Weekend Recap: a head cold, MGS V with fresh eyes, Uncharted perspective, and Beginner’s Guide.

1. It’s funny; now that I’ve handed in my MGS V piece, I’m no longer feeling pressured to play it all the time.  And when I do play it, I’m much more relaxed and far less over-analytical.  So I try to steal a truck and suddenly stone-golem-soldiers appear out of nowhere and teleport out of the way of my bullets?  Hot damn, Kojima, well done.  I’m enjoying the side-op stuff a bit more if only because it’s more tactical and less ridiculous and the rewards are tangible.  (Not sure why some of them still appear lit up in the menu selection, even though they’re finished, but, well, Kojima!)

1a.  I’ve been using Quiet as my mission buddy, and she’s been more or less totally useless.  In fact, I finally realized that she’s the source of this bizarre humming sound that I hear whenever I prepare for an infiltration; I thought it was some sort of animal cry, or a sung prayer, but it was just her mumbling what appears to be the first few bars of “My Way”, or possibly “Danke Schoen“.  In any event it’s super creepy and distracting but at least now I know where the hell it’s coming from.

2.  I had to take a sick day yesterday – these autumn colds are the worst – and because I was feeling a bit loopy, I had an urge to compare the outpost infiltration of MGS V with the outpost infiltration of Far Cry 4.  They’re more similar than I realized, even if the controls are completely different; you scope out and mark enemies, figure out their patrol routes, look for things in the environment that might help you – oh, and pick up a few plants along the way.  The only real difference is that Far Cry doesn’t care whether you use lethal force or not – indeed, you’re supposed to kill everyone, it’s just better if you do it in such a way where nobody raises the alarm, wheras MGS V gives you added value of going non-lethal by getting added information via hostile interrogation, and being able to kidnap certain soldiers for your own purposes (which sounds way creepier written down like that than it actually is, I suppose).

2a.  Again, I was out sick yesterday and so I’m only peripherally aware of the new Far Cry Ice Age game or whatever it is.  Far Cry isn’t necessarily one of my favorite shooter franchises; it’s just that there’s been a bunch of them lately and they haven’t been bad.  My impression is that this is more of a Blood Dragon side story than a full-blown numbered-entry sequel; beyond that, I know nothing and will continue to know nothing until there’s something substantial to know, like a release date and price.

3.  I’ve violated my “no pre-ordering” rule a couple times this year; I can’t remember what the earlier ones were, but I’ve already pre-ordered a digital copy of Rise of the Tomb Raider, and I also pre-ordered the digital version of the Uncharted remasters, which come out on Friday.  I played a bit of the demo that came with it, and while it looks good, I’d forgotten just how much I hate the combat stuff.  At least the PS4 controller is better-suited for it.  Anyway, yesterday I played a little bit of U2 and U3 on my PS3, just to remember what it was that I was getting into (and also so that I could do a little compare/contrast of my own once the PS4 version lands).  The PS3 games still look terrific, actually – and U2’s train sequence feels like a special bit of magic, and I’m looking forward to playing them all again.

3a.  I’ve not yet pre-ordered Fallout 4, if you can believe it.  Part of it is that I expect to spend a lot of time with it, and so I’d like to know which version performs better; console parity has gotten a lot better in recent months and so I don’t think there’ll be that much of a difference, but you never know.  I am a bit curious, though, to know if the PS4 version will be getting the same sort of mod support that the Xbox One will be getting; even if I’ve never really goofed around with mods all that much, I’d like the option if it’s available.

4.  My rental copy of Tony Hawk 5 arrived yesterday – a few days later than it was supposed to, though that hardly matters.  I must confess that even after all the horrendous YouTube glitch videos and impressions had surfaced, there was a small part of me that kinda wanted to play it anyway.  But then I remembered that there was a mandatory 7 GB patch I had to download before I could play, and that was enough for me to send it back ASAP.

5.  Oh yeah – I almost forgot.  I played Davey Wreden’s The Beginner’s Guide last week, and it’s one of those experiences that forces me to stumble upon the limits of my own writing ability; I’m not good enough of a writer to talk about it.  (Believe me, I tried writing about it last week and failed miserably.)  I found it moving and beautiful and wonderfully meta, and it does as good a job about describing the creative process and the emotional peaks and valleys that accompany that process about as well as anything else I’ve ever come across.  It’s hard not to compare it to his previous game, The Stanley Parable, in that in both games you walk through a series of rooms accompanied by specific narration, but that’s about all they have in common.  Beginner’s Guide feels much more personal and sincere and refreshingly avoids the emotional shield of detached irony that might ordinarily accompany this sort of experience.  To say more would spoil it – it’s a 90 minute experience, give or take, and it’s one you should ideally experience without any other prior knowledge.  Just know that the ending took my breath away.

