Red Dead Rumination

So I guess we need to talk about this.


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.


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.

some clarity behind a #vaguepost

I was out of commission earlier this week, and that’s maybe not even the right way to say it.  I was run over by a virus, which left me as a barely functioning human being.  My kid had been sick, and then my wife got sick, and between helping them both out and dealing with getting the driveway cleared of 2+ feet of snow, followed by a few too many celebratory glasses of scotch, it was only a matter of time before my immune system collapsed.

There are sick days, and then there are sick days.  Some sick days I can still get some stuff done; I can read, I can sit on the couch and play a game, I can try to do some writing.  But whatever I had earlier this week just completely wrecked me.  I spend most of those days horizontally, unable to keep my eyes open yet also unable to sleep, alternating between freezing and sweating every 20 minutes, just trying to stay comfortable as best I could.

So this is why I have very little to report.

I have.. um.. quite a lot I want to say, but this is probably not the best spot for that sort of thing.  If I could remember my Livejournal password I’d probably talk about it over there.  But the short version is that in December 2014, after going through my college diary for research for a writing project I was about to start, and then crumbling under the weight of 10,000 memories I’d completely misplaced and all these friendships that I’d allowed to wither, and especially all the romantic relationships that ended in something just short of chaos, I’d sent what I thought was a very sincere, heartfelt apology to someone that I’d hurt.  I had no ulterior motive.

Two days ago, I heard back.  And.. the response sorta defies belief.  My apology may have been “self-indulgent” and “masturbatory”… but the response is so bewilderingly inconsistent in its tone and message that it almost doesn’t make sense.  (You can’t write an email this hostile and then say, with a straight face, that you literally don’t care.)  The response also made sure to tell me that my original apology – which was, again, written in December of 2014 – was also apparently used as a stand-up comedy routine, so… there’s that.

I can’t even get mad at the fact that the email was used in a comedy routine, considering that I’m currently trying to finish an album that covers that specific period of my life.  It’s funny, though, because for all this time I was approaching this particular angle in a very specific way, and now, suddenly, the angle has changed utterly and completely.  The door is closed.  That question is answered.

I stopped playing those sorts of games at least 16 years ago.

As for regular pop-culture stuff, again, I don’t have much to say.  Before I got sick I was trying to grind my way up to an appropriate level in Witcher 3 so that I could finally play some of the new DLC, but I’m still a long ways off; then the cold got me, and I knew I didn’t have the motor skills to even pretend to be competent.  On Tuesday I played the first 30 minutes or so of The Witness before getting stumped, but in fairness, my brain was a bowl of cold oatmeal at the time.  I’d like to get back to it shortly.  I did finish the Baba Yaga DLC for Rise of the Tomb Raider, which was 2-3 hours of more Tomb Raider, which I’m happy to have.

I’m around 2/3 of the way through Cixin Liu’s “The Dark Forest“, which is still very absorbing.

I’ve not been listening to much music beyond my own tracks; I’ve been trying to work on lyrics for a bunch of things at once, and I need to focus on them as opposed to listening to outside stuff, which at this point is a distraction.

Anyway: I’m alive.


Shameless Plugs, Raiding Tombs, GOTY prep

1. OK – first thing’s first, my gigantic essay about my history with the Metal Gear Solid franchise is finally available in this similarly gigantic Unwinnable double issue.  It’s one of the longest things I’ve ever written, and if you’re a big fan of MGS then (a) you’ll probably hate it, although it also follows that (b) you’re probably not reading my blog.  But anyway, if you want to read 3000+ words about me v. Kojima, get to it!  There’s a ton of other great stuff in this issue, and I’m pleased as punch to be in it.

2.  As it turns out, I was correct after all – I only had a little bit left in Rise of the Tomb Raider, and it went pretty much as I expected it to.  After the credits rolled, I went back into the story (where there’s an additional coda before you regain control), finished the last Challenge Tomb, and now I’m at 91% completion.  That’s not bad for a first run!  That remaining 9% is still pretty substantial/time-consuming, and it’s not really all that impossible to achieve, either, so I may end up going for 100% if I get overwhelmed by Fallout 4.

My quibbles with RotTR’s story aside, I think it’s an excellent sequel to an already excellent first game, and I’m very happy indeed with where the franchise currently stands.  I think the move to make it a timed console exclusive probably did wonders in terms of focusing development; there’s a level of polish here that really shines through, and it’s abundantly clear that a lot of love and care went into building this thing.

And while I’m still a little “meh” as far as the combat goes – especially as everything else is really, really good – the game doesn’t feel as grotesque about murder as, say, Uncharted.*   There’s still too much killing, and I’m not sure that any of these kinds of games will ever be able to avoid it – even the first 3D Prince of Persia had too much of it and didn’t really know what to do with it.  But at least there’s a LOT more non-combat stuff to do here, and I’m all for it.

3.  So here’s what the rest of the gaming year is looking like:  I’m gonna be starting Fallout 4, possibly tonight.  There’s gonna be some Battlefront, and maybe my buddy and I will continue to slog through Halo 5 in online co-op.  I’m going to give Just Cause 3 a rental, just ‘cuz.  And… I think that’s it, as far as new stuff goes.  I do kinda want to get back to some of the Witcher 3 DLC, even though the New Game + mode was kicking my ass in ways that were not all that pleasurable.

