Red Dead Rumination

So I guess we need to talk about this.

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Here’s my prediction:  tomorrow they officially reveal Red Dead Revolution, for a Spring 2017 release.  While I’d love to see a protagonist that isn’t an older white man – a POC, a Native American, a woman – I don’t think it’ll happen.  I would be surprised to see it as a pure sequel to Redemption; most Rockstar franchises exist independently of each other (with the notable exception of Max Payne, and even then that was Remedy).

The fact that there are seven characters in this image implies that there’ll be some sort of online posse element to the game; Redemption‘s online features were pretty great, all things considered, and considering how well GTAV online is going, I would imagine that this new game will incorporate a lot of those ideas.

But beyond that, I’m not going to speculate, since I’m almost always completely wrong about everything Rockstar does.  I will say this, though:  The Witcher 3 is now my gold standard for the open-world adventure, and when I played Witcher 3 it reminded me of Redemption in all the best ways.  So while I’m obviously incredibly excited for whatever this game turns out to be, I’m also setting some very, very high expectations.


I have not yet bought PSVR, but I’m seriously starting to think about it.  It’s the only VR system I can sort of afford, and it seems to be getting pretty positive reviews, and I know it’s only a matter of time before I succumb to peer pressure and buy it anyway.

It might be the thing that keeps me interested in gaming, actually.  I’m finding myself having a harder time staying engaged with what I’m playing these days – I’m not sure if it’s because of the new head meds I’m on, or if I’m just not playing anything all that great, or what, but I’m not feeling particularly gung-ho about anything right now.

To wit:

I gave up on Mafia 3 after about 30 minutes with it.  The very first mission glitched out on me, and everything about it felt janky.  I very much appreciate and respect what the narrative is trying to do, believe me; but my limited time and my dwindling reserves of patience make it difficult for me to give anything the benefit of the doubt.

I am holding on to my rental copy of XCOM 2 for a little while longer, even if I’m still terribly intimidated by it.  I’d like to at least get a few more missions into it before deciding whether or not I should bail.

I had promised a buddy that I’d play Gears 4 in co-op with him, but he was away last week and so I ended up playing the prologue and a tiny bit of the post-opening credits sequence.  I don’t really know what to say about it; it’s Gears, looking as spiffy as ever, and there’s lots of shooting and hiding in cover and such.  At this point I feel like co-op is probably the better way to play it, since at the very least I can tune out the narrative.

I played the new Croft Manor DLC for Rise of the Tomb Raider; whoever described it as Lara Croft’s Gone Home is pretty much right on the money.  I’m missing 2 artifacts, and while I’m eager to break the 100K Achievements mark, I don’t know if I care about it enough to go back and hunt them down.

I also finished Virginia, which had been getting some rather intriguing press of late.  I found it interesting, but I’m not 100% sure I understand what I saw; the use of jump-cuts is rather unique in game storytelling but it’s also the sort of thing that calls attention to itself, and if it’s not serving an apparent purpose it really just becomes distracting.  I found it pleasantly enigmatic but it’s not sticking in my head the way it is for others; so it goes.

 

Lest you think I’m just shitting on everything I touch, I do need to salute Picross 3D: Round 2.  I’ve gotten a Rainbow medal on every puzzle; the only thing I could conceivably do is go through each puzzle where I made one mistake and try to ace it instead.   It’s the most enjoyable puzzle game I’ve played in ages, and I must admit that it was nice having my 3DS back in my rotation for a little while.

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I am most likely sitting Battlefield 1 out, and I haven’t decided if I’m going to rent Titanfall 2 or the new Call of Duty either, which means the next thing on my must-play list appears to be… Dishonored 2.

A Lack of Patience

1. My latest Uncharted 4 correspondence for Videodame’s Co-Op Campaign is up!  Check it out here.

2. Earlier this year I wrote that I was done with Lego games, having struggled to finish Lego Marvel Avengers..  To be more specific:

The voice acting is mostly taken from the movies, except each line reading feels strangely sleepy and deadened in its delivery; the action is relentlessly tedious, endless waves of enemies descending out of nowhere, for no particular reason except to pad everything out.  Plenty of bugs.  A whole bunch of puzzles that do not explain themselves at all, which is all the more frustrating because the game doesgo out of its way to explain the dumbest shit in agonizing unskippable camera swoops.  I know, I know – I’m 40 years old, I’m at least 25 years past the target demographic, etc.  This doesn’t stop a shitty game from being a shitty game.  Remind me that I said all of this when Lego: Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out in a few months.

Well, for some stupid reason I decided to rent Lego Star Wars TFA, and, lo and behold, everything I said in the above paragraph applies to this new game as well.  I am no longer interested in having to repeat the same platforming exercise dozens of time because the game is too stupid to recognize where I’m jumping.  And while it’s great that they added some new stuff to break up the formula – 3rd-person cover shooting, space combat – the new stuff is so poorly executed that I’d rather they kept it out.  I barely got through 2 chapters before deciding I’d had enough.  I’d rather watch the movie anyway.