The First 33 Hours: MGS V

One of the reasons why it’s been so quiet around here lately is that I’ve been working on a gigantic freelance thing about Metal Gear Solid V.  I handed in my draft last night; it clocks in at a little over 3800 words, which makes it somewhat long-winded, but also appropriate given the subject matter.  The article is ostensibly about my long, sordid history of active loathing and befuddlement of the Metal Gear franchise, trying to figure out just what it is about these games that gets under my skin the way no other game seems to do.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been playing the shit out of MGS V, and I have lots of comments about it that weren’t particularly appropriate for the article I was writing.

Current status:

  • 33 hours
  • 23% overall completion
  • 31% mission completion (16 missions completed)
  • 19% Side Ops completion

One of the reasons why I was able to finish my draft yesterday is because I’ve hit a bit of a wall in the most recent story mission, one where I have to extract a moving vehicle out of a convoy of tanks.  The game’s checkpoint system kinda sucks, which is why I’m a bit frustrated at the moment.  The mission starts by putting you a short distance from a guard post; you take over the post and discover the convoy’s route.  At that point you can do whatever you want, and after some trial and error I decided to take a shortcut and head to a camp towards the end of the route, which would give me plenty of time to clear out the camp and prepare to lay siege to the convoy.  The problem is, I’m able to clear out the camp with no problem, but the convoy destroys me, and when I restart at the last checkpoint, it puts me all the way back at the beginning of that second camp’s stakeout – which means I’ve lost at least 30 minutes of progress, and which also means that I’ll be a bit more aggressive the second time around because I’ve lost patience.

As far as stealth games go, MGS V is remarkably free of the usual trial-and-error routine – except in situations like this one, where I’ve yet to figure out how to solve the convoy issue, and where I’ll continue to butt my head against the puzzle until I eventually figure it out.  It just becomes less fun the 5th or 6th time around, especially since the game doesn’t let you keep all the collectible stuff you’ve found if you restart.

Beyond that particular bit of frustration, I have to admit – I’m having a really good time with it.  I mean, 33 hours is nothing to sneeze at, and now that I’m done with the article I might actually be able to relax a bit more and stop hyper-analyzing every single pixel.  I’m grateful that the game makes the exposition stuff optional and relatively unobtrusive, especially since the few cassette tapes that I’ve bothered to listen to are dull and awful and absurd in all the usual Kojima-esque ways that normally drive me insane.

I suppose I should start mixing up the times of day a bit more; I usually do my sneaking around at night (because if the game’s going to give me that option, why the hell not), and so there’s only one dark gray color scheme that I get to see.  I’m sure the deserts of Afghanistan and the savanna plains of Africa would be a bit more vibrant in the day.

In any event – yes, I’m enjoying it.  Normally I get a little annoyed if the game isn’t clear about why I have to get from Point A to Point B, but in this case the instant objective is simple enough to understand, and since I don’t give a shit about the larger soap opera, I can stay focused on the task at hand.  And even though the general infiltration techniques that I use remain largely the same from mission to mission, the game still manages to feel quite fresh; each situation is just different enough that it keeps me on my toes.  In the early going I felt that the “open world” was a bit misleading, because while there is a gigantic open world, there’s almost nothing to actually do in between each mission area.  There’s a lot of running around over empty space, in other words, which can get tedious (until I remember that I can call for a vehicle via supply-drop).

I will never get over the stupid dialogue and the endless, meaningless acronyms; there’s no way around it for me.  I get that the melodrama is part of the attraction to fans of the game, and that this franchise wouldn’t be what it is if people didn’t find this sort of absurdity enormously entertaining.  It’s not my cup of tea, and it never will be; I’ve accepted that, and I’ve decided to move on.  (That’s the ultimate thesis of the other article – spoiler alert!)

In other news, I’m kinda heartbroken about how terrible the new Tony Hawk game appears to be.  I had little faith that it would be as good as the original games, but I really hoped that this new one wouldn’t be a giant piece of shit.  Alas, it’s a giant piece of shit, and I’m sending back my rental copy as soon as it arrives in the mail.

What else, what else… I finished Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, and promptly started Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman.  The Tremblay is… good, not great; everything happens so quickly that it’s hard to get absorbed in anything, but it is awfully creepy, and the ending is somewhat horrifying.  I’m still too early in Tigerman to give it any sort of impression, other than to say it seems a bit more serious and a lot less whimsical than his other two novels.  That said, once I finish it, I’ll have met my Goodreads goal of reading 30 books in one year, which is awesome.

