Tag: ps4

the fall release calendar

1. I keep waffling on how personal I can allow myself to get on this blog.  But since other social media avenues are closed to me at the present moment, and since it’s been at least a week since I last posted, I might as well explain – I’m on some new head meds, and even though it’s only been a week, I seem to be doing rather well.  So that’s good!  It’s not necessarily an easy thing to admit, but I don’t want to create the impression that I am somehow ashamed of taking prescription medication for depression or anxiety; the quality of my life was not good, for a long time, and it seems to be getting better, and that’s the most important thing.

2.  I am nearly halfway through Nathan Hill’s “The Nix”, and it is amazing.  I’d read reviews that compared the author to both DFW, DeLillo and Pynchon, and so I bought the book almost immediately, like some sort of reflex had just been triggered.  I suppose I can see a bit of that comparison – there are occasional passages in which Hill articulates a particularly neurotic train of thought that covers every conceivable base, in much the same way that Wallace did in “Infinite Jest”, but beyond that the book is very much its own thing.  And while I’m only halfway through, it’s certainly one of the best books I’ve read this year.

3.  I found myself listening to Jane’s Addiction’s “Up The Beach” not too long ago, and I decided to declare it the best opening song on an album post-1985.  (Why 1985?  I don’t know, but I knew that going back farther would make any discussion impossible to reconcile.)  I started a thread on Facebook about it, and got some other very worthwhile candidates, and so I’ve created a Spotify playlist with most of the suggestions that cropped up.  This is by no means definitive (nor is it sequenced in any particular order beyond where they appeared in the original discussion thread), and it is obviously a bit too white-guy heavy, and so if you’ve got further recommendations, by all means send ’em my way.

 

4. I’ve been trying to finish most of the games I play this year, but I decided to give up on finishing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.  This is mostly due to the fact that I was right near the end of the game and I was suddenly asked to make a choice, and I realized that not only did I not care about either of the options presented to me, but that I had literally no idea what the hell was going on.  I’d been content to find sneaky and non-lethal ways to infiltrate buildings and do whatever task needed to be done, and had stopped paying attention to the why at some arbitrary point that was, I realized, too far back to return from.  There are a lot of interesting critical analyses of why DE:MD’s story is fucked up and/or irresponsible and/or bad and/or misses an opportunity to take current political issues and do something interesting with them, but I never got anywhere close to seeing the game’s story in that sort of detail.  I instead found myself focused on the mechanics, because that was the thing that was enjoyable; the story was never particularly engaging, and then by the time I realized that the story mattered, it was too late.

5.  We are about to enter the fall release schedule, which means shit’s gonna start getting real.  I’d already bought the ultimate edition of Forza Horizon 3, which means I get to start playing it tomorrow.  (Possibly tonight at midnight?  If I’m awake?)  But I’m not sure there are any must-plays that are grabbing my attention more forcefully than others.  I mean, I’ve got a bunch of these upcoming games in my rental queue, and I did pre-order Gears 4, but I’m not quivering with anticipation.  Maybe it’s the meds?

I did stop myself from ordering the Bioshock remasters; I still might get them, but I’m waiting for a Digital Foundry verdict first.  I’m currently replaying Batman: Arkham Knight on Xbox One, because (a) cheevos and (b) procrastination.  That game still holds up, though I can say definitively that the PS4 version looks better.  If that matters.

Anyway, as far as the schedule is concerned, Kotaku posted a release calendar; my personal picks are in bold.

