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.

The First Few Hours: the new Lara, the new-ish XCOM

cw

So on Tuesday, I spent $60 to digitally download Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition for my PS4.  As I’ve already played and beaten this game (to 100% completion) twice already on the PC, I was a bit apprehensive about why I had to buy it; if I’d only been willing to wait a few more days, I’d have received a rental copy early next week.

There are three reasons why I succumbed, as it turns out.  The first reason, as always, is that I am a consumer whore, and I cannot resist the temptation of instant gratification.  (Even if “instant gratification” in this particular case means waiting over an hour for the download to finish, and then (because the game is still familiar) playing through the beginning so quickly that I caught up with the download progress and had to turn it off for the night.)

The second reason is that, like most PS4 owners, I really, really want to play games on it.  Even if it’s a game that I’ve already played before where the only real difference is a number of substantial graphical improvements.  (Exhibit A:  Assassin’s Creed 4.)

The third and final reason is, perhaps, guilt?  Square-Enix came right out and called the original release a “failure”, even as it sold 3.5 million copies in its first month.  As I was already a Tomb Raider fan, and as I was also a big big fan of this reboot, I felt compelled to at least offer my support – again – in getting a sequel made.  I don’t know what else I can do, Square-Enix.

In any event:  I bought it, and I’ve played through a few hours of it, and for the most part I can say that I’m happy I bought it, even as the graphical enhancements are not as eye-popping as I’d hoped.

This is not to say it looks bad, of course.  I never played the original version on console, but on my PC it looked quite nice, and this enhanced version on the PS4 generally looks phenomenally better.  Most everything looks sharp and crisp and finely detailed; forests actually feel dense and, well, forest-y, with swaying foliage and trees and mists; Lara’s face is far more expressive and realistic.

Still, there’s some weirdness here and there.  In that opening gameplay sequence, where Lara is suspended upside down, the much-vaunted TressFX has her ponytail hanging upside down, but her bangs remain right-side up; when Lara crouches in crawlspaces with her torch, the fire against the roof is still a 2D sprite; when Lara moves through water, the water still ripples oddly and unconvincingly; the deer that you hunt still look… weird.  These are very small nitpicks, to be sure, but the whole point of this “Definitive Edition” was that the graphics were redone, and as I’ve already played the hell out of this game I can’t help but look at the small stuff this time around.

The game is still great, I’m happy to say, and I’m also still impressed by the PS4 controller.  I know I keep bringing it up, but you gotta understand – I hated the Dualshock 3 almost as much as I loved the Xbox360 controller.  My only gripe is that I keep forgetting how the face buttons are configured, which means I usually fail the game’s quicktime events the first time around.  That aside, the game works just fine, especially where combat is concerned, and so now I am really getting excited for Uncharted 4.

*     *     *

As far as Operation Backlog is concerned, I have spent the last week or so slowly playing through XCOM Enemy Within, which feels a bit like a “remix” rather than a full expansion.

I am playing it on Easy, because I’m a grown-ass man and I can do whatever I want; but also because I’m still terribly intimidated by the game.  I try as hard as I can to not make any mistakes, because the game absolutely beats the shit out of you if you do, and so every mission is very stressful and tense and I’m kinda just creeping along, desperate to stay in cover, trying to remember which of my squad are holding the medkits just in case.

I have not gotten far enough into the game to get into the “Meld” business – I’ve only done the first 5 or 6 missions, and I’ve got quite a stockpile of the stuff, but I don’t think I’ve yet built the requisite facilities to work with it.  It may take some time, really, as my play sessions only tend to last for one mission (and then the requisite post-mission housekeeping).  I can only take so much stress, people.

scatterbrained

I might’ve mentioned this already, but I suppose I might as well bring it up again; having a kid has completely changed my gaming habits. Granted, it’s also completely changed nearly every other aspect of my life, too, so the gaming slice of my life pie* was bound to get caught up in the sweeping change that having a kid inevitably brings.

