This Great Evil

Category: Video Games

PS4 + 1 month

I’ve had a PS4 for close to a month now, and it’s been a mixed bag of heartening ideas with mixed execution so far.

The good:

  • The last generation of consoles reached a little too high, and the net result was the destruction of the game console ideal. Now games are laden with patches and installs, that which was previously associated with PC games. It became almost impossible to just put in a game and start playing. Though the PS4 can’t quite reach that level, I find it incredibly encouraging that both it and the Xbox One are taking steps to make console games faster and less cumbersome. Now patches can be installed while the console’s in standby, and you can start playing a gaming after it has installed a small chunk of itself. It’s a step in the right direction, and it can only get better with the announced suspend/resume feature.
  • The controller is nice.
  • Overall, the UI is reasonably intuitive and snappy. Being able to open up the web browser while playing a game is helpful, even if I’m more likely to use my phone or tablet. I’m not a fan of the font and some aspects are a bit clunky, but it’s miles ahead of the PS3 in terms of usability and speed, more casualties of last generation’s insane feature creep.
  • The games so far are pretty decent for a recent launch. Infamous: Second Son isn’t as good as Infamous 2, but is still an engaging and gorgeous experience. Resogun is a blast, Dead Nation has its moments. Though the push for independent games is a nice idea, I think I’ll still be playing the vast majority of those on the computer where sales and Humble Bundles happen like clockwork. Still, including a ragtag assortment every month with PS Plus is a big boon for the system.
  • Live from Playstation is surprisingly addictive. I do get a weird black bar over part of the screen from time to time, but it’s not enough to seriously affect the experience. Including the dedicated Share button and video recording/stream functionality was a good idea.

The bad:

  • There are so many features missing from the PS4 that even the launch version of the PS3 possessed. You can’t store or even playback MP3s or your own video files. You can’t watch 3D Blu-ray movies. You can’t stream anything from your computer. You can’t watch Flash videos on the web browser. You can’t organize the main row of icons. Fixes for most of these problems will probably come in a later patch, but I’m still shocked that they released a system without these features.
  • The PSN Store is still a slow mess. The organization is god awful, and you can’t even use the rad new motion control keyboard to do searches! Instead, you’re forced to use an slow letter by letter picker from the stone age of UI design.
  • Wifi speeds on it are all over the place. I’ve gotten speeds from a couple kilobits per second up to 10 or 20 megabits per second. I plugged in an Ethernet cable, and suddenly speeds shot up to 70-some megabits per second. Jesus Christ.

The ugly:

  • WHY DOES IT WOBBLE?
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Worst of the year

Now that 2013 is but a faded stain on the carpet, I thought I’d take this time to clean out ye old septic tank and take one last opportunity to revel in the shit of 2013. As a whole, the year was blighted with more mediocrity than outright wretchedness; a blessing for those keeping track at home on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, but a curse for people who sit through endless hours of repetitive drivel. So even though I’m about to take a massive dump on all of the following works, I’m truly grateful to have been able to outright hate instead of grudgingly tolerate something last year.

Worst movie: Personal Tailor

I hated, hated, hated Aftershock – Feng Xiaogang trying to make the cinematic equivalent of Pearl Harbor for China without an ounce of Michael Bay’s visual panache – but it never gave me cause to suspect Feng is actually a completely empty hack. Then came Personal Tailor, much like Fat Man came to Nagasaki.

If it had only been a shitty comedy, I wouldn’t have given it much thought, but Personal Tailor really sets out to be as unpleasant as humanely possible. In addition to a simultaneously nonsensical and derivative premise, Personal Tailor traffics in broad, maudlin emotions and sub-mantle brow humor that it comes across as a petulant, possibly autistic child. Feng has tried defending his movie as a “satire,” but the level of “satire” in Personal Tailor would embarrass even the Animal Practice writing staff. Its idea of political satire is to reference half a year old headlines. Its idea of cultural critique is to jam a painfully long and out of place epilogue featuring actors looking out at the scenery and apologizing for pollution.

Were it not for a genuinely great last line, Personal Tailor would have tied Prom for being the worst movie I have ever seen. Feng lacks the self-awareness to realize how insincere and generally abysmal his movie is. Feng is the director that his film tries unsuccessfully to make fun of, perhaps a half-baked stab at self-deprecation, in the movie’s second vignette. He’s trying so hard to be an artist, yet we’re the ones suffering for his art.

Worst video game: The second 2/3s of Outlast

I feel bad for shitting on Outlast, a fairly respectable indie game with some real horror chops early on, but the last two-thirds of Outlast really sucks. At the start, Outlast succeeds wildly in terrifying the player, expertly making use of its setting and found-footage aesthetic to create some nightmarish images and pee-inducing jump scares. But then, the developers run out of ideas about 1 hour in, around the time players realize they can sprint past everything with little punishment.

What’s a horror game to do when it stops being scary? In this case, tell an uninteresting and increasingly convoluted story while trying hard to repackage and recycle old jump scares. Outlast blows its ghoulish wad far too early on, and mistakenly assumes that it can coast on the terrifying fumes for a good 2 or so hours more. Instead, Outlast just becomes frustratingly dull and often idiotic.

Worst episode of TV: “Conventions of Space and Time”

I made fun of Animal Practice earlier for being shit, but even it can’t compete with Conventions of Space and Time. As a guy who liked season 4 of Community a touch more than most, this was appalling.

End of the year, etc.

Ho ho ho, once again, it’s time for end of the year superlatives season. Because of how my section works, I didn’t get a chance to see all of the films allegedly competitive on these lists. The top films list, then, will be subject to change as I finally get around to watching All is Lost, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, etc.

