Tuesday, October 30, 2018

It could drive a man to drink

I have been looking forward to Red Dead Redemption 2 for well over a year. The name was all I needed - no screen shots, no videos, no promises, just the name was enough to excite me. It's out now, I have played it for a few days, and I would like to condense my entire reaction down to three letters. There will be an explanation. This explanation will also be succinct as my blogging time is almost nonexistent. Here we go. Are you ready? I don't think you are ready. This is the sequel to the only open world game I have ever played that held my interest after the game was over. Prepare yourself.

*exhale*

*inhale*

Meh.

...

There are a few companies that get an unwarranted pass on issues that would bring companies of lesser renown to their knees. Nintendo gets away with putting out first party titles at a snail's pace because their first party titles are the quintessential 'Nintendo' games that the loyal crave more than air or food. They even get a review bonus of at least 10% for just being Nintendo. Blizzard gets away with selling loot boxes because 'they are just cosmetic' and because playing pretty princess dress up is just as important as defending the point. And Rockstar continues to get away with being Rockstar: making incredibly deep, detailed experiences that play like absolute shit.

Remember Grand Theft Auto 5? Think back to how the driving felt, the driving in a game with 'auto' in the title. It wasn't good. It was honestly pretty bad. So was the shooting. So were a lot of things related to how the player actually interacted with the virtual world. Yet GTAV is the highest grossing piece of media of any kind because it is Grand Theft Auto. And because it is Rockstar.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is rife with dizzying detail. I am not even talking about shrinking horse balls, I am talking about a living, breathing world full of totally pointless activities. Hunting, fishing, combing your horse, feeding your horse, maintaining your character's weight by eating just enough but not too much, shaving, getting a bath, playing five finger fillet, playing poker, cutting the skin off of animal carcasses, throwing said carcass on the back of your freshly combed, thoughtfully named horse and schlepping it back to camp, and a ton of other things that have nothing to do with what I am looking for in a game.

I wanted a cowboy game. A western game. I got a cowboy simulator. This is not the same thing.

And when the cowboy stuff actually happens? When the shooting breaks out? The game feels old. It feels inadequate. The controls are an unintuitive mess, the shooting outside of dead eye mode has been done better by a hundred other titles. Third person over the shoulder action is not new. It has been almost perfected by Gears of War and Uncharted. But here? It's clumsy. It barely functions. It's Rockstar.

And when the combat is done I need to clean my gun. If it is damaged I can take it to a gunsmith to get it repaired, to buy parts for it, to spend in game money on frivolous things like engraved handles. I can make that gun my very own, an extension of my hand that is unlike anyone else's. And then when I go to shoot a guy with it I will draw the bow for no reason and die.

I cannot overlook simple problems like fiddly controls just because the sunsets are gorgeous and the snow deforms realistically when a horse jumps into it. Good writing does not automatically forgive having to walk back and forth in front of my tent to get the correct button prompt to trigger so I can go to sleep.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a gorgeous mess of a world. It is accurate to the finest detail when you are looking at it but as soon as you touch it the illusion vanishes. It is probably the most 'Rockstar' Rockstar game ever. I paid cash money for this game so I am going to play it. And then I will play something else and the memory of Red Dead Redemption 2 will be overwritten in my head by good controls, intuitive combat and the striking absence of horse genitalia.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

I'm not actually playing Read Dead Redemption 2 yet. But I want to be.


Chamberlain and Chance - Not as scary as you remember

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Just a packed schedule

I did not start Spider-Man on Wednesday after the podcast was recorded. Nor did I start it on Thursday (I honestly don't remember what I played on Thursday night). The assumed quality of Spider-Man on top of the proximity to the release of a certain western game led to a paralysis of choice. Spider-Man would not be finished in time, so it should not be started, but then what else am I going to do? With over a week of evenings to fill I was terrified.

On Friday I got a last minute text to go to a friend's house for good beer and Magic: The Gathering. I had not been out of the house all week so I jumped at the chance.

On Saturday I watched Rampage at the request of a member of its target audience: 12 year old boys. It was stupid fun, no more, no less.

After the movie I took a look around the Xbox game store and almost bought Soul Calibur 6. This didn't happen because I am firmly retired from fighting games and it would have been put aside just like anything else in about a week. Instead of that I cashed in my free two weeks of game pass, browsed its offerings and picked a few things to waste time. It did not go very well.

First, since it is October, I tried one more time to play Agony. The sound bugs and screen tearing have been fixed but it is still a terrible game. The stealth is pointlessly difficult, the puzzles are somehow worse than the puzzles in Hellblade, it's ugly, the voice acting is bad, you name it, the game is bad at it. I may have spent money on it but no, NO, I am not so desperate as to bull my way though this bad of a game. I uninstalled it.

Next, I gave Sinner a try. Sinner is a Dark Souls style boss rush without the interesting monster and level design. It's hook is that before each boss the player has to give up some power. The first boss lowered both my health and stamina. There was no second boss. the game was ass. I uninstalled it.