3. I realize that I never updated my progress with respect to INSIDE.  Well, I finished it, and… um… yeah.  I stand by my initial assertion that it packs one hell of a first impression, and that the animation and sound design are particularly excellent.  That being said, I have literally no idea what the hell happened there at the end, and I was left with a lingering sense of “what the hell did I just play, and why?”  Hard to explain unless I get into spoilers, though even with spoilers it’s not like it gets any easier.  Would be curious to discuss it with someone who got it.  Otherwise, I’m starting to wonder just what it is about PlayDead and their fascination with child murdering.

4. I’m kinda drifting along through my gaming library at the moment.  I should be focused on finishing Witcher 3: Blood and Wine, but that requires a time commitment that I simply don’t have right now; that’s not the sort of game that I can play for just 30 minutes and then log off.  For some reason I bought the PS4 editions of Saints Row 4 and Gat Out of Hell, probably because they were stupidly cheap.  I do kinda love how ridiculously dumb SR4 is; it’s the Crackdown sequel I always wanted.  The PS4 edition barely qualifies as a “remaster”, but that’s not necessarily enough to ignore it completely; it’s a fun, dumb game, and I’m happy to mess around with it unless it completely crashes (which it actually did the other night).  I’d never played Gat out of Hell, and after 30-45 minutes with it I’m not sure I need to.   I am obviously going to start playing Red Dead Redemption again on Friday, once its transition to the XB1 is complete; I don’t know if I’m going to start over from scratch or just pick up where my cloud save left off, but all I really want is just to hang out with it again.

the inevitable Rockstar wishlist

In this interview with Take Two Interactive’s Strauss Zelnick, it is tantalizingly revealed that something is happening at this year’s E3:

With a number of new games, plus its eSports plans, 2016 is shaping up to be a far busier year for the teams at Take-Two. But could there be more? What about Red Dead Redemption 2? Or Ken Levine’s new project? Zelnick is tight lipped, but points towards E3 as an event to look forward to.

“We will be there in a big way,” he concludes.

This can only mean one thing, and that is:  Table Tennis VR.

Well, but also, surely this means we’re going to hear something definitive about Red Dead Redemption 2.  Right?  There is no other existing Take Two-published property that is in greater demand.  A remastered Bioshock Trilogy for current-gen consoles is inevitable.  A new Borderlands is probable.  And yeah, I’m sure we’ll hear something about Ken Levine’s new thing, though if it’s a small indie game made by a small team, I can’t imagine it’ll dominate their news cycle.  XCOM 2 for PS4/XB1 makes sense.  Civ Rev 2 for Vita is a thing that is supposedly still happening.

Listen, people:  I want my Red Dead 2, and I want it now.  Please and thank you.


Very pleased to see that Superhot is getting terrific reviews.  Assuming the boy goes to bed at his usual time (and nothing is certain on that front anymore), I will be checking it out this very evening (presumably while my rental copy of Far Cry Primal installs on my PS4).

weekend recap: bits and bobs and odds and sods

So I had big, grand plans for blogging here last week, and, clearly, those plans all went to shit.

I’d written a rather gigantic review of Beyond: Two Souls for the NYVCC (which probably won’t be going up until early November), and in the process of putting it together I started getting a little philosophical about the concept of “fun”.  Not even necessarily about what constitutes fun (as an example, the fun I had in exploring the house in Gone Home is much, much different than, say, the fun of online Call of Duty matches, should you enjoy that sort of thing), but more along the lines of:  is “being fun” the thing that separates/elevates a game from an interactive experience?  Can a game with stellar graphics, a gripping story and fully-realized characters still be considered “great” if it isn’t “fun” to play?  And likewise, can a game with stellar gameplay mechanics (i.e., the “core gameplay loop”, or the “30 seconds of fun” design principle that went into creating Halo) still be considered “great” if the story and the characters and everything else is shitty?

I’d wanted to sink some serious time and thought into this piece, but, again, the week fell apart and I couldn’t put it together – not even after I tweeted that I was working on something ambitious, and that I sincerely hoped that I wouldn’t quit on it.   The tweet was more concerned with the post becoming too ridiculous for me to wrangle into shape; it didn’t take into account the many external factors that conspired against me even having the time to put it together (i.e., day job, sick baby, musical side projects).

Such is the blogger’s dilemma; as I am not in an environment where I can concentrate on writing 24/7 (or even 9 to 5), I seem to only churn out these sorts of lightweight posts – weekend recaps, uninformed gut reactions to industry news, whining about jerks on social media.  The heavy-duty stuff is problematic – I get intimidated because I want the piece to be great, and when I get intimidated I either allow myself to get distracted, or I get too critical and censorious and the whole thing falls apart.

I don’t necessarily want to abandon this idea, though, even if I just gave it away.  Because one thing that I am going to start doing over the next few months is a thorough examination of this console generation, and I’m very curious to see how my personal definition of “fun” has evolved over that time.

