THINGS I HAVE PLAYED RECENTLY: SUMMER 2017

OVERWATCH

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

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.  

VERDICT: I actually completed this game. I never do that. I heartily recommend that you do not play it.  

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THINGS I HAVE PLAYED RECENTLY: JULY AND AUGUST, 2015 AD

“Adam, why are you doing this? Why are you listing all the games you played in the past few weeks and writing brief blurbs about them?” you ask, your eyes locking with mine. Our heartbeats thump in tandem; two creatures, independent and impossibly alone, united for a single instant.

Because, my love,” I respond, my gaze shifting to the stars; always above us; always watching. “Because I want to write about games but I’m too fucking lazy to do anything longform. And if I dress this drivel up as an actual piece someone will expect me to mean something.”

WHAT I HAVE BEEN PLAYING THESE DAYS:

CITIES: SKYLINES

I’m a sick man. A very, very sick man. All I want to do is sit around and build roads. I could build roads all day long, brother. I can also start a shocking number of short-lived settlements that take out loans with reckless abandon and quickly descend into poverty-stricken bedlam. Like, three or four of them a night.

I picked a stupid game to start this out with.

One of the things I like about videogames is that they make sense out of the chaos. They’re little man-made realities that have their own rules and their own meanings. You can win them, which is startlingly different from our reality, where you mostly writhe around, cower a little, suffer, and die. No one wins here.

And that’s what bums me out about Cities: Skylines. You can’t  win it. There’s just progression and progression and no end. Mammon upon mammon until managing the whole god-forsaken endeavor becomes too taxing to be satisfying anymore. If you’re doing finger guns and saying SOUNDS LIKE MY SOCIAL LIFE HAHAHAHAH then we’re on the same page here.

Anyway: Cities is exactly like SimCity. If there are any significant differences between the two–I’m talking things beyond arcane city-builder-fan minutiae–I couldn’t name them. It is extremely addictive, just like SimCity. And, uh, I don’t know. You build roads and lay down zones and build infrastructure and then you watch the little people come live in your place.

Also you move sliders. Taxes and budgets, things like that.

Beyond videogames I also really like to listen to music. I mean that in the most pretentious way possible: I like to listen to music, manto really feel it in my soul and enter a correspondence of the mind with the artist,  transcending time and space.

A lot of videogames, with their demands of fast reaction times and close attention, make this activity hard. But Cities is fantastic for it. The pace is even slow enough for me to say things like the “The interplay between the bass and drums here is creating a great space for the guitar lines to breathe,”  or, “The guitar work here is full of delicate, hopeful intricacy,” alone, in my room, to no one, as cold, steely tears fall into my coffee cup–without so much as a single thing going awry in my digital city.

CLOSING THOUGHT: I will likely sink a lot of hours into this game but christ somebody put some kind of objective-based mode in here to stave off my existential crisis. Also if you play it make sure you download some mods.

VERDICT: Definitely some insufferable bullshit, but it takes a while before you notice. What more can you ask?


CARD HUNTER

I played this a little bit. Actually, I tried to describe this game like two weeks ago when I started this piece and I had so much trouble with it that I completely stopped writing and started sulking. I don’t remember the game very well anymore. There was only one session and it was very late. I don’t think I was sober. What’s cool about Card Hunter is the setting is very unique (look at how stupid that sentence is–see why I stopped writing?).

I don’t know. Fucking Google it if you want to know more. I don’t get paid for this shit.

VERDICT ON CARD HUNTER: I was pretty stoked on it when I played it but I have no desire to play it again.

VERDICT ON WRITING ABOUT CARD HUNTER: Very difficult, do not attempt lest ye want to feel crippling self doubt.


SUIKODEN II

Somebody walked in and stole the PlayStation 4 out of my goddamn house last year so I had to try and emulate this oft-forgotten gem. I’ve never played it, but Suikoden the first is a personal favorite of mine. And my dude Jason Schreier at Kotaku never shuts up about it. So I know I need to play it.

Sadly, I could only get the game to work in a small corner of my television when I connected the computer via HDMI. So I didn’t play it at all. I will try again and report back.

VERDICT: Completely insufferable, pretty much ruined my night, played Chrono Trigger instead. Can I have my PS4 back please?


ARK: SURVIVAL EVOLVED

I don’t know if I’ve always been stoked on dinosaurs or if the internet hivemind just convinced me I should be. But at some point I decided I was thoroughly stoked on dinos and paid like $30 for this game.

One of the things you need to understand about me is I have a fetish for building bases. There is no greater joy in videogames: just let me construct a stronghold with my allies and hang out in it. If I can fill it with NPCs and storage spaces and crafting stations, even better. ARK: Survival Evolved lets you do that kind of thing, which counts for a lot.

If I’m being sincere, the first night I played this game was really fun. My roommate and I entered the world–a big island with some random meaningless technology and lots of dinosaurs–and spent a long time exploring. There is no real map, and it’s big place where you can go anywhere. It’s scary and overwhelming. Everything you meet is a threat, from the dinosaurs to the other players (who can kill you if you play on a PvP server, which I do because I’m not a filthy casual).

