Words About Video Games

Player vs. Backlog: February Update #1 - No Man's Sky, Privateer, Left 4 Dead 2

Played 2, Completed 1 so far in February.

No Man’s Sky
I spent the first 7 hours of No Man’s Sky just going along, following quest prompts, and feeling nothing at all like there was an infinite galaxy at my fingertips. It’s really an abysmal opening and unexpectedly so, after the praise I’d heard for the story that was added. It may be a good story; I wouldn’t know. It’s still an afterthought, and therefore fails to fulfil a critical mission of a game story: to hook the player and give them a reason and context for doing what they’re doing. So my first 7 hours were spent following quest objectives to gather materials and build a base in a pre-specified spot, with the thinnest of motivations in place, and with the game’s main selling point—explore an infinite galaxy—kept out of reach until the questline gave me the hyperdrive blueprint.

My next 8 hours were much better than the first. I still don’t have any interest in the story, and the world doesn’t make a lot of sense. (I have a Korvax character, but I can’t understand a word of Korvax, for example.) The missions are as generic as “collect X minerals” and “kill Y creatures.” But you can get into a rhythm of small cascading goals with it, discovering strange creatures, having close calls with sentinels, and thinking about your next ship upgrade, or how you’ll expand your base. That’s enough for me to keep dipping into No Man’s Sky throughout the year, even if it isn’t enough for me to commit to the dozens hours more it will take to “beat” it. I think it’s better that way. No Man’s Sky is the kind of game that frustrates when you try to get from point A to point B, but when you pop in for bit, relax, explore, and enjoy the moment-to-moment, it’s quite a bit of fun.

Wing Commander: Privateer
I confess that when it comes to video games of a certain age, I’m a shameless Philistine. When I was a kid, I loved when games came with reference cards, and the bigger the better. Same with manuals. These days, I simply don’t have time or patience to learn this control scheme, especially when I literally just played No Man’s Sky, which does many of these things and a few dozen more and which taught me its control scheme, more or less, entirely in game. The standards are simply different now, as is the technology that permits this. It’s not really Privateer’s fault.

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Still, if the developers of No Man’s Sky want to push past the control scheme for a bit, I recommend they look at how Privateer begins. Okay, so it also doesn’t have a strong story start, but it does pretty much let you jump right into the action, picking up missions, buying valuable goods to resell, and just generally feeling like you’re playing Sid Meier’s pirates in space (but with more complicated controls and less personality) right from the off.

Man, you know what was a good space game? Star Control II (and the Ur-Quan Masters fan update.) There was a space game with story, personality, and (mostly) comprehensible controls. So I guess it isn’t just about old games vs. new after all.

Left 4 Dead 2
My wife and I played a lot of the original Left 4 Dead when we were first dating. Our first Valentine’s together, I ran back from the helicopter to help cover her escape and she left me to be devoured by a horde of zombies. And in the game.

Left 4 Dead 2 came out, and I don’t know why we didn’t play it. We didn’t find the time or we didn’t have the setup to play this kind of co-op game together. Maybe we’d just moved on to other games. Maybe we’d forgotten how much fun it could be.

Regardless, Left 4 Dead 2 is a brilliant game. It’s a blast co-op, where other players’ behavior can be your undoing as much as the zombies. It’s even a blast cranked down to easy, playing single-player with 3 AI companions at your side. There’s less chaos, but in its place is cathartic zombie killing. Individually, L4D’s zombies aren’t very threatening. They go down with a pop from a pistol. But in a horde, and coupled with the special zombie types that constrict movement, create pools of acid, charge into you, or ride you around, they are deadly enough.

My favorite campaign in Left 4 Dead 2 sees you making your way through a town as it’s starting to rain. Your objective is to get containers of diesel fuel for your boat. Once you have the fuel, you have to backtrack. On the way back comes the twist: the storm picks up and suddenly the places you travelled through previously are barely recognizable through torrential rain, while flooding forces you to find new paths through the terrain. Its one thing to take down the Tank; it’s quite another to take it down when you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you.

It’s a shame then that the experience is marred slightly by the presence of a custom server list on the title screen. Having the “Hentai Rape” server recommended to me repeatedly whenever I opened the game was, needless to say, unwelcome.