Remembered an anniversary post this year for a change.
So. Thirteen years of mostly talking about how bad I am at video games and occasionally flying to Japan and making fun of signs. I still get a few readers every day, so I guess I’ll keep on keeping on. 🙂
February wasn’t the greatest month on a personal level. We lost our third cat in the last three years, this time to kidney disease, and I will come right out and say that if there were some dark rituals that could be performed involving human sacrifice to prolong pet life, I would be warming up the altar and buying some chloroform and an unmarked and unremarkable white van.
That’s probably not the best conversational topic, though, so let’s talk about vidya.
It’s been pretty obvious that the last couple of years have been the slow years we always get before the launch of new consoles. It’s been less obvious this generation, thanks in part to the mid-cycle refresh consoles both Microsoft and Sony put out and to the general doldrums around PC GPUs, but there just hasn’t been a ton of capital-H Hype since 2017.
Well, except from the Nintendo camp. But that’s a group of fans who can work themselves into a frothing mass of all-caps HYPE over the reveal of a new Smash character, so it’s best to just not make eye contact.
One of the side benefits of being just a little checked-out of the gaming industry is that I’m not spending a ton of cash on games. I still manage to look at my bank statement every month and wonder what happened, but at least it’s mostly going to life essentials.
So this month, I’ll talk about three recent games that I played for free-or-mostly-free.
One of my most happy discoveries last year was that our local library system is now checking out video games. As you might expect, this is quite popular and the chance of finding any given game on the shelf is fairly slim, but it meant that I got to see “Control” on the shelf and check it out despite knowing absolutely nothing about it.
A few days later, I’d finished the story and gone back to clear up all of the optional bits to get the 1000/1000 gamer score. I generally don’t DO that, so you may infer that (a) I liked it quite a bit and (b) getting 1000/1000 gamer score is fairly easy. Both of these things are true.
Control reminded me a lot of The Secret World or Men In Black, in that the gist of it is that Weird Shit Is Actually Real and that you are part of an organization devoted to keeping the Weird Shit under control while also making sure that humanity in general doesn’t learn about the eldritch horrors lurking just outside the window. It’s also a really enjoyable third-person shooter where your character gets all kinds of nifty psychic powers to go along with the Power of Gun, and in the end the actual shooting eldritch horrors kind of becomes this thing you do while all of your nifty psychic powers are recharging.
To expand on that, firefights in Control tend to play out with your character taking flight, telekinetically throwing a vending machine at something, knocking it over and weakening it enough that you can then mind control it and turn it into your loyal thrall, ripping concrete and rebar out of the floor to make a shield so you can advance on another enemy and finally throwing all of that concrete and rebar at them before remembering that you can go pew pew with a gun that can morph into one of five forms as indicated by the needs of the current situation. It’s a very BUSY game, but not overwhelmingly-so.
It’s also a high-budget entirely single-player affair. In 2019! What a crazy concept.
Technically, I guess I pay for the library system with a tiny portion of my taxes so it wasn’t FREE free, but that’s a theme we’re going to see more of as we get to…
…Call of Cthulhu, which was “Free” in that it was a Games with Gold title for the month, so I got to play it as part of my Xbox Live subscription. Still sorta free.
Several months back, I talked about Uncharted as the perfect “7/10” game, in that it was a game with mass-market appeal that did everything competently enough to be worth playing but didn’t really distinguish itself.
So let me go one notch below that and say that Call of Cthulhu is the perfect “6/10” game, in that it has some technical problems and can turn into a bit of a slog while you are trying to work through puzzles and has an annoying stealth segment that should frankly die in a fire and has a comical number of spelling errors.
It also tries to mix some RPG elements into the puzzle solving bits, with results that are occasionally less-than-stellar. It’s nice to get different conversation options based on how you’ve built up your character stats, but it’s another thing to try to lift a grate, fail the strength check and fail to lift the grate, get a random critical failure that breaks the lever that you would need to use to lift the grate so you can’t try again, and later discover that you were locked out of some bits of the story because you never went down under the grate.
… and yet, if you’re a fan of the material that it’s based on you will probably like it quite a bit. Most Lovecraftian stories do not end well for their protagonists, and the happiest ending you can expect from them is that the timetable for the inevitable destruction of mankind at the hands of uncaring celestial nightmares is pushed back slightly. Godawful stealth bit aside, Call of Cthulhu gets that right.
And, finally, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which REALLY stretches the definition of free in that it was “free” with the purchase of a game console.
Of these three games, it’s the one I was most predisposed to like based on my fondness for earlier entries, and it did give me a good dozen hours of climbing over ruins and deciphering centuries-old Rube Goldberg machines and murdering a lot of copy-and-pasted goons, mostly* in self defense. I loved the environments and the traversal, and they came together in an absolutely breathtaking final sequence, so really you can stop reading here if you just want to avoid me complaining about things.
* Mostly. There’s one cutscene where one of the goons is scrambling back in a feeble attempt to escape from Lara and she stabs him to death with all the emotion of someone flicking an ant off the edge of their picnic table. I think it was probably intended as a Super Badass Moment, but it came off a little serial-killer.
I didn’t much get on with the setting. It’s hard to get excited for the exploits of a wealthy British girl when she’s plundering the tombs and temples of a place that actually has people living in it still. It’s a little more defensible if you’re doing your Tomb Raiding somewhere where everyone has been dead for ages, or if you are sticking it to the English.
I always endorse sticking it to the English.
Also, and this is a personal issue, there’s too much swimming through underwater tunnels. You don’t get a breathing apparatus, so there are conveniently-spaced air pockets where you can surface for a breath, and it feels a little TOO much like a video game when your focus is on “swim forward until you see an air pocket, take breath, repeat, eventually you will reach goal”.
Another especially video-gamy sequence comes after a daring escape separates Lara from her arsenal and she must navigate an enemy camp armed only with her wits and a knife and stealth on her side… and she dispatches at least a dozen mooks without ever even THINKING about taking one of their guns. Apparently their guns had some kind of Bad Guy Cooties on them that she didn’t want to become infected by? She then finds a bow and uses it to kill a bunch more guys, again completely ignoring all of the guns they drop.
I may be overthinking this a bit, but COME ON NOW.
The previous game – Rise of the Tomb Raider – had me absolutely hooked. I put off finishing it for AGES in favor of cleaning up the map clutter that represented artifacts and secrets, and even spent some time with the optional time trials just to get More Game out of the game. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was never going to live up to that, and all of my grousing should probably be looked at with that caveat firmly understood.
So that’s given me some things to play while we all wait for the Next Generation Of Consoles, which will offer UNPARALLELED GAMEPLAY EXPERIENCES except of course we all know that launch titles are generally a bit crap so really we’re looking at 2021, maybe 2022 until we get our next really exciting year. Hmm. That’s a bit of a downer when I look at it like that.
Maybe we’ll finally get that Demon’s Souls remaster they’ve been teasing?
Maybe I’ll still be writing this thing?
Thanks to everyone who has stopped by in the last 13 years, anyway. I like seeing the views and the occasional comments. 🙂