Games Journal 2020
I use these lists as a way to keep track of all the games I've played in the year. This year I want to keep it more up to date in a journal-style fashion, hence the name.
I use these lists as a way to keep track of all the games I've played in the year. This year I want to keep it more up to date in a journal-style fashion, hence the name.
Reflect on Ghost...
Generic open-world game
Comfort food, popped corn
I wanted to continue playing (or finishing in this case) games from my 2015 backlog, so I finally saw the “truth” ending to MGSV.
Playing it again, I’m reminded of how good the sandbox design of this game is, and also of the fun and dynamic ways in which its systems and tools interact with each other. As far as the story is concerned, the game’s structure is going to make storytelling in it messy no matter what. I am content with it in the end and don’t want MORE of it as other people wished. What’s there is enough to tease you through the game. Anymore, I believe, would have been detrimental - at least with this game’s plot specifically.
I’ve been of the belief that any existence is a good existence.
“I would rather live a shitty life than none at all”, I would say.
In the initial hours of Soma you begin to come across machines with some semblance of humanity or consciousness. One such robot completely believes they are human. They seem to be wired to the building’s power system, unable to move. They believe they are hurt and ask you to get one of their co-workers to help. Soon thereafter, you have a choice of disconnecting them to proceed. The person the machine believes can help them is no longer around and you may be the last living thing they ever see. But even though they are bound to a stationary and desolate existence, they are alive. Who am I to take that away. Existence at all costs, right?
What if a self-sufficient A.I. was programmed to ensure the survival of mankind at all costs.
Later on, you catch up to a person who you’ve learned was trying to escape as things went bad. You find that while they still appear human, they are being kept alive by an artificial lung. Again, tied to the mysterious growth of a cancerous A.I.
It seems these are a couple of ways the A.I. - called The Warden Unit (WAU) - is achieving its protocol of humanity’s survival.
This culminates with the player meeting a fully conscious woman who’s been keeping herself alive through nutrient injection of some kind. In her room you see WAU’s tendrils inching closer to do the same, albeit in some horrific manner. She’s protecting something you wish to use to save a small piece of humanity out in the stars. Now that you’re here, she has completed her task in keeping it safe and asks you to disconnect her from life support as she says - it is no way to live.
Even though I’d kept all the other beings alive before, I justified disconnecting her because it is something she wanted.
You sit by her side as her consciousness fades away. It’s a sorrowful yet calming moment that I had never experienced in games before.
So what of the ones I left alive? Are they doomed to an inhumane existence? I told myself that if alive there’s a chance that their situation might get better. But is it worth it in this case?
These are the kinds of questions Soma asks and makes you think about. It’s a dark but hopeful, existential story about consciousness and what it means to be human. Many people will miss out on this experience due to the horror trappings, which is a shame because it’s one of the best video game stories around.
//Rapture today feels more like revisiting an old theme park than a believable city under the sea.//
The Besties podcast is doing a mini-series on the best games of 2007. This was the impetus for me to replay Bioshock and to play, for the first time, the sequel which has, in recent memory, received high praise from people I respect. At the time of release, Bioshock 2 garnered no interest in me - it looked like an iterative sequel from a developer that was not Irrational. So, I was interested in why it had attained cult status among some critics. Let me give you my quick and dirty gameplay feelings on both before I go into my deeper point on the environment of Rapture:
I want to preface this with how I played each game because it may as well have impacted my contrasting experience. I played the remastered version of Bioshock on a decent PC with a high, unlimited frame rate. Bioshock 2, on the other hand, I played on an Xbox 360…
It took me a few levels to get into the flow of combat in Bioshock 1, but once I had developed my old wrench build, I was in it again to the point of addiction. I was the Rapture resident and Bioshock was my tonic. By comparison, Bioshock 2 felt slow - granted, you are supposed to be a hulking big daddy - and the additions, like the drill, are not fun nor meaningful enough to get excited about traversing Rapture all over again.