September 23

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided System Rift | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Story DLC

September 27

  • FIFA 17 | PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One | Sports
  • X-COM 2 | PS4, Xbox One | Strategy
  • Forza Horizon 3 | PC, Xbox One | Driving
  • Dead Rising 2 HD | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice | 3DS | Platformer
  • LEGO Dimensions Wave 6 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure
  • Darkest Dungeon | PS4, Vita | Dungeon Crawler

September 30

  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits | 3DS | RPG
  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls | 3DS | RPG

October 4

  • Warhammer End Times: Vermintide | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

October 7

  • Paper Mario: Color Splash | Wii U | Action Adventure
  • Mafia III | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Five Nights At Freddy’s: Sister Location | PC | Horror

October 10

  • 100ft Robot Golf | PS4, PS4 VR | Robot Sports

October 11

  • Gears of War 4 | PC, Xbox One | Third-Person Shooter
  • Dragon Quest Builders | PS4 | Action RPG, Sandbox
  • WWE 2K17 | PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One | Sports
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider Blood Ties/Lara’s Nightmare | PC, Xbox One | DLC
  • Duke Nukem 3D 30th Anniversary World Tour | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Memories

October 13

  • PlayStation VR | PS4 | Hardware  [I will obviously need to read some reviews and/or determine if I need to upgrade my OG PS4 to the Slim or the Pro before plunking down any money on this.  People appear to be having cathartic, out-of-body experiences with Rez Infinite, though, and who am I to say no to something like that?]
  • Batman: Arkham VR | PS4 VR | Action Adventure
  • PlayStation VR Worlds | PS4 VR | Action
  • Battlezone | PS4 VR | Action
  • Harmonix Music VR | PS4 VR | Music
  • Hustle Kings | PS4 VR | Pool
  • Rez Infinite | PS4 VR | Music Action
  • Shadow Warrior 2 | PC | First-Person Shooter

October 16

  • Skylanders Imaginators | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure

October 18

  • Batman: Return To Arkham | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Lego Harry Potter Collection | PS4 | Action Adventure

October 21

  • Battlefield 1 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Horse Simulator
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization VI | PC | Strategy

October 25

  • Dark Souls III: Ashes Of Ariandel | PC, PS4, Xbox One | DLC

October 27

  • Just Dance 2017 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U | Dancing
  • Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Fighting
  • World of Final Fantasy | PS4, Vita | RPG
  • Harvest Moon: Skytree Village | 3DS | Simulation

October 28

  • Titanfall 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Third-Person Shooter
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition | PC, PS4, Xbox One | RPG

November 1

  • Shantae: Half-Genie Hero | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, Vita | 2D Platformer

November 4

  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare | PC, PS4, Xbox One | First-Person Shooter
  • Mario Party Star Rush | 3DS | Party

November 7

  • Lego Dimensions Wave 7 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure

November 10

  • PlayStation 4 Pro | PS4 | Hardware

November 11

  • NES Mini | Nintendo | Retro Console
  • Dishonored 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

November 15

  • Watch Dogs 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Road Rage | PS4, Xbox One | Racing
  • Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

November 18

  • Pokémon Sun | 3DS | RPG
  • Pokémon Moon | 3DS | RPG
  • Killing Floor 2 | PC, PS4 | Survival Shooter

November 29

  • Final Fantasy XV | PS4, Xbox One | RPG
  • Star Trek Bridge Crew VR | Oculus, Vive | Simulation

December 1

  • Syberia 3 | PC | Adventure

December 2

  • Gravity Rush 2 | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Steep | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Extreme Sports
  • Super Mario Maker 3DS | 3DS | Mario Maker

December 6

  • The Last Guardian | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Star Trek Bridge Crew VR | PS4 VR | Simulation
  • Dead Rising 4 | Xbox One | Action Adventure

Random Ramblings, Thursday edition

Today’s song of the day:

It’s been a while, so let’s get caught up.

1. The more I think about it, the more underwhelmed I am by Sony’s reveal of the PS4 Pro.  Let’s leave aside the total lack of anything regarding PSVR – nothing I saw yesterday compelled me to upgrade my current PS4; if anything, I’d rather spend that money on upgrading my PS4’s hard drive.  I mean, if I want to get the most out of the PS4 Pro, I’d need a 4K TV (which I don’t have), and I’d also need to make sure that it supports HDR (which, apparently, not all 4K TVs do).  Fundamentally, the content simply isn’t there yet to necessitate the upgrade, and while HDR is certainly intriguing I’m not sure it’s essential – and in any event, my OG PS4 is getting the HDR upgrade next week anyway.  If I have to shell out money for a console upgrade at this point – and I’m nto sure I do – I’m leaning heavily towards next year’s Microsoft Scorpio.