Which means that I guess I can start working on GOTY stuff in earnest, or at least once I get 10-20 hours of Fallout under my belt.

* Indeed, after having recently replayed the first halves of all three of the original PS3 games, I’m a little concerned about the upcoming Uncharted 4; the parts that I love of those games do not appear to be the same parts that everyone else does, and I suspect that U4 will be far more combat- and action-heavy than I’d like.


The Next Few Hours: Rise of the Tomb Raider

It’s mid-November, which means that I’m already starting to consider my various year-end posts.  It also means that I’m just a few weeks away from my birthday – and this year I’m turning 40, which means that I’m also doing a lot of navel-gazing and fretting and such.

Some things never change.  My greatest anxiety as a little kid is, for the most part, still my greatest anxiety now – that the people I care about the most do not necessarily feel the same way; that if we were to list the 10 most important people in our lives, that I would not appear in the various Venn diagrams that I could draw from my own list.  It’s pointless to get anxious over things that you can’t control, and in any event I have no idea of proving that any of this is true (even though I actually do happen to know one specific instance in which this is, in fact, true), and yet… it bothers me, it worries me, I get bent out of shape all too easily over this sort of thing.

I bring this up only because if it starts to get a little moody in here over the next few weeks, you’ll have a better idea as to why.

I think I’m approaching the end of Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s campaign; given the relatively by-the-numbers plot rhythms, I’m almost positive that the end is but a few hours away.  The MacGuffin is relatively close by, and the inevitable tug-of-war-followed-by-the-boss fight will surely take place shortly thereafter.  (I was totally right about the identity of one of Lara’s allies, by the way, and the actual reveal was so anticlimactic given the circumstances that I’m now wondering if (a) I missed something, (b) it was supposed to be obvious, or (c) somebody fucked up.)

I feel obligated to acknowledge that it makes me feel weird to be so dismissive of the game’s story.  I don’t know why that is; it’s not like I have any personal stake in the game beyond the time I’ve spent playing it.  I suppose there’s a part of me that feels shitty to be criticizing Rhianna Pratchett’s writing, given that the story of Lara Croft and the loss of her father (as Lara follows in her father’s footsteps) must have been written while Rhianna was herself mourning the loss of her own father, the great writer Terry Pratchett.  Which is to say – you can’t help but notice the similarities, whether or not they’re intentional.  I know nothing of Rhianna’s relationship with her own father, and I’m reluctant to make any presumptions in that direction – she’s an incredibly talented writer anyway, surely she’d be able to write about this topic regardless of her own personal situation.

I suppose another way of looking at the Tomb Raider narratives is that they’ve always been secondary to the action.  The recent reboot wasn’t even really about the MacGuffin as much as it was about Lara Croft becoming and evolving into the iconic character that we already know.  In this second game, she’s certainly far less squeamish about killin’ dudes, and she’s never seriously injured in the way that she was in the first; her emotional character arc is about avenging her father’s death, and then switches over to helping some local villagers who live near and guard the MacGuffin, and I suspect that in the end, she’ll defeat the bad guys and do whatever the morally correct thing is with the object she’s been searching for.

It’s window dressing, ultimately, because everything else is really enjoyable.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I enjoy Rise of the Tomb Raider’s challenge tombs and how much I appreciate and respect the amount of time and care that went into building them.  The tombs in the first game were so short – one tiny room, one 5-minute puzzle – that they felt like afterthoughts.  In this game, the designers really do commit to them, for the most part; each tomb is big and multi-layered and the puzzles present a really pleasing level of challenge, and the levels themselves are just flat-out gorgeous and atmospheric and feel suitably epic.  And the rewards you get for solving them are neat little special powers – like having herbs and craftable items automatically glow and appear on the map, etc.

The last game that I can think of that took these puzzle/platforming levels this seriously and with this much care would probably be Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, which had those ‘Lairs of Romulus’, and which were similarly my favorite parts in those games.


Lastly, a word about the upcoming publishing schedule here at SFTC HQ:  the day job is about to get super-ridiculously-busy, so there’s probably not going to be a lot going on here.  I’ll post some impressions of Battlefront soon, and once I’m done with Tomb Raider I will finally get settled into Fallout 4, and that’ll be that.  I’m also getting started on my Year in Reading posts, and I’m really looking forward to finishing my Favorite Sentences of 2015 post; that’s going to be a fun recurring feature in the years to come.

And eventually I’ll be getting around to the inevitable Game Of The Year post, though I can tell you right now that it’s probably going to be a little sad.  I look at my spreadsheet and it looks miniscule compared to years past.  Oh well.


I’ve written here before about the Fear of Missing Out, and my compulsion to play as many of the Hot New Games as soon as possible in order to be a Participating Member in the Larger Conversation, which really just means that I’ll be able to read other people’s essays and Twitter conversations and have at least a passing, baseline understanding of what they’re talking about.

