We took a little break from the playlist last week. I say that, we couldn’t get near our computers because Nick let the basilisk out again. It’s back in its pit now, though, and we can get back to the grindstone.
This week Rob’s been playing Bioshock: Infinite and wondering why Columbia is the setting. Rapture made sense thematically but not Columbia. Nick’s calling out all those babies who thought Dark Souls was a hard game. Tim’s become a bit of a flyboy in Planetside and wants to tell as all about it. And Jules? Well, he’s gone well nerdy and been fussing about Torchlight 2’s UI.
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Rob Zacny: Bioshock Infinite
Could there be any doubt? I spent launch week out at GDC and wasn’t able to get to my gaming rig until a few days ago, so this weekend I’m spending some quality time in Columbia with some of history’s worst archetypes.
It’s funny, but several hours into the game, I’m still not sure why it’s set in a flying city. Rapture made sense because Andrew Ryan and his society never really existed historically. Ayn Rand sketched the blueprint but nobody ever constructed the edifice, so Irrational had to give those dreams life.
But Columbia isn’t so far from late 19th century and early 20th century America. Would a pseudo-Confederate evangelical megalomaniac really have had to construct an airborne Utopia to pursue his dreams, or would the US Senate chamber have sufficed? Admittedly, I’m still at an early part of the game and can’t quite tell where Irrational are headed with this, but Infinite is very much a game about America’s darkest traditions. What confuses me is that there are times and places in American history that come very close to Columbia’s patriotic parody. Does Columbia sharpen the critique of American triumphalism enough to justify the distance it puts between it and the audience? Does it render alien what is actually familiar, and does that serve a greater purpose?
Beyond that deeper confusion, I’m having a good time with Infinite, although I have yet to really enjoy the combat. There are moments where it comes together in a weird mixture of beauty, horror, and awful power. An early ambush where a scene of uneasy tranquility at dusk dissolves into a massacre, everyone leaping into action as I turn around and calmly put a bullet through a fiddler’s head. A faux-Peking in winter, overrun with mutinous soldiers and alive with flame as they hunt Booker between rows of cardboard Boxer rebels. Irrational remain, as ever, masters of mood and atmosphere.
But I’m struggling to find interesting ways to use my powers in Infinite, and too often I find sequences boil down to “run in circles blasting the hell out of Mecha-Washington”. If I were making an interpretive dance production of A People’s History of the United States that might make for a pretty good number, but I want a bit more from my shooters these days.
The frustrating thing is that Irrational, who made System Shock 2, seem to be getting less ambitious with gameplay design even as they tackle bigger themes and settings. I appreciate the addition of a 1999 Mode, but I wish 1999 game design lived on in the mechanics and systems, not in the menu options.
Nick Wilson: Dark Souls
Dark Souls is an easy game.
Before you shout angry things at your screen, just hear me out. The very first video game I played, Sonic The Hedgehog for the Sega Master System (the one built into the console), now that was a hard game. That, too, had easy deaths, hard-as-nails bosses, and no checkpoints, but back then the internet was still young and the only way to get help with video games was by word of mouth. If you came across a tricky boss you had to work out the solution yourself or not progress.
My problem with Dark Souls is that I’m late to the party.
Any seasoned Dark Souls player will tell you that the golden days of playing the game were in the first few weeks of release. This was a time when no one knew what to expect, what to do or where to go. Communities would record their successes, failures and secrets in order to help each other.
Before there was any notion of Dark Souls coming to PC, I would watch “Epic Name Bro” play Dark Souls on Youtube because I was so fascinated by the famous unforgiving difficulty it possessed. Without even completing the game myself, I’ve seen pretty much every boss, secret and shortcut it has to offer.
I’m playing through it right now, mainly to experience it myself in preparation for Dark Souls 2 which is coming straight to PC on release. I hope when I pick up Dark Souls 2, the sheer fact that it’s an unexplored and unknown enigma will give me with that feeling I so desperately wanted but can never quite grasp with Dark Souls today.
Tim Edwards: Planetside 2
The games I want to play the most are the games that can deliver me the most amount of meaningful fun in the shortest amount of time. You’d think that, given how hard it was to find a fight when Planetside 2 launched, I would have bounced right off.
But in the last month or so, I’ve formed a habit. Load onto Planetside 2 and Mumble (I’ve installed both onto an SSD so they load in seconds). Run to the nearest air-terminal and select my Air-to-Air loadout. And fly.
I love it.
I can be airborne in under a minute. Depending on the conditions, I can be in a dogfight in two. But even when the air is quiet, and there’s little real action, I love the sense of liberation and power. I’m perfectly happy to sit and listen in to what’s going on elsewhere – even if it’s on a different continent.
Most of all though, it turns out I’m quietly effective. Most air-pilots I know seem to spend their cert points on the air-to-ground missiles. I took a different route: I’m purely about the dogfights – air-to-air combat against other enemy fighters, bombers and transports. By not engaging directly with ground forces, I tend to live far longer. And by being careful about where I position my fighter, I’ve learned to ambush other flyers by hiding in crevices or hiding behind treelines.
Back when Planetside 2 launched, I remember worrying that unless SOE could find a way to drive players into the most fun, quickly, it would suffer. I was wrong.
Julian Benson: Torchlight 2
With all the news posts on balance patches in Diablo 3, I get that dungeon crawlers are finely crafted games. Games which can’t engross a player if a developer get it wrong. I’d always attached this to elements like loot drops and enemy difficulties but it’s also down to the UI. Torchlight’s is an odd’n; not providing enough information for my tastes but it’s also exactly as much as the game can handle.
It doesn’t carry things like DPS or health regeneration rates, making picking between different bits of loot in your inventory that little bit slower as you work out which is the best to equip. Scanning through the Steam Workshop I found a mod that adds in all those details and a load more.
I thought this would improve the game but it’s made it nigh on unplayable.
The mod itself is fine, it doesn’t crash the game or anything, but it fills the lower portion of the screen with information like current level, current xp, DPS, armour levels, and so on and so on. Loads of information. The problem is that I can’t keep my mind in the game. My eyes glaze over after a minute of play and I lose track of how much health I have, who I’m fighting, and, well, then I get killed.
It’s a simple thing but by adding more information to the screen it becomes unreadable for me as a player. It’s like, rather than selecting the relevant bits, my brain is just giving up, overloaded with data.
The UI Runic have supplied doesn’t give me all that I want but it lets me play their game. I wonder, how many testers brains were fried so that I could shoot goblin miners to my heart’s content?