Okay, now onto the verisimilitude of environmental design. This franchise struggles with having a sense of place, of envisioning how people would actually live in an underwater city on the brink of collapse. Instead, it opts for set piece levels and larger-than-life caricatures that are hard to take seriously on replay. These games literally begin by sending the player character on a roller coaster ride to the dystopia/theme-park of choice, either by launching them to the sky or via a deep sea descent. Upon arrival (of Rapture at least) you are greeted to the “environmental story” of the era, which involves a lot of writing - in blood - on walls. Then you realize that this theme park has … well, you know, “themes”. And each themed area is home to a host of sorts, like a deranged surgeon in a medical ward that spurts his twisted, libertarian screed over the radio while you, systematically, smash splicer heads and hack turrets. The design of these levels is fantastic for gameplay - the rest is just set dressing. Very few times do these places feel like they could be real, but there are some, and they give a glimpse of a Rapture that could have been or was.
These are impressions for the VERY short Raccoon City demo.
So the reactions to this game I’ve heard/seen have been negative to say the least. I was about ready to splurge $60 blindly on it based on last year’s REmake which I loved. Thus, I must now play this demo to get a sense of what I can expect, and see if this limited trial sways me one way or the other.
I gotta say, I enjoyed what little there was to play. Some of the complaints I’ve seen are that the game goes too much into the open-space, action direction; and away from the cramped, survival-horror tenseness of the last game. But, I’m okay with that. I like when sequels go into more bombastic directions. The Alien to Aliens; Dead Space to Dead Space 2 transitions are perfect examples of this done well. For better or worse, history is repeating itself with these remakes. Nemesis was released only a year after RE2, and it was a less survival focused game in the same framework as its predecessor, with only slight updates. These are remakes after all, not complete reboots. However, as opposed to the 1998 original, last year’s remake plays like a dream; and this sequel is no different.
That last point is why I’m not willing to write the game off yet and why the more action-y direction doesn’t bother me - the gameplay is very tight and fun. I might come back and say otherwise, but now, I at least want to try the full game myself.
I stand by most of what I said before, but as it turns out, RE3 is not a very successful version of the types of sequels I mentioned. Even though the game is apparently very short, I couldn’t be helped to finish it. I couldn’t tell what exactly made me stop - I seemed to be enjoying it. Maybe it was the point at where I stopped, when the game is still trying to be spooky too little too late and at the same time gives you a machine gun lousy with ammo. Maybe it’s the artificial way in which it tries to create creepy ambiance with confusing and annoying non-diegetic music, and the noise of furniture creaking that occurs at random with no rhyme nor reason. Or maybe the game released too soon after its predecessor and is just not as well designed, paced, or, plainly, as good as Resident Evil 2.
If I was going to play a Doom this year, it might as well be the much regarded 2016 release.
But, I've started this game three times now, and while I enjoy my time playing it, whenever I'm done with a session - I never have the pull, or interest to come back. 🤷♀️
I've been scratching a couple of game itches lately. Bloodborne thanks to Jan starting it recently; and Half-Life 2 thanks to Danny's playthrough of Alyx, which I can't - and probably won't - play anytime soon. So, I might as well play HL2 which I've never finished.
I do this a lot ... I watch my favorite content creators play something, then without fault, I get the urge to play that myself. I wonder if this phenomenon is the consequence of actually wanting to play the game, or if it's the influencer effect of "I want to feel like I'm a part of what this person is doing".
I don't have much to say about this game, honestly. It's more Nioh at a time when I could have a Souls-like experience; albeit a more bloated and messier one that's still satisfying in its own way. The addition of the burst counter and abilities that let you mimic demonic moves are welcomed, but this game is very much an iterative sequel.