To that end, I should say right now that I have not yet played Fallout 4.  And I’m OK with that, even if it’s ridiculous; after all, I did spend some not-unsubstantial money on the Pip-Boy edition.

I’m rationalizing my decision to wait by saying that (a) I’d rather wait until the bugs are patched out, and (b) hey, I’m really enjoying Rise of the Tomb Raider and I feel like NOBODY’S talking about that one, and so if someone’s going to be talking about it, why not me?

But a larger truth about my reluctance to start Fallout 4 is that I’m a little intimidated by it.  As much as I love Bethesda’s open-world games – and I’ve devoured Oblivion, Skyrim and Fallout 3 to death – they are tough nuts to crack open at the start.  Even just creating a character causes a fair amount of paralysis; if I throw my previous Fallout experience out the window and just start from scratch, I have to agonize over each stat point, and how I want to look, and even the gender I’d like to play.  I don’t want to build someone that sucks; my first time building a character in FO3, I built this incredibly strong melee character (since that’s how I normally roll in the Elder Scrolls games) and it took me 4-5 hours of frustration and constant death to realize that strength and melee toughness is no match for at least basic gun skills.  I want to build the right character, and I don’t know enough about what I’m going to face to know how to get it “right”.

It’s interesting to me that, ordinarily, I like being able to create my own character.  I certainly love it in Bioware’s games; I steered my FemShep through the entirety of the Mass Effect trilogy twice, and I loved my Dragon Age: Inquisition character.


One thing that I’d like to eventually explore here is the psychological difference between playing your own customized character and playing as a known quantity (i.e., Lara Croft, Nathan Drake, Master Chief, any Assassin’s Creed protagonist, etc.).  Certainly you have a much greater degree of ownership over your own created character than you would with a franchise star like Lara Croft if only because Lara Croft doesn’t have any dialogue trees; her interactions with other people are scripted and filmed and that’s when you get to put the controller down.  And yet part of the experience of playing as Lara is that she is an interesting and compelling character in her own right, and you want to see what happens to her; you’re guiding the adventure, even if you’re not in control of the plot. (If I were to actually pursue this line of thought, obviously I’d have to talk about the Bioshock games, which go to great lengths to subvert whatever sort of autonomy you think you have over your avatar.)


Anyway, so:  I’m playing the hell out of Rise of the Tomb Raider and it’s definitely pushing all the necessary buttons right now.  It’s only when I’m not playing it that the cracks start showing.

Certainly there are nits to pick here and there – shooting feels slow and unresponsive, which might be the game’s subtle reminder to play stealthily because the game rewards you with a hell of a lot more XP that way, and there’s a skill you can unlock that auto-headshots up to three enemies with your bow that essentially clears out rooms faster than they can be re-filled.  But this is hardly that big a deal, in that the combat sequences (thus far, at least) are over with relatively quick (unlike, say, in the Uncharted games, which rely on extended gunplay sequences to their detriment).

The story is… well, I’m trying very hard to give it the benefit of the doubt.  When I’m playing – well, to be more specific, when I’m moving Lara around on the screen – everything is well-paced and exciting and  fun.  The title screen says I’m 53% complete, but I’m not sure if that takes into account all the non-story stuff, which I’ve been doing as much of as possible. I’m very happy to just meander about and collect hidden things and search for challenge tombs and stuff – and even fast travel to previous areas with my newly-aquired gear that allows me to enter previously inaccessible areas – and all this can often feel very much at odds with the urgency of the narrative; but that also implies that I’m paying close attention to it.  I’m not necessarily on board with the story as much as I am the overall experience; the story itself falls apart under close scrutiny.


Unlike poor Peter Dinklage in Destiny, the dialogue is quite good and well-acted for the most part; but the story is relatively flat and by-the-numbers.  One character (who was only in one or two scenes in the beginning) is revealed to be the enemy (which wasn’t particularly shocking, given the context of the reveal); another “friendly” character is somewhat mysterious, but the only real shock will be if he isn’t who all signs are pointing him to be.

More to the point, though, Lara is asked repeatedly why she’s searching for this game’s Macguffin, the Divine Source (“because my father killed himself over it!”), and what she intends to do with it if she should find it (“I… don’t really have a satisfactory answer for this!”), and how her quest is any different from what the bad guys are doing (“I don’t have an answer for this, either, but I’m the good guy, here, so, gimme”).

I would refer you to Carolyn Petit’s review and commentary for further analysis at this point.  I’d also refer you to it if only because it’s really well written, and includes my number one gripe about internet comments:

Some readers–those, for instance, who attack less-than-glowing reviews of highly anticipated games that haven’t even been released yet and that they haven’t yet had a chance to play–aren’t interested in actual criticism. They are interested in being told that their emotional investment in a particular game, their anticipation of it, the sense of greatness that they have already imbued this particular entertainment product with, are all justified, that the game they have yet to play is indeed going to be fucking awesome.

I’m still enjoying TR, and I certainly plan on finishing it, and I’d like to think that by the time I do, Fallout 4 will have received some of the patches it apparently needs.  I’ll also be squeezing in some Battlefront from time to time; I think it will supplement Rocket League as my quick multiplayer palate cleanser.