Sky Force Reloaded is just as grindy as Sky Force Anniversary. I don't why I tolerated it as long as I did the first time. I uninstalled it.

Samurai Shodown 2 had the AI stuck at 'fuck you, puny mortal' and there was no way to change it. I uninstalled it.

So, um, all that was left was Super Lucky's Tale, a child friendly platformer that no one actually played. It was fine. There were some issues with the side scrolling levels. namely that the physics of a 3D platformer do not translate directly to a 2D platformer. Lucky had a few two many frames of 'stopping' animation and not nearly enough coyote time so he would skid right off of smaller platforms. It was annoying but could be adapted to.

Like I said, the game was fine.

Tonight I will play through the Spring timed events in Forza Horizon 4. Tomorrow I will record a podcast episode with Change and Alex. Thursday, hmmm. Thursday I will have a few drinks and watch Tombstone.

And the rest of the year is set. Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man, Assassin's Creed Odyssey. There will be time for nothing else. And that's okay.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

It's better when she's bad

Shadow of the Tomb Raider has made attempts at humanizing Lara after her absolute asshole introduction. A few almost work, her hesitation at telling a young prince that his mother was just killed was almost poignant, but for the most part they come off as contrived and fake. Lara isn't really a character, she a caricature of herself, a figure so well worn that when she says something really stupid the player usually shrugs his or her shoulders with an exasperated 'oh Lara, you cad.'

What works this time is what worked in the last two games: every once in a while Lara becomes a monster. A stone cold killer with no feelings or hesitation. Think Terminator 2 but Linda Hamilton was the terminator.

(side note: how awesome would that have been)

SPOILERS!

Lara and Jonah are returning to their base of operations after coming up empty in the lost city. They are attacked by a Trinity helicopter and separated. Lara ends up at an oil refinery that is in the process of fucking exploding when one of the main enemies pipes up on her radio.

"Jonah is dead. Come fine me if you want his body."

Oh shit.

There is a chase scene between Lara and said helicopter that ends with her plummeting off of a burning storage tank into water that is also on fire. The camera focuses on her closed eyes as she sinks. Important words from important characters are remembered. Her eyes open and it is on.

The view changes to a nearby shore and a wounded Trinity soldier. He looks at the water and figure in silhouette. It's monster Lara. It's her but it's not her. He freaks out. Lara wades to shore, slowing walks up to the soldier as he tries to pull himself to a nearby gun, steps on his hand and them cuts his throat.

Other soldiers see this, panic, and run the fuck away.

This works because she never talks. No bad writing can get in the way. She just kills several dozen people before collapsing into in heap.

(and Jonah isn't actually dead. yet.)


Monday, October 15, 2018

Out of the shadow

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is making good use of a relatively small area. I supposed it could be called open world but it is downright tiny when compares to an Elder Scroll or Assassin's Creed game. The difference is in density and how things are locked off. It is possible to wander around an area, very slowly, and find ever little thing. It is much more efficient to find maps that detail the item's locations and then use that. These maps never reveal everything but they do reveal just enough to keep the play moving.

It also features very standard Metroid-vania locktease - a door that cannot be open without a shotgun or a reinforced knife. It manages to keep smaller areas fresh with content organically, though I am not sure why a door that required a reinforced knife could not just as easily be opened with a shotgun.

Lara is also less odious than she was in the opening hours. She has been searching for the hidden city for the entire game assuming that it was ancient ruins. When it turns out that it is living city that has been hidden from the rest of the world for centuries she decided to help protect them (from the pending Armageddon that she caused). It is not clear why some of them speak English, but that is not a complaint hill that I am going to die on.

In other words, the game is getting better. It isn't the best looking or the best written but it is still a Tomb Raider game that fits in nicely with the reboot and its sequel. If I weren't convinced that the game was going to kill Jonah to teach Lara a lesson I would be quite pleased.

There is the fact that a white person is showing up in a very not white country just to save the day... Would you look at that, I have something else that I need to do.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

So much for the old English charm

In the first hour of the game Lara (probably) triggers the apocalypse. She picks up an ancient dagger without thinking about the consequences and a tsunami immediately destroys the nearest town. The game pulls no punches on the devastation, either, as Lara is forced to swim through water filled with the recently deceased and watch in horror as a child falls to his death.

After all of that, after indirectly killing hundreds of people, she finds the long suffering Jonah. Jonah knows that she caused this and has decided to stay and help as best as he can. And he has to convince Lara that now is not the best time to run off on the next part of the quest. She literally wants to pick up and leave at that very moment.

Yeah, Lara is not very likable. She's is incredibly self centered and does not see the chaos that she creates. Perhaps that is the point but right now I would sooner be controlling Jonah. Seriously, the first thing Lara does after a plane crash is find him and then ditch him again to go raid some tombs.

