weekend recap: the sneeze and the fury

[Note:  this post may be a bit rambly and incoherent; I’ve got a bad head cold and I’m working under maybe an hour of unrestful sleep (though I also did eventually have one of the most hilariously frustrating dreams I’ve ever had).  I did make it into work for some reason, though, so if this post does get rambly, it may also get distracted.]

Things to talk about today:

  1. Had to put Dishonored down due to a weird, game-breaking bug.  May take the opportunity to start over from scratch.
  2. Gave up on Resident Evil 6.
  3. Spent some quality time with XCOM Enemy Unknown.
  4. The difference between bad video games and bad movies.

1.  I was finally starting to get into Dishonored‘s groove.  At first I was incredibly intimidated by it (as I sort of am with most stealth games), as I wanted to try to be as stealthy as possible and not kill anyone, but I kept accidentally screwing up and suddenly finding myself in sword fights (that I often lost).  After a while, though, I decided that if the object of the game is to have fun, and if the game does in fact give you options for killing people in spectacular ways in addition to making it easier to sneak around, then, dammit, I was going to play it however the hell I wanted to.  To wit: mostly stealthy, but if push came to shove, then dudes were getting shivved.  No muss, no fuss.  And so everything was going great.  I was around 45 minutes into the third mission, doing a sidequest for Slackjaw who was going to help me gain entry into the Cat Parlor (or whatever it’s called).  I completed Slackjaw’s quest, and was on my way to head back to his distillery to turn it in, when the game suddenly told me I’d failed the quest, and even though none of his men were trying to kill me, he certainly was.  I didn’t understand what I’d done wrong.  Tried re-loading several times, tried entering stealthily as opposed to waltzing right in – but no matter how I entered the zone, as soon as I’d crossed some invisible barrier, the game decided I’d failed.  This was very, very frustrating (as you might imagine), and since I didn’t see any solution (beyond waiting for a patch), I decided to take it out of the 360’s tray and leave it alone for a little while.  Some quick googling revealed that a lot of people are having the same problem – not everyone, but enough for me to feel like it’s not just my own peculiar problem.  That being said, since I don’t know when the patch is coming (if indeed it’s coming at all), I might just take the opportunity to start over from scratch, now that I actually know what I’m doing.   (I’m still terrible at the melee combat, but I’m much better now at stealth.)

2.  In my annoyance at having to put Dishonored to the side, I decided to give Resident Evil 6 one last concerted push before sending it back.  To that end, I played a little bit more of Jake’s questline – his is the most action-oriented, he runs quickly, and it’s not so methodical as the other two.  Started running into weird problems early on, though, where Jake would only pick up certain objects.  In a game like RE6 where ammo is always scarce, it is INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING when you’re completely out of ammunition and there’s 3 boxes RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU that for whatever reason the game won’t let you pick up.  (And not just that it wouldn’t register a button press – it seemed to imply that I couldn’t carry any more, which was the exact opposite of my problem.)  Now, between the Dishonored bug and this apparent bug, and the fact that my 360’s been making some loud noises when I start it up, I started wondering if there was a larger issue at work, even though I don’t know how a hardware issue would affect lines of code on a disc.  Still, though, I continued to push on until HOLY SHIT THE SAME ENEMY THAT I’VE BEEN FIGHTING FOR THE ENTIRE GAME SHOWED UP AGAIN.  When even your poorly-written characters are incredulous about the shit that’s happening to them, to the point where they actually say out loud how goddamned ridiculous it is that they have to keep fighting the same monster over and over again, MAYBE IT’S TIME TO DO SOMETHING ELSE.

3.  So, what with Dishonored’s unfortunate glitch, and RE6’s bullshit, and the aforementioned loud noises that my 360’s been making lately, I decided to go back to my PC and spend some time with XCOM Enemy Unknown, which had been getting short shrift of late.  I am very pleased to report that unlike some games I could mention, XCOM actually works as advertised.  And even on the easiest difficulty setting, it is still challenging – there’s nothing more terrifying than moving your guys into what you think is appropriate cover, only to have a bunch of thin men show up and move to your un-covered flank, blasting you into smithereens.  I lost one of my best soldiers in such a manner, as it happens, and while I exacted a swift and merciless revenge on his killers, I’m still a little bummed about it.  That this feeling is the game’s intention is what makes the game special, and that it’s executed so well is what makes it remarkable.