The First Few Hours: Rise of The Tomb Raider

There’s something about November, man.  Last year around this same time – in fact, if Facebook’s memory feature is correct, it’s almost to the day – I was beginning work on a NaNoWriMo memoir and took a deep dive into my college diary for some research, and emerged into a huge whirlpool of regret and depression, and I spent the next few weeks/months under a haze of the sort of wistful, melancholic nostalgia that is, for me, very difficult to shake off.  And now here we are, a full year later, and I’m finally getting back to work on the album that evolved from that failed memoir experience, and because I’m trying to write lyrics – and because I’ve had to forcibly remove myself from friendships that have proven very difficult to handle, emotionally, I’m once again drowning, aching, feeling bad.  I’m writing good music again, but most of my waking hours are spent under that haze of sadness and regret and I can feel myself withdrawing from everyone and the whole thing just sucks.

Yesterday was ridiculous.  These two things showed up at the same time.

image image

I kept Fallout 4 running just long enough to make sure that my PipBoy app was connected to my PS4; I didn’t start creating a character or anything else.  I think I said this the other day, but in any event I’ll repeat myself:  until the first wave of patches starts coming in, I’m going to concentrate on other things.

As for the Steam Link and Controller; I have mixed results.  I hooked up the Link to my gaming TV in my basement, which is on the opposite side of the room from my PC, both of which are one floor below my wi-fi router.  The streaming reception isn’t all that great, unfortunately, and I’m not sure how to fix it easily without using hundred-foot-long wires.  The controller is… interesting.  The ABXY buttons aren’t located where my right thumb wants them to be, which can be confusing.  I only used the controller to move around the menu screens, and so I haven’t yet put them through any sort of gaming duress, but even just moving around the Big Picture menu took a tiny bit of adjustment.  I still have a rather ridiculous Steam backlog to get caught up on; I suppose I’ll be going back to my PC for that, until I can get the Link interference issue straightened out.

This is all moot, anyway, since my primary gaming focus for the foreseeable future will be with Rise of the Tomb Raider.  I played for about 2 and a half hours last night; I put it down when I got to the second campsite.

My initial gut reaction is very positive indeed.   For starters, it looks terrific – the ice walls that Lara climbs in the beginning sections look particularly stunning.  (I already know I’m going to play this again when it eventually comes out on the PS4, though; I can’t help but feel that the PS4 version will look even better.)

It’s also taken the crafting and hunting and resource gathering of the first game and multiplied it by an exponential amount; but instead of being annoying or anxiety-inducing, the way that hidden collectibles in Assassin’s Creed games can be, everything you find here is useful in some way, which also adds the bonus of making sure you cover every available inch of the map – there’s tons of hidden stuff, and it’s all super-fun to find and use.

I’ve still only seen a tiny fraction of what’s on offer, but even at this early stage I can confidently say that it basically feels like a bigger, better version of the last game, and that’s exactly the kind of thing I want to be playing right now.  And so I shall.

What’s Next for Assassin’s Creed?

(Sorry for the brief hiatus; I was inadvertently and unintentionally off the grid last week.)

1. I finished AssCat last week.  I don’t know how many hours I put into it, but I finished with an 84% completion rate; there are a few side missions (Dickens, Darwin, Doyle) yet to do, and I suppose I could go out and hunt down every last collectible though there’s really no point now – I’m level 10 and more or less completely maxed out, and so a slight uptick in weaponry effectiveness as a reward for finding every single chest isn’t going to make that much of a difference at this stage, and I certainly don’t lack for money or crafting materials – nor do I have anything left to craft).  As a whole, I can comfortably say that it would fit somewhere in my top 3 AC games, alongside AssBro and BlackAss; whatever faults it has – and there are plenty – are more than mitigated by Evie Frye, my favorite of all the AC protagonists.  The larger question, though, is this:  even if AssCat is one of the best games in the franchise, what does that even mean anymore?

Let me back up, though, because while I certainly enjoyed my time with the game, I have a rather lengthy list of problems that I have to address.  And at the very top of this list is Evie’s brother Jacob.  As awesome as Evie is – and she’s awesome, and I could easily spend 1000+ words talking about it – Jacob is, unquestionably, the worst protagonist in the franchise, and one of the only playable characters in my entire history of gaming that I’ve ever wanted to repeatedly punch in the face.  I find his entire character arc bewilderingly stupid, and find it impossible to accept that his current form was the result of focus testing and deliberate design choices.  He is a stupid, brutish asshole, and he does stupid, brutish things, and he makes incredibly stupid and brutish mistakes, and I dreaded having to play his missions because I didn’t want to spend any more time with him than I had to.  Sequence 8 in particular is more or less entirely a Jacob sequence, where he does one stupid thing after another and then has the temerity to be outraged that the villain he was knowingly helping ends up turning on him – which is doubly stupid because it’s not like Jacob cares about the sanctity of human life either, given that he is, you know, a fucking Assassin – and the whole sequence was, on a narrative level, so incredibly stupid that I couldn’t even appreciate the mechanics of the sequence’s final assassination (which, in retrospect, is actually kind of neat). Every time I fucked up and Jacob died, or every time the controls didn’t respond to me and Jacob died, a part of me smiled inside, because that stupid asshole had it coming.

