There was good and bad over the weekend as far as games are concerned, so let’s start with the good.
1. This is something I never thought I’d say, but here goes: GTA V Online is starting to grow on me.
Right off the bat – it is 1000% more stable than it was at launch, which means it is now, more or less, working the way it’s supposed to. Load times are still a bit long, but the important part is that game sessions do finish loading instead of being endlessly hung up, and once you’re in a race or a mission people don’t seem to teleport or glitch out the way they were a few weeks ago.
More to the point, though, the online game is starting to make a bit more sense. I should back up and say that I didn’t even really start playing online until I’d finished the main story, and so it seemed sort of insane how little there was to do at the outset of my online career, considering how much I’d done in the single-player campaign. But I’m now up to Level 10, and the activities and customization options that have opened up with each level-up are enough of an incentive to keep me coming back.
For example: I took a nice chunk of the money I got from being in the beta and bought a deluxe apartment with a 10-car garage. The apartment itself isn’t necessarily useful except that it’s nice to be able to spawn into it, as opposed to spawning on a street corner and then immediately getting gunned down before I’ve even had a chance to set “passive mode” on.
Another thing (though this feels like an exploit or something) is that you don’t have to play Missions with other people if you don’t want to, and so this is a rather easy way to make money and XP without dealing with jerks and/or long stretches of boredom while you wait for your lobby to fill up. Nobody seems to want to play the Missions, is the thing – whenever I get into a group with people, the pre-match voting results are almost always a 50/50 split between races and deathmatches – and so it seems silly to sit there doing nothing when the Missions are just as easily doable by yourself.
But, that aside, the more I time I spend with it, the more it feels like it’s the primitive first draft of what a true next-gen GTA should be – one where you design your own character and create your own narrative, and make your own way in the big city. (Which Saints Row is already sort-of doing, and which the Elder Scrolls games have been doing for ever.) And it also proves, conceptually at least, that GTA III‘s model of a silent protagonist isn’t necessarily bad. (Which also works for The Elder Scrolls games, too.) Like: I’ve decided that I don’t need a fully-voiced character reaction to every minor traffic infraction; if I’m playing as Michael, and I crash into someone while missing a corner at high speed, and then Michael screams “YOU ENTITLED PIECE OF SHIT” at the person I just hit (because he’s certainly not saying that to me, the player)…. well, if it wasn’t funny the first 100 times he said it, it certainly doesn’t get any better. Truth is, whenever I drop back into the story mode for whatever reason, I find that I’m immediately irked by whoever I choose to play – Michael is just a terrible person, Trevor is, well, Trevor, and Franklin seems like he’d rather be doing something else.
I don’t think Rockstar will go that route, though; they’re too committed to this endlessly repetitive vision of American Satire, and they take their “storytelling” very, very seriously, and in any event they already did the silent-protagonist-climbing-up-the-ranks story in GTA III. And considering how much money GTA V has just made, it’s easy to presume that the Houser Brothers would feel justified in staying the course. It’s just that there’s no story quite as compelling as the one you make yourself, and when you’re given a world like the one in San Andreas, every action you take in exploring it becomes more meaningful because it’s you doing it, and because you want to do it. I’m not saying they can’t have scripted missions – those are still fun, when they’re done right – but I think I’d be a lot more engaged with the next game if I had more control over who I ended up playing, and especially if I could like or at least empathize with the person I was playing. (And as it turns out, this ability to create your own character and shape your own narrative is something that a lot of my favorite games of this generation have in common.)
2. I finished Enslaved. I was surprised at how much of that game I still remembered – the game feels pretty epic in size, but I forgot how short it is. It’s not without some problems; a lot of the story beats feel like they come too quickly, and there’s quite a few camera glitches that make the game downright unplayable. But the action feels good, the platforming is quite fun (albeit completely devoid of challenge), and I still think that the relationship between Monkey and Trip is genuine and convincing. (Especially the facial animation, which I’d put right up there with the best of this generation.)
3. I managed to not spend any money in Steam’s Halloween sale, and I also managed to not buy Batman Arkham Origins, Lego Marvel, or pre-buy Assassin’s Creed 4. I will probably end up buying AC4 when it shows up on the PC in a few weeks, but at least I didn’t splurge on it now.
1. Part of why I was able to hold off buying Batman was that I’d heard that the game had some crippling, save-corrupting bugs that Warner Brothers actually came out and apologized for; the other part was that I was playing the 3DS version of Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate, which I was hoping would sate my Batman fix. Alas, it did not, and if anything it further soured my hopes for the PC game. I can’t speak for the Vita version, which is apparently the better of the two handheld games, but the 3DS version was tremendously annoying to play; and this is very disappointing, because when I heard that the game was trying to mashup the console Batman games with a side-scrolling Metroidvania experience, I expected something amazing. Instead, it feels very obligatory and uninspired; the map is all but useless; the sidestuff (i.e., evidence for random detective cases) feel utterly meaningless and devoid of any real purpose; and the combat is not nearly as much fun as it should be, because the 3DS buttons are often unresponsive and I ended up taking far too many hits that I shouldn’t have. I spent about 2 hours or so with it and eventually gave up; I just don’t have the time anymore to push through with games that aren’t doing anything for me, and I especially don’t have time for games that feel like they’re deliberately antagonizing me.
Saw this link this morning, in which The Verge plays with the Steam Machine, and now I’m really glad I’ve waited on buying a new console (or, alternately, a new video card for my PC):