And speaking of which:  this past weekend the family and I headed into Maplewood Village for an “Art Walk”, and we walked into the local bookstore, and before I could even blink, my 2.5 year old son found a Thomas the Train book, and so of course I had to buy it for him, and also a Team Umizoomi activity book, and then I found a bunch of books that I’d actually had my eye on, and suddenly I walked out of the store with a whole bunch o’ stuff under my arm.


A quick peek through the mental fog

I’m in a bit of a blur, and not just because of the allergy medication I had to take a little while ago.  I’ve been so focused on writing this freelance piece – currently at a little over 5600 words, and a bit of a jumbled mess at that – that I’ve totally put all my other creative stuff on hold.  The album I was hoping to finish is still going to be finished at some point, but in the meantime I’m going to be turning some of it into a 5-song EP – and some of those songs still need some tweaking.  Which I need to find time for.  Which is time that I simply don’t have.

I think I’d mentioned that I’ve been able to carve out a bit more reading time of late, which has been nice; the morning/evening trains are very conducive to reading without interruption or distraction.  And so it is that I finally finished My Struggle, Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgard this morning.  It is not the brilliant, earth-shattering book I’d been expecting, and it does tend to meander and wander from time to time – he (or his translator) is very fond of long sentences separated by commas – but it is insightful at times, and certainly very poignant, and his descriptions of places and times is downright novelistic in its specificity and clarity.  I suspect I will get around to the other volumes at some point, but I think I need a palate cleanser, so now it’s A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay.

I won’t talk about Metal Gear Solid V here – because that’s what the freelance piece is about – other than to say that I’m enjoying the moment-to-moment gameplay far more than I thought I would.  The story is still garbage but I find that I don’t particularly care all that much; I’m not paying attention to it.  I don’t find myself needing any particular narrative motivation to get from point A to point B beyond trying to execute a mission as well as I can (though I don’t beat myself up if the stealth falls apart and I have to get physical; and I did resort to wearing the chicken hat just to get past a mission that I was too far into to bother restarting).  Is it the greatest stealth game of all time, as most of the internet seems to think?  I don’t know, and I’m certainly not far along enough to even begin to grasp what my eventual answer might be, but I’ll say this – I do aim to finish it, even if the freelance piece comes first.

I’m very much wanting to play SOMA, though I’m also a bit of a chicken shit and may end up waiting for some sort of PS+ promotion.

Beyond all that, life is good.  My allergies are a mess but everything else is good: the job is busy but not inducing panic; the house is always good to come home to; my son cracks me up every time I see him; my wife is the best.  I feel good.  That’s the important thing.

Checking in, again and again

1. I have many thoughts about Metal Gear Solid V, but they’re not going to be appearing here.  I will of course let you know when and where you may find them, but for now, just know that this is happening.

2.  I have few thoughts on Mad Max in videogame form; the game is very bad, and I do not like it.  I feel very strongly, at this point in time, that there’s no shame in having a conventional control scheme for your third-person action adventure / brawler, and so when I try to play your game and can’t fucking do the thing I’m trying to do because your control scheme is completely insane and backwards and non-intuitive and wrong, then that’s your problem, not mine.  I’m not particularly surprised that the game is not very good; I did admit to having high hopes for it, sure, but I didn’t actually expect anything worthwhile.  I at least expected a competent control scheme, though, and the simple fact that they couldn’t get that right tells me more or less everything I need to know.

3.  It’s been a little while since I did any sort of book round-up.  I did end up finishing Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, which was pretty good; and then Edie Investigates!, which is a side-story to Angelmaker that’s so short that I started and finished it in one 30-minute sitting; and then I just finished Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls, which has a really interesting premise (a time-travelling serial killer and the victim who tracks him down) but which isn’t executed as well as it might’ve been.  Now I’m reading Karl Ove Knausgard’s My Struggle: Book 1, which I’m still in the early pages of but which I’m already very much enjoying; he has a remarkable descriptive ability, and it’s very easy to put yourself into his perspective.

On a related note, Goodreads tells me that I’ve read 27 of the 30 books I’d hoped to get through by year’s end, so that’s nice.  I must say that my new morning/evening commute makes for an excellent reading opportunity.  I might even hit 40 books by year’s end, and considering that I’m turning 40 in December, well, that’s a nice little synchronicity that I’m happy to have.

