Here’s what we played this week:
When anything related to horror is marketed by bragging about audience reactions, I’m immediately skeptical. Everyone consumes entertainment differently; I once sat behind a buff man with tribal tattoos in a theater, and he wailed when a harmless cat leaped from a garbage can. You can throw thousands of Twitter testimonials on the screen, but it all means nothing when you jump into the game for yourself.
Well, I’ve only played an hour of it so far, and I’m sorry I ever doubted Outlast. The jump scares are great and the inmates are unnerving, but the star of the show is the profound physical presence I have in the world. Miles Upshur’s arms and legs are present at all times, and react exactly how I’d want them to when being hunted by psychopaths. When my palm rests on the frame of a wall as I slowly peer around it, or I stuff myself under a bed to hide from my predators, it drags me into the moment, kicking and screaming.
When the arms and legs react this well to the world around me, my brain fills in the rest and suddenly I’m the one traipsing through an altogether-unpleasant asylum. As I cower under a mattress, restocking my camcorder batteries, I can’t help but shout when night vision reveals the glowing eyes of a brute as he rips me from my haven.
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony
As is my way, the imminent release of GTA V prompted me to try to finish up its predecessors. I finished GTA IV’s story shortly after release, but its DLC didn’t hook me in the same way. While I was wholly sympathetic of the story of Niko, an immigrant dealing with the eccentric lunatics of New York City, the protagonists of the DLCs (Johnny and Luis) are not nearly as interesting to me. Johnny is just some biker asshole, and Luis seems to willingly associate with jackasses, while Niko does so out of unpleasant necessity. The Ballad of Gay Tony, though, isn’t really about Luis. It is (of course) about Tony Prince, a flamboyantly gay club owner in a world where being gay isn’t as weird as it used to be.
The story is a very typical GTA story- you have a money problem, and you’re working with various crime bosses with mental problems to fix your income situation. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a game in the GTA IV engine as well- as polished as it is, it’s also bizarrely rough. The cars feel super squirrel-y, the lock on targeting is terrible at target selecting, and there’s no shortage of minor glitches.
I enjoyed playing The Ballad to completion, but it reminded me of how rough Rockstar’s games can be. Is there any way GTA V will be the game everyone seems to expect? Red Dead Redemption was, to me, incredible, but even it had some pretty strong shortcomings. There’s nothing quite like GTA, no one trying so hard to create a full single player world with things to do, be it violence or sitting around watching TV. I’m really curious to see what happens this time out.
With brand-new consoles dropping as soon as two months into the future, we’re due for another huge upheaval in the fidelity of 3D graphics. We’ll get shinier cars, gorgeous explosions, and character models… well, to be frank, next-generation portrayals of humans will probably dip even deeper into the uncanny valley. Sadly, polygons always lose their luster after a generation or two, and when we have grandkids, they’ll shrug their shoulders at the archaic graphics and jump back into their VR headsets.
Thankfully, our increased storage and hardware capabilities make it feasible to run in the opposite direction and craft good-looking games that abandon realism for imaginative, exaggerated worlds.
Rayman Origins is built almost entirely from high-definition, 2D animation, and it easily stands toe to toe with the best-looking games on either of the upcoming platforms! 3D engines are constantly one-upped by the next big visual trend of the day, but drawings don’t age. It doesn’t hurt that the platforming offers a large breadth of movement options combined with the same accuracy and challenge found in a game like Super Meat Boy. In a few decades (assuming that we don’t run out of energy or the world doesn’t spontaneously combust), we could probably look back on Origins and see a game that still lives up to the same praises we lauded on it long ago.
Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
I’d never played Puzzle Fighter before. It’s supposed to be a classic, but our paths just never crossed. However, a small party with friends resulted in me and some usually non-gamer friends sitting down and talking about games (hey, they started it). The conversation turned to their love of Puzzle Fighter, and I made an educated guess that I could snag it off of PSN. Indeed I could, and fifteen minutes later I was beginning to understand what they were so enamored with.
I am not up on puzzle game lingo, but to my uneducated ass it feels like a versus version of Doctor Mario, almost? You’re matching up colors in little two-block pairs, and when you make a match, it drops blocks on the other player’s side of the screen. So you’re trying to set up these huge combos, because bigger matches result in bigger drops on the enemy, but doing so risks your combo being blocked by the other guy while you… hang on. Let me take a deep breath. Jeez.
It’s Tetris-like, it’s versus, it’s chaotic, and it’s adorable. Play it, damn you.
I never thought I would own another “real” sports game when I could play Blitz or NBA Jam instead, but thanks to an enticing promotion between Amazon and DirecTV, I now have a cheap Sunday Ticket pass for the football season with a free copy of Madden 25. Frankly, the game feels as slapdash as the deal itself; the frame rate makes calling pre-pass audibles an exercise in frustration, the commentary often gets your plays wrong, and by asking you to hold down one more trigger when running the ball, they’ve tacked on yet another step to Madden instead of streamlining it.
That said, I’m still having fun with the game despite its disappointing technical issues and questionable design choices. Putting together an Ultimate Team is a lot like building the perfect deck of trading cards, and in Owner Mode, I couldn’t resist moving the Ravens to the United Kingdom when I knew how the fake sportscasters will freak over fake, in-game Twitter. Even if the series hasn’t made significant advances in the past few years, Madden is still good for the same, tried-and-true game of football.
When my PS4 arrives in November, I might take Sony/EA up on their $10 upgrade offer and see if EA put all its Madden eggs in the next-generation basket.
Something from the Nightside
My sister is a much better reader than I am. Indeed, she’s probably the best reader I know, and she is constantly pushing me to pick up books that she enjoyed. She sent me a handful of books, and I recently began to dig into them. I started with the Nightside novels by Simon R. Green, of which Something from the Nightside is the first entry.
It’s a fantasy detective novel, and it’s… okay? Let’s be straight here. It starts off a series that I feel is pretty good (I’ve read the first three books in the series so far this week), but it itself is really not that great. It has pacing issues, it has character issues, and its world doesn’t feel very well realized to me. It’s not especially long, but it brings me to a hard question- can I recommend reading it just because the books that follow it are really pretty good?
These novels are about John Taylor, a not entirely human detective operating in the Nightside, the evil underbelly of London. The Nightside is full of all manner of baddies- demons, old gods, psychopaths, and everything in between. The first book tries to establish the width and breadth of the world, and ends up just feeling rushed and cramped- it’s attempting to do way too much in too little time, and the end result is that it feels clumsy. Book two in the series is a fantastic building on that foundation, though, and book three was enjoyable as well. So, if you’ve got the time to spare, dig in. But if wading through a mediocre book to get to better ones doesn’t sound like your thing, go ahead and pass.