Still, it’s something that I haven’t quite adjusted to yet. I’m finding it harder to get into new games, for one thing; I’m also finding it harder to stay engaged in the games I’m already playing.  And in any event, long gone are the days when I could just plug in to a game and stay there for 8 hours; now I’m lucky if I can stay focused for more than 30 minutes.

I think it’s been at least 2 months since I turned on my 360.  Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true – my kid was a bit restless a few weeks ago so I put in Rayman Origins because I figured it was colorful and musical and would maybe focus his attention for a little bit.  Alas – no such luck; he stuck with it for about 5 minutes before deciding he’d had enough.

This is all to say that I’m not necessarily doing a whole lot of gaming these days, and when I do, it’s very much in short bursts; I’ll get up to a checkpoint, save, quit, try something else; get to a checkpoint, save, quit, try something else.

Case in point: Shadowrun Returns.  I never played the original, and don’t know anything about its history.  Didn’t even follow its Kickstarter, beyond knowing that it had one.  I bought it because it seemed like something right up my alley – a cyberpunk/fantasy/sci-fi setting, a turn-based RPG with a battle system straight out of XCOM, lots of well-written text.  And for the most part, I’m really enjoying it – except for the lack of a quick-save, which means I can’t experiment, and if I die, I have to replay the previous 20 minutes all over again.  And while the text is fun, and the dialogue is sharp and witty, there’s also quite a lot of it, and I find myself scanning it quickly as opposed to taking it in.  And the game doesn’t necessarily explain its mechanics all that well – took me 3-4 battles before figuring out how to throw a grenade.  So, basically, I’m playing it one room at a time; once I finish an area, the game quicksaves, and then I log out.

I’ve been also sorta dabbling in the PC port of Fez, in a sort-of meaningless loyalty gesture to Phil Fish.  When I first played it on the 360, I got very, very deep into the hidden language and went out of my way to scour newsgroup discussions about some of the more obscure puzzles; this time, though, I’m really just out to enjoy the scenery and find some cubes if I see anyway.  It’s a very peaceful world to be in, which is a feeling I don’t often experience in games.

What else, what else… oh, I accidentally-on-purpose picked up XCOM on the iPad last week, when it was on “sale”.  And you know what?  It is perfect on the iPad.  Not that it wasn’t highly enjoyable (if a bit stressful) on the PC/console, but having it on the iPad makes idle moments on the go a lot more interesting.  The touch controls make perfect sense, and the in-between-mission ant-farm view was basically built to be used on an iPad.

Beyond that, I’m kinda just twiddling my thumbs, waiting for GTAV and trying to figure out how to play it without alienating my wife and child.  The next Mario & Luigi RPG comes out on the 3DS next week, which should be fun… Gone Home should be out on Steam next week, too, which I’m very much looking forward to… I’m still skeptical about Saints Row 4, the new Splinter Cell, and that other XCOMThe Bureau thing… and in the meantime, I still have my Steam Summer Sale to go through.

It’s going to be a weird next few weeks, is all I’ll say.  Not at all sure how updated this blog is going to be, though it won’t be for lack of trying.

 

 

* I was going to cut this out, but you know what? It’s not often you come across the worst metaphor in the entire history of written communication. So, really, you ought to be thanking me for leaving it in.  I very nearly changed the name of this site to better serve its honor.

SFTC 400: a bit of a downer

WordPress says this is my 400th post, although that number includes the old posts at the now-defunct blogspot URL and some drafts-in-progress.  Still, though, 400 posts!  Let’s celebrate this historic milestone by talking about anxiety, depression, and my poor impulse control as it relates to Steam Summer Sales.