The game? Same as the last time around but the combat feels very inaccurate. Unless I missed it there is no way to stick to a wall for cover. For everything this series has stolen from Uncharted leaving that out is a mystery.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Even the Mona Lisa gets old eventually

800 miles into Forza Horizon 4 and I have settled on what is missing, or rather, what has been added that I do not care about: multiplayer content that is integrated into the single player content. At about five minutes to every hours there is a pop up inviting you to a live event. 'Press X to set route!' it chides. I do not do so because I am loath to play with other people but the question remains: what exactly am I missing?

Forza Horizon 4 has a great deal in common with Destiny. There is single player content, and much of it is very good, but it all serves as the preamble to the multiplayer focused end game. This is how many games are now and as much as I enjoy tilting at windmills I am going to waste no further effort fighting against it. I will play what is for me and leave the rest to others.

That being said, I did come across a very sneaky bit of DLC bait and switch in the game. Alongside the standard events there are seasonal ones that are available for around a week. It is fall right now and there are four or five races that will be around until Winter hits in a few days. I am just about done with the basic races so I tried to give one of them a shot. It was a race around Edinburgh, which is cool, but it required a specific car. No problem, I have the credits.

That car is only available as paid DLC, in a pack, that costs $10.

Remember the NPC that advertised a DLC quest in Dragon Age? Yeah, that shit again. Bad form.

Hermit like complaints aside Forza Horizon 4 is a technical masterpiece. It is, without exaggeration, the best looking racing game I have ever played. The frame rate almost never drops and when it does I am willing to chalk it up to network issues. The always online nature has not bothered me near as much as I thought. True, there are almost always other drivers floating around your map but it is impossible to interact with them without inviting them to a race. Once a race begins you are left alone. This does not mean that I am going to change my mind about the pending troll fest of Fallout 76, mind you, but my panic of a few months ago was ill advised.

Forza Horizon 4 is the best that this kind of game has ever been. This kind of game may be a bit long in the tooth for me but if this is the first open world racing game a person has every played it is going to blow their fucking mind. I wish I could be that innocent again. Instead I have a masterpiece in may hands, know that it is a masterpiece, but cannot be as excited as I hoped because I played its little brother two years ago and this game is just a refinement.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Yes, I'm fickle

I saw some not entirely positive things about Forza Horizon 4 in this episode. Really.


Chamberlain and Chance - Little boy blue and the man on the moon

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Almost got me

I think that I have played all of Dragon Quest XI that I am going to play. This was a lot, but not all of it. 65+ hours was not all of it. Games that have stolen than many hours from me do not come along often - The Witcher 3. Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Skyrim. Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2. Most Tales games and Final Fantasies cap their main quests around 40 hours. Dragon Quest XI go to the first ending in around 55.

Generous, yes, but I have some issue with the post-game, so....

SPOILERS!

At the end of the main quest Mordegan (the big bad who you see twice) is dead at the hands of the luminary. The world is saved but at a terrible price. Once of the main party is dead along with thousand of others who were either killed when the world tree fell or later eaten by monsters. It's a bittersweet ending, one that I was fine with.

And then...

Right out of the gate the post game gives the player a new main quest, to investigate an old ruin that they skimmed over the first time. Some hoops are jumped through and it is revealed that the luminary can go back in time and try to defeat Mordegan before he destroyed the world tree, thus saving the party member along with everyone else. This is literally bringing Aeris back to life (if Aeris were a red mage and in the body of a child).

Time travel is right up there with quick time events on my list of things that I don't like in games. It is almost never done well. That being said, DQXI comes close. The luminary goes back, kills Mordegon earlier, saves the world sooner than expected only to find out that Mordegon had, in the process of conquering the world, prevented something worse than himself from coming back. This was actually foreshadowed earlier in the game when Mordegon destroyed a giant glowing ball in the sky for no apparent reason. That giant glowing ball was the real monster.

The lesson here is to not fuck with the timeline. Take your happy-ish ending and run with it.

Up to this point the post game had all been original content - new areas and no real enemies to fight. When the new boss is revealed the post-game comes clean as to what it really is: the normal JRPG post-game that sends the player back through powered up areas, palette swapped enemies,  ending with a comically over powered monster to fight.

I tried, really I did. I gave it around five more hours after the credits rolled. If it were not October, if there were not other games coming out and other games literally sitting on the a shelf waiting for their turn, I might give it a little bit longer.

Dragon Quest XI is a finely tuned if a bit simple JRPG. No game exists in a vacuum. When compared to others in its genre the silent protagonist becomes a serious problem. Translation - the story in Tales of Berseria, as weird as it was, was better, because the protagonist had personality. She had it in excess. The luminary is the Gordon Freeman of JRPGs.

So that's it. Fall is upon is and the list grows longer. First I will race cars, then I will be a cowboy. Somewhere in there I will raid tombs and do was a spider can, not to mention assassinate some creeds and call someone named 'cthulu.'