Welcome to the New Age Part 2: Gaming in the Current Generation

Last week I described how I took a bold step into 2014 and got a current generation console.

This week I thought I’d share some thoughts on the games I’ve played so far and general thoughts on the generation as a whole. I actually jumped in at just the right time as I was able to get a lot of big releases at discounted prices since most of them had been out for months when I finally got my PS4.

  • Shadow of Mordor: As a Lord of the Rings fan this one looked fun and even had the chance of doing predatory stealth without the strange Assassin’s Creed background or the baggage of being Batman…again. It’s a new story with a new character and takes place in a formative stage in the Middle Earth history not often covered. The gameplay is some of the most fun I’ve had doing 3rd person combat. You can string long chains of attacks, defenses, counters, and kills without missing a step and it makes diving in and carving up Uruk Hai as much fun as sneaking up and jamming a broken sword in their skull. The Captains of Mordor mechanic is both brilliant and diabolical depending on the extent of the player’s OCD and wrathfulness. Since I am both OCD and wrathful I obsessively hunted down captains and evilly and relentlessly hunted down any of them that had the luck to best me… A great game, but it didn’t feel like a big leap to the new age.

  • Wolfenstein: The New Order/The Old Blood: I played these in reverse order as I got Old Blood first and beat it before getting New Order. Both are terrific fun, and I don’t even care for 1st person shooters. I haven’t played a Wolfenstein game since they were corridor shooters that could be played from a floppy disk. It says something that these games had the “new” 1st person feel but still captured the strange charm and 90s attitude of the original games. Old Blood especially had the classic sensibility, and even had a boss fight with a big armored dude with Gatling guns on each arm. I actually recommend playing the prequel before the original game. New Order is a deeper, more complex game and Old Blood’s simplistic game play got me back into console shooting again without having as many mechanics. Again it didn’t feel “next gen” moving up from PS3 but is still damn fun.

  • Bloodborne: Good god. I haven’t played completely through a souls game since Demon’s Souls but it was my second favorite game on PS3 (the first being Valkyria Chronicles). It was tough, rewarded patience and thinking, and was ruthless in its player correction. You make a mistake…you pay. And not in the lame Heavy Rain way, in a gameplay way that makes you even more careful and extremely tense. I played Dark Souls but it was at the end of my last console gaming phase and I stopped halfway through. Bloodborne is a work of art. It’s beautiful, brutal, fast, and aggressive. The level design is truly extraordinary and this is a rare game that can make you cuss like crazy out of frustration as some human-sized hunter owns you in seconds…then moments later makes you cuss in admiration as you exit a tunnel only to appear in a location you last saw 9 hours ago in a place that was previously gated. It’s is wonderfully balanced, intuitive in its controls, and masterful in gameplay execution. It’s the first and only game I’ve played that has truly felt like a step into a new generation from PS3 era.

The system is far, far from perfect and the choice of games really shows how much things have changed. My PS2 had dozens of titles I couldn’t wait to choose from. This system has only a few games coming out over the next two years that I will probably end up with (though I DID pre-order the Pipboy Edition of Fallout 4 thank you very much). It may be the change in the industry as a whole, like the difference between boxing now and boxing in the 50s…Sugar Ray Robinson might have fought 10 times a year…but Manny Pacquiao only fights once or twice a year. Games have become too much money and too much development too much investment to release bunches of titles in a year to support a console.

This is where Steam on PC and the indie and small games on PSN have it right (though I really want some of those Devolver Digital games to hit PSN…) These smaller, more reasonably priced games can fill the gap between the more expensive releases and make a system more cost effective. I don’t care about 90% of the AAA releases coming out, but with the smaller digital games I can get plus the other 10% I can only play on PS4 I get my money’s worth.

The Alamogordo dump site in New Mexico where a number of Atari products were laid to rest after the crash

With the advancement of PC as a gaming and market delivery platform I wonder if the console market will ever be the same. I don’t know if it’ll ever crash like it did in the 80s, but it feels like console as market king that we saw in 90s and early 2000s might be slipping away as companies force us to buy weakened versions of PCs with proprietary software, exclusivity limitations, and features many TVs and media players can accomplish with less trouble. The reason I don’t feel there will be an Atari-scale crash is that always be a market for console gaming due to its relative simplicity (you can always play the game you buy at the appropriate settings without having to mess with hardware, video output, or file structure) but as each generation becomes more tech-savvy those limitations become less onerous and more normal, relegating consoles to the lowest of the gaming spectrum.