Case in point:  I ended up spending quite a lot of time in GTA V this weekend, trying to finish a few Strangers and Freaks missions, and also trying to trigger new ones – there’s quite a few missing in my Social Club profile, and I have no idea where to find them or how to start them.  Two of them started quite by accident; I decided to buy up some businesses, and one of them (the pier in the WNW area of the map) triggered two different quests that essentially sent me underwater, circumnavigating the entire island (one quest in a submarine, the other involving deep-sea diving).  These were strange, laborious and frequently tedious missions, and yet they were also, at times, deeply engrossing – if for no other reason than to simply appreciate the staggering amount of work that went into creating the underwater environment.   And since these missions were also untimed and free of enemies, I could explore at my leisure, and I personally really enjoy that sort of exploration – even if the speed of the sub and/or swimming was painfully, agonizingly slow.

Indeed, most of my time now in GTA V is spent driving around the northern expanse of the map, wishing there were Skyrim-esque dungeons to explore.  (Or, barring that, Red Dead Redemption-style gang hideouts to raid.)   (Also, mostly wishing that someone would mod GTA IV to incorporate GTA V‘s gameplay improvements – combat, penalties for mission failure, quick-saving, etc.)

Also this weekend:  I was generously gifted a copy of Deux Ex: Human Revolution (Director’s Cut) on Steam, and so that was a lot of fun to go back to.  I didn’t notice much in the way of the advertised graphical or AI improvements, and I haven’t gone far enough to see the re-tooled boss fights, but the commentary is a really nice touch, and it was neat to re-approach the first few levels without the clunkiness of my first playthrough.

Also spent a little time with Eldritch, a Lovecraftian roguelike that looks like a Minecraft mod.  I’m not really all that into roguelikes, nor am I particularly into Minecraft, but I do love me some Lovecraft spookiness, and so I finished the first dungeon and am contemplating a return visit.

Finally, I spent a few hours with the new PC port of Enslaved, which is a game that I remember being really impressed with on the 360 – I recalled it being a colorful adventure in the vein of Uncharted, which is a game that I could stand to see more clones of, and in my “Best of 2010 feature” I specifically called out Heavy Rain and said:

See, Heavy Rain, this is how facial animation should be done.  Hell, this is how storytelling should be done.  There’s more said in a character’s face here than in 20 overwritten lines of dialog.  The relationship between the two lead characters was thoroughly believable and authentic.

The PC version for the most part looks incredible, although the camera has considerable moments of severe jank.  And for whatever reason, this second time around, the story seems to be moving a lot faster than I remember – especially in regards to the relationship between Monkey and Trip.  The game is still fun, though – and it’s also pretty neat to see how the combat in Ninja Theory’s reboot of DmC evolved from what they did here in Enslaved.  If you didn’t play it on the console, this PC version is definitely worth picking up for $20.

I seem to doom myself every time I promise a blogging schedule for the upcoming week, so I’m not going to do that now.  But as I said above, my larger project over the next few months is to reexamine this console generation.  As I’m probably going to hold off on getting a next-gen console (most likely the PS4, first) until next year, I anticipate having plenty of time to get caught up on some backlog titles, and to revisit the console games I felt compelled to hold onto (which is to say, the games I liked too much to want to trade back for credit).   When I consider my Top 10 of this generation, it’s mostly just off the top of my head – with the exception of Red Dead, which I recently played to get warmed up for GTA V, I haven’t played any of the other games in my Top 10 in at least a year or two.   And it turns out that I really want to play Portal 1 and 2 again.

GTA V: the conclusion, and what comes next

On Monday, I said that I wouldn’t write any more about GTA V until I finished it.

On Monday night, I finished it.   I pushed through the last 5 or 6 missions in one go, including the setting-up and execution of the last heist, and then finished the final tying up of loose ends.  The Social Club says I’m around 70% complete; I know I’ve still got Franklin’s assassination missions to do (and I’m glad I waited; it’ll be much more lucrative to mess with the stock market when I’ve got $20M in my account as opposed to $50K) and there’s a few strangers and freaks missions left – Trevor got a new one upon the game’s conclusion that, well… I’m curious to see where it goes, let’s put it that way.

Anyway, my original intention was to write about it yesterday – and I did get about 500 words into it –  but a situation arose; it would not be prudent to say much more in a public forum, as I’m still not 100% sure who reads this, but the short version is that I was not in the mood to write.  

I had to leave work early yesterday, as it happens, and I got to spend some much-needed time with my kid.  I was still in a highly agitated state when I left work, and I’d taken some prescription medication in an effort to calm down, but my kid managed to calm me down better than any pill ever has before.

That being said, even after this quality father/son time, I found myself still feeling a bit anxious and edgy, and so when I put him down to sleep I fired up GTA V again, purely because I needed to blow off some steam.  And so, finally freed from the constraint of narrative, I switched over to Trevor and did some of his Rampage missions.  Picked a fight with some soldiers outside an army base, grabbed a grenade launcher out of the back of their truck, and then just proceeded to blow the shit out of the ensuing jeeps, cargo trucks, and tanks.  I didn’t care if I died; I didn’t care about strategy; I didn’t even necessarily care about passing the mission.  I just needed to blow some shit up.

