that thing where everything sucks

1. First thing’s fuckin’ last:  my first piece in Videodame’s Co-op Campaign is up, in which me and my buddy Sara start our discussion about Uncharted 4.  I’d deliberately avoided talking about U4 in these pages because I knew this thing was going to start up, so go on and give it a spin, why don’t you?

2. I’m in a weird place, gaming-wise.  I’m not playing anything with any enthusiasm.  Work has been killing me and my three-year-old is a vortex of I’m exhausted, for one thing, and so if I do end up playing anything it’s not for very long; I’m inching along in Witcher 3: Blood and Wine for this very reason.  (Also, I appear to be wildly under-levelled for some of the sidequests, and so I’m kinda just treading water.)  I gave up on Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, because it was hopelessly dumb; one particular side quest has a broken Runner’s Vision thing which kept sending me off a ledge too high for me to survive, and it’s not like I particularly cared about what I was doing.  I’ve more or less given up on Trials of the Blood Dragon, because the off-bike stuff is soooooo bad.  My rental copy of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens should be arriving next week, but if the demo is any indication, it’s still the same old broken platforming bullshit that’s been plaguing this series for years.

I honestly can’t remember what else is on my plate at the moment.  I beat the new Gauntlet mode in Swapperoo, my current iOS GOTY candidate; woo-hoo.

3. I’ve read a hell of a lot of books lately, though.  Of note:

  • I finished Justin Cronin’s “City of Mirrors”.  Among the few friends of mine who’ve also read it, I probably have the highest opinion of it; I think, if nothing else, that it ends quite well.
  • Victor LaVelle’s “The Ballad of Black Tom” is a very short Lovecraftian novella that inverts Lovecraft’s latent racist attitudes into something much more powerful.
  • Joe Hill’s “The Fireman” is a really interesting premise and an absorbing read, though I wouldn’t call it a horror novel.
  • Daniel O’Malley’s “Stiletto” is the 2nd installment of his Rook series, and it’s arguably more entertaining than the first entry; the premise is essentially if the X-Men were running the British Secret Service and defending the country from other supernatural forces.  Very witty, very clever, and this 2nd book is very exciting indeed.
  • Sylvain Neuvel’s “Sleeping Giants” had been popping up in my periphery for a while, and I started it last night on the train and finished it this morning.  If this is the beginning of a new franchise (there is at least one more book coming next year), consider me signed on.
  • And now I just started Emma Straub’s “Modern Lovers”, which is very much NOT action/sci-fi.

4.  This eulogy for Other Music is hitting me in the feels. I might as well have written it myself.

…My scramble for self-identity was tied up in records, and Other Music was where I went to get myself sorted out. What did I like? What did I want? Which section did I want to start flipping through first, and what did that say about me? The classification of a person via her cultural preferences and proclivities—maybe that’s something we should be glad to wave goodbye to. One is no longer either a punk or a goth, In or Out; one merely is.

But it’s also why I think of Other Music as an integral player in my making, and why witnessing its end feels especially personal. We all experience some version of this dissociation a million times in a life: a drawbridge being raised behind you. The sense that you couldn’t re-create yourself now if you tried. When I needed it to, Other Music turned the whole notion of “Other” into something prideful—it forced me to make a choice about who I thought I was, or could be—and for that I’ll always be grateful, beholden.

And just like that, the day job is busy again.  Until next time!  [Exits, pursued by a bear]

E3 2016: much ado about nothing

I’d hoped to have posted my impressions of Sony’s press conference much sooner, but events have conspired against me.  I suppose it’s for the best, since I have the benefit of hindsight now and I feel that I can be a bit more objective about what Sony had to offer.

Did Sony “win” E3?  Was this “the greatest press conference ever”?  I’ve seen several tweeted headlines that answer in the affirmative to both of these questions, but I’m not convinced.  Again – I’m writing this a few days after the presser, so I’m not nearly as breathless with anticipation as I might’ve been during the actual event.

Sony’s actual press conference was certainly not the epic, no-doubt-about-it mic drop of a few years ago.  (And when I look at that recap, I am simply stunned by what I managed to be stunned by.)  I did find it much more substantive and tasteful than Microsoft’s, though that could’ve been the live orchestra.

More to the point, the games – or, rather, the portions of new games that were presented to us – seemed more mature, more sophisticated.  This new, Norse-themed God of War reboot feels like a Naughty Dog game, with a nuanced relationship between a father and son.   Horizon similarly looks quite astonishing, although it’s hard to know how to extrapolate a full game experience from that 7-8 minute demo.  We have a 2016 release date for The Last Guardian, which is nice, even if I haven’t read any preview coverage that managed to get a clear handle on what it is.

