And E3 is ovaaaah! It’s been pretty crazy, and definitely very exciting stuff. At the end of the day, though, the console war is just gettin’ started, and as much as Ben and I aren’t too hot on the Xbox One, there’s plenty of time until launch. It’s gonna be a wild ride, guys.
The Last of Us
Yeah, I did it. I slapped down the money, and picked up perhaps the last big exclusive that the PS3 will have before the next generation hits. Except Beyond, which ehhhhhhh. And you know what? So far, it’s really, really good. It’s certainly one of the prettiest damn games I’ve ever played- my two-week-old computer pumping out Skyrim might look better, but that’s the only thing that comes to mind. The game is absolutely gorgeous. But graphics don’t make a game, of course. So let’s talk about what does.
I haven’t played a ton at this point, but I have managed to get the game’s opening hour and a half out of the way, and man. That game opens really, really strong. So far, no cutscenes have been of any real length- you can tell that it’s made by the same people that made Uncharted for sure, as in-engine cutscenes last a dozen or so seconds before slipping smoothly back into gameplay. The experience is pretty highly scripted, but The Last of Us was never pitched as Grand Theft Auto- it’s a linear story that you progress through.
The combat feels weighty- it’s clearly a video game still, as I’ve killed maybe a half-dozen armed enemies at this point (not counting zombies) but it doesn’t feel as bombastic as most of them do. When you take someone out, it’s not just “alright, one more down”, you feel like you’re making actual progress, because each individual enemy is actually fairly dangerous. The hand-to-hand combat is beautifully animated, but kind of dumb- gunplay is scary as hell because of how easy it is to get killed, but if you close on an enemy you can pretty much just mash square until they fall down with no worries.
I’ll save the rest for a review when I finish the game up, but so far, it’s well written, beautiful, fun, and thoroughly enjoyable. Highly recommended.
Poker Night 2
Poker Night at the Inventory was not a good game. In fact, it was a fairly bad game. It didn’t seem to actually know the rules of poker, the AI was complete ass, and the game’s one upside, the well-written banter between the characters playing cards with you, repeated its lines frequently enough that it wasn’t the selling point it should have been. It was, however, decently relaxing to play, and worth a chuckle or two. Despite myself, I liked it.
Poker Night 2 is basically second verse, same as the first. It’s a slightly better game now- Telltale clearly found a copy of the rules of Texas Hold Em in the interim, and fixed the problems there. The AI, also, is maybe a LITTLE bit better? They’re more reliable with their tells, and you can buy them drinks to make them even easier to read, which is a nice touch. The addition of an extra character acting as dealer (GLaDOS) also adds a lot to the game, narrating the action with biting sarcasm.
The character choices, however, aren’t as good this time around. Borderland’s Claptrap does a surprisingly good job given how obnoxiously unbearable he is in his own game- it turns out the secret is to constantly and incessantly mock the little metal box. I love me some Brock Samson as well, but Venture Bros is an odd choice for this game. The other two are flops, though. Sam from Sam and Max is b-o-r-i-n-g, with nothing very interesting to say, and, frankly, not even a very interesting way of saying it. Not a fan of that voice actor. And getting Ash from Evil Dead, but no Bruce Campbell voicing him? And you can tell. This impersonator does a terrible, terrible impression, and it’s just kind of unpleasant.
So, same deal. Not a good game, but hey, it’s kind of amusing, and it’s relaxing. So I… recommend it? That doesn’t sound right. Hmm. Well, you know if this is for you, I think.
The Pinball Arcade
The pinball scene in 2013 isn’t what it used to be. Most table manufacturers went out of business, and the remaining machines found in the occasional pizza shop are often in disrepair; the prices for fan-crafted replacement parts are too steep for anyone but the most diehard enthusiasts. Thankfully, The Pinball Arcade scooped up most of the classics and offers near-perfect virtual renditions. I’ve played the physical versions of Funhouse and Black Hole, and was pleased when the same sounds, scoreboard animations and speed greeted my pinball wizardry. (Yes, it has a Pinball Wizard knockoff song in the menu. I can’t tell whether it’s adorable or sad.)
