In the Quicksand(box): Open World Games and Me

I preordered Sleeping Dogs yesterday, upon realizing that one; Grand Theft Auto 5 may not be coming this year, and two;  I haven’t played any games this year where hijacking cars is an acceptable way of avoiding rising insurance costs.

From what I hear Sleeping Dogs is going to be a gritty crime story full of notable characters and kung-fu action (what game isn’t?), and it’s supposed to encompass things like betrayal and broken loyalties and all that stuff you’d read about on the back of any straight-to-dvd actioner worth its salt (or the cost of printing its cover art).  But when I get right down to it, what was the real reason I decided to buy the game?

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Living out my fantasies of repairing and detailing vehicles, of course.

 

If it’s not horror, I like having a sense of control over the proceedings of the game (see last week’s blog to see kinda why).  In tightly narrated games I get this by good storytelling letting me know that the events of the game revolve around me and my actions, like an egocentric child demanding a parent’s attention.  Sometimes with high-powered weapons.

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“No, mommy.  It’s time for YOUR bath.”

 

In a Sandbox game, I fully expect and welcome this sense of control by me being given full license to dick around.  If I’m given a mission to go tail some guy back to his hideout, but then instead feel like seeing how many people I can hit ramping a schoolbus down a crowded street, then I love the game that gives me that choice.

I’m interested as all get out about Sleeping Dogs’s world and potential stories.  I don’t think the action-dripping potential of the Hong Kong action scene hasn’t been tapped for video games yet, just like the western genre wasn’t really touched on in a great way until Red Dead Redemption.

Hell, I’d enjoy such a game if it was just hours of me getting to dive through windows with a pair of unlimited-ammo pearl-handled and gold-plated pistols while doves flutter about in the background.  Or a game about me storming rival dojos and stealing their signs through martial prowess and angry yelling because they insulted my school’s boorish sense of interior decorating.  Or something.

All I’m saying is, in between those missions where I have to move the plot forward with police work and gunplay and suffering painful internal conflicts, just be sure to still let me occasionally steal a helicopter and laugh as I bail out of it onto a group of pedestrians in a park.

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Show me the door to fun, and I will walk through it.  I’ll even prop it open.

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Running (Un)scared: Survival Horror and Me

I’d say I’d miss the survival horror genre, except the genre’s beginnings weren’t all that survival-y to begin with.  In the first Resident Evil you played one of two members of an elite paramilitary police force; not exactly the cart wrangler at the local grocery store.

At E3 this year they showed off Resident Evil 6, and it was indicative of the natural progression the series has taken with recent iterations.  Agile, lithely-built protagonists who carry pairs of high-powered handguns in either fist and have perfectly straight and capped teeth run around gunning down zombies without a really suspenseful moment in sight.  Everyone’s either a highly-trained government agent, a spy, or some kind of soldier.

It’s not really horror if your reaction to seeing a zombie horde is “Oh, awesome!”

 

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I think I’ll use the rocket launcher this time.

I know there’s enough people out there arguing for more titles where you play as an everyman thrust into an intense situation.  This is why I used to prefer the Silent Hill series.  The main characters in those games have been writers, store clerks, teenage girls and the like.  Average people with average weapons.   There’s something visceral and enchanting about being forced to bash an animated mannequin’s head in with a length of steel pipe.  And the terror comes from knowing you are an average person dealing with crazy, horrific occurrences.

But still, survival horror gives way to action horror, and it worries me that we’ll see a genre disappear.  The latest Silent Hill iterations have been less-than-stellar, despite showing an upturn toward the more highly regarded parts of the series.  Dead Space, while a good starting point for survival horror, felt like it was starting to get more action-oriented in 2.  I think a good rule of thumb is if the game starts adding in weapons that give you the power to torture enemies and exercise and element of control, you’re losing some of the “survival” part.  How scared could I possibly be of enemies when I have a gun that lets me impale them, then run an electric current through their body so I can watch them dance around like a shoddily-constructed marionette?

The Amnesia:  Dark Descents are few and far in between at this point, and we’re being inundated with heroes with big, glistening muscles and big, glistening guns starring in games that wouldn’t know suspense if it stalked them down a hall and didn’t bite them in the ass, but somehow jump out of a closet in front of them.

I want horror games where I play a Wal-Mart greeter, or a schoolteacher with a classroom full of kids, or a handsome, burgeoning blogger.  I want a game where my character’s normal life is turned upside by horrific occurrences.  I want more games where I know something is following me, but I never, ever get to look at it because it’s toying with me.  If I get to fight, I want to fight with hilariously ineffectual weapons that only serve to heighten the sense of “I’m so screwed”-ness.