Of course, I needed to spend a few minutes driving there; and then, once I’d finally passed the mission, I needed to drive somewhere else, being that there wasn’t anything in the immediate vicinity to do.   I found myself missing Saints Row 4 just a little bit; what I wouldn’t have given to be able to zoom along at top speed and then jump a thousand feet into the air, gliding down from the desert back into the city.  

Speaking of which, I was listening to Monday’s alternate Bombcast (the one with Klepek and Navarro) and Patrick offered the insight (and I’m paraphrasing here – the moment comes at around 6:30 or so) that GTA V is at odds with itself; that the story and the main missions are so laser-focused that the game fails to take full advantage of, hands down, the greatest open world ever created.  And it occurred to me that this is the exact opposite problem that I had with Saints Row 4 – that SR4 takes incredible, mind-bending liberties with the sandbox but fails to make the sandbox itself all that interesting.

QUICK TANGENT

It’s funny – I’ve probably written close to 5000 words now about my experiences with GTA V and not once did I bring up Saints Row until just now, at the end, and I suppose it’s a little bit unfair, being that I couldn’t get through 2 sentences about anything Saints Row without comparing it to GTA.  To be fair, Saints Row 4 goes out of its way to compare itself to GTA before deciding to fly off the rails, whereas GTA has been willfully stubborn in acknowledging that other video games even exist (which is ironic, given that if you’re going to skewer and satirize American pop culture, you sorta have to acknowledge video games; and this is doubly ironic because GTA itself is seen as being largely responsible for all of the terribleness of today’s youth, if you ask Jack Thompson or Senator Leland Yee.)   Now, GTA V does include a few scenes of Michael’s asshole son playing video games; I seem to recall them being first-person-shooters, and indeed Jimmy does attempt to teabag a downed enemy in one of the last missions, so it’s not like Rockstar is totally in a bubble.  But it still is a bit weird.

END QUICK TANGENT, BEGIN NEW TANGENT

As long as we’re making comparisons, my perceived competitive relationship between GTA and Saints Row reminds me very much of my perceived competitive relationship between Gran Turismo (the gold standard) and Forza (the young up-and-comer).  Both Gran Turismo and GTA took several years between installments, and in that downtime both Saints Row and Forza went from hopeful clones to fully-qualified AAA titles in and of themselves.  I have no other insight into this comparison, other than to say that it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while, for no apparent reason.

END SECOND TANGENT

I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about GTA V.  I’ve played it almost every night since it came out, but I haven’t really thought about it all that much aside from the time I’ve spent writing these posts.  The world is, again, absolutely incredible; but the game itself can be tedious – when it’s not being in love with itself.  (The late-game heist mission that sees Michael mopping the floor was particularly egregious in this regard; on the one hand, I admire the balls they have for having you do something that ridiculous at that stage of the game.  But on the other hand, give me a fucking break.)

Honestly?  I think I prefer IV.  Ideally, I’d like to see the gameplay improvements in V placed back into IV – the combat, the regenerating health, the any-time quick-save option, the lessened penalties for mission failure/death.  IV’s narrative was dark, yes, but I also found it quite resonant and powerful, and I found Niko Bellic to be one of the most engaging player characters I’d ever seen.  V’s narrative is all over the place, and the characters are repugnant and repellant, and I found almost nothing to like about any of the people I was playing as or interacting with; there was no humanity to be found anywhere.  Perhaps they evaded “ludonarrative dissonance” by making these characters more likely to engage in the sorts of things they did, but that didn’t make them any more fun to be around.

And I also must admit to finding a lot of the game a bit tedious.  The first time you have a long drive to a mission, it’s legitimately interesting, because you’re experiencing the city and you’re engaged in the conversation along the way.  But towards the end of the game, it just dragged; if I started a mission and saw my GPS read anything over 3 or 4 miles, my heart sank a little bit.

That said, for the most part the missions themselves were pretty fun.  Driving to and from the missions could be annoying, but once I got to where I was going the action was satisfying and some of the grander set pieces were pretty spectacular.  I think they could’ve done a bit more with the heists – though I have a sneaking suspicion that more heists will arrive as paid DLC.

I haven’t mentioned the online portion of the game; to be honest, I haven’t played much of it.  I suppose I can admit now that I was part of the beta test, which was only up for around a week before the online part officially launched; if you thought the official launch was a technical disaster, well, the beta was even worse.  Connection problems, severe graphical glitches, all sorts of scripting problems; I was shocked to see that they were still going forward with the announced launch date, because I didn’t see how they’d be able to fix what was wrong in such a short amount of time.  

When I have gotten online, I’ve found the experience lacking.  Griefing is rampant and annoying; I got killed twice just trying to enter “passive” mode.  I haven’t played it with friends yet; I would hope that would be a lot more pleasant.  Doing co-op missions in Red Dead was some of the most fun I had online this generation; I think there are co-op missions in V, but I haven’t been motivated to look for them.

But I also kinda feel like I’ve had my fill, which is not something I ever thought I’d say this soon after any GTA’s release.  I may continue to poke and prod in the single-player game, trying to tidy up the side quests and maybe find a few more hidden collectibles, but I don’t feel myself drawn to it the way I have with past GTA games.  Maybe that’ll change now that the story’s over and I don’t need to hear these guys talk any more, and I can be free to see the world without all that nonsense.    

