Words About Video Games

Player vs. Backlog: March Update #1

The end of February was pretty busy, but I didn’t actually play a lot of games, so instead we get the second half of February and the first week of March in one update.

Played

Audiosurf
I think this game had a moment and I missed it. That moment was just before the ubiquitous rise of streaming services, and when lots of other people were playing it, testing their scores on common songs. Outside of that moment, it’s more of a neat idea than a game. It’s definitely cool how it can take any song and generate a rhythm game level from it, but that’s pretty much all it does. If there’s an argument for playing a game when you get it, Audiosurf is it. There was a time when I had music on my computer. When I went to play Audiosurf all I had were my daughter’s Disney audiobooks.

Completed

Yakuza Kiwami 2
Some day I’m going to write a full-length love letter to the Yakuza series. But for now, I’ll keep it to one thing. There’s a moment (sometimes several) in every Yakuza game where the hero, Kiryu Kazuma, faces off against a major rival, and they both rip off their shirts and jackets in one gesture, displaying their tattoos like peacock feathers. I live for this moment. I can’t explain why, except to say, I care about sweet, in-over-his-head Kiryu. I know that when that shirt comes off it invariably means he’s being gosh-dang-honorable, taking a stand for something he believes in, or protecting the ones he loves. I know it’s not what he wants to be doing, but that he, like the rest of us, understands that he’s a man of limited breadth, a man who’s only real skill is punching people until they can’t stand up. And that moment is typically the moment when finally all of the webs of conspiracy and backstabbing and Yakuza power plays are cut away, when all of Kiryu’s complex problems that he’s been doing his best to shoulder the entire game become as simple as beating the crap out of a guy with a shit-ton of hitpoints. I hope one day he gets to find happiness, to finally, really, truly retire from the Yakuza (in spite of the name, Kiryu spends all of 5 minutes as an actual card-carrying Yakuza), but until then, I’m there for that comically dramatic gesture and that beautiful dragon tattoo.

Full Throttle
Adventure games ran into a host of problems in the late 90s, early 2000s, that they never really recovered from. Although they’ve happily found a healthy indie niche in recent years, they went from being showcase games to being completely absent from AAA development. Full Throttle is a game that seemed to anticipate this decline. Its diagnosis is that there simply isn’t enough action in adventure games, and its solution is to add motorcycle battles. The result, as with so many adventure games that tried similar, is kind of an odd hybrid seemingly designed to frustrate the maximum number of players. The battles require timing, but they are mostly a trial and error puzzle of figuring out which weapon can disable which character. To the pure action player, it doesn’t make sense why certain attacks don’t hit. To the pure adventure player, there’s a frustrating element of reflex required to solve the puzzle. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the game. It’s a simple story, but enjoyably written and voice-acted. The art is excellent. It’s just hard to imagine so slight an experience, story and puzzle-wise, coming out right in between the genre’s puzzling apex (Day of the Tentacle) and its greatest narrative triumph (Grim Fandango.)

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
Arkane before they were the Arkane of Dishonored and Prey. It has those immersive-sim style pieces in there, even if the game itself is much more linear and constrained than their later masterworks. It’s just plain fun to kick a ghoul into a spike trap or send a necromancer flying off a ledge with a freeze spell. The script is utterly lacking in subtlety—a choice between a demonic temptress who’s taken up residence in your head and a nice, but fairly useless, mage’s apprentice doesn’t offer much of a conundrum but does impact how the game plays a bit. If you haven’t played either of the Dishonoreds or Prey, I recommend them first. If you played them and are itching for something medieval fantasy in that vein, Dark Messiah is worth a spin.