You see, every time there’s a Steam sale, I get all excited and tingly – which is ridiculous, because according to the Steam Calculator, I already own everything and I’ve only played less than half of it:
  • Games owned: 338
  • Games not played: 166  (49%)
…and so not only do I get excited and tingly for no good reason, but I also, then, find myself getting a little disappointed that there’s nothing new on sale that I haven’t already bought.
Of course, that doesn’t actually stop me.  As of Monday afternoon, here’s my current haul (10 games, approximately $40):
  • Dirt 3
  • Super Puzzle Platformer Puzzle
  • The Last Remnant
  • Home
  • Rogue Legacy
  • Sword & Sworcery EP
  • Thomas Was Alone
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  • Bully: Scholarship Edition
  • Toki Tori 2

There’s more stupid irony to come, as you might expect.  3 of the games on that list are games I’ve already played and simply wanted better-looking versions of (Dirt 3, Sword & Sworcery, Bully).  I’d heard good things about Home and Thomas Was Alone, and since I keep saying I’m tired of shooters I figured I’d get on board with some quality indie non-shooters.  I can’t necessarily explain The Last Remnant, other than that every once in a while I get a JRPG itch, and this was $6 or something.  Toki Tori 2… well, for some reason Steam had given me a 10% discount coupon, which on top of the sale discount made it a no-brainer.  Blood Dragon was stupid cheap, and I still sorta-like Far Cry 3.  But the ultimate point that I’m driving at is that of the 10 games on that list above, Rogue Legacy is the only one that I had a genuine hunger for, and while it was modestly discounted it wasn’t even part of the actual sale.

And yet, here’s the dumbest part of this whole enterprise:

Even though I’ve added 10 new games to my already absurd collection, you know what I ended up playing the most this weekend?  Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider, which are games that I’d already beaten quite thoroughly earlier this year.

I don’t know why.  I suppose I was curious to see what this Steam Badge thing is all about; I’m still not 100% sure what they are or why I need them, and I’m not about to start annoying my friends list in hopes of completing a set, but after playing for half an hour or so and coming back up for air, I’d see that I’d unlocked a new badge, and so that’s an easy enough carrot to chase.

But I think there’s more to it (i.e., the replaying of finished games) than mere curiosity over Badges.  I think that I just wanted to travel over familiar ground.

This happens sometimes, especially when I’m feeling anxious and/or depressed.  I suppose I’ve been feeling a bit of both, lately. Truth is, I’m in a bit of a life-rut.  I mean, I love my kid, and I love my wife, and those are the most important things and that’s all well and good.  But I’ve been super-stressed out about money, my day job, my music career, my flailing attempts at creativity, my kid’s future and my ability to provide for him, and etc.  And so there’s been times lately when I sit down in front of my computer and I look at my “Installed Games” folder and I’m overcome with a sort of paralysis – I have too many choices, and none of them are scratching the right itch, and so rather than try something new that might be confusing or “arty” or difficult or non-intuitive, which are normally things that I’m intrigued by, I end up going towards the thing that I already know and am familiar with.

Along those lines, I’ve also been punishing myself by replaying a little bit of XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  Playstation Network was offering free copies for PSN users, and so I felt compelled to download it and see how it felt on my TV, and I played for a few minutes… but the PC version just looks and feels better, and there’s also something about playing it in my tiny, cramped office that adds to the tension, so I went back to the PC version.   I’d lost my old game save when my hard drive crashed, so I’ve been starting anew, and it’s been an interesting experience getting back into it – I’m not playing nearly as stupidly as I did the first time around, for one thing, though it’s still very tense and I can only play it for 30 minutes or so before the tension overwhelms the fun.

Regarding the rest of the Steam Sale:  I’m trying to hold off, though there’s really not much else that I’d be picking up at this point that I don’t already have.  I suppose I’d like to see Gunpoint come back – it was up for a community vote and lost, but considering that Dishonored came back after losing a vote, perhaps this one will come back as a featured item.  I’d tried the demo and liked it, but I also knew that at a certain point I’d probably get flustered and frustrated with it… so I’d rather pay less if I’m going to get it.

What about you guys?

a postcard from Brooklyn, post-Sandy

So, first thing’s first – everyone’s OK here at SFTC HQ.  As far as the hurricane goes, I came out pretty great – never lost power, heat, water or internet.  I’m a little stir crazy, I guess, since me and the wife have been more or less stuck inside since Monday, but that’s fine.  There are hundreds of thousands of fellow New Yorkers who did not get off so easy, and my heart breaks for them.