Top 10 films:

  1. Leviathan (96)
  2. Inside Llewyn Davis
  3. The Wolf of Wall Street
  4. Post Tenebras Lux
  5. All is Lost
  6. Gravity
  7. Blue is the Warmest Color
  8. The Past
  9. Prince Avalanche
  10. To the Wonder (81)

Top 10 games:

  1. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
  2. Papers, Please
  3. Gunpoint
  4. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
  5. Ridiculous Fishing
  6. Capsule
  7. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  8. Device 6
  9. Grand Theft Auto V
  10. Beyond: Two Souls*

* – Not a great game by any usual standard (the writing is appalling, gameplay fundamentally broken), but Beyond: Two Souls is so unabashedly idiotic and bugfuck insane that its mad zeal makes up for a lot of its shortcomings.

Best Picture predictions (for the kids) *updated Jan 12:

  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Nebraska
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • Wolf of Wall Street

Pet conspiracy theories

Animal Crossing: New Leaf recently entered my life in the same way a large hurricane enters a Floridian city. As I began to comb through the wreckage of a week’s worth of lost productivity, it occurred to me just how creepy the whole game is.

For whatever reason, Animal Crossing: New Leaf inspires a whole range of conspiracy theories. I’m not quite sure why it is; the game isn’t as Jamestown-esqe as the Wii U/3DS interfaces nor does anything in it suggest that our perspective is actually being fucked with by something sinister. Yet, despite the game’s cheery, sunny disposition, all sorts of lewd, tin-foil hatted ideas fester in the margins.

  • Tom Nook took out the real mayor and planted you because he could manipulate you

The whole Tom Nook is a crook theory is well documented and has persisted through virtually every Animal Crossing. The difference in New Leaf lies in the whole mayor mechanic. You start off the game as some random schlub on a train only to arrive in a town in which everyone thinks you’re the new mayor.

The actual new mayor is nowhere to be found – aside from an incredibly thin and sketchy letter sent to you later in the game – so you end up being the mayor, and you start the game off by being about $30,000 in debt to Nook because he built you a house in the town. Then, as mayor, you have the power to create an ordinance that causes inflation for everything except Nook’s mortgages, while all of the public works projects are contracted through Nook or one of his associates.

Tom Nook, you fucking bastard, where did you hide the body?

  • The game’s soundtrack is actually playing through hidden P.A. speakers throughout your virtual town 24/7

Did you know that whenever the music fades out, it doesn’t come back in at the same place where it cut? The music in the background never actually stops until it hits the end of a loop, at which point it restarts. Did you know that some of your neighbors bob their heads in rhythm with the creepy lounge music soundtrack? And did you know that when I close my eyes, I can still see that hideous pink alligator that lives next door?

  • You’re actually the an Earth ex-patriot on an alien planet

This theory is actually probably the most likely of the bunch. Why all of these anthropomorphized things make up the majority of the world is never pointed out, let alone explained. Beyond the casual implication of inter-special sexual liaisons, you, the game’s only human (aside from other players), are always the outsider. But, there’s virtually no xenophobia; you’re always more of a curiosity than something monstrous, more akin to the way someone gawks at a foreigner.

You can’t be on Earth, since if the animals of Earth actually took over, humans would almost certainly get the Planets of the Apes end of the stick. You can’t have also been the first person to visit this world, as the animals’ curiosity isn’t that extreme. The only answer, then, is that you are just some ex-patriot on this fucked up planet of the fluorescent animals.

Why would you move to a planet where any sexual intercourse could be punishable by most Earth laws? Who knows.

 

The Infinite Abyss

Bioshock Infinite is good, at times very good.

The ending, however, disappointed me, and I’d like to talk through my disappointment in as spoiler-free/vague terms as possible.

First off: the plot twists themselves weren’t that great. I could boil it down to two absurd and stupid sentences; I saw one of the plot twists coming from a mile away and the other I dismissed as something so Shyamalan-esqe that Ken Levine wouldn’t have dared. To the game’s credit, the twists are handled in, perhaps, the most elegant way possible, if at the expense of Elizabeth’s characterization and plot holes. There are, however, much bigger problems with the ending.

As I see it, Bioshock Infinite’s narrative shortcomings can be blamed on too much ambition. The game wanted to be a story about right-wing conservatism versus populist/socialist movements (particularly in America), an alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking story of a woman’s quest for liberation, a heady, mythologizing piece of sci-fi mind-fuck and a somber mediation on the nature of a tragic hero.

The  trouble is, Infinite goes from one idea to the one, rarely allowing its disparate narrative strands to mingle or build off of one another. Instead of forming a rich, thematically potent storyline, each thread fails to build to much at all – the politics are kept at South Park-level extreme abstraction and ridicule, Elizabeth’s arc stops stone cold, the sci-fi heady mind-fuck elicits more of a WTF than a wow and Booker’s somber resolution gets overshadowed by the late-breaking plot-twists.

Similarly, gameplay  fails to evolve or develop to any great degree. Infinite introduces a bunch of neat ideas (the renamed Vigors from Bioshock, the sky-rail, interdimensional tears, etc.), but fails to come up with the appropriate challenges. Enemies just get more health and more numbers, to the point that the very last thing level is a wretched, interminable slog of you and your BFF shooting dudes while the dudes try to outshoot you.

Ordinarily, I could probably forgive a lot of these problems in a game – I mean, have you seen the average quality of modern video games cough Black Ops 2? – but Infinite’s failings are incredibly frustrating. A game with as many interesting ideas and mechanics as Infinite should have amounted to a masterpiece. What we have, instead, is a messy (but still good) game with flashes of much, much more like a cruel striptease.

Try this: play through the Hall of Heroes level. Then think about Call of Duty. Then think about the ending. Then have your mind blown.