*     *     *

What comes next?  

That used to be my favorite game to play, trying to figure out how Rockstar would top the last title.  Being that we’ve all seen the enormous, unprecedented success of GTA V, it’s very safe to assume that there’ll be a GTA VI appearing on the new consoles, probably in at least 4-5 years; it’s also probably not a stretch to imagine that Rockstar will have already cut its teeth on the PS4 and the XBONE with the long-rumored sequel to Red Dead Redemption, given that the two franchises share a great deal of tech and DNA.  

But as for GTA VI itself?  I really have no idea.  I’ve been wrong every time I’ve tried to guess the city and the era.  (Though I still long to see them do mid-late 90s London, which – if nothing else – would have the best soundtrack of all time.)  They reinterpreted GTA3’s Liberty City in GTA IV, and they reinterpreted San Andreas in GTA V.  But I don’t think they’d revisit Vice City, because they seem to have moved away from period pieces; both IV and V are very much set in the present, and I’d be very surprised to seem them repeat themselves so obviously by going back to the 80s.  

Regardless, I find that guessing the city and era isn’t nearly as interesting to me anymore as it used to be.  Don’t get me wrong – I have no doubt that the world they’ll create will be astounding to behold, and that the graphical horsepower of the new consoles will allow them to do some truly remarkable things.  I am sure that the world of VI will make V seem as small and seemingly uninteresting as V has now made IV, and I do look forward to seeing it.

But my experience playing V has left me wanting.  The juvenile humor, the excessive vulgarity and profanity, the rampant misogyny and racism, the “satire” – I’m not prudish by any means, but these do not shock or titillate me anymore, nor do I find the satire all that amusing.  Indeed, the Daily Show packs more satirical insight about American culture in a single 30 minute show than in the entire 40+ hours I’ve already spent with V.  If we presume that VI would come out 5 years from now… well, I’ll be 43 by then.  I’m already feeling like I’m maybe a little bit too old for this franchise; I shudder to think how ancient I’ll feel if they’re still telling the same stupid dick jokes in 5 years.

The First Few Hours: GTA V

[Editor’s note: I am very much wanting to write about my first few hours with GTA V right now, but I’m also in the middle of a work-related anxiety attack.  I apologize in advance if whatever follows is gibberish.]

My weirdness about GTA V continues.  This weekend I was having GTA dreams; then, on Sunday night – the night before the game got reviewed – I got no sleep, and instead was having some sort of weird anxiety attack, part of which might very well have been triggered by review anticipation.   A wide assortment of badness happened on Monday morning and so I ended up staying home from work, and so I juggled taking care of the baby while also power-reading through the reviews from all the major sites (while being very careful to avoid the comment sections).

The reviews were more or less what I expected them to be – perfect or near-perfect scores, though not without some caveats, cautions and concerns.  And while I did manage to avoid the comment sections, it was the gaming press themselves on Twitter who reposted the commentariat’s vitriolic, frothing rage over point deductions.  Only on the internet does a 9/10 score get almost 20,000 comments simply because the reviewer dared to point out that the game engages in some misogynistic and racist behavior – behavior which is not unusual for the series but which, in this case, is especially troubling because it doesn’t necessarily seem to be as satirically designed as the rest of the game’s social commentaries.

Anyway, my copy of the game arrived on Tuesday, and I played it for 3-4 hours or so.  And now I’m all sorts of fucked up about it.

On the plus side: it’s technologically impressive as all hell, and by far the best looking game Rockstar’s ever made.   This is the first disc-based AAA game I’ve played on my 360 in months, I think, and I’m kinda blown away as to how good it looks.  I played Red Dead over the weekend and that game still looks terrific, but GTA V really takes it to the next level.   The city is colorful and crisp, the art direction is impeccable, and the animation is among the most convincing I’ve ever seen – especially the ragdoll physics, which are borderline creepy.

And as for the stuff on my wishlist, they pretty much nailed everything I wanted:

  • Failing a mission is much less punishing, and merely results in a mid-mission checkpoint restart.  YES.
  • Ambient events – I haven’t seen these for myself yet, but I watched some gameplay video yesterday and so I know they’re in there.  YES.
  • Miscellaneous challenges – GTA is a different sort of beast than RDR; I don’t know if there’s a treasure hunt yet.  Surely there are hidden collectibles, as there are in all GTA games, but I’ve never been good at finding them.  That said, the tennis mini-game isn’t terrible (though the camera is a bit low), and the golf isn’t terrible (though it’s not great, either) – I’m not sure I’ll play them again, but it was nice to see that there was at least some effort into putting those things together.  Still, I’ve only played for a few hours; there’s a million things I haven’t done or seen yet, and so the  JURY IS STILL OUT.
  • The combat system is very much improved.  Takes everything that worked from RDR and MP3 and further refines it.  Cover system works the way it’s supposed to; targeting works the way it’s supposed to; the radial menu works just fine. YES.
  • I threw in that bit about navigation almost as an afterthought, and yet that was addressed as well.  The new GPS system has a subtle 3D tilt to it, which makes navigation a lot easier (even if I find myself looking in the lower corner more than I’d like).  Still, I wasn’t expecting that, and they addressed it anyway.  YES.
  • Last but certainly not least, there is now a much-needed quick-save option.  This was the very first thing I tried once I had the opportunity.  YES YES YES.

