link to) about how it’s often unfair to credit one person as the “Game Maker” when a big-budget AAA game is often the work of hundreds of people – but MGS has always been Hideo Kojima’s baby, and the number of times his name appears in the opening titles and closing credits** means that he’s OK with all this.  Even though he’s said numerous times that he’s tired of Metal Gear and longs to do something else, he’s continually given enormous resources to keep cranking these things out, and so he continues to stick with it.  And there’s a part of me that admires his willingness to out-crazy himself with each successive effort.  But this isn’t Saints Row, which at least has the benefit of being clever.

I am beginning to feel that Kojima is turning into George Lucas, surrounded by an army of minions who are terrified of saying “No, don’t do that.”

3.  I am becoming weary of Infamous: Second Son, even as it continues to graphically dazzle.  The Infamous games have always been fun but also somewhat shallow, and that is definitely the case here.

4.  I am hoping to finish Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Ep. 2 by the weekend.  I continue to enjoy it in spots, and also deeply hate it in spots.  It is guilty of very lame and tired design cliches, such as the continued over-use of audio logs and the very, very tiring trope of wandering through a series of enemy-free rooms, finding the thing you’re looking for, and then – abracadbra, those enemy-free rooms are suddenly conveniently swarming with bad guys.  It is also still consistent with the original game, in that these beautiful paradises are completely devoid of normal human beings.  With a few notable exceptions, everyone you meet in the game (in person, at least) is an enemy.  It makes these fantastical worlds feel hollow.

5.  Anyone in NYC who has even the slightest interest in pinball should stop what they’re doing and head over to Modern Pinball NYC, over on 3rd Avenue between 26th and 27th streets.  I was there last night for the prelude to a NYVCC meeting, and it was love at first sight.  I’m a huge pinball fan but I’m also a homebody, and so most of my pinball time these days is spent either in Pinball FX2 on the 360 or in Pinball Arcade and Zen Pinball on my iPad.  And while those digital editions are fun in their own right, nothing beats the real thing.  Great selection of tables, both old and new, and they’re constantly being maintained – which is a treat in and of itself, getting to see the belly of a pinball table, which is insane.  Highly recommended.  I may end up throwing my birthday party there later this year.

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* This is the same problem I had with Murakami’s “1Q84”.  I’ve loved all of the English versions of his previous work, but I found the writing in 1Q84 to be pedestrian and sophomoric and completely devoid of his usual poetic voice.

** SPOILER ALERT – I am also aware that in one of the bonus side missions, Kojima himself is an actual character in the game.  So, yeah.

The first few hours: Infamous Second Son

CURRENT STATUS:  I’m around 3-4 hours into Infamous: Second Son; I’ve acquired smoke and neon powers; I think my karma is whatever Level 3 Good is called (“Champion”, perhaps).

ON THE ONE HAND, Infamous Second Son is a graphics whore’s delight.  It is, without question, one of the most beautiful-looking games I’ve ever seen.  It is so pretty, in fact, that I now feel fully justified in upgrading to a PS4.  I don’t know how to articulate the game’s beauty in a technical sense, so I’m linking to Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry analysis of the game’s first hour in case you need to know how and why.  What I can tell you is that even in spite of some minor frame rate jitters, the game is jaw-dropping to behold.  Seeing neon light reflected in puddles – or even just the way the ambient light fades as you absorb the neon from a nearby sign – is stunning.  The animation is also quite spectacular – there’s so many subtle details in the way the main character Delsin moves, or how his hands articulate as he runs (or even as he stands still).

And while I still wonder why Sony feels it necessary to make sure that every game uses the Dualshock 4’s touchpad whenever possible, at least it’s used wisely here – and by “wisely”, I mean “very quickly and very infrequently.”  The game also uses the controller in a novel way whenever Delsin starts tagging, Banksy-style; it’s a little gimmicky, sure, but it’s not offensively gimmicky.

And I’d also be remiss in mentioning the supercharged move you get when you max out your karma combo meter specifically with the neon power – it feels like a summons right out of Final Fantasy, except it’s you doing it, and it’s spectacular.