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Big magazine, but the stopping power leaves something to be desired.

Moved to Tears: Thoughts about the Kinect

I watched two people in a game retailer today looking for Kinect games.  They were older folks; the man had hair that had gone almost fully grey, the woman had a cane.  I listened as they reasoned out their choices, and asked the clerk about some games for the Kinect that didn’t involve a lot of “jumping around”.

This situation amused and confused me.  I thought people bought Kinect games for the sole purpose of said “jumping around”.  I wouldn’t buy a game for a motion control-based peripheral that centered around being stuck on a 6-hour flight to Dallas, however scintillating downing my fifth glass of rum and coke and trying desperately to ignore the talkative grandmother next to me may be.

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Protip:  Wave hand to ineffectually flag down flight attendant.


Yet, there they were, looking for less motion-intensive motion controlled games.  I realized soon into my trip into the particular retailer that the new Steel Battalion had come out, a game where you control bipedal tanks and utilize the actual controls of said tanks.  It might’ve been a good choice for this couple, but they passed upon seeing the price tag.

This choice may have been a turn of good fortune for them.  From what I’ve been reading (I’m not purchasing it, due to lacking money, a Kinect, and a desire to give myself stress-related injuries to my arms), the game did not work.  At all.  Kotaku and other reviewing sites, I’m sure, have savaged the game.  Which is unfortunate, because the idea of sitting in the cockpit of a virtual mecha has a certain, highly attractive appeal to me.  I would’ve played a giant robot tank simulator if all I did was sit in rush hour traffic for an hour if they would have gotten the controls right.

I dunno.  I guess there’s not enough incentive to get a good, high-concept core game to work for the Kinect.  Not when Dance Centrals sell like crazy and most people don’t need much more than Kinect Adventures.  It’s sad, really.  It might’ve been fun to play an entire Halo game with strongly implemented motion controls.  A core Halo title, mind you.  Not some cheeky side-story or spin-off.

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Halo 5: Breakfast Evolved:  Better With Kinect!

I’ve got Reservations About This: Pre-order Bonuses

I miss when physical pre-order bonuses used to be more extravagant.  Everything has some sort of downloadable in-game bonus nowadays, from extra weapons to missions to additional ways to groom your character’s facial hair.

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A 5 dollar deposit gives me invulnerability to headshots.

Sometimes you’ll get a little keychain or something with your orders.  Getting Lego Batman 2 this week gets you a little Lex Luthor Lego guy, which is ok, I guess.  But I miss stuff like the Mirror’s Edge replica of Faith’s bag.  That bag carried my books through essentially half of my college career, and all for money I was going to spend on buying the game anyway.  The promise of another such bag got me reserving Resident Evil 5, although much to my dismay I found that particular bag was more like a limp, impractical purse more akin to one of those recyclable bags they always try to guilt me into buying at the grocery store (if I wanted to reuse a bag, I’d bring a backpack, but you bastards frown on that anyway).

In-game content’s cool, but give me action figures!  Give me vintage-style Working Design packaging!  Give me candy!  I mean, you’re strangers, but I’ll take it anyway.  Just the gesture makes me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

Give me the keys to a ’95 Ford Taurus and some vague direction to its whereabouts.  What does a Ford Taurus have to do with Assassin’s Creed?  I dunno, but if you make me a promise that I have the chance to find a mid-90’s economy sedan for putting down a few bucks on your game, then I will grab my wallet and head to the nearest retailer right now.

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Your move, Ubisoft Montreal.

Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads.

I was going to write about how much I like getting a sense of power in video games, inspired by my acquisition of the game Gravity Rush and part of an article on Cracked (http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-moments-that-make-video-games-worth-it/), but over the course of playing it and re-evaluating my stance, I realized my enjoyment can be diluted down to something much simpler.

I enjoy flying/free-running/jumping around a gamespace like an asshole.

Committing massive acts of unintentional (or intentional) murder through the use of gut-bustingly hilarious powers is fun (thanks, Prototype series).  Playing the hero and feeling like a benevolent god that saves lives because he can is cool too (Infamous did me there).  These super-hero games that are coming out give me plenty of these kinds of opportunities.

But Gravity Rush showed me that all that stuff doesn’t come together for me unless I have a really fun, easy to use transportation power of some sort.  I spent the first ten minutes after the tutorial just hitting the gravity shift button and flying through the air so I could launch myself at another location with all the finesse of a ballerina shot out of a cannon.

