In some ways, Overwatch is like playing my own micro-sized Final Fantasy adventure over and over again. Me and my randomly-selected (because no one joins a Final Fantasy party for a logical reason, like, ever) buddies against the world, depending on each other to overcome our opponents. It’s a game about teams: what makes good ones and what makes bad ones.
Well, kind of.
I can’t really tell you if Overwatch is a good game. Do I play it a lot? Yeah, sure. More than any other game that’s come out since its release. It’s like a sitcom: reliable characters that are always up to the same shit–both the in-game characters and the constant rotating cast of online gamer archetypes–quick plots, rapid payoffs, and most importantly, a small time investment that I can walk away from and pick back up freely.
You know how it goes.
Come home, plop down after work, sigh dejectedly, and load it up. What’s in store for me today?
Oh, it’s the damn kid singing pop songs into the microphone too loudly. You crack a smile and block him. Some dude tells you that you just wasted your special ability–I pop tactical visor to an audience of zero all the fucking time–and you cringe. Not this prick again. That ridiculous Lucio on the other team won’t leave you alone, but an A-list Mercy has your back. Your Reinhardt is implacable, your Sombra is nowhere near the object. The same hijinx you know and love. The episode ends as your team just gets the payload to its destination, or you fall just short, or you get crushed.
It doesn’t matter. There’s always another episode.
But is it good? That is, does Overwatch make my life better? Nourish the soul?
Again, I don’t know. Then again: this whole competition for leisure thing is relatively new to me. I don’t do that. No pick-up basketball games or flag football leagues for me. You critique a game like Shadow of the Colossus like you would most other forms of narrative art, but I’m not sure how to talk about Overwatch.
It has something of a backstory, and a fucking awesome fan community that pumps out cooler stuff than Blizzard could ever conceive. The characters have personalities and histories, but the game doesn’t have an authored narrative. It barely even bothers to frame the individual matches as part of some larger conflict or narrative: they’re divorced from time. You only have the emergent narrative of each game, and honestly, that’s plenty.
Still, you can’t read it like you would your Shadow of the Colossus or your The Last of Us. So how do you read it?
Maybe Overwatch is some kind of performance art generator that’s about teamwork–a game about good teams and bad ones–but couldn’t you say that about most group-based multiplayer games? Is that all multiplayer games are capable of? Just showing us that we suck at cooperation? That strangers require wrangling and handholding and maybe some yelling to be able to work together as one?
Is the point of Overwatch that when people work together, we win, and when we selfishly pursue a better K:D ratio, we lose?
What can we learn from being hopelessly matched with random people from across the globe, over and over?
What do a million micro-competitions with no real purpose or end-goal tell us about anything? Perhaps it is the absence of a purpose, the lack of a point, that makes Overwatch so easy to consume. Maybe that’s why it sometimes feel like it’s giving me cavities and rotting my brain.
I keep asking myself, “What does it mean that I can play so much Overwatch and barely tolerate so many other games?””
The answer is probably nothing.
Anyway, did you see that play of the game?
VERDICT: Just let me open these loot boxes in peace.
JUST CAUSE 3
Downloaded this because it was free on the PlayStation Network. Buncha Michael Bay garbage. All those people that said the flying is fun lied to you.
VERDICT: Highly insufferable, makes Grand Theft Auto V seem half-way intelligent.
FINAL FANTASY VII
Cloud Strife is no Squall Lionheart, but I love this game all the same–and what better JRPG is there to play under the Trump regime than the one about a group of eco-terrorists rising up against an evil corporation that has come to oppress the world?
There is an impressive vitality and vigor shoved into this game, like Square looked at the new found freedom of the 32-bit era–at the time, a big blank slate of possibilities–and just went for it.
Let’s talk about the pre-rendered backgrounds. It would have been easy to just use the top-down perspective of SNES games, make it prettier with their weird CGI paintings, and call it a day. Instead, Square choose to use to explore perspective and mise en scene in ways that make the ugly low-poly characters models seem lively and capable of being taken seriously.
Have you ever felt kind of adrift and out on your own playing a new-fangled 3D game? I always feel a little lost in an open world game, like I don’t know where to look, don’t know what it means, don’t know what the intent is. FFVII doesn’t have that problem: each scene (or screen) is directed and built to speak to the player, like Sakaguchi is right there, holding your hand, showing you how to appreciate the art that he and his team built. Stopping to appreciate a vista in Horizon Zero Dawn can make you think twice about the sheer aesthetic firepower 3D modeling can provide, but I always feel like I’m marveling at my own sandbox, staring at a tableau built by robots and the coincidence of random integers–not engaging with something handcrafted by another human.