ON THE OTHER HAND, though: the game is really, really difficult and frustrating.  I expected this sort of thing in Dark Souls 2, and even though it’s part of the experience it annoyed me so much I nearly broke the game disc in half.  But I didn’t expect it here, and that’s what’s so dumbfounding – especially since, unlike in Dark Souls 2, a lot of my deaths feel horrifically unfair.  Regardless of how many superpowers Delsin might absorb, he can only take a miniscule amount of damage – and the enemy is really good at juggling you in place so that you can’t escape.  When I die, I die a lot, and it makes me feel less inclined to explore and do certain side activities, at least until I’ve powered up my abilities a bit further – and I haven’t seen anything in the way of upgrading my defensive abilities, like taking more damage or the like.  I find myself stopping a play session not because of time, or because I ended in a chapter break, but because I’m frustrated and can’t figure out how the hell I’m supposed to defeat this wave of enemies without getting chopped into bits.

And while the virtual Seattle on display is absolutely gorgeous, I don’t really have a good feel of the city since a lot of my travelling is along rooftops and such.  It’s the same sort of disconnect that I had with Saints Row 4 – the city feels abstract because I’m not really in it the way that I am in, say, GTA V‘s Los Santos.  I suppose at some point I should write up a thing about cities in open-world games and why some of them work better than others, but in the case of I:SS it’s really just that I’m constantly moving around and so I don’t really have a sense of where I am at any given point.  A waypoint appears on my map, and so I head in that direction.  There’s no home base, no point to return to, and so the experience of being in the city is somewhat ethereal and transient.  I’ve already been to the Space Needle, the harbor and a bunch of other places but I couldn’t tell you how I got there, or how I’d get back.

I’m not quite sure what to make of Delsin as a character.  After about 10 minutes it becomes clear that the developers couldn’t hire Nolan North, so they hired a sound-alike; the problem is that Delsin is all over the place as a character.  He’s charming, he’s a wise-ass, he’s well-meaning but very high-strung and confrontational, he’s bad-but-also-good.  He changes from scene to scene but not in any noticeable direction, so there’s no sense of journey or arc; almost as if his interactions with other characters were written by completely different people and then shuffled out of chronological order.  I’m still early in the story, so there’s certainly plenty of room for him to eventually land, but right now it’s hard to relate to him.  (I’m not even sure I know how old he is; his older brother, a cop, looks 20 years older than him and in the pre-release trailers I thought he was Delsin’s father.)

The graphics go a long way towards keeping me engaged, and I’m certainly going to stick with it for the foreseeable future.  I just wish I was having a bit more fun.

Poor Impulse Control: a continuing series

Longtime readers of this blog should know that there’s a “consumer whore” category here for a reason; newcomers can probably figure it out.  I bring this up because, in a moment of weakness (borne out of confusion, which I’ll get to in a second), I accidentally-on-purpose bought and downloaded Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes last night.

(The confusion:  remember, earlier this week, I’d mentioned that PSN was having this thing where if you spent $60, you got $10 in credit?  Well, I’d spent my $60, but didn’t know where the credit was, and so I put MGS:GZ in my cart to see if it would show up… and, well, it didn’t.)

I played MGS for around 10 minutes (or, roughly half the game – HAHA, LOL) and then called it a night.  Honestly, before I deliver any sort of impression, I need to mess around with the control scheme a bit – the default scheme feels incredibly strange and weird and bizarrely unintuitive, and I seem to recall hearing that there’s a different setting that’s more in tune with what the vast majority of 3rd person action games use; if that’s the case, then I’ll get around to checking it out.  And the thing is, even though I’ve sworn up and down that Metal Gear is the most overrated franchise in the history of any and all media, there’s a part of me that’s genuinely curious to check this one out.  Everyone’s complained about the alleged length of the campaign, but there’s supposedly a ton of replay value – alternate side missions and objectives and self-imposed playstyles and such, and most reviewers say that they’ve clocked in at least an extra dozen hours or so after beating the main campaign.  So that’s OK, as far as I’m concerned.

I also was able to download and install Infamous Second Son this morning before leaving for work, although I didn’t get a chance to play anything beyond the very first cutscene.  As this is the first true “next-gen” game that I’ve actually been excited about, I’m hoping to give it a thorough examination over the weekend.