Speaking of which – yeah, the controls.  Oy.  Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton says it better than I could; I only wish I’d beaten him to it with the rant that the controls deserve.  I seem to recall that when the very first game was announced, the thing that the developers wanted us to focus on – more than the climbing or the combat – was the quality of the animation.  And there’s no question that the animation is still, for the most part, astonishingly good and believable (even as our heroes do impossible things).  But it’s 2015 now, and this is the, what, eighth iteration of these games?  The simple act of moving forward shouldn’t require the pressing of more than two buttons.  And if the on-screen prompt tells me that pressing certain buttons means I’m going to drop down, then that’s exactly and only what I want to do.  Even though AssCat is mostly good about this, especially when compared to other AC games, “mostly good” shouldn’t be the standard we’re aiming for.

I could go on, but it’s actually been a few days since I last fired up the game, and I’m having a hard time remembering some of the more specific nits I could pick.  I suppose part of the problem is that, unlike other open-world adventure games I could name, I have literally no desire to go back and get 100% in this one.  I’d maxed out Jacob and Evie’s stats and gadgetry long before I’d finished the main story, and at this point doing stupid errands for famous people feels like a waste of time.

So, then, let’s get back to my original question:  even if AssCat ranks as one of the three best games in the franchise, and completely wipes away the bad taste that AssUnit left behind, what does that mean anymore?  There’s going to be a new one of these games next year, and I already don’t care about it.  The gameplay of AssCat is still more or less the same as it was in the original game; there’s only been iteration upon iteration, rather than any sense of evolution.  (Black Flag certainly feels like an aberration at this point, doesn’t it?)  The AC game we’re going to get next November will take place in another unique place and time, but it will also most likely be the exact same thing we’ve already done 8 or 9 times already, and it’s hard to care about it anymore – especially as those things we keep doing are still retaining the original game’s jankiness.  I beg you, Ubisoft – take a year or two off.  Let people miss these games again.  Take however much time you need to fix the controls, and get your narrative shit together.

2.  I’ve been dabbling in Halo 5, for some reason.  I have zero interest in the multiplayer, which means I’m playing the campaign, and holy shit the campaign is so dumb.  I’ve decided that I’m only playing the campaign in online co-op with my buddy Greg, because that’s the only way I can get through it without beating my head against the coffee table.  The mission designs are so antiquated and unoriginal that it’s actually a little hard to believe that this game was intended to come out this year; the end of Mission 2 has you defending your position while your escape ship prepares itself for lift-off, which is only a thing I’ve done several thousand times before.  I pity the poor voice actor who plays Governor Sloan in Mission 3; he has some of the dumbest lines of dialogue this side of a Metal Gear Solid game, and he delivers them with all the gravitas of an over-baked ham sandwich.  Luckily, I’m about to be heavily distracted by this week’s new releases.

3.  And speaking of those new releases… well, look.  I’ve got a lot of things going on all of a sudden; I’m very much re-engaged with this music project that I’d put on the back-burner for the last few months, and free time is at a premium.  To that end, I’m going to be playing Rise of the Tomb Raider first, because that’s definitely more my speed at the moment, and by the time I finish that, hopefully Fallout 4 will have received some of the necessary patches that it apparently needs.  (Also, it should be noted that I’m not even sure where my Pip-Boy edition even is; I haven’t heard anything from Bethesda since October 22.)

3a.  (I also ordered a Steam Link and a Steam Controller a while ago, and those are similarly lost in the FedEx ether.

4.  I was gonna whine a little bit about the Xbox One backwards compatibility list and how none of the games I was hoping to see made it on this initial reveal – no Portal 1/2, no Red Dead (or really anything by Rockstar for that matter), etc.  But it’s OK, really; even if I can play Fallout 3 again, there’s no way I’m actually going to.

5.  I’ve been remiss in talking about books lately.  I’ve been working my way very slowly through “City on Fire“, which I’m not enjoying as much as I’d hoped I would.  It’s not that it’s bad; it’s just not really hitting any of my buttons.  In fairness, I didn’t pick it up at all last week, and so whatever momentum I might’ve had has been lost.  But it also should be noted that I’m not particularly filled with any nostalgic yearning for the dirty, grimy NYC of the 70s.  Yes, it would’ve been cool to have seen Television or the Talking Heads at CBGBs, but I was not a punk, and I would’ve been beaten to death had I set foot anywhere east of Broadway.  (Hell, when I was at NYU in the early 90s, anything east of 2nd Avenue was considered dangerous and sketchy; when I lived on East Houston Street after I graduated, Ludlow Street was still somewhat dirty.  Now there’s a fucking Whole Foods two blocks away from my old apartment.)

