Scott Pilgrim is coming to Netflix as an animated series, written and run by the creator, produced by Edgar Wright, and starring the voices of almost everyone from the original movie. This is the good news I needed on an otherwise sour Thursday afternoon.
I’ve gotten to the point where I’m getting tired of my latest video game. I’ve been playing The Division 2 for several years now, and I’ve replayed parts of it enough that I’m bored with the challenge. So now I have to find another game, something I find very difficult, because I don’t fit the mold of the average player. Most games are set up for online multiplayer and structured so that you can’t go very far without buying extra shit in-game. I like solo games with a good story that I can do on my own; I don’t want to deal with a league or a clan or scheduling gameplay—the majority of my life is ruled by a calendar and I spend enough time on virtual calls; I don’t need to be in another one during my time off, especially not with a bunch of trash-talking fifteen year olds. And fuck any game that demands I buy better gear to advance; I have enough trouble convincing Finn that she shouldn’t spend $10 on an iridescent dragon skin for her Roblox character.
So the hunt is on. I’ve bought a couple of video games that looked good and got great reviews. They start out, like most video games do, in some kind of tutorial. Sometimes these are set up as virtual shooting ranges, and other times, with more clever games, they get you into the action up front but carefully introduce you to harder and harder things so that you can gradually build up your skills. I’ve had several games do very well at slowly ramping the difficulty up so that I wasn’t aware the game had started; the original Halo did this, and Fallout 4 did this very well. Which was important: Halo starts out as one game and somewhere in the middle goes to WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING but by then you’ve developed enough skill through gameplay to pivot to that new tempo. As a result, I played these games a lot. Hours and hours of them. Other games will start out with a tutorial and get you into some gameplay and there’s a gentle ramp-up and then suddenly WHAM they throw five mini-bosses at you with nuclear weapons, but you’re still a fluffy bunny hopping through the meadow and BOOM you’re dead.
I’m not saying I want all games to coddle me like a newborn faun; I just want them to slowly introduce me to their concepts of gameplay instead of throwing three new types of enemies at me while simultaneously sending wave after wave of grunts behind them. Game AI is a tricky thing to code, and everybody does it differently. Some games are built so that the bad guys will run around and try to flank you; The Division does this very well, and it took me a while to develop strategies for this. (I’m terrible at PVP combat, which is basically running around as fast as you can shooting at whoever is in front of you; I have terrible virtual situational awareness in these situations, and so I usually just die.) When games let me figure it out gradually, I enjoy them a lot more.
Other games will do the surprise gotcha thing where you walk through an empty corridor or alley that has no doors or means of entrance, get to the end where there’s a locked door, and suddenly thirty bad guys have beamed in behind you to smoke you while you’re trapped. When you’re used to this bullshit gameplay you can anticipate it, but the first thirty times or so it’s annoying.
Most games these days have introduced huge complicated tiering systems for customizing weapons and gear. Some people get off on spending more time tweaking their machine gun or sword than they do shooting or slicing; hooray for them. I prefer to get in to the game, shoot the crap out of something, and bounce. But to advance in the game you have to dive into these systems or you wind up as the guy with a pocket knife going up against a roomful of Navy SEALS, which ends predictably. One thing I’ve found about all of these systems is that even when the good games teach you how to shoot and play the game, they do nothing to teach you how to use these customization systems. And most of them are more complicated than nuclear physics. Typically you can break down stuff you have to make other stuff better, but they don’t tell you the rules; thus you go and disassemble something really good only to find you did it wrong and now you can’t use any of it. The choice then is to wade through hours of annoying YouTube videos just to learn how you did that one thing wrong, or go have another beer. Against increasingly difficult gameplay I resisted this in Fallout 76 and The Division 2 for as long as I could; I tried and gave up on the former but did relatively well in the latter as a solo player.
Some games are more like moving cutscreens. I bought a cheap copy of the new Tomb Raider a year ago and made it through about the first half hour of gameplay before giving up on it forever. I like immersive gameplay, where I’m in the world and things are happening, and I can react to them and move on. Tomb Raider is about moving from one thing to the next, dying quickly, and redoing that thing over and over again until you do exactly whatever the game designer wants you to do. Laura Croft died about a hundred times until I was fed up, and then I deleted it from my Xbox. I can still hear her screams of agony. Call of Duty Advanced Warfare felt like nothing but one big masturbatory cutscreen; I stopped playing that one after about a half an hour. When the computer continually takes control of my character and shows me doing things instead of letting me play the game, I’m out.
And some games just kind of suck. Red Dead Redemption, a game people raved about Back In The Day, got shitcanned after I couldn’t finish a fucking timed horse race. Yeah yeah, I should be able to ride a horse, but the mechanics sucked and I got fed up quickly. It’s also 12 years old, so my expectations weren’t high when I got it at the thrift store for $2.
The latest game I bought is one called Titanfall, which was $1.50 on Amazon used, and featured a big mech on the cover blowing stuff up. Sweet, I thought; mech games are fun. Run around in a big robot and blow shit up. I loaded all 20GB of it up and started playing the tutorial as…a human. It took me a good hour of gameplay to even get the mech powered up, and then I used it for about three minutes before the game made me dismount and run around as a vulnerable fleshbag again flipping switches. Then I was faced with a standoff scenario, where the game designer locked my fleshbag in a room with about thirty NPCs and a bunch of exploding beach balls that I couldn’t kill fast enough. I’m supposed to be able to clear the room and then get to my mech, but after about twenty attempts over two days I gave it up in frustration, because they never showed me those things before, I don’t have the right weapons, and they don’t make the right weapons available to me. I can see why it was $1.50 now. It’s worth about $.75.
So the hunt is on; I think for the time being I’m going to step back and play some Fallout 4 until a new interesting game shows up on Amazon used for pocket change, and I’ll give that a try.