2. I’ve successfully completed my Goodreads challenge, and am now currently at 37 books finished for the year.  I don’t have a secondary number to hit; I’d rather just take my time and enjoy what I read from here on out.  I’m also probably not going to participate next year; it’s an extra layer of stress that I definitely don’t need, and as far as record-keeping is concerned I’m already tracking what I read in a GoogleDoc, because I’m ridiculous.

2a. My end-of-year “Favorite Sentences of 2016” post might end up being on the short side of things; while I’ve enjoyed a lot of what I’ve read, I haven’t found myself highlighting a lot of beautiful phrases.  To wit: I just finished reading Ted Chiangs’ “Stories Of Your Life and Others”, a rather remarkable collection of speculative science-fiction-ish stories (mostly because the title story is the source of the upcoming film “Arrival“, which I very much want to see); each story is incredibly fascinating and certainly very well written, but I never found myself lingering over a particularly affecting phrase.  This is not an indictment of the book at all, but rather just something I’ve noticed in terms of my own reading.  I think it’s fair to say that in order to meet my Goodreads Challenge number, I opted to read shorter books with heavy genre trappings, and while those kinds of books are highly enjoyable, they don’t necessarily feature poetic prose.

3. I’ve hit something of a wall with respect to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and I’m not sure if I’m going to stick with it.  There’s a sudden difficulty spike at my current stage of the game – all of Prague is on lockdown, which makes getting around town incredibly difficult, at least in terms of my current character build – and I’m so far removed from the narrative’s motivations that I’m tempted to call it a day.  While I do enjoy some of the gameplay loops – i.e., enter an area, scout out hidden pathways, sneak around, hack stuff, get out without being seen – I’m struggling to stay invested in the story, which is just this side of Kojima-esque silliness.

4. On the flipside, I am thoroughly addicted to Picross 3D: Round 2, which is the first thing I’ve used my 3DS for in maybe 2 years.  It is a little strange that you’re not actually solving the puzzle on the 3D screen – that is, in fact, what I’d been hoping to do – but whatever; I love it anyway.  Solving a puzzle feels like sculpting a figure out of marble, in much the same way that playing Rock Band feels like playing music – it’s not 1:1, obviously, but it produces the same creative euphoria.  I worry that if I continue to bring my 3DS to work, I will get fired.

5. I’ve also been playing some indie games on XB1, as I continue in my quest to hit 100K.  I finished Valley, which I don’t really know how to talk about – there are parts of it that are wondrously exhilarating, and other parts that are a bit of a slog, and the ending – such as it is – felt a bit underwhelming.  I’m also about halfway through The Turing Test, a first-person puzzler not unlike Portal or The Talos Principle; the narrative is a bit clumsy in its execution but the puzzles themselves are satisfying to solve (at the moment, at least).


I’m continuing to feel somewhat withdrawn and hermit-like – this is something I’m working on, privately – so please bear with me if it gets even more quiet around here than usual.

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.

The First Few Hours: Ratchet and Clank (ps4)

[Note:  I will be on vacation next week, but unlike last week this is a for-real vacation, in a warm and sunny climate with beach access and a full Kindle and nothing on my to-do list.]

After dozens and dozens of hours in The Division‘s freezing wasteland of post-apocalyptic NYC, and a few more hours in the sci-fi nonsense of Quantum Break, I can’t help but note how refreshing it is to be playing the new Ratchet and Clank, a game where there’s more color in one scene than there is in both of those other games combined.