Perspective, too: FFVII is a game that can make you feel small one minute, and like a heroic force of good barreling down unstoppably upon its destiny another. The camera might be the best character in this game.
VERDICT: I could write a lot more about this game, Barrett’s character is a racist trainwreck, Sephiroth’s slaughter at the Shinra Tower is still absolutely spine-chilling. Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VIII are probably my favorites, but this one might be the coolest. Did you know there’s a My Bloody Valentine reference like right at the beginning of this?
HORIZON ZERO DAWN
All these people that get riled about whether game critics need to be good at games would really, really hate it if I was a professional game reviewer, because Horizon Zero Dawn is straight-up too difficult for me to enjoy, even on easy.
I also hate the Soulsborne genre for this very reason. This is my right as a person who writes for insufferablebullshit.wordpress.com and not Polygon.
Anyway, Horizon is a mind-bogglingly gorgeous game with an overwrought science fiction plot–at least what I was able to see of it, I didn’t beat this thing–and an impressive array of robot dinosaurs. It requires careful attention to enemy animations, fast reaction times, and other such follies, which are totally not my thing.
(A note on the “games reviewer skill level” argument: I don’t think you need to be good at games to have opinions about them. I mean, video games are a large portion of my Personal Brand, and I’m awful at them. The best games are great even if you’re terrible at them. They make you want to play them regardless, and even if you fail, you still enjoy the time you spent with them. In fact, I wish there were more people that were terrible at games reviewing them, because those folks would speak my language. You always see stuff like “punishingly difficult” or “not for you if you just want to relax” wedged into the critiques of AAA-level hard games (that’s a genre)–and that’s kind of a bigger deal than the tiny little mention it deserves. I’m just rambling now, but people also need to think about how difficulty fits the theme of games. I don’t like Dark Souls, but at least it’s thematically appropriate for those games to be challenging. Is it for Horizon Zero Dawn? Maybe. Post-apocalyptics dinosaur realms shouldn’t be fun, but this game is so pretty and blockbuster-y that I think something more accessible would have made for a more logical experience. It’s pretty rough for me, even on easy.)
(Also doesn’t help that video game fan communities react like you murdered someone the second you start saying anything that parses as “not true gamer.”)
VERDICT: I’m bad at bows and arrows; HDR is cool.
Chrono Cross is a game that starts with an interesting question: How would you fit into a world that moved on from you ten years ago?
Then it all goes to shit.
In the beginning, Serge—blue-haired, giant-hook-wielding, silent protagonist—accidentally passes through a tear in the fabric of space and time and emerges in another world, a parallel dimension, where he drowned a decade prior. From the god’s-eye world map, these two realms look similar. They share places and people, as parallel dimensions are wont to do, and the game takes great pleasure in showing its players how these places and people differ between astral planes.
On the other side of the rabbit hole Serge finds himself at the same place where alternate-Serge was swallowed by the sea. From there, you can head to his alternate-hometown, where no one will recognize him, including his mother and close childhood friend.
At this point, there isn’t much guidance as to what you should do. It’s one of the few points where the player can empathize with Serge, and one of my favorite parts of the game. He’s alone, in a world where he doesn’t exist. What do you do when you don’t exist? Serge has no home here, no family, really, no role to play or function to fill in the world. You’re controlling a superfluous boy. At least until you stumble upon the next pivotal plot event.
Chrono Cross returns to this feeling a few times. You don’t find out why Serge was tossed between dimensions for a long time, so the dead beats in the story—sadly the result of poor plotting, not some larger commentary—really drive home how strange of a situation our hero is in. It feels like fate, or at least the terminal velocity of video game plots, has abandoned you.
Wandering around the world, seeking out the next central storyline trigger, feels like you’re trying to find the thread of destiny that Serge lost when he started hopping between worlds. But Serge doesn’t speak, and the game refuses to make this feeling of pointlessness and abandonment part of its authored narrative. Which, combined with the giant cast of underdeveloped party members, make this feel more like a purposeless video game than a videogame about losing purpose. It’s frustrating.
Before long, Serge finds out someone wants to kill him and you find yourself swept up in a dimension-hopping quest that could occasionally and only generously be described as a metaphysical romp, but mostly just feels like it doesn’t have a reason to exist.
VERDICT: The soundtrack is so good it almost redeems this silly thing. Greco is by far the best character.
FINAL FANTASY XV
One of the most blatantly unfinished trainwrecks you can find,, with a messy battle system and a plot that only makes sense if you’re a desperately optimistic fan hanging out on Reddit. Featuring hilariously shallow representation of “male friendship” that supplants jocular humor, flaccid anger and bratty angst for anything resembling a real, healthy relationship that two dude-identifying humans may share.