On the negative side:  the short version is that I’m very, very glad that I was wearing headphones.  In the first few hours alone, the script uses more “n-words” than Quentin Tarantino writing a Sam Jackson monologue on 6 cups of coffee.  And I’m using Tarantino as an example because the Houser brothers, as far as I know, are just as white as Quentin is, and so it’s a little weird.  All the dialogue in the game has a stilted quality to it – I suppose it’s meant to sound very naturalistic, but it’s also a little over-eloquent and in love with itself.

And the characters themselves are not what you’d call “nice guys”.  It would be hard to expect them to be, and I’m not necessarily sure I’d want them to be – it’s weird enough playing Uncharted and pretending I’m the charming rogue Nathan Drake while killing 700+ people.  But these characters are ugly, and from what I hear they don’t necessarily get any more endearing, and if this game is as large as it appears to be, well, that’s a lot of hours I’m going to be spending while feeling rather uncomfortable.

I think my larger issue is that the GTA franchise – arguably the most important and influential gaming franchise around, and certainly my personal favorite – has the unique opportunity to do bold and interesting things.  (In fact, Rockstar does do bold and interesting things – in their non-GTA games, like Red Dead and Bully and even The Warriors (and, lest we forget, Table Tennis)).  The rest of the gaming world gets the hell out of the way whenever a GTA game comes out – it’s a special event, it’s something that everyone pays attention to.  These are important games.   And so I guess what I’m saying is that it would be nice if the narrative could rise to the occasion, and not just the technology.

the first hour: Call of Juarez Gunslinger

I knew that my life would change dramatically after my son was born, but I’m still occasionally surprised as to how far-reaching that change actually is.  As far as this blog is concerned, I knew I’d have less time to write, because I also knew that I’d have less time to play.  But while I also knew I’d be sleep deprived, I wasn’t necessarily prepared for my brain’s sudden inability to engage in critical thinking – or even coherent thinking.  When I try to come up with topics to write about, or even just opinions about games I might be playing, I generally get about as far as “I think this is pretty good” and then I just shut down.  Consequently, I often find myself sitting at my desk, staring at an empty post, feeling bad.

(I suddenly find it very strange to think that just a few months ago I was preparing to make some major career moves/concessions in an attempt to kickstart a professional videogame journalism career.  Considering my meager output of late and the lazy quality of what I’ve actually managed to publish over the last few months, I’d have been justifiably fired long ago.)

But I’m also feeling a bit disconnected from games in general.  I’m not sure if that’s because of the baby and my dramatically reduced availability for playtime, or if it’s simply that the release calendar is so dead right now.  My consoles are gathering dust because it’s exceedingly difficult to secure any alone time in the living room, but it’s not like my PC is getting much action either.  As I’d mentioned a few posts ago, I was able to successfully install a new hard drive in my PC, and I’d spent a lot of the last few weeks re-downloading stuff from my Steam library that felt “essential”, or that at least would be fun for a few free minutes while the kid was taking a nap.  But even the “essential” stuff  isn’t quite grabbing me the way it used to.   I’ve been sorta tooling around in Sleeping Dogs again (because I lost my save file when my old hard drive crashed), but that’s pretty much it.

This is more or less why I bought Call of Juarez Gunslinger last night – I needed something new, and when I’d read a few things that said that it wasn’t terrible, that was enough for me to pull the trigger (so to speak).   And I’m delighted to report that even though I’m only 2 missions in, I’m having a pretty great time.  It’s kind of a perfect game for me right now, in that it’s gorgeous-looking, the action is solid and enjoyable, and – most importantly – each mission is relatively short and self-contained, which is ideal for someone in my current (i.e., limited time) situation.

I have no familiarity with the CoJ franchise, and in any event Red Dead Redemption set the bar so high for games set in the Old West that I never bothered with anything else.  (Let me say, once again, that the lack of a PC version of RDR is, perhaps, the biggest bummer of this current generation.)  But as long as I’m making comparisons, the game it most reminds me of is Bastion; the game is narrated as you play it, and in a neat twist the narrator will occasionally switch up how the story is being told, so the action will rewind for a few seconds and then something different will happen.  It’s a novel touch and it keeps you on your toes and engaged in the story.

Action-wise, it’s more or less standard first-person shooting but with an arcade feel – you get XP with every shot that hits an enemy, and the XP changes depending on the quality of the hit – headshots score more than bodyshots, running enemies score more than stationary targets.    This is all to say that when you shoot an enemy, numbers fly out in a very satisfying manner.  There’s almost no enemy AI to speak of – outlaws will occasionally duck behind cover, but they generally stay in one place.  This is all fine, though.  It’s meant to be a shooting gallery, and the action is quickly paced – you’re constantly on the move, running through startlingly pretty environments, shooting your way out of trouble.

