The Year (So Far) In Games

A bunch of sites have been putting up “Best Games of the Half-Year” posts this week, and I was tempted to follow suit, but after looking at my Games Played spreadsheet I found myself wondering how I could spin Wolfenstein: The New Order and South Park: The Stick of Truth into 800 words; it’s just not happening.  Those are two surprisingly terrific games, and they’ll most likely end up in my year-end list, and you should play them if you haven’t already.  Beyond that, it’s a bit of a reach.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call the first half of 2014 a disappointment; I expected this transition period between last-gen and current-gen to be a little weird and underwhelming.  That being said, a lot of the year’s biggest-hyped games fell relatively flat for me.  I was certainly impressed with the tech in Infamous: Second Son, but I hardly gave it a second thought after easily getting to 100% completion.  Similarly, there are certainly quite a few things to like about Watch Dogs, but if I think about that game for more than 5 seconds I get irrationally angry.  And Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is what it is, I guess, though I haven’t felt compelled to pick it back up since I finished it the first time.

I could continue on in this vein – there’s plenty of bummers on my Games Played spreadsheet (*cough* Thief *cough* Mario Golf World Tour *cough*) – but I’d prefer to keep the rest of this somewhat positive.

Jazzpunk!  That’s a spicy meatball if there ever was one.

I enjoyed playing Tomb Raider again on the PS4 and my HDTV, although I suppose its retail success is partially to blame for the HD double-dips that are in our immediate future as we wait for the real next-gen stuff to appear, i.e.The Last of UsGTA VDiablo III, to name a few off the top of my head.  And I’m planning on at least renting all of those games, too, so I suppose I’m partially to blame as well.

Speaking of Diablo III, I suppose I should heap a little bit of praise on its Reaper of Souls DLC and the additional patching that game’s received in the year since I last turned it on; the DLC managed to suck another dozen hours of my life after I’d sworn I was finished with it forever, and the daily missions and objectives are an intriguing carrot that I still consider chasing after.

I really enjoyed Bravely Default right up until I realized that I was going to have to play the entire game a second time; and then I read some walkthroughs that revealed that I’d actually have to play the whole thing 3-4 times before getting to the final ending.  This will not do.

What else, what else… I’ve not yet had that much time to actually play anything in depth on my PS Vita, and yet I keep downloading free games on it.  I’m very happy to finally own it, though.  The port of Fez is great – I just love having it in portable form – and Luftrausers is excellent and I need to get back to it, and Olli Olli hurts my brain but is also really good.

I was also going to include my favorite bits of gaming journalism and criticism, but it’s a gigantic list so far, and it’s also full of rather depressing stories of how toxic this industry is.  Still, if you’d like to check it out, I’ve made it publicly available as a Google Doc.

This weekend I’ll be away with the family, so I’m not sure what gaming there’ll be.  I’m currently playing A Story About My Uncle, which is both exhilarating and frustrating, sometimes simultaneously; I’d like to try and finish it tonight, since I’m not taking my PC with me.  I picked up Civ Rev 2 for my iPhone this morning; it’s not quite as graphically interesting as the 360 version from a few years back, but it’s leaps and bounds better-looking than the previous iOS version, and the touch controls are a lot more intuitive.  I’m still way over my head most of the time, but such is life.  And I guess I’ll bring the Vita along, too, and maybe keep plugging away at Tearaway and also perhaps one of the 6 Final Fantasy games I’ve got on there.  (The voting was inconclusive.  I might go with 8 or 9, since I’ve never touched those before.)

Have a happy and safe 4th, everyone.

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.

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.