weekend recap: Dangerous Golf, Overwatch, Blood & Wine

Today’s favorite album:  Steve Gunn, “Eyes on the Lines.”

This was a very busy weekend; lots of fun family activities, plus also a wee bit of a stomach bug last night.  You can’t win ’em all.

I’ve got three games I want to talk about, so let’s get to it.


First up: the eagerly anticipated Dangerous Golf, the first game from the ex-heads of Criterion Games, makers of the Burnout driving games, also known as my personal favorite driving series of all time.  On paper, this sounds like a perfect little arcade diversion: take Burnout’s crash mode, but instead of a car smashing other cars in glorious slow-motion, it’s a golf ball destroying hundreds of fragile, breakable objects in an assortment of rooms.

In execution… well, it’s not quite there.  It’s so close to being great.  Sadly, it feels a little rushed and unpolished.  The impression one gets after an hour or so is that this is a snazzy proof-of-concept physics demo, rather than a well-thought-out game experience.  And it’s not just the strangely bare-boned career mode, or the inconsistent camera control, or the aggravating load times; there’s just a curious lack of attention to detail that make this feel a lot rougher than it ought to be.  Just as an example, there’s no interstitial music.  This is obviously not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but it does come off as an oversight that ends up becoming more and more distracting.  Ironically, the 5-second guitar flourishes at the conclusion of each round sound not unlike the sound cues you’d hear after putting a set list together in Rock Band, which is *also* just a bit weird.

There’s also little things like having the control scheme graphic feature a whole bunch of advanced features that don’t actually unlock right away, which can lead to some frustration.  Key example – there’s a thing called “Pistol Tee” and “Pistol Putt”, which happen by pushing RT when you tee or putt (obviously).  But you don’t unlock those two things until after your 2nd “tour” is complete, and even when you unlock them, they aren’t ever explained.  Indeed, the whole putting game is never explained – and you can’t move the camera after you shoot, so when the flag is in a different room you can’t see where your shot is going.

These are things that could arrive in a future patch, but I can’t imagine they would.  I know lots and lots of Burnout fans who have yet to play this game – either they don’t know about it, or they’re busy playing Overwatch, or they just don’t care.  It’s a shame, because with a little more elbow grease this could be a ton of fun.  As it is, it’s almost a ton of fun – and I’m giving it the extreme benefit of the doubt, given that (a) I love golf games, (b) I love the developers’ previous work, and (c) this combination is right in my wheelhouse,  but I don’t know how much more time I’m going to spend with it.

* * *

And speaking of giving prominent game developers the benefit of the doubt – as well as mentioning Overwatch in passing – well, my rental copy of Overwatch finally showed up on Saturday.  I am probably not going to play very much of it.

But I want to stress that this isn’t the game’s fault.

I have nothing but respect for Blizzard’s past work, and Overwatch has received superlative writeups from all the critics I care about, and my friends all love it, and I’m all in favor of vibrant colors and a diverse cast of characters.

The problem, of course, is that I do not like competitive shoot-’em-ups, no matter how amazing they are.  Maybe it’s a genetic thing; maybe I’m never going to like competitive shooters.  It’s the part of every big game that I go out of my way to avoid:  Halo, Call of Duty, Uncharted, Gears of War, Destiny, The Division – I just can’t do it, man.  It’s not even that I suck at them – I mean, I kinda suck at Rocket League but that game’s never coming off my PS4 hard drive*, because even being terrible at it is still super-fun.  There’s a certain mind-set that goes into enjoying competitive shooters, and I just don’t have it, and I don’t know that I ever will.  I’ll be very curious to see what game comes along to break that particular pattern, especially given that I’m always going to be older than the target demographic, and also given that I will eventually spend less time per night gaming than I used to.

Finally, I gotta talk about The Witcher 3 – Blood and Wine DLC.


As I noted last week, I had no idea that I could’ve been playing the first DLC all along.  So I started a new character and began the first Hearts of Stone mission and very quickly  realized that it was all familiar, and very quickly remembered that I’d already played it  and simply forgotten that I’d done so.  So I then immediately started the new one, Blood & Wine.  Now we’re all caught up.

Here’s the thing about this particular bit of DLC – it’s a perfect bit for a player like me, someone who loved the original game but hadn’t played it seriously in a long time and had forgotten what the overall rhythms of the gameplay experience feel like.  Unlike other prominent RPG DLC missions, this is not merely a quest with some side objectives; this is an entirely new and rather large landmass, with at least a dozen heavy-duty side-quests that I’m compelled to tackle if only because I’m still underleveled for the main quest.

