short, mostly ambivalent thoughts on games I've played recently
so much of this game’s design hinges on creating length via arbitrary time-wasting. it’s like the meanest, most disrespectful 32-bit JRPG condensed into a rudimentary platform with near-nil opportunity to create a reasonable veneer of pacing. it is tedious and same-y to a wild, should-be-unacceptable degree.
yet there’s such charm and gravity to the central mechanics and monster designs, enough that I can almost tolerate the utter grind of it all in order to get my team (Raichu, Charizard, and whoever else I feel like bringing along) high enough level to cut through the late game. almost. I still had to move this game off my analogue pocket and onto my steam deck because the AP’s fast-forward wasn’t forwarding fast enough for my needs
it’s a shame game freak seems to have stumbled onto the hookiness so entirely by accident that they’ve failed to evolve or expand on it in any interesting ways since 1996! (don’t @ me)
WOLFENSTEIN II: THE NEW COLOSSUS
there is less to these games (meaning this and its predecessor THE NEW ORDER, which I played immediately before this) than I expected. they’re very linear and almost tunnel-visioned in their storytelling and gameplay, even moreso than something like the new DOOM games.
BJ’s strong characterization, as the duology goes on, starts to feel more like the cumulative effort of computer-generated expression and voice acting more than the writing, which hammers a few repetitive trauma and ambivalence beats over top a guy whose whole deal, really and finally, is “I want to kill nazis and/or be on my way towards killing nazis”. a fine philosophy! but a tad hollow when representing the emotional near-entirety of your protagonist.
I hadn’t felt this negatively, really, until somewhere past the midway point of NEW COLOSSUS, which takes a big (and predictable, but no less effective for being so) swerve in a climactic mission — but then takes a much bigger, wilder swing that is both mechanically necessary and sucks the air out of the emotional framework teh game had tried to build up to that point. it was disappointing enough to make me wonder if the reboot wouldn’t have been better off just being THE NEW ORDER and nothing else, but, nah, there’s enough weird and fun stuff with its shifting setting to be worthwhile even if it peters out sooner than I’d hoped.
SID MEIER’S CIVILIZATION VI
kudos to ol’ sid for being one of Name in the Title folks, but I really wish Steam would sort these games under “C” and not “S” because it confuses the shit out of me every time I’m trying to pull this game up on the deck
I’m not any good at Civ games but I feel particularly lost and hopeless playing this one. something about its particular soup of mechanics and trees makes my relative success or failure feel both entirely out of my control and like something I needed to have deliberately set in motion ~100 turns ago, sorry, too late all gone. the nice thing about playing asynchronous games, though, is that I’m very distant from that inevitable loss, so I still get some satisfaction in popping in and moving my lil’ toy soldiers around.
city districts make no sense to me!
i have played and continue to play too much of this game to truly dislike it, but it definitely misunderstands the appeal and strength of the mega man x franchise in several ways. at its best it’s like one of the post-x4 titles: fun enough from a pure mechanical-control perspective, but fatally sloppy and loose with level design and sense of progression.
to be clear, while linear progression and power curve are near-central to the X games’ appeal and strength, they’re not the only things the games are good at. notably, MMX brought something to megaman that it didn’t have previously, which was a player character that was actually in any way fun or satisfying to move around! 30xx and 20xx before it both capture this pretty well even just at the base level, and do a nice job filtering in the X franchise’s bevy of movement upgrades, though the satisfaction is fleeting when the game’s randomized setup means that levels can’t be built to showcase or demand any particular move set beyond the defaults.
the spelunky of it all matters far less to me than these games’ total failure of tonal control. they have what reads to me as a very newgrounds-y sense of humor; they steadfastly refuse to take any of the proceedings seriously. but the X franchise is built on self-seriousness; the reason X4’s dubbed cutscenes are so fucking funny is because they want so badly not to be funny. X games all tell the same fundamentally sad story: robot utopia failed, the ‘bots can’t help but get corrupted and evil, X wants to live a quiet life but must instead continually baptize himself in violence and power in order to kill his kin. this story is then laid, straight-facedly, into wildly goofy bad guy concepts and glam-rock guitar soundtracks.
the xx games have none of that layering, nothing particularly interesting going on from a storytelling or tone standpoint (and yet: so many dumb lore-dump pickups), and it drains a surprising amount out from the overall experience irrespective of the game’s level-design quality or difficulty or whatever.
christ why do these people look like this? this game grafts extreme cutting-edge facial capture tech onto the skeletal rigs of PS2-era-ass human models, with table tennis paddles for hands and swerving drunk-attempting-a-business-interview animations.
I think this is why the acting in the game ends up so corny, or at least part of it. some part is just the genre the game steeps in, that arch-retro-noir vibe requiring a certain over-enunciation of hard-boiled emotion — but another part is that the gestures and movements cannot capture any emotion effectively, and so the actors’ faces must do all the work. so, the game pauses to let you guess if someone’s lying, and if they are they make the goofiest-ass faces because there is nothing to get out of the body language of rigid action figures.
also the game looks weirdly terrible on the steam deck (seems like an aliasing problem to me, even with the settings cranked as far as the framerate allows) and some of the mechanics are fuck-you tedious. I’m a couple hours in but not sure I’ll be coming back for much more, at least not in extended doses.
more games like this please: a motion-picture-length, lovely and subdued story about a specific emotional and cultural point of view. more games like this and like WOLFENSTEIN II, sure, but more of this in particular.
is this game actually hostile? nah. it goes out of its way to warn you about the impossibility of some/many situations, and it’s tremendously forgiving considering there’s no lives or consequences for failure. it’s less an exercise in hostile game design and more giving players the opportunity to participate in something like pre-alpha game testing: “we half-baked the mechanics, now here’s some also-half-baked levels, let’s fuck around and see what works.”
the result can satisfy but is also very clunky and even perfunctory, in the ways that I imagine studio game testing to be. you’re swapping around components and brute-forcing until a circle fits into the circle-shaped hole.
also i definitely do not understand what the gun that shoots guns is ever supposed to be used for, in any context. also also the frogs are cute and i hate using them because i don’t want them to die!!
GOLF WITH YOUR FRIENDS
i hate this game. i hate the intentionally shitty third-person time-limited camera, i hate the overlong and unreasonably convoluted levels, i hate how much it’s clearly built for streamers and competitive types and all the other sorts of people who play a single putt-putt game far too much, i hate how it’s clearly also built to be “funny” in a social-media-meme fashion by way of deliberate frustration, i hate how (at least with an xbox controller) the power meter lacks all sense of granular control, i hate that i will still play this game if others want to because “oh it’s putt putt that’ll be fun” and it never fucking is
talk about hostile game design! fuck.
this game is just “the climb” but not in VR and therefore with much less engaging and floatier mechanical design. the apparent desire to create a cozy game turned this game’s whole control mechanic into something that feels like it’s playing the game for you half the time. maybe I’m the wrong person to receive “meditative and chill” as a game state because this game just reads to me as slow and uninterested in capturing my attention. fair enough I guess!
it’s a shame because it’s lovely to look at and seems to be aiming at some interesting ideas, but I just cannot get on with it as a game, and isn’t that just the weird caveat threatening to cave in on the whole enterprise of trying to intellectually assess these art objects