The Quartet

There’s been some remarkably good stuff happening in the indie scene, folks.

Observation. The elevator pitch for this game – think 2001, but you play as HAL – is fantastic, and the gameplay is wonderfully unique and refreshing (even as it seems directly inspired from the video camera hacking sequences in Watch Dogs). Two things hold this game back from being a true GOTY contender: (1) some of the puzzle solutions are woefully obtuse, and (2) at a certain point in the story, it stops making any coherent sense. I suppose a minor (3) would be that you, as the onboard HAL (in this case, your name is SAM), would appear to be dreadfully stupid, since finishing a relatively straightforward task can take lots and lots and lots of trial and error. But at the end of the day, I was too entranced by the idea and the vibe to be too bothered by these criticisms; playing as the AI of a space station is just a really cool concept, and for the most part it’s executed quite well.

Void Bastards. I’m not generally one for rogue-likes, and if a first-person shooter is gonna hook me it needs to have a really good hook. So let me cut to the chase: I’m COMPLETELY HOOKED on this game. Rock Paper Shotgun describes it as “What if Bioshock, but without story?” and that’s not necessarily that far off the mark; I’m not even particularly sure what the story is, but I do know what my motivation is as a player, and I love the short-and-sweet loop of looking at the star map, picking a ship to board, planning my route through the ship, and then looting the hell out of everything. Given that my attention span these days is relatively short, this game is perfect – I can be in and out of that loop in 20-30 minutes and I’ll have accomplished something worthwhile. I’m not one of those people who needs everything to be ported to the Switch, but if there was ever an ideal case for a Switch port, it’s this game right here.

Outer Wilds. I read a preview of this game a while ago and it sounded amazing; more specifically, it sounded like the exact sort of game that I want to play right now, which is to say it’s a No Man’s Sky sort of exploration game but with a very carefully crafted universe and a story you gradually uncover as you explore each planet, instead of just mindlessly traipsing through zillions of algorithmic ejaculations. And then I completely forgot the game’s title, and I worried that I’d either imagined the whole thing or that it was a very real thing that I would completely miss because I’d forgotten the damn name. Thankfully, the game was released yesterday and all the glowing reviews immediately reminded me that this was, in fact, the game I’d been looking for. I’ve only been able to spend about 30-40 minutes with it, so I’m still a ways off from being able to talk about it in detail. I’ll say this, though: it makes a remarkable first impression. I imagine I’ll be switching between this and Void Bastards for the foreseeable future.

A Plague Tale: Innocence. Of all the games in this foursome, this is the one that came out first, and which, sadly, I’ve spent the least amount of time with. What I’ve seen of it is really rather stunning – the comparisons to the companionship of The Last of Us seem right on the money – and I do want to get back to this when there’s nothing else on my plate.

Nothing Doing

Yes, I know. I KNOW. It’s been a minute. Since my last post, I’ve been a little bananas. My wife broke her foot; I caught a ridiculous chest cold that I’m still trying to shake; work has been… well, work; and the news has been, well, the news.

On the bright side, despite all of this insanity, I’ve somehow gone about two weeks without needing to take any Ativan. So that’s something.

But the larger point remains – I’m frazzled and fried, and I’ve not written anything here because I can’t seem to concentrate on anything for more than about 5 minutes. And that includes writing blog posts about not being able to concentrate on anything for more than 5 minutes.

So let me get to the business here before I run out of steam:

BOOKS: I’ve completed my 2019 Goodreads challenge, which was to finish 40 books. It’s not yet June. Despite all of the craziness above, I can get books read. Here’s what I’ve finished since my last update, along with the summaries I jotted down in my googledoc:

  • Church of Marvels, by Leslie Parry. Beautifully written but very slow. Also, turn-of-the-century New York City sounds like a goddamned hell on earth.
  • Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Brennett. Very much like Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, but a bit more crass. (Also, for whatever reason, I’m having trouble remembering this book now that it’s been a few months.)
  • The Force, by Don Winslow. A hard-boiled masterpiece. If even a fraction of the grift and corruption described in this book is true, we are well and truly fucked.
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things, by Iain Reid. Short, very creepy, with a very sudden and jarring ending. I’m not sure this worked for me, though it’s very well-written.
  • The Devil Aspect, by Craig Russell. An above-average thriller with a hokey title, and a good twist that I probably should’ve seen coming.
  • The Power, by Naomi Alderman. Absolutely fantastic; consider the patriarchy smashed.
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno, by Anthony Marra. One of the best books I’ve read this year; superb.
  • Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1), by James S.A. Corey. As far as sci-fi space opera goes, this is pretty goddamned entertaining. I’ll want to read a few more books before deciding to watch the show.
  • Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi. This much-hyped novel more or less lives up to it; it certainly takes me back to my teenaged years, for better or worse.
  • Melmoth, by Sarah Perry. I haven’t yet read Essex Serpent, but it’s on my list. This was engaging and creepy, though it didn’t quite go anywhere.
  • Normal People, by Sally Rooney. Intimate and marvelous.
  • Blood Standard, Laird Barron.
  • Black Mountain, Laird Barron. Hard-boiled and fun as hell. I’ve read a few of his more cosmic horror-type books before and they never quite clicked for me, but these absolutely sucked me in.
  • Exhalation, by Ted Chiang. Maybe not as transcendent as his first collection, but this is still among the best philosophically-minded sci-fi ever written.
  • Freshwater, by Awkaeke Emezi. Fascinating and beautifully written portrait of a woman with multiple personalities.
  • Lanny, by Max Porter. A very strange, beautiful, ethereal dream.

MUSIC. It’s a wonder that I’m able to absorb any of the music I’m listening to these days, especially since I don’t get to listen as often as I’d like. But there’s some good stuff out there, even for old farts like me.

GAMES. I’ve been playing, like, a dozen things all at once on pretty much every system I own, though I seem to have hit difficulty spikes in most of them all at the same time. There are two smaller games, though, that deserve mention, if only because they feel quite special:

  • Observation (PS4), which is essentially 2001, but you play as HAL. Reminds me a bit of the camera hacking bits in Watch Dogs, which coincidentally are my favorite parts of those games. I’m only an hour or so into it, but I’m really impressed. A very important word of caution, however – if you are in any way affected by strobing effects or other similar visual glitches, I’d recommend staying away from this until they patch it. I’ve never before been sensitive to that stuff until this game; it’s overly aggressive in that regard.
  • A Plague Tale (X), which is like The Last of Us, but with some basic stealth and lots and lots of rats. Again – I’ve only given it an hour or so, but I’m really impressed by what I’ve seen.

That’s all I’ve got time for today, folks. Hope all is well.