Remastered Memories – on Uncharted

I’m having a lot of trouble concentrating on writing this post today, to be honest with you.  This morning was my son’s first day at a new pre-school, and… it didn’t go so well.  Now, this is a common thing among toddlers, and it’s a process that he’s already been through a few times, and I should’ve been better prepared for it.  But… man.  I can’t get his face out of my head.  I’ve seen him cry before, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had my heart broken by it the way it broke this morning.  He held on to us as tightly as he ever had; he wasn’t full-out bawling, but rather clenching his jaw and trying to not full-out bawl; I have to stop describing it.  It took all we could to not run back in and take him home and give him hugs and never let him out of our sight for the rest of our lives.  I’m sure he’ll be OK.  Hell, last night he had a tantrum in the bathtub because of some stupid thing and yet within 30 seconds he was happily making towers out of Team UmiZoomi shapes; I know he’ll be OK when my wife picks him up later this afternoon.

But still.  It’s awfully hard to focus on anything when the last image of your child’s face is of a desperate pout, sniffling and sobbing, as you close the door behind you because you have to.

*  *  *

I suspect that one of the many reasons why I’ve never been able to land any games writing gigs is that 99% of my writing samples probably include some sort of personal preamble.  I know that I can write about games and music and books and stuff without adding those sorts of details, but I like it when the writer adds a bit of extraneous context.  It helps me better understand where the person’s coming from; it helps me understand what informs their opinions.  Almost nobody in a professional capacity does it this way, and I totally get that, but it’s become a stylistic tic for me that I can’t shake.  And in any event, I’ve long since resigned myself to the knowledge that I will never have a full-time job writing about games or music or books, so: fuck it.  I’m going to be talking about the Uncharted: Nathan Drake Collection today, because I’ve played quite a lot of it over the last week, even if that wasn’t my original intention.

The original plan for the last week was to spend my free time working on new music (and fixing old music while I was at it).  Alas, I ran into some technical problems that, among other things, made doing any sort of music work impossible.*  So I resigned myself to play Uncharted instead.

Which isn’t a bad thing; I like those games a lot.  And the remasters are about as well-executed as one could hope for, which is saying quite a bit considering that both Uncharted 2 and 3 are among the best-looking games of the previous generation.  I’m not sure that you’d mistake them for current-gen games, especially during the cut-scenes – the faces look a bit plastic and not-quite-but-almost-uncanny-valley-ish – but by and large everything looks fantastic, and the PS4 controller makes the actual playing of these games 1000x less frustrating than they were with the Dualshock 3.

I’ve been bouncing around between all three games, with a primary emphasis on 1 and 3 (since I know 2 the best), and I’ll switch up either during a story break or when I run into a frustrating enemy gauntlet.

Speaking of which – one can’t help but notice how Naughty Dog’s approach changed between each game, even if I feel that they still ultimately paid too much attention to the wrong things – specifically, the combat.  I’m certainly not the first to make the observation (nor is this even my first time making it) that the disconnect between Nathan Drake’s scruffy charm and his murdering of hundreds of enemy soldiers becomes awfully distracting with each successive chapter break, and it’s only because Nolan North’s performance is so disarmingly charming that they can even begin to get away with it.  Still, it feels very much like Naughty Dog threw in as much combat as they could because they weren’t fully confident that the platforming and the exploration would be enough to sustain the kind of massive audience that Sony was hoping for.  Uncharted is primarily a combat game with some platforming thrown in every now and then, and even with some fun set pieces (like the cliff-side machine gun car chase) it gets tedious.

U2 changed this up considerably by putting much more emphasis on the characters and the narrative and integrating the platforming and puzzle-solving a bit more, and even if the game is still over-reliant on combat as the main meat of the experience, it at least makes the combat more spectacular, specifically through some still-extraordinary set pieces.  I mean, the train sequence remains as jaw-dropping as ever; I’m still not 100% sure how they managed to pull off that sequence’s pacing.  (Like: if you start that sequence and simply don’t move for 20 minutes, will you still end up facing off against the helicopter at the end?)

U3, if anything, suffers from a bit of over-confidence, making everything a spectacular set piece at the expense of a coherent narrative.  The character work is still charming, yet it feels obligatory rather than necessary – yes, it’s kinda neat to see how young Nathan Drake met his mentor, Sully, though the relic linking the past and the present is a bit of a stretch in terms of narrative justification.

*  *  *

I just re-read those paragraphs and they make it sound like I’m not enjoying myself; I am picking nits, I guess.  These are extraordinarily well-made games, and they do what they do exceedingly well, and if you haven’t played those games, this is the best way to play them.

Are they as good as I remember them being?  Well… what’s interesting is that they are still very much what I remember them being.  (Also, I keep dying in the same spots, which is either a sign that my blind spots haven’t changed, or that the games have difficulty spikes that can sometimes be overwhelming.)  Uncharted 1 is a promising debut that’s marred by an over-reliance on gunplay, Uncharted 3 is an astonishing technological experience without any real heart or soul, and Uncharted 2 is still one of my favorite games of the last generation.