I have a very soft spot for action platformers, is the thing.  Even in the absence of a Nintendo-filled childhood, I am an avid fan of the genre.  Give me your Crash Bandicoot, your Rayman (2), even your Voodoo Vince.  There is a lack of self-seriousness in these games that is so goddamned refreshing; yes, you might have to kill some monsters here and there, but it’s never upsetting in the way that shooting is.  In R&C, I can fire up a disco ball that gets all my enemies dancing, and then I can blast them with my Pixelator gun, turning them all into dozens of 8-bit sprites that brilliantly explode into hundreds of nuts and bolts upon a solid whack of Ratchet’s wrench.  It is endlessly satisfying.

I’m not sure I’ve ever played an R&C game before, to be honest.  I think there might’ve been a PS3 title that I rented for a few hours, but I might be confusing that with a Jak and Daxter game:  in any event, I am given to understand that this new R&C game is a complete re-building/re-booting of the original, much in the same way that Oddworld rebuilt Abe’s Oddysee into New & Tasty.  As such, I suppose I can see that there are certain elements of the game’s design that might feel a bit antiquated, but I can forgive those sorts of things very easily; beyond the game’s ridiculous good looks (I’ve heard R&C games feel like “playing a Pixar movie”, and even after only a few hours I totally get it), it’s just a joy to play.  And it does feel very much like “play”; it does not feel like “work”.  Even going back to earlier areas to find hidden stuff with newly-acquired gadgetry doesn’t feel like grinding; I’m just happy to be out and about.

 

On The Division, Quantum Break, and self-awareness

My original intent with this post was to simply recap my experiences upon finishing both The Division and Quantum Break.  But having played two third-person shooters back-to-back – games which couldn’t be more radically different from each other despite existing in the same genre and coming out within weeks of each other – I think there’s something to be said for exploring the two, specifically with regards to their respective levels of self-awareness.

Still, in the interest of clarity, let me get my QB thoughts out of the way, given that I’ve already spent several posts and several thousand words talking about The Division.

The first thing that is immediately apparent is that QB is perhaps the most impressive-looking game on the Xbox One.  Character models are remarkably accurate and I never once felt the effects of the uncanny valley; nearly every combat sequence is spectacular to look at, especially since, as the game progresses, every enemy you kill dies frozen within time and space, often hurtling backward as frozen arcs of blood spurt forth.  There are also a few platforming sequences amidst collapsing environments that recall some of the more surreal dreamscapes in DmC, too; it’s rather astonishing stuff.  If you own an Xbox One and want to show it off to a friend, this is without question the game you want them to see.

The second thing that is apparent, especially just after sinking 50 hours into The Division’s bullet sponges, is that QB’s gunplay is far more streamlined: most enemies go down with a few accurately placed shots, but by the time you’re halfway through the game the bullets are really just there to augment all the super-time-manipulative powers you gain access to.  It’s almost reminiscent of Bulletstorm, in that you’re encouraged to be creative with your methods of enemy disposal; you can freeze them in a time bubble and then pour hundreds of bullets into them, you can throw a time burst at them and they basically just explode, you can even sort-of teleport around the environment and circle enemies and pick them off before they even know you’ve moved.

But the most important thing – the story – is where the game pretty much falls apart.  Not because time machines are an overused trope, but rather because none of the characters are interesting.  The big-name movie stars certainly provide adequate performances, I guess, though I couldn’t ever get over the feeling that the bigger names received paychecks with enough zeroes on them that they simply couldn’t refuse.  I’m not accusing Lance Reddick, Aiden Gillen or Shawn Ashmore of phoning anything in, as I would of Peter Dinklage in Destiny – but their dialogue is nearly impossible for them to be emotionally invested in.  And the TV Show half of the game really just feels like a low-budget version of Fringe, mostly featuring ancillary characters to the game’s story that I simply never cared about and was anxious to fast-forward through.  And the option to make timeline-altering decisions never felt particularly empowering, since everything ultimately winds up in the same place, and I’m certainly not interested in “seeing what happens” to play it twice and make all the opposite choices.