I haven’t even really begun to mess with the whole “I own a vineyard and a country villa” angle, if only because I’d already foolishly spent a lot of money improving a different DLC merchant before I realized what I needed it for.

The long and short of it is:  godDAMN I love this game.  I love how this game is built; each quest has its own pace and its own “hook”, and the characters you meet are almost always interesting.  It’s nearly impossible to predict how a given quest will flow; even the monster-hunting quests, which are the closest thing this game has to a “cookie-cutter” approach, are different in terms of your combat tactics.

Here’s another thing about Witcher 3 – it’s completely ruined Bethesda’s RPGs for me. I was already having trouble enjoying Fallout 4, and now I know I’ll never be able to go back to it after this.  Same goes for Skyrim and Oblivion and the like; even if Bethesda remasters them for current-gen consoles, they’ll still feel clunky and archaic.  Playing Fallout 4 after playing Witcher 3 is similar to what it’s like to play GTA 3 after playing GTA 5; even though I adore GTA 3, it’s damn-near impossible to play given how shitty the controls are.  And Fallout 4’s cutscenes and writing just simply aren’t as sharp or as interesting as Witcher 3; and Geralt is infinitely more compelling than any blank cipher I come up with.

But whatever – I’m not here to be sad about Bethesda, I’m here to celebrate The Witcher 3 – one of the finest games of this generation, and one of my favorite games of all time.  I’m so glad to have a compelling reason to revisit it, and I’m even happier that this DLC is, so far, really, really good.


* This reminds me of a question that popped up on Twitter not too long ago – what games will you always keep on your hard drive?   My PC, when it was working, had a 1.5TB hard drive and so everything stayed on it.  My XB1 doesn’t really get used all that often, but I will always make sure that Pinball FX2 stays on, and I suppose I’ll always keep the latest Forza Horizon title on.  (I did recently delete and then re-install Sunset Overdrive, because I forgot how to play it and the only way to re-tutorialize is to completely wipe out any record of you playing it, both locally and in the cloud, and I can’t believe this hasn’t been fixed yet.)  As for the PS4, my primary console of choice – well, I’ve had to do a fair amount of juggling in the last year or so, but I suppose I’ll always make sure I have room for Witcher 3 and Rocket League.

the dummy

So I am a dumb-dumb.

I’ve been complaining for months now that I haven’t been able to get to any of the Witcher 3 DLC, because I started a New Game + and need to be at least level 60 in order to start the last episode, Hearts of Stone.  And even though I’d downloaded the newest installment yesterday morning before leaving for work, it didn’t appear to be available when I started my NG+ save.

So I decided to back out, close out, and see about starting a New Game from scratch.  And lo and behold, there’s an option to play just the DLC (as well as any non-main-storyline quests) as a level 32 character, with properly leveled equipment.

I could’ve been playing the DLC this whole time, in other words, except I didn’t realize it was an option.  Or maybe I did, but ignored it (and then forgot about it), figuring I’d want to get there on my own via NG+ and such.

Unlike other RPGs where I’d find myself attached to my specific character build, Geralt is such a well-defined character in his own right that it seems completely unnecessary to bring my previous hundreds of hours along with him for a stand-alone adventure.  I’m certainly not attached to any of my weaponry or armor, and I have to figure that the DLC content would drop new stuff soon enough anyway.

So, as I said before, I’m a dumb-dumb.  I’ll be playing the Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine DLCs now, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.


I don’t write about music nearly enough on this blog, and so I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out my current front-runner for Album of the Year: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s ridiculously awesome “Nonagon Infinity”.  One of their songs had shown up in my Spotify Discovery playlist a few weeks back and I’d thought it pretty good, and for whatever reason I decided to give the rest of the album a listen, and NOW I CAN’T STOP.  Which is helpful, because the album is designed to be listened to on repeat – the last song leads directly into the opening seconds of the first song.  The whole thing kicks a tremendous amount of ass and now I’m finding myself falling down a garage-rock-psychedelic-prog rabbit hole; I’ll be listening to this and Thee Oh Sees for the next month, at least.



I’m about 2/3rds of the way through Justin Cronin’s “The City of Mirrors”, aka the final installment in the Passage trilogy, and it’s… hmm.  I’m enjoying it very much, though it’s paced a little too deliberately – there’s lots of short chapters with cliffhanger endings.  I appreciate that he’s trying to build momentum and tension, but it feels a little artificial to me.