And then there are duels, which would appear to be a sort of boss battle mini-game.  You and your enemy size each other up, and as you do so your left thumbstick controls how far away your hand is from your gun, and your right thumbstick controls your “focus” – which has something to do with accuracy, although once you actually start the duel proper you suddenly have to aim again.  I’ve only done two of these, and so I’m still a little hazy on how to do them well, but they’re tense and exciting and pulling them off is very satisfying indeed.

XboxOne reveal impressions

It’s hard to not be a little disappointed that there weren’t more games announced at today’s XboxOne reveal, even though I think we all knew, deep down, that today’s reveal was about the actual box itself, and that if they blew their wad on game announcements today, there’d be nothing left to surprise us at E3.  Even the vague announcement of 15 exclusive games, including 8 all-new franchises, doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence – those 8 all-new franchises could very easily be new Kinect titles, which nobody will care about.

And it’s also just been revealed, via The Verge, that XboxOne will not feature backwards compatibility.  Not necessarily that big a surprise, but still.  The PS4 won’t feature back-compat either, but they will offer PS3 games via their cloud; it’s unclear if Microsoft will offer something similar.  (I bring this up specifically because the lack of a PC version of Red Dead Redemption means that the 360 is the last place I’ll be able to play one of my favorite games of all time.)

Still, though – it’s a good-looking device, and that new controller is sexy as all get-out.   If I’m less-than-crazy about the name, it’s because I already refer to the original Xbox as Xbox1.  But then again, I have no idea how to refer to my 3rd generation iPad, either.

The TV stuff – eh.  If it helps me to eventually be able to get rid of Time Warner Cable, I’ll be thrilled.  The snappiness of the Kinect functionality was impressive, though it’s unclear if that was real or not.  (I speak as someone who’s been using Kinect voice functionality to watch HBO with a baby in the room, and while it’s very nice to be able to say “Xbox Pause” when the baby needs attending to and I can’t find the remote, it’s also a little annoying when I say something to my wife and my Xbox starts fast-forwarding for no apparent reason.)

It’s too soon to pick a winner between PS4 and XboxOne until they start revealing games and release dates and prices.  Watch Dogs, which accompanied the PS4 reveal, has been confirmed to be an XboxOne title (as well as Assassin’s Creed 4); the Call of Duty stuff that closed out the show doesn’t interest me in the slightest.   And I’m not that big a fan of any of the 4 EA Sports titles they talked about (although, if they can introduce some of that new tech in Tiger Woods 16, I’ll be happy for the year delay.)  When they talked about the new cloud service and the 300,000 servers that will be powering this thing, they also seemed to imply that XboxOne would be able to handle MMO experiences; this bodes well for stuff like Bungie’s Destiny, but I wonder if they they are also ultimately talking about games like Dota and League of Legends.

(It’s also too soon to pick a winner, because we’ve yet to see the Steam Box.  And if I had to pick one, it’s entirely possible that’s the one I’d pick.)

What did you think?

Going back to New Austin; going back to Civ

So I guess I’m playing Red Dead Redemption again, for real.  The brief foray back into the multiplayer side reminded me just how much I enjoyed the single-player, and since there’s nothing else going on, I figured I might as well dive back in.  It feels like I’m rereading one of my favorite books; there’s no surprises anymore, but I’m already comfortable with the lay of the land, and I can better appreciate some of the subtler aspects at work.  For example, the relationship between John Marston and Bonnie MacFarlane at the beginning of the game is so incredibly well written and performed; there’s a tenderness between the two that’s genuinely touching, even though nothing will ever happen.

And I still maintain that it’s one of the most gorgeous games I’ve ever played.  Riding into the sunset is thrilling.  The environment really does feel dry and dusty, and yet the thunderstorms are earth-shatteringly intense.  I suppose the illusion falls apart every once in a while – I got sidetracked last night doing the 3rd Treasure Hunter mission, where the treasure is hidden away in the middle of a cliff, and so it became obvious that the rock face was just a texture map and not really as layered as it appeared from far off.  That’s nit-picking to the nth degree, and I kinda felt guilty for noticing it, to be honest.

I don’t know that I need to liveblog every RDR session from here on out, unless something truly blog-worthy occurs.

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Let me save you the worry – Wipeout: In the Zone is a piece of shit.  My wife and I are fans of the TV show, much in the same way that we’re fans of America’s Funniest Home Videos – we’re not proud of it, but watching people fall down is always funny.  And so it’s not like we had high hopes for the videogame, as licensed products are almost always terrible and it’s not like Wipeout is some bastion of high quality.  Still, though, it’s even worse than you’d expect.  The Kinect controls are horrendously unresponsive, which belies the whole point of the experience.  If you jump in real life, you expect your avatar to jump as well; if you crouch, your avatar crouches.  This is the 1:1 experience that Kinect is supposed to offer.  I’m not sure that the development budget for this Wipeout game was more than $75, though, and it’s clear that none of it was spent on getting the thing to work.

If you absolutely need an avatar-based obstacle course game to play, I would heartily recommend Doritos Crash Course, which (a) has working controls and (b) is actually kinda fun.  And I think it’s free?