But if I’m being honest with myself, I think I’m going to enjoy the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider a bit more.  I like what that reboot is doing with this genre, specifically how it approaches combat and why combat is necessary.  The first of these reboots handled it quite well; Lara only killed because she had to kill, and it wasn’t something she ever enjoyed doing even as she got better at it.  But the literal very first thing you do in Uncharted 1 is kill a bunch of pirates that are attempting to board your illegally parked boat; you already have your gun, you’re kinda already expecting it, and killing dudes ain’t no thang.  Drake wisecracks his way through hundreds of headshots per game, and I suppose you’d sorta have to in order to not completely lose your humanity.  Even so, the body count becomes absurd, and there’s really no way around that fact.  It is what it is, I guess, and I can only hope that next year’s finale finds a better balance between all its elements.

*  *  *

Earlier this afternoon I managed to snag a Pip-Boy edition of Fallout 4 for the PS4, which ended up answering two questions in one go – (1) which system I was going to get it for, and (2) that I wasn’t nearly as done with pre-ordering as I keep saying I am.  Considering that the XBone is still getting the short end of the technological stick as far as multi-console games go, I couldn’t help but err on the side of the PS4 being a better way to go.  And, I mean, look; the Pip-Boy is maybe the only tangible pre-order bonus I’ve cared about in at least a dozen years.  So, there you go.

* “Impossible” is not necessarily an overstatement, even if it really looks like one.  While it’s true that I’ve written lots of music without having a computer, it’s not really how I work any more, and a lot of the editing work I needed to do required being able to re-record parts, which I simply couldn’t do.  There’s a longer post I could write about my music-writing process – and someday I’ll write it, because frankly I’d like to figure it out – but this is not the time or place for that.

Wrapping up the Knight, and Looking Ahead to the Fall

1.  I’ve been toying with the idea of reviving my personal WP blog, which I’d impulsively shut down a few years ago for reasons I can’t quite recall anymore.  But I did want to revive two specific lists – my top 50 albums of the 80s and 90s.  I liked writing those lists, and they still feel more or less accurate, and I figured they ought to resurface.  (Speaking of which – please let me know if, for some reason, those links don’t work for you; I’m not 100% sure I’ve figured out how to mass-edit privacy settings.)

2.  Unlike games, which I have no problem giving up on if I’m not enjoying them, I am debating giving up on Joshua Cohen’s “The Book of Numbers“.  It’s a difficult book, but usually that’s not that big a problem; it’s more that I started reading it right before work got crazy, and I put it down, and when I pick it up now I’m totally clueless as to what is going on and, to the extent I remember any of the characters, why I should care about them.  I’d like to get back to it at some point – he’s extraordinarily gifted with words and phrases – but I think I need to read something a little bit less obtuse.

3.  I finished the main Scarecrow-centric Batman Arkham Knight storyline the other night, and yet I’d only completed 64% of the game.  I took a much-needed sick day yesterday and ended up finishing almost everything else – there’s only one or two more militia-themed sidequests to finish, as well as some kidnapped firemen to track down – which brings me up to around 91% completion.  That said, I’ve only found 25% of the Riddler’s question marks, and if I have to find all of them in order to fully activate the Nightfall protocol, I’ll just watch it on YouTube.  Can’t be bothered with that bullshit.

Overall – I think it’s fair to say I liked it, though I did find it tedious and repetitive at times, and almost all the militia-themed quests are straight-up filler and get super-ridiculous towards the end.  (The bomb quests in particular, where you eventually have to fend off 50+ drones, are just flat-out stupid.)

It’s hard to discuss the story without spoiling everything, but I did find it both effective and affecting; if this is indeed Rocksteady’s last Batman game, they went about as all-out as they possibly could, and I commend them for that.  I don’t know that I’ll find myself itching to play it again, though, the way I did with Asylum.

4.  Speaking of what to play next…. I’m looking at the release calendar and it looks pretty goddamned depressing.  Next week is the new EA golf game (which I can’t not call Tiger Woods, just out of habit)… and then:

  • Mad Max (I want to hope this isn’t terrible – there was an interesting-looking preview video a little while ago that suggested it was a bit more ambitious than you’d think – and the fact that it’s telling its own story and isn’t necessarily a naked licensed cash grab seems promising – but I haven’t seen any coverage about it since that video in April, and its September release date isn’t that far away)
  • Metal Gear Solid V (I’m renting this and I fully expect to send it right back.)
  • Forza Motorsport 6 (I missed Forza 5; I’m curious as to whether or not I’m going to like this, given how much I prefer the Forza Horizon games.*)
  • Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 (wouldn’t it be great if this game didn’t suck?  I miss the old THPS games like crazy.  I have little faith that this won’t be a piece of shit, but little > none, so…)
  • Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (I’ll play this for at least a little while, I suppose.  It’s gotta be better than Unity, right?  I just need to figure out its nickname; AssSyn?)
  • Halo 5: Gaurdians (I’m at least renting this because I own an Xbox One and I feel obligated to, but I haven’t enjoyed a Halo game since maybe Halo 2.)
  • Fallout 4 (I cancelled my PipBoy preorder, mostly because I couldn’t figure out which system to get it for – has anyone confirmed whether the PS4 is getting mod support the way that the XB1 is?)
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider (This and FO4 are the only two games I could see knocking Witcher 3 out of the top spot in my GOTY ranking.  For some reason – perhaps simply my desire to play a good, fun action/platformer – I think I’m going to like this one more than Fallout 4.)
  • Star Wars Battlefront (I’m not really a multiplayer shooter kind of dude, but I loved the original games, and I’d like to think this would be fun enough for a little while)
  • Just Cause 3 (sure, why not)

And then there’s a bunch of remastered editions which I may/may not check out purely out of graphics-whore-ishness, like Uncharted, Gears of War and God of War.