On the other hand, it’s very interesting to see earlier events from the previous books told through different points of view – my favorite sequence in the entire trilogy, Amy’s visit to the zoo (from the first book), is now seen through Amy’s own POV, which adds an illuminating layer of intrigue to an already spectacular set-piece.  And there’s also a very long sequence detailing Subject Zero’s personal history, which contains some of the best pure writing in the whole series.

Obviously, if you’ve read the first two, you’re probably already reading this one.  I’ll be looking forward to talking it over with people once I finish.

The First Few Hours: The Witcher 3

I want to write but I’m in a bit of a medication-induced brain-fog, and in any event I feel like it’s too soon for me to talk about The Witcher 3.  Even though I have a specific blog category that’s literally called “the first few hours“, and even though I’ve played maybe 1-2 hours of it so far – very deliberately and slowly – I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface’s surface of what Witcher 3 is all about.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the entire Witcher franchise.  I own the first two Witcher games on PC:  I played through the three different openings of Witcher 1 and thought it was interesting, maybe a little cumbersome, and figured I’d get back to it at some point (but never did); I tried playing Witcher 2, both before and after the big patch that added a tutorial section, and while I was certainly impressed with the world-building (and the world itself), I couldn’t actually get past how obtuse its mechanics were.  Most of what I know about the Witcher franchise was from listening to old Giant Bombcasts.

So I’m really only able to judge this game – or at least form my own first impressions – on its own merits.  And even then, I feel like I should wait until the first few patches come out.  The first mega-patch is supposedly on its way towards the PS4 next week, and another patch that would fix the incredibly small text is in the works.  I’ve not yet run into any terrible bugs, though in some of the “detective” quests I tend to get stuck because I can’t find the last highlighted item, which sometimes requires a restart from the last save.

Here’s what I can say in the very limited time that I’ve spent with it:

  • really like how the conversation system isn’t so obviously skewed towards “good” and “evil” responses.  It’s much easier for me to simply respond as I’d like and see what happens – in other words, I can actually “role-play”, because I’m not constrained by any sort of artificial morality slider that I’m trying to skew.  Whenever I’ve played other games like Mass Effect or KOTOR or Fable or the like, I deliberately lean heavily to one side and then, if the game’s worthy enough of a 2nd run, I’ll play that 2nd run all the way to the other side.  Here, though, I’m happy to simply answer questions in the way I’d like – mostly positive and supportive, in the dozen or so conversations I’ve had thus far – and I’ve not felt like I missed something important as a result.  Maybe I have – maybe I’ve already cut myself off of half a dozen side-quests – but there’s already so much to do and see and explore that I’m not going to worry about it.
  • Even though I’m still in the very first tutorial town, the people I’ve met and helped out have been far more diverse and interesting than possibly all the people I met in Dragon Age: Inquisition.   I’d rather not spoil this, so I’ll just say that talking to everyone is ultimately a rewarding experience, and seeing the world react to conversations I’ve had with random people is incredibly gratifying.  And if the writing is this deep, this quickly, then BOY OH BOY.
  • The melee combat system seems mostly intuitive and familiar, though it’s going to take me some time to get used to the magic signs – I just wish they’d use “Fire” instead of whatever made-up word they’re using.  One might argue that using English words would ruin the immersion, but I counter that argument by saying that me fumbling through a menu and squinting to read the description of each spell is absolutely more disruptive than if they just said “Fire” or “Defense” or “Push” or whatever.  In any event, in my 1-2 hours or so, I’ve only ever used magic by accident.  (Though, in fairness, it did help kill the griffin.)

I’ve only had two play sessions with it thus far; the first night was kind of just a warm-up, getting a feel for the controls and the world, and I turned it off because I was tired and I wasn’t 100% sure I knew where I wanted to go next.  The second night – last night – I turned it off because I knew that if I didn’t, I’d be marathoning it and calling in sick to work and I’d probably still be playing it right now.  Now I understand that I have to be careful going forward, because tomorrow is my 11th wedding anniversary and we’re going house-hunting and buying some toys for the 2-year-old, and if I get sucked into The Witcher right now I’m going to be sleeping on the couch.

(Well, the couch is where the PS4 is, so….)

 

Further Adventures in Real Estate

1.  In last week’s entry, I wrote that I was incredibly distracted and overwhelmed by the very real possibility that the house we’d fallen love with was going to be ours within a matter of weeks, and that the speed with which this whole thing happened was dizzying and disorienting.  In my excitement and confidence and naivete, I’d told a work colleague that the only two things that could happen to derail this process was that (1) the bank would do their own appraisal and give us far less of a loan than what we’d bid, or (2) the inspector would say “this house is actually just a hologram and doesn’t exist in any sort of physical reality.”