This game has a unique premise: You are a magistrate belonging to a despotic empire ruthlessly set on conquering the continent. I only played a couple of hours but at least early on you don’t have a choice but to be a member of this Tyranny. The spectrum of choice in this CRPG seems to be between the two military arms of this empire, one oppressively lawful and the other viciously chaotic. Your PC also begins as a special chosen envoy for the high judge, so your word is law and you can choose to be harsh and/or benevolent in all matters judicial. It’s interesting to play a game where you are forced to be the “bad” person. Initially, I’m roleplaying a character that’s very much ingrained into authoritarianism and is here to enforce Kyros’ will. But I wonder if the game can become about fighting fascism from within because I’m already having a lot of positive interactions with the last rebel force that your empire aims to squash. Can you make a turn eventually? In true Obsidian fashion though, the writing is top notch. And I only just scratched the surface while waiting for a copy of Nioh 2, but I am curious to see how the rest plays out.
Being left with no more FF7 Remake to play (for the time being) and also stuck in the Great Video Game drought of 2020, I decided to finally play the revered, original Final Fantasy VII for the first time. I thought I would at least get through Midgar since that’s what the first part of the remake will encompass. I only have two contrasting points on this game since I didn’t end up playing much of it.
First off, this PSone game is rough to play in a mechanical sense. This is most egregious in the overhead exploration movement that is presented as if you had full analogue control, but this was before the DualShock was introduced. So, you have to - infuriatingly - maneuver these spaces with a four-way d-pad and it doesn’t help that many areas are laid out in a diagonal fashion, in which you have to zig-zag constantly to make progress. There are ways to move diagonally but they are equally annoying to execute, or are outright confusing because of the shifting perspective.
Despite my frustrations moving about the world, I can still see how people fell for this game back in the day. Even though it can be laughable to look at now, the move from 2D sprites to 3D models and pre-rendered backgrounds must’ve felt huge. The game evokes a cinematic flair while at the same time leaving a lot of room for interpretation. In this sense I’m curious how they’ll adapt some scenes in the remake. For example, there’s a scene where Cloud and Barret are in a train, looking out the window into the city, pondering about the disenfranchised people below and what agency they have. But on the screen all the player sees is a shot from within the train, looking down the cart - the view of the city is left for the imagination. Will they actually give us a wide-angle shot of the landscape in the remake? Or is it best to let the mind wonder?
3/13 - Demo Thoughts
I probably would have skipped this game if it weren't for this demo. Now that I’ve played it twice, I’m excited for the full game. This is in large part thanks to the combat system that initially put me off. The combat at first is presented as if you’re playing a straightforward action game. Which frustrated me as I tried to reflexively dodge and block, only to fail nine times out of ten. I struggled with the boss of the demo, beating it only by using potions and fenix downs; and it felt unsatisfying to say the least.
I was ready to pass on the game when I saw that Epic Name Bro (of Dark Souls fame) was challenging himself in the demo by doing a no items run. He said he wanted to “bring out the systems”. I was inspired to do the same - to force myself to engage with the mechanics and not brute force my way through with items. It worked! I learned to anticipate enemy attacks by thinking of them as turn-based volleys but running in real time. You can’t react to barrages; you have to be ready for them, which is why enemy attacks are demarcated with red at the top of their models. Most importantly, I dug into the pressured/staggered system that is very satisfying once you get the hang of it. It encourages play with all your characters so they can combo moves off each other. For example, on the Sweeper, this is the best order of operations I found: You start with Barret by unloading his Barrage which builds ATB > now you use his Bolt which weakens the enemy and “pressures” it (it’s a robot) > then you switch over to Cloud and use his dash ability which builds a lot of “stagger” meter > once the robot is staggered (on its ass, basically) engage Cloud’s Punisher mode and go to town because damage is doubled. It feels really good to wail on a staggered enemy.
Even though I challenged myself, having “mastered” the systems, the second run of the demo was actually kind of easy. Now I’m hoping for a hard mode that I can choose off the bat. Otherwise, I may stick with this no items challenge for the full game. In any case, this game has become HOTLY anticipated.