The game takes its story so incredibly seriously that its version of The Division’s collectibles – i.e., environmental doo-dads that you have to look for that provide varying levels of interesting backstory – are actually called “Narrative Objects”.  (And yet, despite the game’s self-seriousness, there is a bit of unintentional hilarity in that everyone – both good guys and bad – uses Microsoft phones and tablets; this is a very obvious bit of corporate synergy and it doesn’t break the fourth wall so much as it simply obliterates it.)

All this aside, it was really, really nice to have an excuse to use the XB1’s Elite Controller again; that thing is no joke.


So, back to the original premise of this post, which is about the relative levels of self-awareness in both The Division and Quantum Break.

To wit:  The Division is not at all self-aware, even when it’s being cheeky (like putting one of the safehouses in an abandoned Ubisoft office).  The Division is Ubisoft’s attempt at investment in a long-term product; having seen bits and pieces of the endgame, it is very clearly putting its own spin on Bungie’s Destiny.  (Ironically, though, my 50+ hours playing through the campaign reminded me much more of my experience soloing my way through the first 40 levels of Star Wars: The Old Republic; I did engage in a few PvP things here and there, and did some co-op raids and such, but mostly I kept to myself, and both games (to their immense credit) didn’t seem to mind all that much.)

That said, now that I’m a few days removed from it, I can’t honestly remember why I was doing what I was doing beyond certain mechanical rewards, like getting better gear and weapons and upgrading my base and the like.  The writing is incredibly blunt – which is odd, given that the narrative itself is rather thin.  (It doesn’t help that the voice actors who feed you context through your radio about each mission you undertake are the dumbest and most obvious NYC stereotypes you can think of – the nagging Jewish mother, the effeminate floofy dog owner, the reformed ex-mobster, the egomaniacal actor – and I stopped paying attention to their inane yammering as soon as I realized that nothing they were saying was particularly important.)  Nobody is spending hundreds of hours playing The Division for that game’s story, or even really exploring the abandoned city; after a while, the act of entering random apartment buildings and rummaging through apartments felt less of a violation and instead simply felt repetitive, especially as there’s only a few apartment models and once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.    The hundreds of collectibles that justify their existence by containing backstory are poorly written and poorly voice acted and once I hit level 20 (or so) I saw no tangible value, not even in XP, in bothering to pick them up.  Combat is the main focus here, and most enemies are bullet sponges, so your battles are tactical and slow, almost never even approaching something you’d call “explosive”, even if there’s a lot of grenades.

Quantum Break, on the other hand, is VERY MUCH aware it’s a game.  More to the point, it’s self-aware that it is a much-publicized experiment in synthesizing videogames with a television show, and it’s even more self-aware that it’s a Remedy game, with more than a few references to Alan Wake and Max Payne and such.  (In a parallel irony with The Division above, QB also reminds me, more than anything else, of David Cage’s games – Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls especially – in their character-driven focus and narrative heavy-handedness.)

It also might be self-aware enough to know that Microsoft would really really really like it if it could also look spectacular and expensive and show gamers that the XB1 can be as graphically impressive as the PS4.  To me, though, QB’s stunt casting looks more and more like a large, easy paycheck if they can just get through a scene and exert a little energy.  (which could also explain while the filmed elements are almost entirely focused on this sub-plot and these characters that have almost nothing to do with the player character’s journey.)  As noted above, the collectibles in Quantum Break that justify their existence as containing backstory are referred to as “Narrative Objects”, which never stops sounding like a really weird thing to call something that is utterly disposable, even if some of them are actually and surprisingly interesting to read (even if doing so completely disrupts the game’s rhythm).  Combat is not the main reason you’re playing, but it is almost always the way you get from point A to point B.

It’s bewildering to spend so much time with two games that occupy the same genre – sci-fi third-person shooter – and have them turn out to be so radically different on every possible level.  This is neither a good nor bad thing; it’s simply an observation.  I don’t know that I’d call either of these games “successful”, but it’s interesting to see that there’s still a lot of room to maneuver within this specific space.


