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A Disconcerting Feeling

December 13, 2013

Dear Reader,

I’ve been having a lot of fun with my recent gaming.  I’ve been playing Neverwinter Nights with one of my buddies, and the relative freedom that game allows (though it’s not as much as it seems, like WoW, when you consider optimization and whatnot, but that’s for another day) has been enjoyable, and the story we’re playing through has been nicely done, if at times a little stereotypical (hint: the butler did it).

I’ve also, as I mentioned, been playing the Stanley Parable, which offers again a semblance of exploratory freedom; in fact, the game’s core mechanic seems to be an expectation that you explore and disobey the designer’s intent.  That concept along with the extremely well made narrative soundtrack made it entertaining and freeing.

Add to that Path of Exile, which again offers limited freedom in the unspoken but required survivability builds for hardcore.  Yes, my buddy wanted to launch right back in after his tizzy of anger.  He’s playing exactly the same character, but I found it likely that such an approach would bore me to tears.  I’m playing, instead of a ranger, a dual-element caster, which has proven a bit challenging and FAR less optimal than our first team.  Still, the semblance of freedom is there, and I’ve enjoyed exploring the passive talent tree – which is ENORMOUS if you haven’t seen it.

Top those off with a healthy dose of Card Hunter, which again gives you a fair amount of freedom in how you build your decks and your team, and you’ve got a “semblance of choice” triumvirate (plus one – quadumvirate?).  I hit a sweet spot in my decks and my play, and I’ve made a ton of progress in the game, getting to what I expect are the last few levels pretty suddenly.  I daresay there’s a dangerously slow and perilous section between levels 9 and 12 or so where the decks aren’t quite strong enough and rely much more on luck than later, when you’ve acquired enough good equipment to just make good decks.  That really needs to be ironed out by the devs.  More on that another day, too.

But the other day I realized I was done – at least temporarily – with the Stanley Parable, and I’m careful not to play too much Card Hunter at once, and I was, for a second, out of games to play alone.  So I loaded up Bioshock Infinite, a game I’d snagged a while back but left to age for a moment like this one.  Let me start by saying that I think Bioshock was one of the most creative and well-designed first person shooters I’d played when I first came across it, and I think it stands up well even now.  The art, the story, and the character customization all added a lot to the quality of the game, and it’s no wonder it sprouted into a fruitful franchise.

I never played the second; I heard mediocre reviews and, personally, didn’t think the concept was something I’d be interested in.  Some games should not have sequels.  There, I said it.  No matter how enjoyable they are, the story makes clear that there shouldn’t be more explored here.  Bioshock’s one of those games.  Now, the exploration of a “new,” not necessarily directly connected but similarly themed game, that’s fine, so I scooped it up and waited.

When I booted it up, I enjoyed the early part of the game.  It was dark, encouraged exploration, and had no combat.  I just got to wander around, look at stuff, and play fair games.  Of course, it was also made clear in the early part that stealing every penny I could get my hands on was okay, and that I should do it (so I did).  That’s a mechanic that bothers me in games; there should be a consequence for taking things out of purses that you find on benches or cash registers in stores where employees working.  There wasn’t; I just robbed them blind.  Later, they changed this; suddenly certain kinds of stealing were off-limits, but frankly, that’s stupid.  Either make it okay or don’t; don’t flip-flop back and forth.

But that’s neither here nor there.  As I progressed, I was again enjoying the art, the sound, the flow of the game.  Then I came to the pivotal moment where the game actually starts, and I was struck by an overwhelmingly disconcerting feeling.  I was forced into this role of rampaging murder, killing cops, scaring civilians, causing rampant destruction, and, frankly, I didn’t like it.

After playing Dishonored, I think my expectation of “shooters” has gotten a little out of whack.  I don’t play “realistic shooters” like Call of Duty or Battlefield.  I don’t really do much PvP in shooters, either.  I prefer stealth and guile to all-out frontal confrontation.  But that’s all this game has offered, so far.  Shoot everything, or melee it, or hit it with a fireball, or possess it and have it shoot itself.  It’s been rather dissatisfying.

That said, I’m planning on finishing it.  I finally “rescued” the girl (how trite, of course, but it is what it is) and am interested enough in the story to slog through the shooting.  There’s been no real challenge to me with the shooting, either; I can possess the most dangerous enemies and have a good, steady aim to kill the others with a single bullet or two from behind cover.  Even the first boss fight, the leader of a cult that worships John Wilkes Booth (which I like – the atmosphere and story are fine), wasn’t too much of a surprise.  I just kept moving and blasted him; no big deal.

So I don’t know what specifically has changed in me, but the super-linear somewhat-illogical shooters aren’t really doing it for me any more.  I’m not sure why Borderlands 2 didn’t trigger this in me; it’s basically the same with a little more open-world exploratory environment, but perhaps the change came after I played it, and now I would feel the same.

At any rate, I’m going to keep playing and see where it goes.


Stubborn (and disconcerted)


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