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Pictured: A perfomance of the Nutcracker.

 

This need for transportation is part of an escapist fantasy, of course.  I hate driving anywhere.  I roll around in a POS ’98 Chevy with over 200 thousand miles on it and I’m sure is hatching up a plan as we speak to lose a tire and hurl me into a ditch somewhere in the countryside.  And gas?  Fuck gas.  We all know it’s gotten to the point where buying gas has become a major household expense.  But these games get to have me ignore gas, traffic, and all the fun of modern transportation.

If someone asked me what kind of superpower I would like if I could pick one, it wouldn’t be to shoot fire from my mouth or to have bulletproof skin or have hands made of swords (awesome as that would be), it would be to eliminate driving from my life forever.  Because really, how often are you going to use sword hands?  Really think deeply about it.

….

 

Yeah?

 

Maybe once or twice.  More if you own a sushi bar or something.

 

Exactly.  

 

If I could gravity shift fly everywhere, or grind powerlines, or even parkour/rocket-propelled slashed wrist bloodfly my way around the city, I would use that shit all the time.  For no reason.  The sense of freedom that people want to emphasize in games really comes down to providing excellent transportation options for the player.  Some work, some don’t.

Hell, you don’t even have to have superpowers.  Just Cause 2 was a great example of a game with an effectively implemented transportation system.  I can count on one hand the amount of times I stepped into a car.  I got around almost everywhere (I imagine like most folks) grappling hook and paragliding, like a vacationer good and goddamned determined to not let their new favorite summer activity end because they’re leaving the lake.

No one said escapist fantasies couldn’t also be practical.

Who Needs Support when you’ve got Gadgets?

I have a Vita.  It’s a nifty little device that has all kinds of cool features, internet access, and dual touch screens (I keep looking for a dialpad so I can make phone calls).

But it doesn’t have games.  This is what I bought it for.  I forked over the cash with eyes full of starry wonder at the promise the thing had, with the potential it might deliver.  In all, I’ve probably played it for about two hours.

 

Sony’s not new to handheld devices.  They had the PSP, and every time I go into a game retail place I stare wistfully at the respectable library of games.  I can’t help but feel Sony might have missed an opportunity by not putting some kind of UMD slot in the Vita.  Maybe it would cost too much to implement and run the price up.  Still.  Would be nice to not have to download every PSP game I want to play.

Other than the few good download titles I’ve bought for the Vita (Super Stardust is good, and I’m surprised by how much fun I can have dicking around with pool on Hustle Kings), I have no games for it.  I’m getting Gravity Rush this week, so hopefully that’ll be good for awhile.  But the next title I have coming is in October.  What was Sony expecting, for me to just use the system like an expensive portable web browser for the next three months?

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Cause, you know.  I have this already.

 

Also, I’m not interested in ports.  I played Mortal Kombat on a real system.  I won’t be playing Sony Smash Brothers (I think that’s what it’s called) on a little screen, shouting at other upstanding young Sony supporters through the built-in mic.

I guess I could just dick around with Near for a few hours (what the fuck is Near, anyway?).

Virtua Fighter: Why the Internet Scares Me Away From It

The new Virtua Fighter is out, and I have it downloaded to my hard drive.  I’ve been waiting years to play VF again, and yet, I haven’t jumped back in.  I’m scared of it, actually.  Not because I know I’m going to be terrible (my skills have more rust than a ’75 Buick), but because of one thing.

People.

Internet play brought something great to fighting games.  The ability to play with people all over the world, to be part of the fighting community without having to spend hours in dank arcades blowing quarters every time you lost.  But it also brought interactions with some of the dregs of the gaming world.  People that pull the cable when you beat them so as not to incur a loss.  People who send you messages after every match denoting that you should complete an act of fornication upon yourself when you beat them.  Unnecessarily vitriolic young ladies and gentlemen who lack a certain sophistication to their anger.

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I disagree strongly with your playstyle and demand recompense for the injury you have bestowed upon me!

It’s easier for people to get mad at fighters, I think.  There’s no team to hide behind when you lose.  If you lost, it’s usually because you fucked up.  This accountability really aggravates gamers online.

My time with vanilla VF5 was fraught with these people.  Back then, I could take it.  I was even amused by it.  Relished it, fed off of it.

I’m older now.  Older, and much less willing to deal with the kind of vitriol I’m likely to run into online.  It’s draining.  I guess I could just only play with people I know, just to avoid the random asshole.

But the randomness is part of the fun.