In case it wasn’t already apparent, I’m done with The Division.  Or, rather, I’ve done all I care to do.  I hit level 30, I fully upgraded my base, I visited every safe house, I visited where my day job should be, I finished all the side missions.  The Dark Zone is not my scene, and the rest of the single-player offers no loot worth grabbing.  Diablo 3 never needed PvP for me to stay engaged; there was always better loot just for doing what I was doing.  Not so in the Division; all the really good stuff is in the DZ, and I just don’t give a shit.  The few times I went in there I got ganked, either by real-life trolls or by elite AI squads.  You can’t go in there alone, it would seem, and I don’t have the patience to make the necessary friends.


Finally: dude, Rocket League?  Still awesome.  Hadn’t played it in months, but I gave it a go with my buddy earlier this week and it’s STILL SO GOOD.  I’ve gotten better at not totally sucking at it, which is always a plus.  There is nothing quite like the feeling of jumping for a ball and completely missing it and then just floating there in space, far away from the action, knowing that your miss has directly led to the opposing team scoring a goal.  There is also nothing quite like the feeling of being perfectly placed and nailing a shot into an empty net (because almost nobody plays defense).  The best?  Scoring in sudden-death overtime.  THE BEST, I say.

the end of things

1. Whether we like it or not, all things must eventually come to an end.  We’ve all had that experience where we’re reading a book that we love so much that we never want to put it down, or a song that we can’t stop listening to… but eventually we do, and we have to, because we don’t want to ruin the thing that we love by wearing it out.

This is why it’s sometimes hard for me to stay engaged with a game once it’s outstayed its welcome, and especially when the game in question doesn’t actually have an official finish line.  I’ve put in probably close to 30 hours in The Division by this point; I’m level 23, I’ve only got a few more main missions to go before my Penn Station base is completely finished, but I’m starting to grow weary of the game’s repetitiveness.  The side missions and encounters and diversions are all identical except that tougher enemies take more bullets.  I’m no longer wandering the streets looking for collectibles, since I know that once I finish all the side missions they’ll automatically pop up on my map anyway.  I was hoping I’d stay engaged long enough to hit level 30 and do a little cursory exploration of the Dark Zone, even though I don’t care about PvP; now my goal is simply to make it to 41st Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, to see if my day job’s location is accurately portrayed.  (Spoiler alert – it most likely isn’t; with a few exceptions here and there, the NYC that’s portrayed in this game bears little resemblance to the actual NYC.  I’ve already glanced at the map and immediately noticed that there’s no exit/side-street for the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, which bisects 4-5 blocks between 2nd and 3rd Avenues; then again, the game also features a 2nd Avenue subway, so perhaps this near-future Manhattan has done away with the tunnel altogether.)

This is not to say that I think The Division is a bad game; frankly, compared to Ubisoft’s other recent offerings, it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable to play, and in many ways it reminds me of what Watch Dogs could’ve been.  But I find myself turning my brain off the longer I go; I ignore cutscenes and narrative beats because they’re meaningless at this point.  I finish a mission and they show me recovered video of atrocities committed by the game’s “enemies”, but I find it hard to care considering that I just killed hundreds of people single-handedly.  All I’m doing is moving from waypoint to waypoint, mowing people down, hoping they drop something useful.  This was fun for the first dozen hours, but it’s growing monotonous; there’s no depth.  I continue to hide behind cover and pop off shots here and there, the same way I did 30 hours ago, but now I have a portable turret.  I spend too much time agonizing over the relative merits and statistical improvements of different kneepads.  Do I sell?  Do I deconstruct?  Is there any point in engaging with the Advanced Weapons Dealer in the Ops Base before hitting level 30?

I need more co-op time, I guess.  That made the game a lot more fun to play, because suddenly I could think tactically instead of simply rushing from cover to cover; my friend and I could consider locational positioning, and work on flanking and suppressing.  Granted, this too eventually gets repetitive, but at least we can still talk to each other instead of simply listening to the horrible, horrible stereotypical New Yorker voice acting of each safe house’s side-mission giver.