Our neighborhood is one of the few that survived pretty much unscathed, but we’re certainly not in the clear.  Because all the ports are closed, and because mass transportation is still screwed up and the roads in and out of the city are filled with traffic, supplies aren’t getting in.  The local grocery stores and bodegas are running low on pretty much everything; the gas station a few blocks away from my apartment is out of gas, surrounded by perhaps a dozen vacant cars.  And I would make the argument that when supplies finally arrive, they really ought to go to the neighborhoods that really need it first, of which there are far more than mine.

It’s a little messed up, to be honest.  I’ve been living in New York City since 1997, and I’ve never seen anything like this.  As horrible as 9/11 was – and I don’t mean to diminish how traumatic it was – the city never felt quite as isolated and cut-off as it does right now.  And I mean that in the literal sense – it is damned near impossible to get anywhere in the city, as tunnels and bridges have been closed and traffic has been nightmarish.  It’s true that mass transit has sort of returned today, but going from Brooklyn to Manhattan via subways and buses is still an exercise in futility – see this Gawker post, for example, and know that the picture in that link represents but one-sixth of the actual situation.

Still, the city is picking itself up, slowly but surely.  Indeed, the mail came today for the first time since last Saturday.  (Alas, my Gamefly copy of Assassin’s Creed 3 was not part of the delivery.)

Anyway, even though I’ve been stuck at home for the last few days, there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of gaming, to be honest.  When the TV has been on, the wife and I have more or less been glued to NY1 to stay updated, and we’ve only taken breaks to watch James Bond movies.  I’ve managed to squeeze in a little bit of Forza Horizon here and there, and last night I spent a little time with XCOM.

XCOM, as it turns out, is a perfect “horror” game.  I can only play it in 30-minute chunks, actually, because (a) the battlefield gameplay is absurdly tension-filled, and (b) I am a huge pussy. And even though I’m playing it on Easy, it’s still monstrously difficult at times; when shit starts going wrong, it goes wrong really fast and before you know it your entire squad is either dead or zombie-fied.  I thought I’d been making good progress, actually – I’d cleared a few alien abduction missions without losing anyone, and the world council was very pleased with my overall performance, and I’d finally been able to create the Skeleton Key that granted me access to the alien base.  My squad was filled with experienced soldiers who wielded top-of-the-line equipment – those laser sniper rifles are insane – and I carelessly assumed that even with my overly cautious and methodical play style, I wouldn’t have too much trouble.

How wrong I was.  I cleared the first room easily enough, but then I entered the second room and encountered the Chyrssalids for the first time, and within 5 minutes my entire squad was overrun.

The turn-based nature of the game is actually a large part of the horror.  I suppose “dread” might be a better choice of word, because that’s ultimately what the feeling is; you know that no matter how long you stall in trying to figure out what to do, one of your soldiers is totally fucked.  You might have to walk away, go to the bathroom, get a glass of water, all the while thinking of a solution – but when you get back to the computer, your soldier (who has the only medkit, because you weren’t paying attention) is still about to get destroyed, and your other squadmates are either out of position or, even worse, are out of ammo and need to waste a turn to reload.

It’s a marvelous game, and I hate it.  I hate that I love it so much, and I hate that I keep having to walk away from it because I can’t take the tension.  Considering how much tension there is in NYC these days anyway, there’s only so much more I can take.

There’s not much more to report.  My copy of Need For Speed Most Wanted is apparently at my office, but I’m not going into Manhattan until the subways are running again (which probably won’t be until Monday at the earliest).  And as I said above, my copy of AC3 is in USPS limbo, though hopefully it’ll arrive tomorrow.  But really, the most important news is that everything here is OK; we are safe and warm and our dogs are keeping us company.  

weekend recap: the sneeze and the fury

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

Things to talk about today:

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

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

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

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

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

the first few hours: promising, very promising

I put an hour into both XCOM Enemy Unknown and Dishonored last night, which is obviously not nearly enough time to give those games their proper due.  That being said, I am a firm believer that what a game shows you in its first 10 minutes is very often a good indicator as to the general quality level of the experience you’re about to embark on, and on that note, I feel pretty confident in saying that these games are looking very good indeed.