I said I was going to carry my Witcher 2 PC save into Witcher 3 PC, but I couldn’t find this - almost five year-old - game at an acceptable price. I’m not going to pay almost full price for a game I already bought a few years ago (on PS4) for $15 with all DLC. Hence, I started a new game on PS4. The game still holds up - visually - even on a base PS4. It’s not as sharp and fast as the PC version would be, but at a steady 30; the game is, still, perfectly serviceable. I think what makes this game still shine - from a visional viewpoint - are the faces and their animation, which are detailed and emotive.
The Witcher 3 lets you simulate a W2 save after the intro area. However, this situation only generates the biggest events from the last game and doesn’t include the minute occurrences that make a playthrough truly yours. Like completing a quest that leaves you with a regretful tattoo that you decide to keep as a sort of memento.
This is my third time starting this game. The first time I played, I rented the game through Gamefly, and that was a normal-ish playthrough that got me up through to the end of Velen - end of Bloody Baron questline. The second time was when I bought the version I currently own. Which is the “complete edition” that I got on a Black Friday sale. A copy that counts as a wholly different game on a system level - fresh new trophies and everything. I don’t know why they did this, but unfortunately for me it meant that I couldn’t carry over my save. Frustrated by this, I just mainlined through the main quest, skipping everything else. I got past where I'd left off last until I lost steam on Skellige in that playthrough.
Now for this new run, I’m taking my sweet-ass time. I’m taking all the side quests I can; and upgrading my gear and prepping for monster fights as best I can. I really want to feel like an actual, professional Witcher - riding through a war-ravaged land looking for work. You’d think that restarting this game three times over would lessen my enjoyment of it. However, this new angle of play has reinvigorated my enchantment of it once more. To the point that it’s tough to put down, and when I do - I’m immediately hankering to get back in it.
I’m still chipping away at this game. In Novigrad, delaying moving the main quest forward; doing all the side quests I can. In playing through one of these side quests, I came to understand and appreciate more the quest design in this game.
In the world of The Witcher, there’s a sort of code that everyone abides by called “The Law of Surprise”. This unwritten rule states that in returning a favor one must relinquish that which they possess, but have no knowledge of yet. This is how Geralt became Ciri’s foster father.
I believe CD Projekt used their own modified version of The Law of Surprise as a philosophy for designing their quests. What this means in the game is that most quests play with expectation. What you think to be a simple monster extermination turns into a cross-country ride with a fellow witcher looking to “get out of the life”; or another looking for revenge. Take this quest line that I’ve yet to finish, but has already subverted my expectations in a pleasant way: You catch word that a beast has been slaying folk in the outskirts of Novigrad, so you go talk to the guard; to take the contract and maybe sweeten the deal. He tells you, however, that another witcher has already taken the job. Interesting, not many of those around these days. Geralt decides to track the monster anyway, hoping to meet this fellow colleague of his. The monster - you learn - tears it’s victims apart, sucking any blood it can extract…
a lesser vampire, surely.
The trail leads you to a riverside warehouse and from within you hear a scuffle. You run inside to aid the witcher midst hunt. Two experienced witchers make easy work of the Ekimmara. Experienced because any witcher working these days must be, but also because this other witcher is none other than Albert, you’re training mate from Kaer Morhen. This monster contract is only the beginning - as you’ll soon learn - of a personal quest he’s on. The vampire’s head will get him close to one of a group of bandits that wronged his friend.
So you see, other games would have climaxed with killing the vampire alongside your witcher pal - each going your merry way afterward. But in this game, that is only the first step of a sprawling adventure.
I’ve been watching the new Netflix Witcher show alongside reading The Last Wish (first Witcher book) so, naturally, I have to play the games as well. Therefore, I’ve gone back to my Witcher 2 save from last year. My plan is to finish the game and carry over the save data to Witcher 3, which I’ve never played on PC.
