Tagged in: videogames

2011: The Games I Have Played

The Grey Warden Kicks Ass

Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age: Origins. I started with the much reviled second entry into Bioware’s sword and sorcery franchise. When it first came out I made a good faith attempt to play the original, but I failed to get into the game and decided to cut bait after about three hours. Something about the mechanics of the game just didn’t click with me and I had trouble effectively controlling my party. But after playing my way through the sequel, I decided to give Origins another go-round and this time it all made sense. I purchased the Ultimate Edition with all the DLC included so I went dead to the world for a significant portion of the summer while I quested my Grey Warden from one end of Thedas to the other. That was after I lead my dapper rogue through a tumultuous decade of running around Kirkwall and bedding pirate queens in part 2. Although the recycled level in part two did get old, I loved the setting and characters. This whole series has restarted my long dormant love of the fantasy genre. Thanks so much Dragon Age. I thought I was done with barbarians wielding swords…

I am the Night.

Batman: Arkham City. The purest Batman experience is sadly the closest I will ever come to swinging down from a gargoyle and straight up punching a criminal in the face. The open world mechanic worked like a charm and the voice acting was top-notch. The plot was convoluted and some of the action setpieces didn’t quite work out as well as they were intended to, but overall Rocksteady knocked it out of the park with this one.

warhammer 40k space marine cover is for the weak

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. Not much to add beyond what I’ve already said, but this game was not without it’s charm and suffered from the inevitable comparisons to

The Passion of the Dom

Gear of War 3. So the saga of Marcus Fenix and his human meat tank bros finally came to an end this year. I have only played the campaigns for the three games in the Gears of War series, and I found the story of an earth-like world rocking from cataclysm after cataclysm strangely compelling. The background story plays out like the hopelessness of early Battlestar Galactica crossed with the macho posturing and general brotasticity of Predator. The gameplay was hectic and the fine folks at Epic Games know how to put together excellent firefights on a massive scale. The third installment tied up most of the loose ends and while the game failed to achieve anything approaching real pathos, the narrative never shied away from taking risks.

Call of Duty: BlackOps. Another game which I have already spoken about at length.

Cyberpunk as Fuck

Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This was easily my most anticipated game of 2011. I absolutely adored the original and its sequel, and I was totally looking forward to immersing myself in the cyberpunk noir future where human augmentation had run amok and tranhumanist philosophy had created a race of nano-enhanced supermen. Human Revolution delivered the goods. The game wasn’t perfect. The boss fights felt tacked on and went against the grain of everything the game’s structure had been pushing toward and the ending(s) left a great deal to be desired but this game had texture, man. There was a grit and a lived-in feeling that permeated every aspect of the game’s world of 2027, from Jensen’s apartment to the neon fever dream that was Hengsha. This game was awesome.

Poet and a Prophet.

Crysis 2. I did not play the first Crysis, so I am unable to assess its merits in contrast to the first version of the game. I can tell you that this version was a better than average shooter whose sci-fi aliens invading New York city narrative was almost done in by some shoddy A.I. and less than thrilling enemy design. I liked the convoluted plot and the gameplay variations that you get from your nanomachine super-suit, like invisibility, invincibility, and speed but the experience never really gelled for me.

Soooo sneaky....

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Another sequel that I dove into the deep end without starting at the dawn of the franchise. This version was the first Assassin’s Creed game I ever played, and I enjoyed the crap out of it. The narrative was gibberish, but the stealth and planning elements to each hit were fun. My main criticism came when I realized that it was nearly impossible to actually die. Ezio’s health regenerates just a little that makes it difficult for even a swarm of Borgia goons to actually kill the player character. The challenge, then, comes from the mission parameters and whether you are able to sneak and stealth your way through your objectives without being seen.

The Courier True Identity Revealed!

Fallout: New Vegas. This one almost didn’t make the list because I couldn’t make it to completion. After around thirty hours of roaming the wastes with my trusty supermutant companion helping out survivors of the last great war and personally assassinating Caesar this broken, buggy, unfinished game went crashed on me and I was unable to load any of my save games. I enjoyed the experience before it came to a crashing halt, but I didn’t have the patience at the time to retrace my steps in the game so I stopped playing. I plan on buying the ultimate edition later this year, which will include all the downloadable content and hopefully a stable version of the game itself. I will give that version another try, but I am worried because war never changes.

Oh, Wheatley, you lovable scamp.

Portal 2. Easily the funniest and most well-constructed game of last year, Portal 2 was short, sweet, and to the point. It was funny and I don’t have a single bad thing to say about it.