I probably won’t ever buy one of these…so console gaming may be where I land for “current gen” titles.

I won’t lie, it’s nice to have a “current gen” system and it is a vast improvement over its predecessor, just in design and usability. Still, I can count on one hand the number of times I decided to go back and play my PS3 and PS2, but I can always find time to load up Streets of Rage 2 on the Genesis or Dragon Warrior on the NES. Even as the graphics get better, the features more extravagant, and the games more “realistic,” I feel the major games that drive these systems have lost some of the iconic beauty of the games drove their forebears. I’m sure there will always be a place for “current gen” on my media shelf. Whether or not each generation stays on the shelf after their time is past remains to be seen.

Life Lessons Learned from Video Games #2: The Value of Life in Snake Eater

The first post in this series was a fun one, so this one will be an actual lesson I learned from game-master Hideo Kojima.  Also telling this story to the other half of the RevPub team provided inspiration for the Life Lessons series.

Most of us play games without giving thought to life or death.  Even when we die in games it’s never terribly critical.  I’ll show my age when I say this but…there was a time when dying in a game could bring up a dreaded GAME OVER screen that actually meant something.  It usually meant starting over from the beginning.  Of course this was after expending a number of lives, so even then your own character’s death meant little, let alone the countless enemies that were stomped, shot, burned, or blown up during your gaming rampage.

This has changed in the last few years with games like Demon’s Souls and its sequel, Dark Souls, where death is more than just a minor inconvenience and can change the alignment of the world and the style of gameplay.  But even in these games slaughtering countless monsters and faceless knights was a positive and absolutely necessary as it provided you with currency.

And that’s the classic relationship of games.  They reward you for offing enemies; the tougher the enemy, the greater the reward, and this trend is true across genres; mindless shooters, over-rated RPGs, basic platformers, and even the earliest arcades.  I won’t go into a preachy lecture about what this teaches gamers.  Games are entertainment, they aren’t meant to teach players how to behave and anyone who thinks stomping on someone’s head is a viable method of problem-solving needs help anyway (though I could be persuaded it is likely the best technique when dealing with giant belligerent mushrooms…)  This doesn’t mean games can’t occasionally teach you something about the value of life and one such game for me was Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

The Sorrow
Get ready…if you played through the first time like I did…this is going to be a long walk….

Hideo Kojima turned the gaming world on its head with Metal Gear, a game series that rewards players for not killing, not being seen, and not interacting with enemies except when deemed necessary by the narrative.  MGS3 brought this to an entirely new level, however.  I played MGS3 the first time through like most of players.  I tried to sneak, got busted a lot and had to shoot my way out of danger until the alarms ceased, usually after I killed nearly every guard in the hemisphere and dove under a convenient truck.  Even when not getting caught sneaking around, I would camo myself up and use my trusty knife to off hapless guards unfortunate enough ventured by my position.  I went through that game like John Rambo on a Red Bull binge until…The Sorrow.  After a thrilling chase through the sewers and a Fugitive-style dive into a stream you enter a near-death, dream-like state where you walk down a  river.  Walking for what seemed like eternity I kept passing shadowy figures of faceless guards all screaming and showing wounds.  It took so long to walk though the river I thought I’d hit a glitch.  Until I saw The Pain, an unmistakable early boss, crawl by.  Then dozens more soldiers…and The Fear.  It finally dawned on me: the countless soldiers I walked through…were all the people I’d killed in the game…  I walked through the river for no less than 15 minutes.  It’s a long time just to press forward on the analog stick and an even longer one when hundreds of men I’d killed screamed in agony around me.  By the time I got to The Sorrow, the boss of the stage, I  barely wanted to play any more.  Before the battle commenced I reset the game…and started over.  The second play through I killed no one, was never spotted, and (yes it lowered my ranking) used only the tranq gun and CQC.  Never had a game so brutally shown the consequences of my actions and blatantly shoved my easy-way-out choice of gameplay right in my face.  Only Kojima could think of something like that.

Hideo Kojima
Hideo Kojima, the dude that made me question my morals…

Since then games like Heavy Rain have offered similar experiences to face the consequences of your actions but MGS3 still stands out, not by punishing you through points, fewer power-ups, altered story-telling, or reduced game play time, but by making you literally face your victims.  In the end it is just a video game but it gives me some hope in humanity…because if a machine, a video game, can learn the value of human life … maybe we can too ; )

Electronic media: saving humanity from itself since 1991…