I pretty much ignored the dinosaurs and spent my time harvesting resources. With the end goal of building a giant fortification to ward off dinosaurs and invasive players a like.

In ARK, when you die, you respawn but everything in your inventory gets left at the place you were killed. This can be very frustrating, but the trade-off is you actually get to care. So you run from dinosaurs and hide from other players with the interest of not completely invalidating the time investment you just made pulling 1,000 stone from the quarry. Sadistic, yes, but also effective.

You can also tame dinosaurs and ride them, which is pretty dope. The actual game-act of taming a dinosaur is something I’ve done very little of–I’M A BUILDER BABY–but I can tell you that it’s a profoundly unsatisfying experience which I would now like to use a half-baked example of why I hate videogames.

Look back at all you’ve just read. I was just rattling off features, trying to paint a picture of the game. And it sounds pretty cool, right? Now allow me to explain what all that shit looks like in the terms of actually playing it (this is pretty much the whole play loop of the thing):

  1. You hit trees and rocks and shit to get resources from them. (So you just click over and over.)
  2. You fiddle with menus to make the resources into other things, such as tools to help you hit-shit-and-get-resources faster. (“Click better.”)
  3. You use tools and resources to build bases, which is actually fun.
  4.  You use tools and resources to tame dinosaurs, which consists of beating them unconscious and force-feeding them berries for hours. I wish I was joking. (Read: Basically a repackage of steps one and two.)
  5. You die and have to repeat these steps over and over.

VERDICT: Everything but building bases and the first 3-4 hours of the core play loop are INSUFFERABLE BULLSHIT.


CHRONO TRIGGER

I just restarted this one with the intent of playing it all the way through–probably my third or fourth time. It’s Chrono Trigger, so you already know: quietly brilliant and absolutely charming.

The genius of this game is the plotting, the way it crisply throws you from one set piece to the next.

It makes the whole silent protagonist thing not just tolerable but enjoyable. The script is written in a way that you know how Chrono responds to things, but not always what exactly he said. He could be snarky, sad, scared, whatever. You fill in the details of his personality yourself, and I’d like to imagine everyone’s Chrono is a reflection of themselves. Mine definitely has parts of me in him. And that makes me root for the guy in a way that I can’t for other protagonists. Because I am narcissistic and self absorbed!

Also Frog is just the coolest. And that soundtrack. Is Chrono Trigger the most beautiful SNES game? Probably.

VERDICT: 10000000% perfect.


GRAND THEFT AUTO V

GTAV is a technically astounding videogame with the plot and tone of a movie I would not want to go see. It offers a toxic and useless pseudo-critique of modern culture. It commits the cardinal sin of presenting bombast as substance and (misplaced) vitriol as message. I’m late to the party here, I know.

Also, I can’t stomach more than a few hours of its shit. The game is gorgeous and has a really good soundtrack, shoutout to Jay Rock. I am often just really baffled by how much people like this thing. To look at it strictly mechanically, it’s an above-average racing game with a shitty RPG and shittier shooter grafted on top.

It simulates “real life” in a way that I think fascinates people, but does it really amount to much more than there are people walking down the street and it occasionally makes me do extremely mundane tasks?

I think the voice acting is well done even though they’re basically just regurgitating hot vomit into your ears.

The pace is bad. The multiple-POV structure is wasted opportunity to actually say something about the characters and their role in GTAV’s fucked up world. Instead, it’s just an excuse to make gags about Trevor waking up with a seagull up his ass or whatever.

When I play it I feel like I do when I watch Entourage: kind of into it if I’m being honest (HI MY NAME IS ADAM I’M A WHITE DUDE THAT LIKES WISH FULFILLMENT WHAT’S UP??) but also deeply, deeply ashamed. I can only ignore the total vacuity for so long.

Fuck this game.

VERDICT: Absolutely and irrefutably insufferable, burn your discs and harddrives and read a fucking book instead you degenerates.


HEARTHSTONE

I have played this game a lot, and not just recently. It is perfect.

All of our hopes and dreams. Our risks, our gambles, our insecurities, our vanities: all on display, refracted endlessly upon themselves. The thrill of bloodsport, ancient, recalled through ancestral memory. Sun Tzu. Napoelon. Shakespeare, Homer, Campbell, and more.

Hearthstone is a rubric’s cube where the only solution is accepting your own foolishness and trying to defeat it, match in and match out. Those who would blame their losses on randomness, on the luck of the draw, are simply too proud to see their fault. But fear not: Hearthstone teaches us all, eventually, though some lessons do not come without a price.

(That wasn’t a sly critique of Hearthstone’s trend towards play-to-win, but I won’t stop you from reading it that way.)

In closing, fuck face hunters, my girlfriend bought me a 50 pack of boosters for the new expansion and I’m going pro once that shit comes out have ya’ll seen those cards!?, also yo Blizz what’s a dude got to do to get Dr. Boom these days?????

VERDICT: Only game that matters.