200 Games, 200 Words: 14 – Dying Light

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The parkour actually has a nice sense of embodied movement

There were so many reasons to pass on Dying Light. Not only was it an open-world zombie survival crafting game, but also an extension of the terrible Dead Island series of OWZSC games. However, once I finished with Fallout 4 I was casting about for something to occupy my time, and I happened to latch onto Dying Light.

Dying Light has a number of clever risk vs. reward systems that I really appreciated, i.e. rooftop safety vs. zombie-filled streets, daylight safety vs. faster XP gain at night. But that quickly wears thin, because Dying Light never really does anything with them, and the progression systems quickly make risks meaningless. And the environments are terribly generic (just like the voice acting, the script, the endless fetch quests) with immense amounts of repetition and little sense of place.

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Far, far less violent and gory than the actual game.

More than that, though, a lot of other aspects of the game really started to get to me. Having a white undercover paramilitary dude beat the hell out of a whole lot of non-white bodies, and especially women’s bodies, got to me. Presenting them as zombies doesn’t actually negate what those bodies represent. All in all, Dying Light is just another fairly mindless and unnecessarily cruel exercise in video game stuff for the sake of video games, with nothing much of substance to justify its production.

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200 Games, 200 Words: 13 – Ascension

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There’s a lot going on, but I’m seven expansions deep here.

Ascension is my zen game. I’ve played it almost daily since I first got it on my iPad in 2011 and I’ve bought every expansion and promo set as they came out since. I know the game well enough at this point that playing it is close to automatic for me. I play it in bed before I go to sleep most nights, as the act of playing is almost meditative, and helps me switch off and get ready for sleep.

How I play Ascension is a mode of play I like to think of as “processing”. It’s something like how most people play Solitaire, and it’s almost the inverse of the idea of Flow, because it involves no challenge at all, just a mechanical following of a well-understood procedure. It’s what MDA calls a gameplay aesthetic of submission, a sublimating of mind to the task of processing game actions, and it frees other parts of the mind to think about other things. This is a mode of play I think deserves a lot more attention, because it covers how a lot of people play a lot of different kinds of games, from questing in WoW to routine cargo runs in Elite: Dangerous, to those tappy farming games. Not every game needs to engage the player in active, “immersive” interaction. Some games can, as Ascension does for me, just let the mind be.

200 Games, 200 Words: 12 – Fallout 4

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Home, sweet self-built home

The most consistent thing in Fallout 4 is its theme of rebuilding, and this comes through in most of the game’s prominent mechanical systems, not just the story. It’s about making a new life in a new world, rather than trying to go back to the way things were before. You have to tear down the remains of the old world to build the new, whether this means dismantling junk for parts to build your new settlement, or opposing the forces that resist the new world in whatever form they take.

Unfortunately, in many other respects, Fallout 4 is deeply disappointing. Continue reading

200 Games, 200 Words: 11 – Dead Island

I got Dead Island in a bundle. I’ve bought so many game bundles, I can’t remember which one it was in. But in most game bundles there are three kinds of games: the ones you’re buying the bundle for, the ones you might play since you’re getting them in the bundle, and the ones you know you’ll never touch. When I got Dead Island, I thought I’d at least give it a shot some time, but now I kind of wish I hadn’t.

Hit zombies. Repeat until bored.

Hit zombies. Repeat until bored.

Dead Island would’ve disappeared into the bargain bins without a glance if it hadn’t been for its infamously misleading trailer, which turned out to have nothing to do with the actual game. This shouldn’t have surprised anybody, but somehow it meant that Dead Island got a lot more attention on release than it deserved, so it was an effective marketing strategy. If you think games journalists would know better by now, you don’t know anything about games journalism. Continue reading

200 Games, 200 Words: 10 – Teleglitch

Teleglitch is a retro pixelated roguelike survival top-down shooter with zombies*. In other words, it’s a perfect storm of indie game clichés. But it proves that it’s lack of imagination, or flawed execution, that makes a bad game out of those clichés.

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I can’t explain exactly why, but Teleglitch perfectly captures the feeling I remember of playing DooM for the first time as a kid in the mid-90s. That is to say, it’s absolutely nothing like the DooM I actually played, and everything like the DooM I remember. To me, that’s the absolute best kind of retro. Continue reading

200 Games, 200 Words: 8 – Saints Row IV

When I started up Saints Row IV, I was pretty skeptical. The opening sequence plays as a bit too straight-faced an homage to Call of Battlefield: Duty Warfare Ops. But then you’re climbing a missile while Aerosmith’s “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” plays, and you know it’s all gonna be alright. This is more of what we all fell in love with in Saints Row The Third. But this time with super powers, essentially making it Saints Row: Prototype.

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I don’t know who this guy is on the cover and in all the screenshots. Surely everybody knows the Boss/President is a woman.

Continue reading

200 Games, 200 Words: 7 – 868-HACK

I’ve seen a number of people calling this a “hacking simulator”, which to me seems as absurd as calling Space Invaders a “spaceflight simulator”.  It doesn’t even emulate cinematic hacking in the wonderful way that Uplink does, and which hasn’t been matched since that game’s release almost 12 years ago. 868-HACK is basically a solo board game for iOS with a vague “hacking” theme and roguelike elements – which is to say it has procedurally/randomly-generated boards. I’ve been playing this game for weeks, and honestly, it leaves me pretty cold. It’s substance with no style, which just reinforces the importance of style. The lo-fi aesthetic doesn’t bother me, but that aesthetic paired to such an intensely systems-focused game represents to me an ideological position I have a lot of problems with.

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The cold equations

The basics are easy and relatively intuitive, but deeper stuff is obtuse to the point of seeming deliberately so. 868-HACK is even a bit obtuse about the existence of abilities/programs beyond those that start unlocked. If this obtuseness is deliberate, that seems obnoxious. If it’s not deliberate, it’s just incompetent at exposing its mechanics. 868-HACK evokes nothing more than a Euro-style board game, of the type that prizes systems with optimal ways to play rather than mechanics in keeping with a theme, or encouraging social interaction around the board. Obscuring mechanics just doesn’t seem to fit with this style of play. In any case, systems with an optimal path always seem boring to me. I’ve really tried to get into it, but figuring out optimal paths in 868-HACK just doesn’t appeal to me at all. And I don’t think there’s any great need for more games that are systems-focused, or disdainful of attention to non-systems aesthetics. 868-HACK is obviously a passion project, but it’s one that’s all about being dispassionate.