4.  I know I don’t really talk much about personal stuff here, and that’s mostly on purpose, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that the move to the ‘burbs was one of the best choices my wife and I have ever made.  We’re very, very happy in our new home, and the kid loves it, and we’ve made some new friends already and are hoping to connect with some older friends soon enough, and it’s really a good thing all around.  Someday I’ll learn how to grill and then you’re all invited for a BBQ.

on managing expectations

In last week’s entry, I sounded pessimistic about the Fall 2015 videogame release schedule.  Not much has changed since then; unfortunately.  We had company on Saturday and I was laid up with a nasty head cold on Sunday, and so I only had a few hours of game time, and yet I was still kinda non-plussed at the end of it.  I played an hour or so of the remastered Dishonored; it looked fine – about on par with my PC – but I’d already played those first few missions a lot, and I wasn’t feeling particularly inclined to play them once more, Achievements notwithstanding.  I also played an hour or so of the remastered Gears of War, and it looks very much like how I remember it looking, which is probably the best you can hope for in a remastered port; it’s just that, as with Dishonored, I’m not really sure I feel like playing through the rest of it.  Calvino Noir has gotten fair-to-middling reviews in the few outlets that have bothered to write anything about it, which is a bit disappointing, and Madden 16 simply isn’t my cup of tea.  So there’s that.

This week is Metal Gear Solid V and Mad Max.  I’m going to take a wild guess and presume that the release date review embargo for Mad Max probably means that it’s not going to score all that well, and also that launching it on the same day as MGSV probably means that its publisher isn’t expecting that much of a return.

Review scores are not necessarily the be-all end-all for me, of course; I have been mystified by the Metal Gear franchise at every turn and even though this latest installment has gotten impossibly high scores from nearly every outfit that’s looked at it, I can’t help but feel incredibly skeptical about it.  I didn’t particularly care for Ground Zeroes, and if this is simply a much larger version of that, with a plot even more ludicrous and ridiculous, well… let’s just say I’m glad I’m not buying it.

Here’s the thing, though, and it’s maybe a point that I should probably have emphasized a lot more during this last year or so of general gaming apathy; I’d love to be proven wrong.  I’d love to sit down with either one of these games and get sucked in and have a good time.  That’s why I still write here, that’s why this blog exists.  I have precious little time for gaming these days, and so I’d like the time I do get to play to be well spent.  I genuinely hope that I can sit down later this week and rip open my rental copy of MGSV and get sucked in – if not to the impossibly ridiculous story, then at least into the moment-to-moment experience of exploring the environment.

Not all is doom and gloom as far as games are concerned, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw some love towards some iPhone games that have been kicking serious ass of late.  To wit:

  • Lara Croft GO, which is a strategy-action-board-game hybrid that feels far more accessible and interesting than Hitman GO, the game that preceded it; I was able to finish the entire thing without needing any help, which was very rewarding.  I’d recommend playing it on an iPad as opposed to an iPhone (if only because the larger screen makes it considerably easier to find the hidden collectibles), though my iPad 3 did not run it particularly well.
  • PAC-MAN 256, which is a novel combination of both Pac-Man and Crossy Road, and which works far better than you might expect; and
  • Sage Solitaire, which is a poker-ish solitaire game built by the guy who made the excellent SpellTower, and which is fiendishly addictive and maddeningly frustrating.

While we’re on the topic of enjoying the moment-to-moment experience of a carefully crafted world, I want to pour one out for the dearly departed Hannibal, one of my all-time favorite television shows and which featured as thorough of a mic drop in its finale as one could’ve hoped for.  Nobody else watched this show, which is why it only lasted three seasons, but they were three of the most gorgeously photographed and exquisitely acted and straight-up BOLD seasons of network television I’ve ever seen in my life.  Not since Twin Peaks have I been so genuinely unnerved by something on a major network; there are images from nearly every episode of this show that I will never be able to get out of my head (the totem pole, the angel wings, the mushroom garden, the increasingly horrible fate of poor Dr. Chilton, etc.).  It’s been a hell of a ride, and I hope they can secure financing for a filmed version of the 4th season’s arc.  If Wet Hot American Summer can come back as a serialized Netflix show, then anything’s possible.

I’m currently reading Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, which I’m enjoying, though not nearly as much as I enjoyed his debut novel, The Gone-Away World, which is one of the most fun books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in quite some time.  I loved that book so much that I ended up buying the rest of his published output, and I suppose I should’ve expected a bit of a letdown after Gone-Away World’s brilliance; I’m not done yet, of course, and there’s still plenty of book left for me to get knocked out by – he has a remarkable way with words, of course, and even if the plot isn’t quite as riveting, his prose is still genuinely fun to absorb.

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