The wife and I will be running errands this weekend and while we’re out I’m also possibly going to pick up this PS4 Gold Wireless Stereo Headset, since I like my surround sound but don’t actually have a surround sound system.  I am also very tempted to check out a Vita.  Yes, I’ve seen that a few brick-and-mortar stores are selling the Xbox One – including the Titanfall bundle – for $450, but I’m still not needing an XBO just yet, and Titanfall isn’t going to be the game to change my mind.  But the Vita is looking more and more like a thing I’m going to need.  Being able to play those new Oddworld remasters on the go feels very necessary; and I’ve got a bunch of PS1 games on my PS3 that I would like to actually play, too.  (Plus – my PS3 is not in an ideal gaming environment at the moment, and I’m really hoping to check out those FFX HD remasters.)  So, please, whatever you do – don’t tell my wife.

Saying goodbye to Dark Souls II (and the 360, for real)

This will be a quick-tangent post, because I’ve had nothing but weird nights of sleep all week and there’s apparently not enough coffee in the world.  [UPDATE:  There is plenty of coffee in the world, and I might’ve had too much, as it turns out.]

SO:

Yesterday’s post was about asking whether Dark Souls II would still be considered a fun game if everything about the game stayed the same but the difficulty was turned down a notch.  It wasn’t necessarily meant to be rhetorical, but as this blog has little reach and nobody comments here, it might’ve come off that way.  Still, I’d said that I intended to give it a second chance, and that I’d made a wee bit of progress, and that I intended to keep pushing on for a little bit – at least until Infamous Second Son became available to download.

Last night I popped the game in… and rage-quit about 15 minutes later, immediately sealing it up in the Gamefly envelope to prevent me from snapping the disc in half, and then, as I quietly seethed on the couch and engaged in some light retail therapy on the PS4 store*, I started to feel a little sad that it might very well have been the last new game I play on my Xbox360**.

There is clearly an audience for the sort of masochistic experience that Dark Souls II promises, and to them I say:  go have at it.  And to myself I say:  you are not one of them, stop falling for it.

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*  There’s been a promotion on the PS store where if you spend $60, you get $10 in credit.  Being that I’m probably going to do a bit more digital downloading on the PS4 in the coming months, I figured it was worth investing in.  I wasn’t sure if my digital pre-order of Infamous counted or not, but in any event I was pissed off about Dark Souls and I had some extra cash, so I bought StriderRayman Legends, and Steamworld Dig.  I’d played the demo of Strider and liked it; I’d already played Rayman Legends on 360 and PC, but figured why not play it again; and I’d heard lots of great things about Steamworld Dig, and that brought me up past the $60 threshold.

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**  I’ve already written my long goodbye to the Xbox 360, but at the time I was still somewhat invested in GTA V Online and making vague promises to see the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3.  Point being, I hadn’t yet disconnected either of the last-gen consoles, nor had I acquired a new one.  Now, though, I’m thoroughly invested in the PS4, and a quick glance of my Gamefly rental queue reveals zero 360 games on the list.  This makes me sad; I wish I’d given it a fonder farewell.  Again, I wasn’t necessarily expecting to fall madly in love with Dark Souls II, but I’d heard enough about it being more approachable for newcomers and so I didn’t expect to hate it so violently, so quickly.  So I guess South Park will go down as the last 360 game I finish.

I may have to start doing a feature where I revisit all the 360 games I still own, if only to say goodbye to them one last time before tucking them back in to their bookshelves.  (And it now occurs to me that, since we anticipate moving within the next year, it very well might be the last time those games are still within easy reach; our move to the suburbs might require my outdated games to hang out in boxes for a little while.)

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This (poorly-written) tweet was inspired from a conversation I’d had earlier in the day with my buddy Gred.  We’d been talking about Dark Souls and Final Fantasy XIII and other such games where the overall impressions we’d been hearing were “It starts out slow, but after 12 or 13 hours it starts getting really good.”  And I just found it hilarious that gamers, as a whole, can freak out about Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes being beatable in 10 minutes, and also that Gone Home is only 2 hours long but costs $20; and yet we are also generally OK to waste a dozen hours of our life just to get to the good part of a game.

I’m really only posting this because I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Gred’s fantastic Dark Souls comment (in response to my impressions):

“…i’ve always had the impression that the difficulty was barring my access to ingenious game design, when, apparently, it was apparently just a fancier flappy bird.”

 

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