Then again, I’m not necessarily in any rush to get it out of my house; if my rental Q is to be believed, I still have more than a week before Quantum Break and DiRT Rally show up.  But I do need to put it away, soon, because otherwise I’ll just feel like I’m wasting time.

2.  Oculus Rift reviews are dropping all over the place, and they all seem to be saying the same thing:  “a key to a new era of entertainment“, “like nothing you’ve ever experienced before“, “It [has] changed how we think of games.”  I guess this is good?  That hopefully this isn’t a fad?  I have no stake in this tech one way or the other; I think I’ve said this already, but in case I haven’t, right now the only VR set that I’ve got any eyes on is the PSVR, because my gaming PC is more or less busted and I can’t afford a new one right now, much less a new one AND a Rift.  I’m curious, I suppose, but until I actually experience it I will remain skeptical.  (I also wear glasses, and I suspect that wearing glasses underneath a VR headset is problematic.)

I’m also a little skeptical of Sony’s ability to make their VR unit compelling for more than, say, the initial launch quarter.  Considering the horrendous support that the PSP and the Vita have gotten, it’s hard to have faith that PSVR will be worth the investment – especially since it sounds like any PS4 owner would have to upgrade to the PS4.5 in order to get the most out of the VR setup.  As someone who’s owned multiple iterations of iPhones, of course I’m going to upgrade to a more powerful PS4, irrespective of my decision to jump on the VR bandwagon, but not everyone can make the same jump, and the more I think about it, the more of a mess it becomes.

3.  Regarding the aforementioned “all things must end”: I’m currently reading Anthony Marra’s “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” and it is slow-going; it’s beautifully written but there’s tragedy on every page, and it’s the sort of thing where I have trouble sticking with it, if only because there’s only so much Chechen atrocity I can handle in one sitting.  (There is a section describing the plight of teenaged refugees being kidnapped and executed, and the remaining family members asking for portraits of their missing loved ones; and while it is poetic and beautiful to read, it’s also gut-wrenchingly devastating; I was reading this on the evening commute, and it was all I could do to keep from bursting out in sobs.)

4.  I finally got around to seeing Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” over the weekend.  I’m… I’m not sure how I feel about it.  It’s impossible to discuss without spoiling it, so I might make a separate post about it.  I’m glad I saw it, and I’m sure it would make one hell of a play, but I’m also wondering if I’m starting to get a bit weary of QT’s tics and mannerisms.  (It also didn’t help that the film’s opening credits introduce the film as “The Eighth Film from Quentin Tarantino”.)

5.  I was going to wrap this post up by talking a bit about Corey Feldman’s IndieGoGo campaign, but I don’t feel like mocking him.  I mean, if you click on that link, most of the mocking is already done for you; you will cringe and recoil in horror involuntarily, whether or not I prepare you for what you see.  Frankly, I have no business making fun of him; I have an album of my own that I’m trying to finish, and while I’d love to raise some funds to be able to hire my friends to play on it and have it recorded and mixed by a guy who actually knows what he’s doing instead of me simply dicking around on my Macbook, I’d be lucky to get even half of the pitiful amount he’s raised.  If you’re making art, and you’re sincere in your desire to make something that you believe is important and beautiful, I don’t want to make fun of you.  I’d rather be angry at myself for not working as hard as I should, because I at least have some measure of control over it.

So instead, let me leave you with maybe the best remembrance (of many) of the late, great Garry Shandling.

“Make the spiritual search more important than the problem,” he told me once. Better than anyone I know, he understood that the search was the destination, that messiness was better than tidiness, that the complexity that makes us suffer also is the source of all beauty.

Weekend Recap: Dividing Together

1. I believe I’ve said this already about a million times, but on the off-chance that this is your first visit to this site (welcome!) it bears repeating if only so that this post makes sense:  I have been making an effort to not buy so many full-price games this year.  Barring some surprise announcements at E3, there’s not a whole hell of a lot that I feel compelled to own, and certainly nothing that I need to pre-order.