4.  The wife and I re-watched Prometheus this weekend.  We’d seen it in the theater, and I can’t speak for my wife but I found it to be one of the most disappointing movie experiences I’d ever had.  Part of this is certainly because my own expectations were sky-high – those trailers looked absolutely amazing, and I was very much looking forward to what was appearing to be a well-made, hard science fiction / horror movie.  Instead, what I got was an exquisitely photographed piece of shit, with plot holes larger than the actual movie, stock characters that were loathsome when they weren’t being mind-bogglingly stupid, and Guy Pearce in some of the worst old-man makeup in cinema history.   I am not surprised (but still disappointed) to report that it’s even worse upon a second viewing.  Frankly, it was the sort of terrible that is normally associated with video game storytelling – indeed, one might make an apt comparison here to Resident Evil 6, another highly-anticipated game that ended up being a piece of shit in part because of its awful approach to narrative.  At least with Prometheus, the movie ends, eventually, thankfully, and I never felt like it was my fault that it was so terrible; it’s not like I could ever get better at watching it.  Whereas with RE6, I’m sure I could get better at shooting enemies, even if the game is maddeningly inconsistent at telling me if I’m doing any damage; I could also scour every nook and cranny of every level in order to find hidden skill point packages, and then replay every level over and over again to find those same skill point packages, and then eventually have enough points so that I can level up my characters with more powerful weaponry, higher ammunition counts, better defensive skills, etc.  This, in turn, might make the combat a little less dreary (if only because I could get through it a lot faster).  The game’s narrative problems, though; that’s not something I can improve with skill points.

maybe the last RE6 post for a while

As noted here and elsewhere, today marks the release of 2 probable GOTY contenders, XCOM Enemy Within and Dishonored, which means that any plans I might have made to finish Resident Evil 6 will most likely be put on hold for the foreseeable future.  I’m sure no one will mind/notice.

That being said, I played one more chapter of the Chris/Piers storyline last night, putting me at 2 chapters into each story.  I had to fight a boss that I’d already beaten (in Jake’s story), but even though I now had a much better idea of what the hell I was supposed to do, I still had a very difficult time doing it.

Part of the problem, as you’ve surely heard by now, is that each storyline has its own gameplay style/focus.  Leon’s story is classic Resident Evil – slow, methodical exploration of scary-looking buildings.  Jake’s story involves a lot of running, jumping and obstacle avoidance.  And the Chris/Piers story is mostly combat-focused – Chris is a machine-gunning heavy, and Piers is a sniper.  That each story has its own style is fine, I suppose, but why then is each story bogged down by the same contrivances?

Specifically, Chris/Piers start each mission with very little ammunition.  This is a classic staple of the Resident Evil experience, but in this particular case it is literally nonsensical.  Considering that Chris and Piers are military personnel, why the fuck are they chronically low on ammo?  How would they expect to win any battles or kill any monsters without bullets?  (I am reminded of a similar complaint during a pivotal scene in the movie Aliens – “What are we supposed to use, man, harsh language?”) 

Indeed, if Piers is the sniper, why does he almost never have any sniper ammunition, especially considering that his other weapon is a piece of shit machine gun that requires at least 5 headshots just to slow an enemy down?  This makes absolutely no sense, and consequently leads to extreme frustration; I spend most of my time running around kicking dudes to death just to save my ammunition (even though I have not yet sufficiently leveled up my sniping skills so that it would make much of a difference – Piers jerks his scope around as if he’d drank 8 cups of espresso before heading out into the field, making long-distance sniping comically impossible).  In a way, I suppose it actually helps that the J’Avo – the mutated insurgents in the Chris/Piers storyline – display some of the least impressive AI I’ve ever seen in a game this side of 1998; they either stand in place, oblivious, or they run right past me.  (However, their snipers are better than Oswald, those fucking assholes.)

So, to get back to the top of this post – I’d already beaten this boss as Jake, who doesn’t have that much ammunition to begin with.  But I figured Chris and Piers, being military dudes with powerful guns, would be able to take the B.O.W.s down with a little more finesse.  No such luck; I had to do the same exact shit in the exact same way, still receiving no apparent feedback as to how I was progressing – and this time, without being able to rely on my weapons.  What’s the point?  I didn’t learn anything in the 2nd encounter that I hadn’t already learned in the 1st, except that I had a better idea of who Chris and Piers were (though I didn’t need to replay the boss to learn that stuff).