As it turned out, (2) was closer to the truth than (1); the inspection went so terribly that we agreed to abandon it about halfway through, because there was nothing we could see that could possibly make up for what we’d already seen.  Words like “deathtrap” and “shitshow” were thrown around.  The inspector – who was hired by our realtor, and thus was professionally biased on her behalf – said to us, “Look – no problem is unsolvable.  But if you were my own flesh and blood, I’d urge you to walk away.”  I asked our realtor, who’s been doing this for a long time, how this flip ranked in terms of what she’d seen, and she said that it was, in fact, the worst she’d ever seen, and by the time we’d signed the inspection checks, she was already looking at other properties for us to visit.

So there’s that.

At this point, we’ve learned quite a lot in a very short amount of time, the most important of which are:

  • There will never be a situation in which an inspector looks at a house and says, “I can’t find anything wrong, this is a perfect house.”  But there’s a difference between a solvable problem and a waking nightmare.
  • The Venn diagram comprising available houses in this neighborhood in our price range that also meet our specific needs and that aren’t going to collapse in a stiff breeze is going to be very small, and we have to be realistic about what we can expect to find.
  • A good support team is everything.

We’re not giving up; indeed, we went back out there this past weekend and saw something that’s actually quite lovely, and we also learned that the very first house that we ended up being the runner-up bid for might be coming back on the market, and the chance to get a second crack at that one is certainly very intriguing.  But until we finally get out of the nightmare contract and get our money back, we’re still on the outside looking in.

2.  I need to get back to the album at some point, but as you can imagine, it’s just impossible to feel creative and focused when so much big stuff is happening.  Looking at houses is exhausting, especially with a two year old who loves climbing stairs and saying “No.  Stop.”  and hitting you when it’s time to stop climbing steps and leave the house.  I’d hate to think that I’m not going to get back to it until we’re moved in to a new place, because who knows how long this process is going to take; in the meantime, though, it’s rough going.  I’m trying to not beat myself up about it; these are extenuating circumstances, to be sure, and I’m sure that soon enough I’ll be able to carve out some time and mental energy to get back to it in earnest.

3.  I am kinda playing games again, though, if only because that’s easier for me to deal with when I’m collapsed on the couch.  There wasn’t a lot of time this weekend, but there was enough time for me to be able to see a few things.

  • Invisible, Inc. is a really interesting turn-based stealth game – it’s by the team that made the fantastic Mark of the Ninja, and it looks an awful lot like XCOM – and I can’t wait to really settle down and play it for real.  The simple truth is that for me right now, even on the easiest difficulty setting, it’s very stressful, and I’m already too stressed out as it is.  Supposedly it’s coming to PS4 later this year; if it also came to the Vita, I’d gladly buy it twice, as I think it’d be perfect as a handheld title.
  • Project CARS is really beautiful and really obtuse; I played it for about 5 minutes and then put it back in the Gamefly envelope.
  • For some reason, I felt bad that I’d not turned my Xbox One on in a while, and so I decided to rent Dead Rising 3, even though I’ve never really cared for the first 2.  And after 10-15 minutes, I remembered that I’d still not finished Sunset Overdrive, which is one of the games I bought the XBO for in the first place, and that if I had to choose between two zombie apocalypse games, I’d much rather play Sunset Overdrive.
  • Did I end up playing Sunset Overdrive, though?  No, I did not.  Instead, I tried to cram through as much of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood as I could.  I’m about 3/4 of the way through, and even though it’s not nearly as engrossing as last year’s New Order, it’s certainly fun enough in its mindless action, and shooting Nazi zombies is always a gas.  (Even though they also shoot back, which, I mean, come on.)  I’d like to finish it tonight, so that my plate is clear before The Witcher 3 unlocks.

Yeah, The Witcher 3.  I’m trying to keep my expectations in check.  I played bits and pieces of the first two and couldn’t really get into either of them.  The hyperbole surrounding this newest one is ridiculous, which is impossible to ignore; but given that I’m also feeling rather sour about games at the moment, it must be said that I’m kinda putting a lot of pressure on it to really be as good as everyone else seems to say it is.  If The Witcher 3 can’t get me excited about gaming as a medium, then maybe I should start thinking about switching off for good.