* I forgot to mention that I tried the PS+ edition of Driveclub the other day; I did about a lap and a half of the first race and couldn’t figure out whether it was meant to be arcade-y or a sim, and while it’s pretty it didn’t grab me, and I promptly uninstalled it to make room for future HD installs.  Much ado about nothing, I guess.

2015 Resolutions and Anticipations

A Preface in Three Parts:

1:  I finished the Forza Horizon 2 Finale race last night.  I’ve apparently still got more to do, as the credits didn’t roll, but that was the big one.  If I were still keeping track of Achievements, and if I still had a category for “Favorite Achievement of the Year”, I suspect the 50 points I picked up for winning that 20-minute gauntlet would rank right up there with anything else I did this year.  After soaking in that victory for a bit, I then headed over to race in Storm Island, and WHOA, that shit is crazy.  Extreme weather, terrain, lighting and visibility – total madness, a complete 180 from the relatively calm and serene mainland campaign.  I’m not sure what the rest of the island is like, but that first race makes one hell of a first impression, and it shakes up the already-excellent formula enough to make it worth spending some more time in.

2:  I hemmed and hawed about whether or not I should buy it; I’d already sunk in a fair amount of time, and felt like I’d seen what I needed to see even if I only got halfway through…. but I also felt like I needed to finish it for real.  And so, in the end, Alien Isolation was on sale for $30 on PSN, and I picked it up, and it remembered my last save point from October.  So that’s something to look forward to.

3: I want to join the chorus in wishing Patrick Klepek the best of luck in his future endeavors.  His is a necessary, vital voice in this business, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.  On a purely personal level, he’s also single-handedly responsible for the biggest spike in traffic this site’s ever gotten (scroll down to #3), and so if nothing else I’m indebted to him for keeping this site visible, however marginally that visibility may be.


Pop Culture Consumption Resolutions for 2015:

  1. No more pre-ordering.  As you’ll see below, my “must-have” list of games for 2015 is relatively small, and given what we’ve been through in 2014 with nearly every significant AAA release bogged down by serious issues on release day, I don’t necessarily have any faith that these future releases will be released in an acceptable shape.  I can wait; I can rent.
  2. Along those lines, I’m going to try and beef up my commentary skills this year.  Maybe I’m being overly hard on myself, but most of my analysis is pretty superficial, and doesn’t necessarily get to the core of what’s actually going on.  Even this Cameron Kunzelman piece about how he doesn’t know how to describe Super Time Force Ultra still explains more about his experience playing it than I do on an average day.  I’m always aiming to be a better writer, but now I think I have a better idea of what “being a better writer” actually means (for the purposes of this blog, at least).
  3. I am going to stop.  playing.  Clicker Heroes.
  4. The backlogs are getting dealt with.  And if it means that I’m going to start keeping widgets on the sidebar to further shame myself into finishing stuff that needs finishing, then that’s what it means.
    • As far as my PC goes, I’m rapidly approaching the point where it’s not really capable of performing on par with my PS4 and XB1, but I still have a frighteningly large backlog to address on Steam that it can handle, and I’m gonna have to deal with that at some point.
    • And I still have a bunch of games on my PS4 that I haven’t finished – Shadow of Mordor and Far Cry 4 perhaps being the largest omissions, though there’s also Transistor, Valiant Hearts, and Oddworld New & Tasty.  (And also Sunset Overdrive on the XB1.)
    • Regarding my Kindle backlog – I’m cutting myself off and not buying any more books until I finish my to-read pile, which at this point is probably 20+ titles deep.  (I did end up buying the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, but that’s it.)

I also further resolve to SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT when stupid bullshit is happening out there in the world.  I can’t call myself an ally if I’m not doing anything to back that up.  I sincerely hope that 2015 provides less opportunities for shouting, but if it doesn’t, then I aim to shout as purposefully and effectively as I can.

Game Anticipations for 2015:  (with special assistance from this handy Game Informer page)
* denotes a game that I’m not 100% convinced will be coming out in 2015


  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Witcher 3
  • Uncharted 4 *
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider *
  • Firewatch *
  • Superhot
  • Below


  • PGA Tour Golf (EA’s first without Tiger, after a year-long hiatus)
  • Crackdown 3 *
  • Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
  • Final Fantasy XV *
  • Mad Max *
  • Inside (from the makers of Limbo)


  • The Order 1886
  • Bloodborne
  • Halo 5
  • Star Wars Battlefront
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain
  • Silent Hills *

Here’s hoping we all have a safe and happy New Year’s, and may 2015 be everything that 2014 wasn’t.  Cheers.


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