From the Archives: Me v MGS V

Remember a million years ago when I was working on a huge Metal Gear Solid essay for Unwinnable?

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Well, here it is.

Unwinnable – How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Metal Gear Solid

This is probably the longest essay I’ve written since college, and all things considered I think it turned out pretty well.  I can’t say I’ve thought very much about the game since this piece got published, but then again, I think I just re-downloaded it on Xbox One X, and I may give it another ago during the next release calendar lull.

Extra-special thanks to Unwinnable EIC Stu Horvath for accepting my pitch and making it look really nice.

The First Few Hours: Deus Ex Mankind Divided

Current Status:  Let’s say about 5-6 hours.  I’ve done 3 or 4 main missions, 2-3 side missions.  I am attempting to play as stealthily and non-lethally as possible; in other words, I’m mostly just crawling through ducts.

I have some conflicting thoughts about  Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, but first I need to provide some context.

I have vague memories of playing the first Deus Ex game on my roommate’s PC.  I know I finished it, because I remember using a walkthrough in order to see all the endings (I also remember printing the walkthrough out at work and having it be this absolutely gigantic document); I remember certain levels better than others (i.e., the Statue of Liberty); I mostly remember the feeling of intense intimidation.  Deus Ex was billed as “the thinking man’s shooter/RPG”, which to me really just meant that it was incredibly complicated to learn how to play; you couldn’t simply WASD your way through a level.  And I dimly recall hearing that there were multiple ways to approach each objective, though I’m pretty sure I just killed everybody I saw, because the stealth controls were complicated and I always got spotted without knowing why or how.

I played Invisible War on console, and made it about 2/3rds of the way through before getting stuck.  All I remember about that game were its obscenely long loading times (which felt very much at odds with the relative smallness of each new zone) and that I had a little bit more success playing stealthily, though – again – I got stuck towards the end because I was pinned between some massive robot enemies and I had almost nothing useful in my inventory that could help me get un-stuck.

I played and finished Human Revolution, and enjoyed it (for the most part).  I was glad to see the franchise revived and treated not simply as a cash cow, but as an attempt to modernize the gameplay and keep it relevant.  The ending(s) were junk and the boss fights were awful, but I did enjoy sneaking around.

So, then: I am coming to this new game with the casual familiarity of someone who’s played the previous games but can’t necessarily remember if there’s any relationship between JC Denton and Adam Jensen; who is aware of the storied history of the franchise (or, rather, the high regard of the first game) but who isn’t necessarily going into this one with high expectations; and mostly as someone who desperately needed a palate cleansing after the existential, solipsistic despair of No Man’s Sky.

To that end, I am of two minds regarding Mankind Divided at this early stage of the game:

I do not feel that it’s necessary to have played any other DE game in order to enjoy this one; but I also feel that it’s ABSOLUTELY necessary to have played at least one other DE game in order to know what’s possible in this one.

If I’m being honest, most of what I know about how to play this current DE is from my previous experience, coupled with what I’ve read in pre-release previews and final-release reviews about the game. The game itself is not particularly explicit in letting you know how much freedom you have.  The tutorial level is heavily combat-focused, and while it teaches you about non-lethal takedowns and certain stealth mechanics, it doesn’t necessarily do the best job of showing you that you can sneak through vents and bypass rooms of enemies entirely, and that it’s often more beneficial to do it that way.  More to the point, I get the sense that there’s an expectation of the player to already know this stuff, and that the tutorial is mostly there to acclimate you to the controls, rather than the game’s philosophy.

And I should also point out here that by the phrase “game’s philosophy” I’m talking about the thought process that guides each individual player through their own individual gameplay experience, rather than the game’s narrative.  Because as far as the story goes, I mean, whatever.  Mankind Divided‘s plot is convoluted and ridiculous and the main takeaway so far is that Jensen acts like he’s auditioning to be in a Kojima Metal Gear Solid game.*

Which is not to say that I’m not enjoying myself.  I’m making my own fun.  At this early stage in the game, I’m largely avoiding the main storyline and simply exploring this future vision of Prague, which reminds me an awful lot of Half-Life 2‘s City 17.  Any time I see a vent cover, I open it and sneak around just to see where it takes me, because invariably it leads me to a secret stash of something worthwhile and at the very least I get a few XP points.  Any time I see a locked door, regardless of where I am, I immediately hack the shit out of it or I start looking for an alternate route in, because there’s almost always an alternate route, whether it’s a structural weakness in an adjacent wall, or even just hopping out onto a window ledge and sneaking in that way (you will learn, if you choose to, that while people might have complicated locks on their doors, their windows are almost always unlocked).