XCOM

Two things I should point out before I start:  (1) I am very intimidated by strategy games, be they turn-based or real-time, which also means (2) I never played the original XCOM games.  I am approaching this game as a recent convert to the genre, specifically because of the noob-friendliness of Firaxis’ own Civilization Revolution (which, in turn, got me into Civ 4 and Civ 5).  I have no allegiance to the original games.  What I’m interested in, then, is a compelling experience, and with an option to turn the difficulty down to the easiest setting (just so I can get my feet wet, and so that I can better understand how the game systems work without getting vaporized).

The tutorial walks you through each move; the first two missions still hold your hand a bit, but you have a bit more freedom to work with.  I managed to finish the first post-tutorial mission with everybody alive (though one dude got dinged up a bit); in my second mission, I lost a rookie and two other soldiers are in sickbay, out for at least 2 weeks with some serious poison damage.    (I have not yet renamed my soldiers, but I am already somewhat attached to my most powerful guys, and I can already see myself making sure they have the most cover at any given time.)

I am still intimidated once I’m on the battlefield, but in a way that’s a boon – my abundant need for caution at every turn also happens to be the proper way to play the game, and because the controls are incredibly easy and intuitive to use (I’m using a 360 controller, though I’m playing on the PC), I find myself getting more and more comfortable.  Even though there’s no greater feeling of dread that moving your guys into what you think is a proper cover position, only to see enemies suddenly appearing directly behind you.  Ordinarily I’d say this is a cheap shot, but the game never makes it feel unfair – there’s almost always a better vantage point that I should’ve seen, and in any event, this is war – people will die.

I love the in-between bits the most, I think.  I love looking at the base of operations (presented as if it were an ant colony, which is a useful subliminal reminder of that old saying about a boot stomping on an anthill), talking with my various departments, starting research projects, outfitting my soldiers, etc.  It’s elegantly presented and does a fantastic job of making you feel like you’re a vital part of the story.

DISHONORED

I am already enjoying the hell out of Dishonored even though I’ve died a lot in the game’s first hour.  Quite a bit more death than I’d anticipated, if I’m being honest.  My intention was to play as non-lethally as possible, but it’s not always easy to tell when you’re hidden in shadow and when you aren’t, and thus I’m forced to shoot and stab in order to escape, and since I’m still getting the hang of the controls, I don’t always escape.  I’m tempted to delete my current save and just start over from scratch, in an attempt to really make sure I understand what I’m doing and how the stealth mechanics work.

My terribleness at the game aside, I love everything I’ve seen thus far.  The art direction is quite stunning (even if some of the textures on the 360 are a bit blurry and pixelated) and the little of the city I’ve seen looks remarkable.  And I love how many hidden secrets there are, and how well the game rewards you for going off the beaten path.  There is remarkable detail in every corner of the world.

 

 

it gets better

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

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

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

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

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

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

weekend recap – a much better ending

The big news is that I finished the Borderlands 2 campaign.  Ended at  level 33; put in approximately 40 hours.  Did a lot of the sidequests, but not all of them; it’s a little exhausting, frankly.   And yet, it must be said that it’s a tremendous game, vastly improved over the first – and especially as far as the ending is concerned.  I am torn between starting over in True Vault Hunter mode (which makes the game harder, but where you get much better loot), or starting over with a new character (I’m intrigued by the Siren and the Gunzerker).  I may very well decide to take a break from it, however – it’s a lot of fun in short bursts, but over the course of a long marathon it becomes a little tedious and I end up running to my next objective instead of shooting my way through.

