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.

90s Shooters: The Joy of the Wolfenstein – Doom Era

Though I was a video gamer from a young age, playing Atari and NES, I didn’t get into PC gaming until I was in middle school.

My first home PC was a simple IBM with no hard drive.  I played games directly off a 3.5” diskette and could only play shareware versions of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and use Print Shop Pro to print on the DOT Matrix Printer.  As time went on it became difficult to find games I could play that only had one disk…luckily we eventually upgraded our PC to one with a moderate hard drive (I think around 120 mb or so) and a whole new world of gaming opened up.

This was when I was introduced to shareware versions of Wolfenstein 3D, Blake Stone, and eventually Doom.

These represent the first person shooters I ever played, and some of the earliest entries into the genre.  My friend Mike provided me with Wolfenstein and eventually Blake Stone.  We played both shooting games on the 8th grade newspaper computer instead of actually working on the school newspaper (I don’t know if we even had one) until we got caught.

Wolfenstein Title Screen

Wolfenstein 3D was fascinating, killing all those Nazis in castle hallways.  Hearing their low-fi German shouts (“Halt!”  “Guten Tag! Mein Leben!” “Schutstaffel!”) and eventually working up to fight some strange version of Adolf Hitler in terminator armor.

“Halt!”

Blake Stone is almost forgotten now, but it was a sci-fi game of the same making.  I remember the blue-green gun and the mad scientist and green alien bad guys.  Blake Stone was another one Mike and I played in English class (right behind the teacher if I recall…) and, though I never played it at home, it really got me into the corridor shooter game.

BlakeStone

When Doom came out it changed the dynamic for me.  Released from the corridors, you now moved through expansive locales and multiple-story levels.  I played it on shareware, only the first few levels and I played them over and over.  It’s the first “god mode” I ever used (IDDQD!) and even more often I’d use IDKFA for all weapons.

I played Doom relentlessly.  I was one of the few individuals who bought a Sega 32X and even though it didn’t have a lot of games I truly enjoyed the ones it had.  I listened to Use Your Illusion I & II and played Doom for months on my 32X as a middle schooler.

Once my PC could handle it I finally got a copy of Ultimate Doom and Doom II at the local Media Play and swapped the dozens of disks to install them.  It was this era when you could play a game for months…even years.  Turn on some midi music and play Doom for hours just as a time waster.  I can’t even remember how many homework assignments I blew off to kill the Cyberdemon yet again…

I’m pretty sure the Imp sound effects are actually camel sounds. Weird to think about it now….

I actually remember it being a controversy at the time: did Doom make kids violent?  It was ludicrous to me.  Doom was as realistic as a cartoon (though a tad gorier than most I’ll admit) and it would follow that kids would only learn how to kill cacodemons with a keyboard while wielding a pixelated plasma rifle…  How that equates to loading a pistol I’ll never understand.  I’d say unless you’re a spiked imp throwing fireballs on screen and I’m a crew cut face wielding a video-chain gun society should be safe.

Doom really stands as the last first person shooter I really loved.  Others came along (Duke Nukem 3D shortly after the Doom era…Kingpin when I was in college) but none really captured that WolfensteinDoom feeling for me.  Now it’s one of my least favorite genres, burdened with a heavy emphasis on multiplayer (I’ve said it a million times…I deal with idiots all day in my real life…I don’t need to deal with anonymous idiots during my leisure time…) and less on long campaigns I could put on some music and kick back to they haven’t appealed to me.

So here’s to the 90s first person shooter.  Turn on the game, turn off your brain, and enjoy some mindless (but entirely harmless) violence!