I don't know if you've heard, but Minecraft is pretty great. Now, maybe (read: probably) I'm crazy, but building towers that scrape – nay, grievously paper cut – the sky and versions of Mt. Rushmore with the faces of Rush band members actually isn't my favorite part of the game. Truth be told, that award goes to the simple act of cracking open a fresh world and seeing the sights. Minecraft's random generator is a subtle master of “Ooooo, what's that over there?” and each unique world is a joy to explore. Towering, snowcapped mountains, glorious seaside vistas, winding cave mazes that feel thousands of years old (as opposed to seconds) – each one's a Costco bulk bag of block-shaped eye candy.
Meanwhile, when most gamers hear “randomization,” they probably think “Diablo loot,” or – if you've been around the block/are a clinically diagnosed masochist – “roguelikes.” That, I think, needs to change.
I love shooting things in the face. Monsters, aliens, mice, men – all are equal in the eyes of my trigger finger, which itches with such fervor that I should probably have a doctor look at it. But – even in the ammo-casing-coated world of videogames – there's a time and place for violence. (And no, smartasses in the audience, it's not “always.” Always isn't even a place.) More and more, I've noticed recent games tripping over their own feet because they choose to reign with unfaltering bloodlust instead of reining it in. In some games, it's but a speck-sized sticking point. Others, though, choose to live by the sword, only to fall flat on their faces and die by it in the most gruesome fashion imaginable.
Evidence A: Deus Ex. For the most part, it's an amazing game, but bring up its boss fights and watch as a room full of fawning admirers turns into a torch-flashing, keyboard-smashing angry mob. And why not? The game's bosses are horribly designed strategic dead ends that eat headshots and excrete pure, unfiltered sadness. To me, though, the biggest problem is that you have to fight them at all.
Note: This week's entry contains major Bastion spoilers. If you haven't played Bastion, I recommend that you skip to the third page. Also, while we're at it, warning: This week's entry is three pages long. I may have gotten a bit carried away. If you hate words, I recommend that you skip to the part where you buy Bastion.
Bastion is about moving forward. With every step you take, tiles of all shapes and sizes rise up to meet your footfalls. What lies ahead may be uncertain, but one way or another, you'll make it. Occasionally, you'll encounter former citizens of Caelondia – now frozen in ash, dead to the world in all but appearance. THOCK. The Kid's hammer reduces them to powder in an instant. The Kid presses on – without remorse, as though his old friends and neighbors were no more important than a random crate, shrub, or similarly minor impediment. Meanwhile, Rucks – the narrator – doesn't bat an eyelash, instead opting to list off a factoid or two about the deceased-turned-dust-clouds before dispassionately sweeping the whole incident under the rug. It's all in the past now, and the past only gets in the way.
One of gaming's more recent gee-whiz-it's-probably-magic trends comes with a pretty thick string attached: your saves, your character, your mountain of collectable doodads for that precious achievement – all of them are imprisoned inside a server on a desert island or in space or something. You're playing a high-stakes game of rental roulette, and everything you've worked so hard to build could go poof in the blink of an eye. What trend am I referring to? Did you say, “cloud gaming”? Private Obvious, I'm sure your Captain is beaming with pride right now. However, while your answer's technically correct, I'm talking about MMOs.
It's interesting, too, because gamers have been largely a-okay with this aspect of MMOs for years – at least, so long as their game of choice hasn't met an untimely end. But should we be? After all, cloud gaming's certainly risky in that we don't physically own our games, but in MMOs, we don't own the experience.
What happened to you, The Apocalypse? You used to be so fresh and fun. You'd tear everything I knew and loved to pieces and rearrange it into some hideous tapestry of my greatest fears, and I'd be like “Oh, you. You're such a prankster.” Or you'd spew zombies into all kinds of zany places (The mall! The circus! Outer space!), and I'd beat them to death while screaming and crying. We had such good times. Now, though, it's old hat. Your abandoned landscapes – once ripe with the pungent odor of adventure – have grown gray and same-y. I used to mow down your menagerie of mutants, robots, and zombies with all the glee of a Hollywood director at a Beloved (And Infinitely Ruinable) Childhood Memories convention, but now each one is just another bump in the road.
We've grown apart, is what I'm saying. But that doesn't mean we can't have a horrifying, dystopic future together. A couple recent games have given me hope that this whole “fiery end to all normal life” thing isn't just a passing fad.