I’ve been struggling to determine the game’s pleasure loop – the thing that keeps me so engaged and eager to press on.  Yes, there’s tons of loot, and there isn’t a single empty crate in the game, and I’d easily say that the ratio of usable loot to trash was far better than the year’s other loot-heavy game, Diablo 3, where I’d spend literally dozens of hours before finding something worth swapping out (although it should be noted that the Auction House played a large factor in that particular instance – I found far better stuff in the AH than I ever did in the game).  But loot is, ultimately, junk – there’s so much of it that it ceases to mean anything after a while, and money eventually becomes no object.  (Which is handy, since I died repeatedly during the final gauntlet – the one right before the final boss, the one that ends with a gigantic Constructor bot – so much so that I ended up losing over $20,000 in resurrection fees.)  The actual shooting itself is fun, although reloading is still a bitch.  The story isn’t terribly engrossing, though it should be noted that the characters are really well written and acted.   I suppose I’m drawn to the exploration of the world – and what a huge and varied world it is – although the game threw so many enemies at me that I never felt that I had the time to truly savor every nook and cranny.

(Honestly?  I’m kinda wanting to go back and re-explore Skyrim on my PC, now that it’s been almost a year since I last played it and don’t really remember everything about it.)

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I also dabbled a little more in Torchlight 2.  It’s… OK.  It’s very hard to not constantly compare it to Diablo 3.  And while I had my problems with D3 – especially in terms of how choppy and laggy that game could be – it can’t be denied that D3 looked fantastic, and (when it ran smoothly) it felt fantastic.  T2 is a far smoother experience than D3, which is very much to its credit, but… well… left/right clicking doesn’t seem to pack the same sort of punch.  It also – and I hate saying this – looks cheap.  Like a top-down World of Warcraft, except somehow with less clarity.  (My PC isn’t a screaming graphics machine, but it’s not shabby, either, and I’m running it with everything turned way, way up.)  I’m not doubting the game’s credentials, or diminishing the work that went into it – Lord knows I loved the hell out of the first game and was eagerly awaiting the sequel – but it feels like a budget title (which, lo and behold, is how it’s priced).  I need (and want) to spend more time with it, of course, both offline and on, before making up my mind; it just makes an underwhelming first impression, I guess, which is a little disappointing.

*      *      *      *      *

Also finally tried the XCOM Enemy Unknown demo; oh man.  OH MAN.   Did the very first mission – the ultra-tutorial – and didn’t even do the base stuff before logging off and keeping the rest unspoiled.  I am READY.  (I played it with a 360 controller instead of mouse/keyboard; still felt like a true, solid experience, and it looked great on my PC.)

*      *      *      *      *

Finally, I must pass along this pre-alpha footage, released over the weekend, of the forthcoming HD remake of Abe’s Oddysee.  I don’t know that I’ve written all that much about the Oddworld games recently, but the short version is that while I’d always been into videogames, I more or less stopped playing altogether between 1993 and, say, 1998 or so – the college years.  I grew up with an Atari 2600, and then played a lot of my younger brother’s Sega Genesis, and that was pretty much it for me until a work colleague bought a PS1 and the Oddworld games (alongside Crash Bandicoot and a Cool Boarders game, I think).  The Oddworld games immediately brought me back into the fold – they were intelligent, they were funny, they were absolutely gorgeous, and they were fun to play with a friend – tossing the controller back and forth after each death, trying to figure out each new dastardly puzzle.  And so looking at this remake – the developers would call it a reimagining, anyway – is making me all sorts of giddy.  Those first two Oddworld games hold a very special place in my heart, and seeing them get this sort of loving treatment for a new audience makes me very happy indeed.  I’m especially intrigued at the change of getting rid of the screen-by-screen design in lieu of a fluid, continual level – back in the old days, one of the ways of fixing a tricky puzzle was simply to step back into the last screen, thereby resetting the next one.  What they’ve done here is changed the enemy AI so that if they’re alarmed, they’ll go on a short alert, then go back to their predefined state, rather than simply resetting (since that’s now impossible).   Anyway, check out the footage – it looks fantastic.