For the amount of time and care they poured into mimicking the real deal, it’s a shame that the rest of Pinball Arcade is so unpleasant. Tinny audio, archaic menus and a cumbersome high score system aren’t the end of the world, but its intrusiveness detracts from the action. Even the pinball tables can’t seem to mesh with whatever platform you use; cross-platform purchases mean I can either weather frame rate drops on my PS3 or play with uglier tables on my Vita. Is it too much to ask for a happy medium between the two? Regardless, if you’re hurting for some Black Knight or Star Trek, it’s the best you’re going to get in this generation.
Yes, Gunpoint’s campaign takes 2-3 hours to complete, but there’s a reason why the average player has at least 16 hours racked up in the week since its launch. My short career as a private investigator with a cheeky attitude was an entertaining prelude to the madness that ensued when I earned enough money to afford every upgrade. Levels are like puzzle boxes with countless solutions; I could tackle a guard out of a skyscraper and land safely, reprogram his gun to malfunction before disappearing into the night, connect the light switch downstairs with the door two floors up to trap him in a room, and even pull a gun to edge him away from the important terminal I wanted to hack.
Gunpoint is at its best when I can use everything at my disposal to carve through a daunting building and its security guards. Unfortunately, 90% of the missions are dedicated to learning the ropes, but an included level editor and the ability to take your new toys into older levels kept me coming back again and again. It’s Dishonored, Thief, Deus Ex and other open-choice adventures distilled to a snappy 2D technoir and due to its addictive qualities, you might want to consume with caution.
So I’ve been a big opponent of Lord Management games for a while- personally, I feel like they’re… hmm, how to phrase this? They have addictive qualities, they bring out the worst in people, and the matches are too goddamn long. There, that about sums it up. But once I got a computer that could render Half-Life 1 without stuttering (you think I’m joking, I’m really not), I wondered if maybe my resentment of the genre was simply due to the fact that the scrap heap I had been running Windows on couldn’t play them. So I thought I’d give Dota 2 a shot.
At the end of the day, I don’t really think I was wrong about them? But I can see why people like them, too. Winning is such a rush, there’s so much to learn, and the gameplay is enjoyably tense as hell. I do think the game is very needlessly complex- things like denials, the Secret Shop, and couriers feel like complexity for its own sake, and annoy the bejesus out of me- but I had a great deal of fun, and I would certainly consider playing again. Plus, I played with Ben, and we kicked ass. And that was great.
I really don’t have enough time to invest in learning DOTA 2. More power to the folks who rack up hundreds of hours playing the same game; I wish I could find a game that would grab me like that, but MMOs don’t do it for me, and neither do MOBAs. I’m more of the “Experience everything, master nothing” type.
This is the End
Actors parodying themselves are always walking a fine line; it’s far too easy for the act to devolve into navel gazing and self-referential jokes that leave anyone unfamiliar with the personality behind the mask out in the cold. Most Funny or Die skits can’t manage to execute their premise in 5-10 minutes, so it was only natural that I approached feature-length This is the End with trepidation. Fortunately, Seth Rogen and crew manage to knock it out of the park, and the end result left me cackling with glee.
It would be far too easy for the writers to cruise on by with jokes about Michael Cera snorting cocaine or Danny McBride in his usual Kenny Powers routine, but they resist the temptation and build true characters in between the laughs. Despite the inherently ridiculous nature of actors attempting to survive the rapture, a dash of seriousness goes a long way; there’s real tension as Jay Baruchel fights social anxiety and hell-beasts in equal measure. It’s easily one of the meatiest comedies I’ve seen in a long time, and other than Fast Six, I can’t think of a single movie this summer that’s half as enjoyable.