The Semantic Drift Game of the Year: I played some excellent games this past year. Skyrim kicks so much ass, but I am still neck deep in the Stormcloak rebellion and I don’t want it to end ever. Since I haven’t completed the game and will be slaying dragons for at least the first few months of 2012, the game is exempt. That leaves Batman: Arkham City as the greatest game of 2011.

Alex Mason, Master Chief, and the Unsatisfying Futility of War

Alex Mason has problems. That much is clear from the start. Restrained, drugged, and under interrogation by mysterious inquisitors, the main character in Call of Duty: Black Ops begins the game from a compromised position. In the dark, the voices demand that he reveals what he knows about the missions he undertook as a special forces operative during the Cold War. From this framing device, the game takes the player on several individual missions that range from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion to escaping a Soviet Prison, to invading an enemy warship. Along the way, Mason flashes back to moments of betrayal and paranoia worthy of the most frantic conspiracy theory. Alex eventually takes his quest for revenge and clarity to the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the game mechanics at the heart of the Call of Duty games. I prefer to enter a room filled with X number of bad guys, slay them all (preferably by hiding behind something and taking a series of measured headshots, although I’m not opposed to bumrushing the bastards and circle strafing until I’m alone), and then leisurely search for treasure, ammo, and health. I feel a sense of pride when I clear a room of enemies, especially when I do so swiftly and with the efficiency of a special forces bad-ass. The best games impart a sense of identification with the gun-wielding avatar, such that when Master Chief finishes off his last brute and takes a minute to survey the carnage in Halo, the player basks in the reflected glory of the hero. In that moment, he has vanquished all foes.

The Call of Duty series asks me to eschew this slow, thoughtful approach to combat in favor of a more aggressive berserker style. In Call of Duty: Black Ops, the methodical sniping of far away enemies is stripped of any sense of satisfaction because they’ll just keep respawning until you cross a certain checkpoint. No matter how many times you kill the enemy, he is instantly replaced by an identical doppelganger who doesn’t seem to learn anything from his predecessor’s mistakes.

This “clown car” approach to combat often leads me into an existential crisis. What’s the point of shooting an enemy when another one will just take his place? My virtual warrior’s battle grinds to a halt as he ponders the futility of war. Gone is the quiet thrill of the headshot that reduces the machine-gunner who was blocking the hallways into pixellated pink mist, thus opening the way for me to slowly search the room. Instead, I find myself turning CoD campaign sessions into all-out sprints from checkpoint to checkpoint. Like WOPR in WarGames,  my tactical assessment of the combat in Black Ops is  “the only win­ning move is not to play.” Instead of working out optimal paths through enemy-occupied territory where I cautiously crouch, hide, shoot my way to that victorious moment, I guide my character Alex Mason to run like  a madman from one invisible checkpoint to another. Taking a few shots only bloodies up your screen, and if you find the best way to run forward you can complete stages without firing a single shot. I find this sort of victory hollow, yet the mechanics of the game force me into it every time. It doesn’t ruin the game,  and the thrilling set-pieces more than make up for it. The entire rooftop chase sequence in the Hong Kong level is a master class in level design and the developer Treyarch just plain brings the fun. It plays like a living John Woo movie.

I don’t know if I can really call my feelings criticism in any real sense, because the Call of Duty approach to combat has proven to be vastly successful for the franchise. Despite my enjoyment of Black Ops I am not a convert to the approach and I don’t think I’ll be playing many other Call of Duty games.

The Rundown for Wednesday, April 21st 2010

Mistress Internet reveals her hidden delights in response to my tender ministrations:

  • Video games can never be art – Roger Ebert’s Journal

    Filed Under:[art aesthetics criticism games videogames ebert ]

  • The iPad, the Kindle, and the future of books : The New Yorker
    Thoughtful article about the coming War.
    Filed Under:[books amazon apple publishing ]
  • Internet Goodies for Sunday, January 11th 2009

    Back in San Francisco and positively tingling with anticipation for classes to start, I still have a few links for my adoring public.

  • 9 Reasons Not to Attend Law School
    All true, and yet I remain undeterred.Filed Under [lawschool ]
  • People Who Deserve It
    Deserve what? A punch in the face, of course.”This blog is not written with malice or scorn, but with a sincere desire to witness the upward progression of the human race. And some people are ruining it for everybody.
    People who wear sunglasses inside.
    Savages who pee on the seat.
    This kind of conduct only perpetuates the acceptance of degenerate behavior.
    On this space log, you will find examples of socially responsible reasons to punch someone in the face. And remember, we do it for the kids.”