That being said, I did kinda sorta end up buying Hitman over the weekend, and I’m still not sure why.  I have never been very good at Hitman games; while I can certainly appreciate how free-form they are and how they encourage creativity and improvisation – there’s any number of ways you can take out your target and all that ultimately matters is that you escape – I always feel like I’m missing a crucial piece of the game’s vocabulary when I sit down and play.  I came to the series late, I guess, and maybe that’s why it doesn’t occur to me to try all sorts of things; I tend to be very basic, which means my schemes are generally somewhat rudimentary, and so when I pull off a hit successfully I don’t feel any particular satisfaction.  But then I’ll hear or read about or watch some spectacular methods of assassination, and I’ll once again realize that I’ve barely scratched the surface.

I did enjoy Hitman Sniper on iOS, though, which is maybe why I’m predisposed to giving this new Hitman a shot.  Specifically, the iPhone Sniper game (which is itself an iteration of Hitman Sniper Challenge on PC, which was a sort-of demo that came with Absolution) was simply one level, which you played a zillion times, but each time you had different targets and challenges; with each successive playthrough, you’d begin to recognize guard patterns, and with each new challenge you’d learn certain tricks you could perform – as an example, you could lure a cluster of targets near a furnace, which you could then explode with a well-aimed shot; you could wait for a few minutes for a target to lean against a glass railing, which you could then shoot out and have the body fall off the cliffside below – and so even though the game fundamentally remained one of endless repetition, you’d begin to dive deep and develop a microscopic understanding of the level’s design.

So the idea that the new Hitman game would be episodic, and that each level would have these similar abstractions that you could explore, so that you’d never be replaying the same level the same way – well, I understand the appeal of that in a way that I definitely would not have, had I not spent a significant amount of time with those sniper challenges.

I finished the first tutorial level, but only once, and I didn’t do such a great job of it, and I’m anxious to give it several more tries before moving on to the next level; while the game has gotten somewhat mixed reviews, the people who like it really like it and even if I’m coming at the game from a completely different perspective, I think I can understand the appeal of this game and, specifically, the way it’s being delivered.

2.  I also finally got to do some online co-op in The Division, and that is definitely how this game should be played.  I continue to enjoy the single-player experience (if only because I’m content to play it mindlessly, instead of actually paying attention to how seriously fucked up it is), but playing with a friend is infinitely more fun and engaging.  My character is around 10 levels higher than my buddy’s, so we were able to pretty much wreck havoc and managed to unlock all three wings of his Ops Base relatively quickly, and so even though I’d already played these missions before, and even though none of the gear that dropped for me was useful, it was still fun to strategize and call out enemy locations while also experimenting with new abilities and talents (since only one of us needed to use Pulse, I started playing around with the medic abilities, which ended up coming in handy, actually).

Side note: I’ve been debating whether or not to buy my rental copy of The Division.  On the one hand, it’s only $45 to keep my copy; on the other hand, there’s the lazy-ass part of me that’s gotten used to the idea of not having discs, even though my PS4’s hard drive was filled up many months ago.  Speaking of which, my co-op buddy recently upgraded his PS4’s hard drive to 2TB, which I was also tempted to do… and then, literally the next day, Kotaku reported that there might be a PS4.5.  I’m already trying to figure out if I’m going to get the PSVR bundle… if there’s a VR bundle that comes out alongside the PS4.5?  Can I trade my PS4 in towards the new one?  Do I even need a 4K TV?

3.  I’d whined a little while ago that Spotify’s weekly discovery playlists felt a bit lackluster this year, at least compared to last year; this week’s playlist, though, is among the best I’ve ever received.  I keep a separate playlist of my faves from each week; usually I’ll keep one or two, but I think kept, like, 8 or 9 from this week’s list.  (Should you be interested, my 2016 list is here, and also should be in the sidebar to the right.)

I was hoping to write a bit more here – about some of the new Irish whiskey I bought over the weekend, and a little about books and such – but it’s suddenly gotten a little bananas over here at work, so I’m gonna put this up while I still have a second.