Honestly, I’m mostly excited about the Crash Bandicoot remasters.  And also the PSVR, which comes in at a price point that I can most probably survive.

This is all well and good, but now that’s it’s been a few days I’m more concerned about what we didn’t see – like No Man’s Sky (which I suspect was withheld simply because they’re in crunch time and didn’t have time to show anything without severely cramping their style).  And of course Sony did not talk about the “Neo”, which begs the question – will my PSVR work better with the new hardware?  Can I afford a Neo and a Scorpio while still paying my mortgage?  Will my wife leave me if I buy them both anyway?

* * *

With regards to the rest of the show: I am the wrong dude to ask.  Work has been crazy, and whatever free time I’ve had this week has been devoted to posting about gun control and how horrible Donald Trump is. But I can run off a few bullet points:

  • I bought Trials of the Blood Dragon after hearing about it at the Ubisoft presser because I love the Trials games, and after 15 minutes with it I can tell you that whoever decided to make a Trials game where you get off the motorcycle and engage in shitty platforming/shooting segments needs to get fired immediately.
  • The South Park game looks awesome.
  • Ubisoft’s winter-sports thing looks promising, though I’ve heard some absolutely dreadful impressions.
  • I must cop to admitting that Call of Duty in space actually looks pretty neat.
  • I very nearly pre-ordered the ultimate edition of Forza Horizon 3 earlier today.  I don’t know why, nor do I know why I stopped.
  • I’m willing to give that standalone Gwent game a look, though I never played more than the tutorial in Witcher 3 proper.
  • Speaking of which, I need to get back to that Blood & Wine DLC.
  • Also need to get back to Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, though to be honest I’m not enjoying it all that much.  It feels like EA’s first draft of a Ubisoft open-world game, and you can take that however you want.

Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst beta impressions

(I would’ve written about this earlier, except I was under the impression that there was an NDA for closed-beta members.  However, Kotaku just opened up a thread about the beta, and someone there told me that there was no NDA and that EA was actively promoting player streams on Twitter, so: my mistake!)

Unlike other betas in which it’s obvious that the developers are stress-testing their multiplayer servers and getting a feel for how players are reacting to weapons and such, I’m not sure what the purpose of the Mirror’s Edge beta was for, beyond giving franchise fans a sneak peak of this long-awaited sequel.  To be fair, I only had the chance to play it for an hour or so and so I didn’t run across (sorry) any multiplayer options; I suspect there would be some sort of leaderboard for time trials, but that isn’t necessarily something that needs stress-testing.

As someone who admired the first game for its relative strengths but didn’t finish it because the combat was overwhelmingly stupid and awful, I can’t necessarily articulate what it is that I’d want from a sequel – beyond getting rid of the gunplay.  I don’t remember much of the larger narrative from the first game; all I do remember, frankly, is the incredible visual style and the often-exhilarating parkour.

To that end, I’m not sure that Catalyst delivers.  The graphics are not as pristine as I’d expect them to be – but then, this is a beta, and I’m sure there’s quite a bit more spit and polish left before the game goes gold.  The free-running feels essentially the same, even if the control scheme isn’t quite as intuitive as I’d like (lots of L1 and L2 on the PS4 controller, with the face buttons used for hand-to-hand combat).

My biggest issue with the game, though, is that it feels very much like it’s trying to be an Assassin’s Creed clone, and not a particularly interesting one at that.  It has that same quasi-open-world feel and the same skill-tree system of upgrades, but it feels clumsy in my hands.  More to the point, the writing is awful.  Everybody is annoying, uninteresting, speaking the same cliched game-dialogue we’ve all heard for years.  The first person Faith meets when she gets out of [prison?] is the same annoying-new-guy stock character we’ve seen a million times.  I have no idea why I’m doing anything, nor do I know why I have to do it so quickly.  The mission designs, at least the few that I played through, are all standard cookie-cutter missions – collect a bunch of things, deliver them to point A, evade your pursuers.  The time trial stuff is fun in principle, though it’s silly from a narrative point – I understand the need to tutorialize for the new player, but if Faith is this legendary free-runner, why does she need to prove herself to anybody – even if she was in prison?

I’d like to say I’m still cautiously optimistic, but I’m not sure that the problems I’m seeing here are the sorts of things that can be fixed by June.