I’m starting to wonder, now, why I’m so determined to see this game through to the end; the more I think about it, the angrier I get.

it gets better

1.  This weekend was insanely busy for me, and so I’ve advanced no further in Resident Evil 6 since Friday night’s session.   Here’s the weird part:  despite everything that annoys me about it, I must admit that I kinda want to keep playing it, even if I can’t really explain why.  I suppose it’s partially because I want to check out the 4th campaign, which only unlocks after you finish the first 3.  Finishing the first 3 campaigns, though, looks to be a rather sizable time investment, which may be a problem, because…

2.  …have you seen what’s coming out this week?  Between XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Dishonored, both of which are getting superlative reviews, my plate is full.  Not to mention that Episode Four of The Walking Dead lands later this week, too.  I think my earlier pronouncement of 2012 being a huge disappointment is about to get kicked in the ass.  I’d kept an eye on Dishonored but only ever considered it a rental, something to check out in an idle hour.  From everything I’ve read, though, it looks like it might be my GOTY.  (So much for keeping my expectations in check.)

3.  I did play around an hour’s worth of The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, thinking it might be fun to play with the wife.  I shall not be making that mistake again.  The solution to the tutorial mission’s crime – which is to say, the very first thing you play – is so convoluted and insane that I found the game impossible to take seriously.  The voice acting is stilted beyond belief – and it’s certainly not aided by some of the poorest lip-syncing in recent memory (seriously – if you can’t get it right, don’t even bother trying).  I’m sending it back ASAP.  I love a good adventure game, but this one’s flaws outshine whatever strengths it may have.

4.  On the mobile gaming front, I’ve been addicted to Super Monsters Ate My Condo, an updated release of  PikPok / Adult Swim’s strange yet endearing puzzle game.  It’s a vastly improved package over the original, with meta-missions and challenges and power-ups and boosts and the rest of it.  The only bummer is that you can’t listen to your own music while playing; otherwise I’d never put my phone/iPad down.

5.  I feel terrible for saying this, but I think I’m going to give up on Torchlight 2.  I squeezed in another hour or so over the weekend and I just don’t care about what I’m doing.  I may still be burned out from Diablo 3, or maybe I’m just turned off by how “cheap” T2 continues to feel.  Oh well.

It is entirely possible that a new Couchcast will arrive this week, depending on schedules.  I’m also hoping to line up some new guests for future episodes, too, just to keep the thing moving.  (I’m well aware that tiny podcasts for tiny blogs are not necessarily the most compelling content to seek out, but I’d like to get better at the format.)

the first few hours: RE6

After all that, I didn’t take my own advice; home with a shitty stomach (as per usual), I’m now 5 chapters into Resident Evil 6.  Per Kotaku’s advice, I skipped around a bit and did 2 chapters of Leon, 2 chapters of Jake, and (at the time of this writing – late Friday night) I just finished 1 chapter of Chris.

So after 7 or 8 hours or so, here’s what I can say:  it’s not the gigantic turd I’d been led to expect; but neither is it hot shit.  It is a weird, frustrating mess, to be sure, but it’s also really ambitious, and I can certainly appreciate that they’re not just recycling the same old crap like other big-named franchises I could name.

Because it’s getting late and because this upcoming weekend is busy, here are some random, unedited thoughts that I’m just going to throw out there:

  • you can’t pause, which is ridiculous.  no reason for it.
  • there is a tutorial to keep you up to speed on how the QTEs work, but not one for how to manipulate your inventory so that, say, you can toss a grenade.
  • not scary.  at all.  the monsters aren’t creepy, and can also be a bit unintentionally funny at times (like the upside-down lobster-monsters in Chapter 1 of Chris/Piers).
  • the script is ridiculous; cliche after cliche; there is no context for anything.  things just happen and it’s unclear why you should be concerned about them.
  • if one character has something to tell the other character, they should have a very good reason for waiting to tell them besides “you wouldn’t believe me if i told you”, especially when they’re shooting monsters.
  • the melee controls are awful and inconsistent, and sometimes are hilarious; at least the AI looks ridiculous when they miss on their melee attacks, too, though.
  • i was super-addicted to the medallion hunting in RE5; consequently I’m looking at every nook and cranny in RE6, although I’m still missing some (which is annoying, especially when the game shows you one right before a door closes that you can’t open again); more annoying, though, is that the payoff is simply a text description for a story beat.  on the plus side, though, the environmental graphics looks great.
  • enemy placement is absurd.  the 2nd chapter of Jake’s story is in a dark snowy mountain pass with no visibility, which follows a sudden helicopter crash.  why are there enemies there?  hell, why are there LADDERS there?  that whole level is insane.
  • i’m fucking done with enemies who won’t die.
  • the game is remarkably inconsistent in terms of telling you how you’re doing.  some regular zombies die in one shot; other regular zombies take a whole clip to the face.  some regular zombies die with one boot stomp; other zombies will override your stomping animation and chew your face off.  and forget about boss monsters; there is absolutely no way of knowing if anything you’re doing is working or not.  if you stay alive long enough while pumping bullets in its direction, you may end up killing it; or you may get killed by a random zombie who’s suddenly spawned behind you, because the camera is terrible.

And yet, despite all this, despite how nonsensical the story is and how stupid the characters are, and despite the fact that I’ve wanted to give up on the game at least a dozen times today, I’m kinda still compelled to keep going.  I don’t know that I’ll end up finishing it, especially with XCOM coming out, but I kinda want to keep pressing on.  So we’ll see how that goes.

do/do not: RE6

Do I?  Or don’t I?

My rental copy of Resident Evil 6 arrives either today or tomorrow, and I’m legitimately torn between sending it right back unopened, and actually giving it a go and seeing how far I can sit with it.

I have no great allegiance to the franchise.  I think I talked about this when I talked about the demo last week, but to recap:  I never owned a PS1, but I played a little bit of RE2 on my friend’s console – definitely jumped off the couch when the dog jumped through the window, but the controls never felt quite right in my hands.  I bought Code Veronica for the Dreamcast, and I remember sort of enjoying it, though I never finished it.  When I finally bought the Wii, RE4 was one of the first games I bought for it, and I hated it.  I fumbled around in the first chapter for 20-30 minutes, fighting the controls, and finally gave up.  RE5, on the other hand?  Loved the hell out of it.  It was goofy, silly, and not at all scary; but it was also gorgeous, and the controls made sense, and it did more to encourage multiple playthroughs than almost any other game I could think of – there were so many cool things to collect and unlock and upgrade.

To say that RE6‘s reviews have been mixed is to put it incredibly kindly.  Looking only at the scores and pull quotes, you would think that the reviewers were sent completely different sets of code, from completely different builds.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a discrepancy in scores in such a high-profile game.   I don’t know what to believe.  (Though the arguments I’ve heard against playing the game sound pretty goddamned persuasive.)

Here’s my deal:  I’m not really playing anything at the moment.  I’m sorta doing a second playthrough of Borderlands 2 in True Vault Hunter mode*, and at some point I want to give Torchlight 2 another try, and I’ll be devouring XCOM next week.  But if RE6 were to arrive today, it wouldn’t be displacing anything in my agenda.

And yet… I’m not in the mood to have my time wasted.   Like I’ve said before – RE4 was universally loved, but I hated it.  RE5 was met with relatively solid and respectful reviews, but I ended up loving the hell out of it.  The reviewers are all over the place on RE6, but the reviewers I generally trust all seem to be in agreement that it’s a massive disappointment… even though they also agree that the game has an astounding amount of content (which scratches that same itch that RE5 satisfied so thoroughly).  I’ve heard that it’s at least as long as one playthrough of Borderlands 2, which is, what, 40 hours?  Jesus.


Like I said last week (or whenever it was) – I played the demo with no preconceptions and no expectations, and even though I only played one campaign (of the available 3) for around 10 minutes, I wasn’t really all that impressed with what I saw.  It was hard to know how much of that was due to the state of the code (the demo does say that it’s not based on a final build), and how much was due to it being actually shitty.  And I don’t know how much shittiness I’m willing to put up with, especially when it comes to a franchise that I have no real strong feelings towards.