The world is super janky in that regard.  Half a dozen people might be milling about in front of a coffee shop, and they do not react at all to me opening up a manhole cover and jumping into the sewer.  Then again, considering how many people hang out in the sewer, I guess they wouldn’t necessarily be surprised.  It is unclear why there are so many people hanging out in the sewer, for that matter – there’s obviously some sort of conflict going on that’s making the citizenry uneasy, but I’m not entirely sure why they’re hanging out belowground.

The only other thing I can offer is that… I kinda wish I was playing this on PS4.  I think I’d mentioned last week that I’m aiming to break 100K in Achievements by the end of the year, and so I’m choosing to play most of the rest of the year’s multi-console releases on the XB1 in order to make that happen.  The XB1 experience is largely OK, though there’s a bit of slowdown here and there and I know the PS4 version would look a bit crisper and cleaner.  (Facial animation and lip-syncing are awful, though, and I hear that’s the case across all three platforms.)  Nothing about the XB1 version makes it unplayable, of course; but it’s clear that it’s bringing up the rear in terms of smoothness and fidelity.

More to come later this week.


* I would ordinarily link here to my Unwinnable essay about MGSV, but I don’t think it’s online.  I’ll see what I can do about that.  In the meantime, it’s available in issue 70/71.

Where Is My Mind?

Again with the vanishing act, I know, I know…

1. Just a short while ago I’d mentioned that I was feeling pressure to complete my self-imposed Goodreads challenge.  I’d go through my backlog and purposely pick shorter books, and read them a bit quicker than I’d prefer, just to stay ahead of the pace.  As it currently stands, though, I’ve finished 29 of 35, and so I think I’m in pretty good shape.  The last 5 books I’ve read since the last time I wrote this down:

  • A Doubter’s Almanac, Ethan Canin.  Some phenomenally good writing here tracing the generational lines of a tortured mathematical genius, though I must admit that this Goodreads comment is spot on:  “Deliver me from art about troubled men whose genius is used as an excuse for them to be assholes.”
  • The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, Dominic Smith.  Very good prose, but the plot ran out of steam for me and I had trouble staying engaged with it.
  • The Fisherman, John Langan.  Picked this up (among several others) on the advice of Unwinnable’s EIC Stu Horvath, and I’m very glad I did; this is a really well-written bit of cosmic horror that I couldn’t put down.
  • The Fugitives, Christopher Sorrentino.  This is, according to my GoogleDoc, the second-least-enjoyable book I’ve finished this year.  (The least-enjoyable book that I finished would be China Mieville’s This Census Taker, which was short enough for me to finish but long enough for me to swear off his books for the rest of my life.  I also attempted to read Girl On The Train but gave up about a third of the way into it.)  Anyway, there’s some marvelous writing here, but there’s also a ton of bullshit, and the final third is so confusing and messy and aggravating that I found myself incredibly relieved when I finished it.
  • Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I can’t believe it took me this long to get to this.  This ought to be essential reading for literally every person on the planet.

I’m currently reading Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, also from that Unwinnable list, and it’s certainly doing the same sorts of things to my brain that Stranger Things did, though I suspect this is going to not have as happy an ending.

2. I am very close to finishing Double Fine’s VHS homage to Metroidvania, Headlander, and I’m torn between really loving the hell out of it and also wanting to break my controller in half during some of the boss battles.  Double Fine games are a tough thing for me to objectively critique; my love for Tim Schafer’s early work blinds me a bit, and so I’m willing to overlook a lot of issues.  A lot of recent DF games are marvelously clever and beautiful and charming and whimsical, but they don’t necessarily play all that well?  Headlander, on the other hand, is possibly the most game-y game they’ve made since Psychonauts, where the emphasis is very much on the actual gameplay and less on the writing.  Of course, the writing remains very good, and the game’s audio/visual aesthetic is top-notch, as always; it’s just that this is (for the most part) actually, legitimately fun to play.  (Except for some of the boss battles, which… aaaaaaaaaaaaa)

3. So, yeah; I’m still in somewhat of a cocooning phase, though I’m starting to feel better.  It’s going to remain somewhat quiet around here, though, as the day job has installed some rather heavy-duty internet firewall stuff, and so I don’t really know how much I can get away with (and it’s a line that I’m not particularly willing to cross at this point in time).  I’ll do my best to keep a somewhat regular presence here, of course.

 

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.

 

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