It all started with a recent oft-repeated quote from id Software's Tim Willits. Addressing the issue of precisely why fans won't mind RAGE's vehicle-heavy shift away from id's typical fare, he said, "I think that they will find that it's a refreshing change from anything we've done in the past, and honestly I think that people have modern combat fatigue." Which is certainly a valid point, Pay attention to comment threads involving his game, though, and you'll unearth a second ticking time bomb nearly as large as the first.
Watching one of gaming's most well-known faces plummet multiple stories and impale herself on a jagged iron pipe is an uncomfortable experience, to say the least. But wait, she's not done. Nearly sobbing, she proceeds to wrench her unfortunate new appendage from her side while emitting a skin-crawling scream. And that's just the beginning.
The first time I saw the latest Tomb Raider game in action, my heart nearly exploded out of my chest – probably in an effort to escape from the carnage. The rest of my body, meanwhile, wanted nothing more than to follow it. Lara Croft was in pain. Real pain. Blinding pain. Not “Rawr, me videogame character, me shrug off bullet to face like it tiny blind kitten baby” pain. It was ugly, dirty, and downright horrific. And it wouldn't stop happening. Lara constantly fell, slipped, and survived by clawing rocks until her fingernails were bloody scraps. The demo reveled in pain, said many pundits. It was “torture porn,” sharing a straightjacket with movies like SAW and the part of our brains that loves to stare at car wrecks.
I, however, disagree completely. Not only that, I think this is something the gaming industry could use a whole lot more of. Find out why after the break.
Last week, I dusted off my crystal ball and took a long, hard look at the future of gaming. This week, I'm doing it again, because the remainder of Time As We Know It is sort of a lot of ground to cover. On the docket this time around? Everything from games that may actually justify forging your own Dream Machine with parts from the Heavens to the industry's continued, none-too-pretty war against the hacker menace. Read the full thing after the break!
E3 is finally far enough behind us that I can start to make sense of it. Taken all at once – it pretty much sounded like a bunch of ungodly screaming occasionally punctuated by the word “transfarring” (which isn't even a real word). You tried to roll with the punches, I'm sure – to stand before News Godzilla without fleeing while shouting something in badly lip-synced Japanese – but it eventually broke you. So, what happens next? Now that the news/preview/interview barrage dust has finally settled, what does it all mean? Well, since I did one of these things last year and I'm nothing if not a slave to habit, here are a few thoughts on this year's show.
I want a 3DS. Really badly, in fact. Of all the shiny new tech toys I desperately want to fiddle with at the moment, Nintendo's eye-popping portable is very nearly at the top of the list. I mean, the 3D effect looks stunning, and the brittle dam on my gushing nostalgia practically explodes at the mere mention of 3D updates to Metal Gear Solid 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Call me weak, but the thing's a day-one purchase for me, and I'll be drooling all over the packaging during the drive back home.
It's a damn shame, however, that such a neat little machine's being born into a world that's already passed it by. Sad to say, the game's changed. New players have entered the arena, and Nintendo's not even on equal footing – let alone prepared to trade blows and come out on top. But hell, I almost can't blame Nintendo for its current predicament.
This year, I'm trying to do something different with game of the year awards. You can find a full explanation in part one, but the gist is this: I'm eschewing a list – because, let's face it, you've already skimmed 10,000 top-10s – in favor of writing about how these games affected their players and the specific moment that made me realize how great each game really was. Needless to say, SPOILER WARNING. Today's topic? BioWare's latest space odyssey, Mass Effect 2.
As much as I love my job, I have to admit that there's one major downside. After years of nitpicking games until their every naked flaw is flapping freely in the breeze, it's become rather difficult to separate work from play. Instead of seeing a giant battle brimming with earth-shaking violence, heartbreaking tragedy, and inspiring camaraderie, I see a highly scripted scene that'll go completely haywire if I even inch my pinky toe off the beaten path. Most people watch the puppet show; I look for the strings.
Every once in a while, though, a rare game comes along that's able to shatter my cold cynicism and spirit me away so thoroughly that – for a few magical moments – I forget I'm just some guy staring blanky at a monitor in a dimly lit room. Mass Effect 2, perhaps moreso than anything else in recent years, managed to be that game.