But, boy is it rough to load back into an RPG months later, especially one as dense in lore as this one. Luckily, the game has a character encyclopedia and you can read the quest logs to get a sense of what is going on. Even still, It’s only a vague understanding. At the beginning of the third act, the powers that be are gathering to discuss the future of kingless Temeria, while a group of sorceress’ are making a power play as well?
Anyhow, It was fun going until Geralt got into some real combat. He had to escort a nanny with secret information out of the city safely. So, of course that meant being ambushed by an incessant sorcerer and his goons. The difficulty was set to hard and I just kept getting wrecked. I didn’t remember what my playstyle or build was. In this case, I had to be aggressive because otherwise the nanny would get ganked. And the encounters were set up with super annoying archers in the back line peppering me with arrows. Either this set of fights were supposed to be very challenging or I completely forgot my flow of combat, or both. I banged my head against this quest, but I could not get through it with the nanny alive. Going forward, I will turn down the difficulty for sure. Question is if I want to reload to try and save nanny. I like living with the consequences in games and not save scumming, but it makes sense to give it one more try if I’m going to play on normal anyway, no? I’ve been one of those players that plays games on the hardest mode from the get go. But now I think I’m growing out of that tendency; now I just want to get through games and see them through to the end if possible.
I’ve finished the game. It turned out that saving the nanny was a pain no matter the difficulty. Also, I realized I was immensely underleveled/undergeared because I did minimal damage to the final dragon fight. It was tedious and not the most exciting gameplay, but I managed to beat the game on hard.
Coming back to finish the game for the last, and also very short, act left me with an underwhelming impression by the end of it. The dialogue can be stilted at times which is exacerbated by that awkward pace of video game scenes as assets get loaded in(?). This also applies to the would be climactic events where the animation and sound design is not quite there. For example, the scene where Geralt skirmishes with the dragon in flight looks hilariously goofy as he ragdolls in the air trying to keep hold of the beast. It wasn’t the intended reaction I assume. I wanted to quickly finish the game to move on to The Witcher 3, so I’m happy to be doing that soon, maybe. I may play Kentucky Route Zero next instead.
New year, old games; new decade, decade-old games.
I just finished Control and loved it. But I was left with a Remedy itch, so I decided to return to Alan Wake. A game I started in 2012, only to play it for a few hours.
The game is set up in an episode structure as if it were a TV show. This conceit works because it gives, at least the first episode, a nice rise and fall type of pacing that you see in a good television series. The bits I enjoy the most are the “falls” when the game breaks the tension and shadowy scares with stress-free exploration areas. They contrast well with the not-so spooky action and allow you to take in all the remedy house-style, goofy storytelling. Speaking of which, it’s rather rough going from Control to this, in terms of writing. Whereas Control’s writing is exceptional with characters, world building, and plot - Alan Wake reads like a high-schooler read a lot of Stephen King and got way into Twin Peaks then decided to write a game themselves. It’s not awful, but comparatively, the writing is bland, uninspired, and the characters are unlikeable caricatures. The Twin Peaks inspiration doesn’t fly when they straight up copy certain things from the show: The diner and police station look identical and lets not forget “lamp lady”. All of Remedy’s games have taken heavy inspiration from outside sources, but you can tell that with Control they’ve finally created something truly fresh and unique feeling - a work that can be called their magnum opus. The fake, in-universe TV show in Alan Wake is still very choice, though.
All that said, in the second episode of Alan Wake, I’m already worn out by the combat, and there’s a lot of it. I’m finding it unsatisfying having to weaken the dark specters with the flashlight. The encounters become a crowd control simulator with a limited toolset. Or you can run past enemies to the next safe haven but Alan has the cardio and gait of an elderly man. It’s simple and, worse, it’s boring for a game that wants you to be on edge. Because of this, I think I’m done, which is a shame because I wanted to be all caught up for that tie-in DLC coming for Control.
Funnily enough, I think I got to the exact same spot I did almost ten years ago.
Use your keyboard!
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