Musings of a Gamer - Catching Up
It's been a while, so let's catch up.
1. When is a Snake not a Snake?
We all had a bit of a moan about Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes. Some called it a glorified demo, yet Konami had the gall to charge £25 for entry. There wasn't a Platinum trophy for us to hunt and, to top it all off, it featured an ill-conceived audio account of sexual violence between a woman and child.
Kojima deserved to be taken to task for the inclusion of such sensitive subject matter in a series so gloriously and self-consciously far-fetched. However, I don't feel the need to drag him over the coals about length and value. In thirteen hours, ten of which I'd call hugely enjoyable, and across multiple replays, I absolutely got my money's worth and I’m now greatly anticipating Phantom Pain. Job well done, Koji Pro.
However, one thing that did bother me, even more than I thought it would, was Kiefer Sutherland's turn as Big Boss/Snake. While he may have the acting chops that David Hayter lacks, he just isn’t Snake. Hayter's comic growl gave the character an identity; you'd never mistake his Snake for another character in a voice-over, something I did with Kiefer on more than one occasion. Vocally, new Snake is unremarkable, a word I have never associated with this series.
Metal Gear Solid revels in its past and delights in fan service, so it's odd that GZ would do away with such an iconic feature of the series. Just like the tranquilizer gun and 80s mullet, David Hayter is Snake, and he will definitely be missed.
Well fuck me, it’s E3 again! It is time to frown upon whooping journalists, bitch about unannounced games, wonder why Sony hates the Vita, scold Microsoft for being anti-consumer and roll our eyes as Nintendo announces another Mario game, behind closed doors. It's not all bad though, as the Ubisoft stage-show is guaranteed to be an hour of must-see, train-wreck, internet TV. Hopefully, between the shit jokes and badly dressed men, there will also be some games for us to gawp at.
But what games? Of the already named and announced titles, I'm most looking forward to seeing Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain and Uncharted 4. I think Sony will pair an Uncharted 4 gameplay trailer with the announcement of a PS4 Uncharted Collection (1-3 and possibly Golden Abyss), which will be nice, though rather unimaginative. I'm sure Sony will be pushing indies, talking up PlayStation Now and Morpheus, and I have a feeling they'll reintroduce an existing and well-loved series, with Parappa The Rapper and Syphon Filter being the most likely candidates (in my head). If Project Beast is in fact From Software's PlayStation only, Demon's Souls sequel, then it figures to feature prominently in Sony's presentation. I can't be arsed with making a single prediction regarding the officially cancelled/un-cancelled The Last Guardian.
I'm expecting lots of Halo from Microsoft, probably a Fable, some Gears of War and lots of third party gameplay, exclusive and multi-platform. It's high time that Nintendo revealed Wii U Zelda, alongside a Majora's Mask, HD update. I'm also anticipating lots of new details for Monolith Soft's X and, who knows, maybe we'll get a Metroid tease.
Red Dead Redemption 2 would absolutely make my E3, and I have a feeling that one of my most wished for games, either a new TimeSplitters or Shatter 2, will become reality, though I'm sure I say that every year! A teaser for Mass Effect 4 would be very welcome as would new information on the next entries in the Just Cause and Tomb Raider franchises, all of which seems pretty reasonable. New Assassin's Creed will look pretty and someone will announce a game with cars in it. Come Friday, Ryo Hazuki will be no closer to avenging his father than he was on Monday.
E3 2014: Temper your expectations and reach for the stars!
3. The Dark Embraced
Last year, after countless aborted attempts across numerous iterations, I finally took to Monster Hunter. I probably should've given up on the series years ago, but my persistence was to be rewarded in the form of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, my favourite game of last year.
If 2013 was the year of Monster Hunter, then 2014 most definitely belongs to Dark Souls. Earlier this year, I found myself finally enjoying a game that I had previously discounted as being far too frustrating and undeserving of the time and effort it demands. I was so enraptured this time around that I picked up Dark Souls 2 immediately afterwards, which I also adored, and am now considering a summertime excursion to the land of Demon Souls.
Why the change of heart? I think it's a combination of factors, the most important of which is my approach to the series. In past attempts, I charged-in with little or no thought to build or tactic. This time around, I went in with a plan: dash into the graveyard, pick up the Zweihander great sword and level up accordingly. This tactic and build proved very successful, perhaps too successful, as I had little trouble with any of the second-half bosses, slaughtering most on the first or second attempt. I became more accepting of the nature of the game and more willing to be patient and learn from my mistakes, a quality that was instilled during 200 hours of Monster Hunter.
As for Dark Souls 2, it's pretty much more of the same, which is great. I do prefer the original, however, as if offers a greater sense of discovery. Each area is connected, part of a real map which can be traversed from one end to the other, and there are few things more satisfying than discovering a hard earned short cut. This is lacking in DS2, thanks to the inclusion of bonfire-to-bonfire, fast travel from the outset. Otherwise, Dark Souls 2 is an outstanding game.
4. Best of Gen - An amendment
Since writing my Best of Gen series late last year, I have come to accept the following:
1. Dark Souls is very, very good.
2. Grand Theft Auto V is not quite the game I thought it was.
I was greatly impressed by GTAV at the time but, despite my best intentions, I never felt compelled to return for more multi or singleplayer delinquency. Less than a year removed from spending 30+ hours in Rockstar's LA, I struggle to recall standout moments, the kind that are required if a game is to remain a favourite as the years go by. GTA V was good, just not best-of-gen good.
With this in mind, I'm amending my list. Grand Theft Auto V drops out of the top twenty, with Dark Souls taking its spot at number fifteen. Tell everyone.
5. Catching Up
So far this year, I've spent more time catching up with last year's games than enjoying 2014's offerings. I finished off Bravely Default and Assassin's Creed Black Flag back in Jan/Feb, and they both left me conflicted. Bravely Default charmed my socks off over the first thirty or so hours only to bore me rigid over the last twenty, as mindless repetition spoiled what was otherwise an excellent game. As for Black Flag, I found the first half to be overwhelming as I struggled with the Assassin’s Creed, gameplay elements that felt out of place in this latest instalment. I wanted to cry every time I had to stealth follow a war galley in my equally massive boat, and despaired whenever I was forced to eavesdrop on another walk-and-chat. Black Flag is at its best when it stops trying to be an Assassin's Creed game, and in the second half, I stopped dwelling on the things that didn’t work and was better able to enjoy the pirate life.
Bioshock Infinite was full of grand ideas that it couldn't quite pull off, and while Batman Arkham City was definitely the weakest in the Arkham series, there was still lots to like. Call of Duty Ghosts was a guilty pleasure but Killzone Shadow Fall was far duller than I dared imagine. Playing on PS4, Need for Speed Rivals was a real disappointment and a step backwards for a series that I'm rather fond of. Hot Pursuit did a much better job with the cops and racers formula, and that was almost four years ago.
As for new games, I've been consumed by Dark Souls 2 over the last few weeks. On the PS4, Ground Zeroes wet my appetite for Phantom Pain and Yakuza Ishin was well worth an expensive import. Transporting the cast to 19th century Kyoto, Ishin was better paced and more consistent than the excellent but flawed Yakuza 5, and is full of the silly distractions we have come to expect from the series. I've played my fair share of PSN games this year, with OlliOlli and Trials Fusion being the best of the bunch. Of the new games I've missed thus far in 2014, Infamous Second Son is the only one I'm in any hurry to catch up with, something I intend to do later this month.
Favourites of the First Half: Dark Souls 2, Ryu ga Gotoku Ishin (Yakuza Ishin)