A lot of my waffling here is partly because I had too much caffeine this morning and needed something to write about; I’m not, like, agonizing over this.  But it’s also because I’m torn between (1) wanting to be part of the conversation and (2) being aware that I’m not a professional game journalist and thus the conversation is really just a soliloquy.  You’re not going to be missing out on anything here if I don’t end up writing about it.

And yet… I’m just so goddamned curious.  RE6 appears to be one of the highest-profile flops of the last few years, perhaps even of this entire console generation.  But even with its control issues and weak story and everything else that’s wrong with it, there’s also a lot of stuff in it that sounds quite interesting (at least in theory).  That mode where you can jump into a stranger’s game as an enemy?  That sounds inspired.  (Even if it’s inspired by Dark Souls.)

As it happens, the rest of this week and the upcoming weekend is going to be incredibly busy for me anyway, so I’m not sure I’d get all that much time with it before XCOM starts pre-loading.  Which ultimately leads me to ask… why bother?


* In case you don’t know, True Vault Hunter Mode is basically New Game +.  You keep your current inventory, your level, and your badass perks, and then you start all over again with enemies that are also levelled up.  I’ve played it for around an hour or so, and have already looted an amazing shield, shotgun, and sniper rifle.  (Still looking for a better assault rifle, though; it’s my default weapon and I’ve been using the same one for the last 6 hours of playtime.)

weekend recap: many dead things

I probably added around 12-15 hours to my Borderlands 2 campaign after Saturday’s post.  I have a lot more to say about it.  But before I do, there’s a couple other things to talk about:

– Firstly, one can’t talk about cel-shaded graphics without talking about Jet Set Radio, and when I needed a break from Borderlands 2 this weekend I remembered that I’d downloaded the XBL demo of Jet Set Radio HD.  I’m thrilled that a lot of beloved old games are getting HD remasters, but I’m also noticing a recurring problem – the games always played better in my memories than in my hands.   (The Tony Hawk HD thing from earlier this summer also comes to mind.)  JSR looks absolutely fantastic – after all these years, that art style is still brilliant – but it also feels incredibly stiff in my hands, and I found myself making the exact same mistakes in maneuvering that I did 10 years ago (or however long ago it was).  That being said, I still love the HD remastering treatment, and I can’t say it enough – I would LOVE to see a Skies of Arcadia remaster.  FACT:  JRPGs don’t have the same control problems that 3D action games do.  Let’s make this happen!

– Speaking of demos, I also played a tiny taste of the demo for Resident Evil 6.  There are three different chapters in the demo, and I played around 10 minutes of the first one on the list.  (I’m not a big enough fan of the franchise to really care about it one way or the other; I’m well aware that I’m one of the only people on the planet that thinks that RE5 is a much better game than RE4.)  So, the biggest thing, obviously, is that you can move while aiming!  Welcome to 2012!  And yet, it’s still incredibly awkward-looking!  I sometimes feel that the developers of these Japanese mega-franchises – RE, MGS, FF, etc. – live in a hermetically-sealed bubble, unaware of the advancements in animation, storytelling, and general gameplay conventions that have transpired over the last 20 years.  I appreciate their slavish devotion to keeping each game true to its roots, but, I mean, Jesus Christ.  Have they never seen people walking around and carrying guns in other games or films or TV shows?   Besides that, it should also be noted that the graphics look a little rough – RE6 is nowhere near as nice and clean and crisp as RE5, though this may be because the demo is an early build.  In any event, I didn’t really have RE6 very high on my priority list, and this demo didn’t really do anything to change that.  It’s still on the GameFly queue, for whatever that’s worth.

– At some point this weekend I received an email that included a code for the first DLC for Darksiders 2 – Argul’s Tomb.  As much as I love that game, I’ve gotta say that this little self-contained mini-adventure was a little… meh, actually.  I hate using that word unless I have to, but that’s pretty much the best way of putting it.  It’s around 2 hours long, there’s no achievements, it’s very combat heavy, and none of the loot I picked up was particularly good.  It’s free, though, so it has that going for it, which is nice.

– I am an idiot.  I wanted to try out Steam’s Big Picture Mode on my HDTV this weekend, but it wasn’t until I’d moved everything around that I realized that my PC didn’t have an HDMI out, and that I didn’t have an adapter.  Oh well.

