Playlist: October 6th

I can’t believe I missed an opportunity to reference Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September” last month. The whole month! No references! I have let myself down, and I have let you down. I’m sorry.

Here’s what Ben and I have been playing:

PLAYED

GTA Online

gtaonlineColin:

It was tempting to label this “Not Played” because of how little time I got with it. God knows I was prepared for some measure of server instability- I’m not new to gaming, I know the score- but the Class 3 mess that came out on Tuesday and has been nearly unplayable ever since is pretty astonishing. I have seen the intro cutscene four times now, because it keeps freezing and then deleting my character. I have had my character’s head disappear, had cars clip through the world and fall into oblivion, and had the camera lock in place staring at nothing so that I couldn’t play.

And for the brief period that it did work? It was fucking boring. I held up a convenience store, and then ran and hid in an alleyway until the cops forgot about me. I shot a few drug dealers, I bought a new shirt. And in that fifteen minutes of gameplay before it broke again, I was barely entertained. The fact that it’s so hard to get the game working feels almost like a blessing when there’s so little reason to do so in the first place. Yawn.

Ben:

Grand Theft Auto V’s much-awaited online mode technically launched on this Tuesday, but for all intents and purposes, it wasn’t truly available until Friday. As millions of consoles struggled in vain to upload their newly-created thugs to Rockstar’s cloud servers, the whole system was brought to its knees. It was initially impossible for me to progress beyond the loading screen, and even then, I couldn’t
reliably play with a real person until a few new patches went live.

After temporarily vanquishing the overloaded servers and meeting a friend in Los Santos, it quickly became clear that cooperating with the people you know is the ONLY way to play the game. Overzealous lock-on targeting has no place in competitive shootouts, and hostile player encounters devolve into twitch-based button mashing. It was slightly more enjoyable to get into random bits of chaos with my friend, but I grew bored with the aimless, wanton destruction and longed for something with more structured cooperative objectives.

The lack of decent cooperative missions will likely sort itself out as users dip their toes into the editing software and Rockstar prepares to add heists at a later date. However, it’ll take a lot more than a strong writer and a troubleshooting expert to fix the weak competitive shooting.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

realmrebornBen:

Confession time: I’ve never played any MMO for longer than a week. Though my younger self used to buy every MMO under the sun, the tedium of grinding out levels and eventual requirement to join a group for later missions drove me away. I’ve never grown beyond a tenuous cut-and-run relationship with the genre, but I continue to grab games from the genre, out of some ridiculous hope that I’ll find
one that just *clicks*.

Given that a week has yet to pass, it might be premature to claim I found my match in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Still, Square-Enix’s second attempt at a modern MMO managed to hook me right from the start. Rather than planting my feet to the ground and hammering hotkeys, XIV expected me to be fleet-footed as I dodged special attacks and aligned myself for strategic jabs with my trusty lance.
The Final Fantasy trappings also add just enough character to spruce up the plot; no mount will ever be superior to a trusty Chocobo, and watching a Moogle down a giant bottle of liquor delivered a hefty punch to my “cute” glands.

I still have a ways before deciding whether XIV is truly for me, but it doesn’t feel like an absolute slog yet, and that’s more than I can say for just about every other MMO I’ve tried. At the very least, its $30 price tag might make it one of the cheapest, most memorable MMO mistakes I’ve ever made.

Colin:

It turns out all it takes to get me to check out an MMO is the promise of magitek armor. Well, that and unattainability- I was mildly curious about FFXIV a few weeks ago, so I looked into getting a copy, and found out that it wasn’t doable. Every store within 20 miles was out of stock, and digital sales were temporarily disabled. Some childish part of my brain took it as a challenge, and I went to some ridiculous lengths to try to secure a copy. Ultimately, I failed, but when digital sales became available again, I picked it up.

FFXIV is just similar enough to World of Warcraft for a WoW vet like me to feel comfortable with the controls, but different enough to feel fresh and worth exploring. The writing is incredibly bland- I don’t give a shit about any of the lore figures or quests I’m doing, they’re just busywork- but the actual gameplay is satisfying, I like my class, and the visual design is absolutely top notch.

Like Ben, I’m not positive I’ll stick with it, but I’m definitely getting my thirty bucks worth.

BioShock 2: Minerva’s Den

minervasdenBen:

On its release, BioShock 2 was considered the black sheep of the franchise; it was the sequel to one of the most critically-acclaimed shooters of all time, but most fans weren’t interested in booking any return trips to Rapture, especially when a different developer was at the helm. That didn’t stop the press from falling in love with Minerva’s Den, a two-hour DLC campaign that traps Sigma in Rapture’s experimental computer hub. Thanks to Digital Extremes, the full game and all its DLC was recently ported from the dying Games for Windows Live to Valve’s Steamworks, and previous owners of the PC version (myself included) received the beloved downloadable campaign for free! It was an opportune time to jump in and
see what made Minerva a critical darling.

Minerva does a bang-up job with its attempt to tell a grisly story. Audio logs (a series staple) are still strewn about the sector, but the world itself unravels most of the yarn. Photographs, letters, and other physical artifacts made me feel like I was exploring a truly lived-in environment, and revealed aspects of Porter’s life that he probably wouldn’t shout into a tape recorder. Sometimes the clues are larger than
they would be in real life, and carefully drawing intricate messages in blood is still as unbelievable as it gets, but it’s a significant step up from the story-telling techniques in the rest of the franchise.

Despite the captivating tale, I only lasted 30 minutes before I decided to call it quits. It’s still a BioShock game, and I had grown sick of the combat before I even finished the principal entry in 2007. Thankfully, principal members from the Minerva’s Den team eventually decided to strike out on their own and create Gone Home, a touching adventure that expands and perfects the lessons learned in Rapture. If you’re like me and can’t stand BioShock’s brand of gunplay, I’d recommend playing that instead.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies (Demo)

dualdestiniesColin:

The legendary Phoenix Wright is back after getting his disbarment reversed, and he’s ready for legal action! Well, in a few weeks. Right now, all we’ve got is this little demo, which contains a chunk of what is (presumably) the first case in the game. You’d think that a little twenty minute demo wouldn’t leave me with much to say, given that I’ve played whole games and not had enough interesting to say to write about them.

If you thought that, you’re underestimating my love of Ace Attorney. I love this series, even Ace Attorney 4 (which a lot of series fans are kinda down on). I love the writing, I love the art, I love the style, the story, the characters… I still have an Ace Attorney 2 wrist strap on my car keys. The Dual Destinies demo had a few new things to talk about, though, so we don’t just have to listen to me gush about the series for paragraphs on end.

There are new animated cutscenes with voicework (which have one AA fan I know upset but I think are quite well done), there is a new art style that manages to preserve the eccentric style of the 2D animations with 3D models to an amazing degree, the writing is as sharp as ever, and the new assistant for Phoenix is way less annoying than Maya. I am in for launch day, for sure.