Ooo, good idea for a thread. Here’s what I’ve been playing over the last nine months.
The Uncharted series. I’d never played them, and with the pandemic I had lots of free time (and a gift certificate), so I got the three-game remastered disc plus the fourth, and played through the whole series. I’ve always heard about them, so I wanted to check off the box.
In order, from first to last:
I didn’t care for #1 — it’s dated, and it uses the antique “lots and lots of enemies” mechanism as a substitute for difficulty, which makes it a grind (the unpleasant sort, for me). Still, I could see why it was so influential in its day; the cinematic style was a major leap forward at the time. A curiosity and a museum piece, but not much more.
#2 was then another huge leap, and is still a pretty good time. The chapter where you’re working your way forward on a train is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in a game. My favorite of the four.
Re #3, I know a lot of people like it, but I absolutely hated it by the end. The story is an incoherent mess and it’s just an indulgent doubling-down on the “fun” without any weight or purpose. And it’s way, way too long.
Re #4, it was definitely better than #3, and the most polished of the series, but I didn’t buy at all the emotional-deconstruction theme, trying to use the “rediscovered family” angle to reconsider the hero. It’s an okay idea, but it doesn’t work in the story; every time we think Nathan’s going to pay a price for his irresponsible adrenaline-hunting ways, his loved ones just chuckle and shake their heads and forgive him because he’s just that awesome. If make an apparent promise to actually reckon with the protagonist’s flaws, then you need to follow through, or you’re just going to piss me off.
Bleh. I’m glad I played them, but I’ll probably never revisit.
Red Dead Redemption 2. I liked the first one okay, and I got this one for free (see “gift certificate” above). I put probably 60 hours into it, with lots of side-mission digression and map exploration, which took me to around the 30% mark for story completion. It’s fascinating, but it never really grabbed me, so I set it aside.
Part of the issue for me is that the whole thing seems to be simultaneously overcooked in terms of the game experience while being undercooked in its thematics. It’s a clear deconstruction of Western mythology; it wants you to feel the pull of indulgence in the gunplay and the noble-villain posturing, while undercutting that indulgence by insisting that you brush your horse and clean your guns and chop wood for the camp and on and on. “If you were really there,” the game says, “this is what it would feel like.” Except that the “there” the game wants you to feel was never any kind of reality in the first place, which is a distracting contradiction in intention. Maybe the problem is that I’m already a Western-film superfan, so the dismantling of the mythos is something I’m already decades ahead on, and the game is just spinning its conceptual wheels for me. I dunno.
Whatever the issue, it’s not working for me. I’ll probably go back and plunk away at it from time to time, to see if it gets any better.
Dragon Age Inquisition. My fourth full replay. This was in April-May, when we were all at full emotional crisis, and I wanted something familiar and comforting. I chose a female qunari mage, which put some interesting wrinkles into the development of the plot. Otherwise this was just a big warm blanket, much needed and much enjoyed.
Last of Us, both games. I replayed the first leading into my first play of the sequel. Both are terrific. The first is a solid character-growth piece amid an apocalyptic setting, and the “Left Behind” epilogue is one of the best DLCs I’ve ever played. Then I went straight into the second game, which I flat-out adored. It’s easily one of the best times I’ve ever had being miserable — just exquisite anguish. It’s paradoxical, but as much suffering the characters endure (and, through them, the player), it’s always with purpose, in service to bigger, more sophisticated ideas. As awful as it frequently becomes, it’s simply exhilarating to be in the hands of such a confident experience. I know it’s been hugely divisive, but it totally worked for me (give or take the underdeveloped Seraphite culture), and I’d welcome a separate discussion on it (so as not to hijack this thread).
I finished the LoU games months ago, and I’m continuing to think about them. I’ll probably start a replay on the duology as soon as I’m done with…
God of War (the new one). I’m playing this right now, so it’s fresh, and I have a lot to say about it.
I’m about halfway through the story, and I’m having kind of a mixed experience. I never finished the original games because I disliked the play style; their mechanic, the super-twitchy borderline-constant-QTE combat, is way toned down, in favor of a much better, more interactive fighting system with greater flexibility. However, the aggressively mobile camera still favors visceral intensity over neutral objectivity and wider battlefield awareness, leading to combat play that’s much more purely reactive than strategic. That’s not really my bag.
The settings also don’t achieve suspension of disbelief for me; the “story tunnel” is constantly perceptible and the world feels fake. Every game necessarily puts boundaries on gameplay and channels the player along a particular path, but with elegant design this limitation can be concealed, and the illusion of free travel is maintained. Without it, you feel the artificiality of being pushed along the game’s track. In this game, I rarely feel like I’m moving through actual physical spaces, even within the context of an elevated, mythical, consciously unreal world. There’s a lot of stuff that’s cool to look at (the big dead giant is a highlight), but it’s all false and abstract to me.
My least-favorite carryover is all the hypermasculine silliness. Every time Kratos rears back and punches through the lid of a treasure chest, instead of just opening it like a sane person, I shake my head and chuckle. I can’t tell yet if this is the point, that he’s being set up as a posturing stompy grouch because it’s emotional armor and he’ll slowly be softened in his parental role, or if it’s just “kewl dood!” indulgence to make juvenile-minded players feel powerful like in the earlier games. So far, though, this stuff just feels kinda dopey.
Speaking of that parental element: The game was specifically recommended to me because I’m a dad myself, and there’s supposed to be some stuff about the relationship between Kratos and Atreus that will resonate. Up to this point, though, there hasn’t been a lot to it. The dynamic is (a) intense protectiveness, then (b) occasional grudging approval, rinse and repeat. Hoping it develops beyond that.
The one thing I do appreciate, the quality that’s pulling me through the game more than any other, is the beautiful crafting of the difficulty curve. The slow escalation in the strength of the opponents, and the slow diversification of their tactics, is perfectly matched to the development of player skills and the introduction of new abilities. In the first semi-difficult fight, you can get by if you just mash dodge and throw; you don’t need anything else. Then you meet an enemy that requires you to polish your shield timing. Then one who needs you to break their guard. Then bigger groups who demand precise timing of your runic attacks. Then a combo battle that requires you to apply everything you’ve learned up to this point. And so on, and so on. It’s always a challenge, but it’s a polished challenge, in which you’re mastering skills in a slow evolution, one at a time, in order to advance.
So I guess the bottom line is, the stuff I normally look for in a game isn’t quite working for me, but the immediacy and refinement of the mechanics are pretty good, and the development of the power set is very satisfying. It’s also, very occasionally, surprisingly hilarious. Overall, my impression is “fun enough.” And unlike RDR2, I’m willing to hang with it to see if the story gets any more compelling.
I’ve also had Witcher 3 in the game drawer for a couple of years, and have occasionally considered giving it a shot. Then I remember how much I disliked the second one, and I put it back in favor of something else.
Mine too. I’ve been itching for a replay, but I’m holding off, waiting for the remaster to be released in the spring. I know I’m going to dive into it the minute it’s available, so I don’t want to shoot my wad right now. Besides, I’ve got lots of other stuff in the drawer, waiting for me. Oh, and regarding Andromeda, I agree that it has its moments, but overall it doesn’t really work. I wrote a very long autopsy of the game a while back, trying to come to terms with the fundamental reasons for its failure, if you’re curious.