– It’s just as well, anyway, because had I gotten it to work, I would’ve ended up playing Torchlight 2, but with a keyboard and mouse on my couch, which would be weird.  I did spend 5 minutes with T2, actually, but the honest truth is that I think I’m still recovering from my Diablo 3 overdose, and left- and right-clicking for hours and hours just doesn’t seem all that enticing.  I will get to it eventually, though.


OK.  Let’s get back to Borderlands 2.  I’m now around 24 hours in, and my commando is probably level 23 or 24.  (I really ought to write that stuff down before I begin a post.)

For the first dozen hours or so, I only had around 3-4 quests in my to-do list at a time – a main story quest, and then some optional side stuff.  Then a major story event happened (you’ll know it when you see it), and when I shook the dust off and got back to the main city, I’d found that the game suddenly opened wide up, and 20 new side-quests appeared in my quest log.  And so, now, I’m tackling all the side stuff, because the side stuff is, quite frequently, absolutely brilliant.

I have come to appreciate that the game does not take itself seriously.  At first, a lot of the dialogue came off as silly and adolescent (there literally is a “Bonerfart” joke – or is it “Fartboner”?) but as I’ve delved deeper into the side quests and gotten to know the characters a bit more thoroughly, I’ve seen that the game’s got some serious depth in its writing – even if, as I said on Saturday, the overall narrative lacks any real weight.  There are 2 moments that stand out in particular, and I’ll try to keep them spoiler-free (while at least alerting you as to where they are):

1.  Mission:  The Overlooked: “This Is Only A Test.”   The end of this mission was the first time that I’ve literally laughed out loud during a game since Portal 2, probably.  It’s a totally unexpected, expertly delivered, and deeply satisfying punchline, all of which comes after a very tough firefight and (at least for me) a reluctance to even do the thing I was asked to do, being that I didn’t think it was going to work.  (Fuckin’ Dave.)

2.  I can’t remember the mission name, but it was a side mission I was doing in the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve, which ultimately resulted in discovering the true nature of the relationship between Tiny Tina and Flesh-Stick (two characters that I’d met under completely different circumstances, 10 hours previously).  I normally hate how games use tape recordings to tell stories – it feels lazy and contrived and has become almost as ubiquitous as crates – but in this particular case the final reveal was shocking and very, very dark, and when I think about it now I’m not sure there’s a better way to tell that particular story.  Especially since there was no real reason to even include it, and especially since I very nearly walked right over it without even knowing it was there.  This made its discovery hit surprisingly hard, and caused me to think about my last interaction with those two characters in a much different light.   (It called to mind a similar hidden, optional thing I discovered in Psychonauts – during Milla’s psychedelic training level, there’s a hidden room where you discover a rather horrible truth about Milla’s past.  It’s a moment that rings true, though – it’s not manipulative or hollow – and so it carries a great weight.)

*    *    *

I find that even as I’ve improved a great many of my skills (including dramatic (and very necessary) reductions in my reloading time), I still get fatigued with the game’s core action.  This is not the game’s fault, of course – I’ve had a long-standing fatigue problem with the entire shooter genre, and it’s a tribute to everything else that Borderlands 2 does so well that I’m still as heavily invested in the game as I am.  I have no problem fighting my way to an objective, but once I’m done, I run like hell all the way back – I’ll throw down a turret if I have to, to thin out the crowd, but my overriding attitude is “fuck it, I’m done shooting.”  I’ve killed so many goddamned things already, and I’m not even sure that I’m halfway through the game, which makes me shudder at the thought of how many more goddamned things I have to kill.   (Especially if there are Threshers.  Oh, how I hate threshers.  Relentless bullet-sponging bastards, all of them.)

It would be nice if there were other things to do besides shooting, I guess.  (Well, there is a quasi-murder mystery in Sanctuary, but it plays out quite a bit differently than the one in Skyrim.)  I’m not saying this game needs box-pushing puzzles or crafting or anything, and I know I’ve not even come close to seeing everything there is to see and so it’s entirely possible that I’ll run into something that doesn’t involve heavy pressings of the trigger buttons over extended periods of time.   But.  The game’s relentless action can be a bit exhausting, is all I’m saying.

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