    Filed Under [humor blogs ]

  • Borges: Pathways of the (Postmodern) Mind
    Jorge Luis Borges and some problems of taxonomy.”At first glance, I was fascinated by the idea of so many academics being fooled by a supposed misquote. But then I saw: in these three paragraphs there are multiple levels of story going on. First of all, academic infighting: “they hoped to tear me apart.” Then the philosophical differences between Modernists and Postmodernists, which is interesting in itself, because really, their conflict is all about ways of thinking about reality. Which is, of course what Borges’ works all played with.”

    Filed Under [literature philosophy postmodernism ]

  • Zoom Baby, Zoom
    A panoramic photo with awesome details.Filed Under [photography ]
  • Is it Art?
    Re: the cultural significance of video games.”There is no other medium that produces so pure a cultural segregation as video games, so clean-cut a division between the audience and the non-audience. Books, films, TV, dance, theatre, music, painting, photography, sculpture, all have publics which either are or aren’t interested in them, but at least know that these forms exist, that things happen in them in which people who are interested in them are interested. They are all part of our current cultural discourse. Video games aren’t. Video games have people who play them, and a wider public for whom they simply don’t exist.”

    Filed Under [media videogames ]

  • NIN best selling cc-licensed music
    Lawrence Lessig considers the implications of Nine Inch Nail’s CC licensed album’s success.”Even more exciting, however, is that Ghosts I-IV is ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.”

    Filed Under [music copyright creativecommons ]

  • What WWE champion Mick Foley thought of The Wrestler Mankind talks about a movie I am dying to see, but haven’t yet:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         “I even heard that I was one of his influences in preparing for the role. But what did Hollywood know about my business, anyway? Who had they ever beaten? (As we say in the biz.)”Filed Under [criticism film sports wrestling ]
  • On Language – Bleeping Expletives
    William Safire examines the media’s censorship techniques:
    “The need for today’s review is the coverage given to the participial modifier employed with great frequency and immortalized on recordings of telephone conversations made by the F.B.I. as its shocked — shocked! — agents eavesdropped on Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois governor. His favorite intensifier was reproduced in many newspapers and Internet sites with dashes as “—-ing” or with asterisks as “****ing” and was substituted in broadcasts, telecasts and Netcasts as a word descriptive of the sound called bleep.”

    Filed Under [media language profanity nytimes ]

  • Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere: writing The Other
    “I think he does an overall good job with female characters. But the imperfections of a writer like Gaiman, however small, are infinitely more revealing to discuss than are the the glaring mistakes of writers who don’t even seem to like women.”Filed Under [criticism Comics feminist ]
  • Some Modest Advice for Young Law Scholars
    “If you want to have an easy tenure case, here are some modest suggestions”Filed Under [law lawschool academia ]
  • Net Scavenging for the New Year, January 4th 2009

    How did I spend New Year’s Eve? I drank beer.  I watched Justice League cartoons. I read Vonnegut. I fired a shotgun into the air. Not a bad way to send out 2008, symbolically speaking. Here’s some digital detritus:

  • Town Asks Kung Fu Monks for Tourism Blessings”
    “Mr. Dou found a savior 1,200 miles away, in the Song Mountains of central China, where the warrior monks of Shaolin have mastered the art of monastery marketing.” Can you get a black belt in that?
    Filed Under [religion nytimes china tourism ]
  • William Burroughs: Do Easy
    “DE is a way of doing. It is a way of doing everything you do. DE simply means doing whatever you do in the easiest most relaxed way you can manage which is also the quickest and most efficient way, as you will find as you advance in DE.” A sort of everyday zen.
    Filed Under [psychology ]
  • Daredevil: The Man Without Fear
    A resource for my favorite superhero.
    Filed Under [Comics superheroes ]
  • Abandoned London
    A Flickr set.
    Filed Under [photography flickr ]
  • A New Taxonomy of Gamers
    A thoughtful look at what we talk about when we talk about video games and the geeks (and others) who play them.
    Filed Under [Culture criticism videogames ]
  • Long Now: Projects: Clock
    “The idea to build a monument scale, multi-millennial, all mechanical clock as an icon to long term thinking.” Just having read Anathem, this sort of thing is on my mind.
    Filed Under [science technology philosophy ]
  • Choose Your Own Adventure Short Films
    Cinematical offers some short films that require a little audience participation, just like those books you remember.
    Filed Under [movies postmodernism ]