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I’ve been trying to get into Civ World, the much-anticipated Civ title for Facebook.  Let me rephrase that – I did finally literally get into it (as the servers were melting when the beta finally opened up), but I’m having trouble figuring out just what I’m supposed to be doing.

That’s probably true of all the Civ games I’ve played, if I’m being honest.  I really enjoyed Civilization Revolution, and bought it for both XBLA and my DS (and I’ll admit to having the free version on my iPhone), even though I never played above the easiest difficult setting, and the one time I played multiplayer I got trounced in about 10 minutes – I was still sending out lone warrior units meant to conquer barbarians, and I think my opponent was already working with tanks.  Still, though, I really enjoyed the general idea of the thing, and so, because I’m a man easily obsessed and with little to no control over impulse purchases, I bought and played exactly one (1) game of Civ 4 on my PC, which I enjoyed, even though it’s rare that I have 8 uninterrupted hours to play with.  I also bought and played a few games of Civ V on my PC (and Mac – it’s one of the first things I installed when I got Steam up and running on the new MacBook); I was able to appreciate the differences between Civ 4 and 5, and certainly appreciated the few things it took from Civ Rev.

I still can’t get beyond the easiest difficulty level, though.  I work slowly.  To tell you the truth, one of the reasons why I got so addicted to Farmville was that I could take my time doing the things that needed to get done, with little to no resistance from the world at large.  My thing with the Civ games is that I get really into building up my little towns, and then before I know it it’s the 1900s and the other countries have submarines and bomber jets.

Anyway, so the thing with Civ World is that I’m kinda just making my little town, and my main issue is that I don’t seem to be getting enough Production out of my city.  I build houses but they’re not immediately settled, and I don’t know if they’ll ever be settled; the server is a bit wonky and unreliable.   Meanwhile, people are leveling up all over the place and doing all sorts of things that I’m nowhere near ready to do.  I’m still somewhat enjoying my little town, to be sure, but I know that I’m not necessarily playing the game the way it was intended to be played, which means that I’m doing it wrong.  And whatever enjoyment I might be getting out of doing whatever it is I do is tempered with the knowledge that the hard-core Civ players would laugh at me and tell me to go back to Farmville.

Oh well.

I’m not sure what’s on tap for the weekend; probably more Red Dead, and perhaps a little more of the Uncharted 3 beta, even though I’m still terrible at it.

Weekend Recap: fireworks and saddle sores

Back in the early 00’s, the AV Club used to have a somewhat regular feature called “Justify Your Existence” where they asked musicians one simple question:  “Why should anybody buy your record?”  I’m assuming they retired it because the vast majority of responses went something like this – “Oh, jeez, um… I’ve never had anybody ask me that.  I have no idea.”

To that end, I’m officially taking back anything nice that I may have said in last week’s thing about Alice: The Madness Returns, the sequel that nobody asked for to a game that a lot of people didn’t like.  Somewhere towards the end of Chapter 3 (out of 6!!!) I ran out of steam and patience.  Endless combat sequences stacked within endless platforming sequences, no rhyme or reason to any of it, and anything that may have been fun in the first few hours quickly grew tiresome.  To borrow a quote from Hannibal Lecter:  “Tedious.  Very tedious.”   I forget what exactly it was that got me to give up; it was either one of the incredibly stupid music sequences (similar in every way to the lute playing in Fable 3, except with very poor timing controls), or yet another combat sequence featuring not one but two frustratingly difficult enemies.  If someone were to ask the developers why anybody should play the game, they’d probably say “we’ve got a lot of great art!”  That’s only somewhat true.  There is a lot of great art, yes, but there’s even more dumb art that surrounds it, and it’s all too much.

It’s not that the game is bad; it’s just that it was never edited down, and as a result it’s hard to separate what’s necessary from what’s filler, and ultimately it all blends together.  For every truly imaginative location – and there are a few – there are at least a dozen more that aren’t all that imaginative – or they’re simply repetitive.  The player is continually bludgeoned with awe at every turn until the senses are dulled.

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I got back into Red Dead Redemption, of all things.  Rockstar was having a 4x XP weekend, and I needed something to cleanse the palate after sealing up my copy of Alice.  I’m still terrible at competitive multiplayer, but I still love exploring that world, and it was very easy to level up 4 or 5 times simply running Pike’s Basin over and over again.  I did a little bit of the Undead Horde mode, or whatever it’s called – it’s RDR’s answer to Gears’ Horde mode, and it’s a lot of fun (provided you have enough people – it’s very difficult with just 2).   I’m still amazed that there’s no PC version – I would love to see it on my monster machine.  Oh well.  The summer release schedule is looking pretty slow right now, and I can see myself losing many hours to running the single-player campaign again.

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I’ve managed to avoid doing too much damage in this year’s Steam Summer Sale.  They run sales so often that I more or less already own everything I’d want to buy.  I played a few minutes of Back To the Future Episode 1; it feels a little clunky, at least in terms of the controls.  I like those movies but I don’t adore them, which may contribute to my general feeling of “meh”.