Killin’ time by killin’ Nazis (and others)

So it’s been a bit of time since I last gave a games update. I’ve been a bit slow on the writing front, partially due to some run-of-the-mill bleh and partially because I’ve been making my way through my games backlog with a reasonable degree of success.

What’ve I been playing? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here’s some thoughts on the past couple of months’ worth of games I’ve played. 

First up is a game I backed on Kickstarter, the charming Aviary Attorney.  As the title suggests, you play the role of a bird-lawyer in France.

I was in the middle of the mehsert when I began the game, and it fit perfectly: it wasn’t something that required the investment that a lot of other games do. It was silly, but with a bit of seriousness that ensured it wasn’t a total fluff-fest. I blew through it in about an afternoon.

I’ve played it through once, though there is scope for multiple run-throughs. There’s a couple of endings, and the game is short and enjoyable enough to ensure its welcome isn’t worn out. I’m hoping there’s some more terrible jokes in there I’ve yet to discover.

Eh? EH?

If you’re a fan of this type of illustration – let’s face it, it’s what sold me on the thing to begin with – this is a bit of a no-brainer. It’s clever, features some Carnival des animaux soundtracking, and feels satisfying to play in the way Agatha Christie stories are satisfying to read: you know they’re a clockwork world where certain things will happen, but you go along for the ride anyway.

Next came two games about something that’s apparently now pretty controversial: punching Nazis. Specifically, the MachineGames reboots, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. I thought both these games were enjoyable as hell. The original Wolfenstein 3D was something I played a lot of when it first came out, and I’ve played most of the rest of them as a matter of course. The Wolfenstein of 2009 didn’t grab me enough to continue to the end, so I had been prepared to eject these games when they showed signs of disappointing me.

Thankfully, they didn’t. There was a combination of improved storytelling and alternate-history timeline, welded to some difficult (but enjoyable) gameplay that kept moving things forward. The difficulty level took a bit of adjusting to, initially – it’d been a long time since I had played games quite like these – but eventually it clicked, and I found them to be brainlessly enjoyable, in the way that only corridor-shooters can be.

Of the two, The New Order was my favourite: it seemed much more a complete entity. I enjoyed The Old Blood – a sequel that was really a prequel – just fine, particularly its castle-invading, Black Sun-dodging magick portions. But it did feel, in both length and inventiveness, to be a bit more like a padded-out add-on, rather than a fully-fledged entry. Still, the alternate ’60s imagery and mechanical focus was intriguing, and I didn’t feel shortchanged by the end of the whole thing.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus plays, especially given the sadly elevated prominence of Nazi fuckheads these days. MachineGames are making games, yes, but I think they’re aware of the role the series has in portraying Nazi horror, and their recent social media postings ensure we know where they stand on the glorification of same.

 

After this, it only seemed natural to keep up the shooter stupidity, so I decided to blast through a couple of Far Cry instalments in one go.

That took up a bit of time, as you might expect.

I’d played the original game on a terribly-specced computer, and enjoyed the hell out of it. At the time of its release, it was pretty groundbreaking: it shied away from the sort of corridor-based progression that characterised games like those in the Wolfenstein series and in the Call of Duty games and allowed the player to tackle goals with whatever approach suited. Snipe your way through? Blast your way out? Sure, whatever you like.

The first game was a lot of fun, but almost more a techdemo than a game. Replaying it a little while ago, I noted that I’d forgotten the way the difficulty ramps up at an inhuman rate towards the end of the game, leaving a pretty bad taste to an otherwise fun ride. I’d started the second game, but hadn’t made it far enough in for it to stick, and abandoned it after only a couple of hours. I was determined, though, based on the reviews of the bros-on-a-boat theme of the third instalment, to stick it out.

I’m glad I did. It was certainly all that people had hinted at online, though not quite as clever as the game would like to think it was. There’s a bit of a Heart of Darkness transition going on in the main character, who’s essentially a trustafarian fuckbag on holiday with his insufferable crew until they’re kidnapped by a white slavery/ransom operation run by a charming psychopath with a mohawk. Your transition from fuckboy to the Angel of Death was pretty improbable, but the game doesn’t take itself seriously enough for this to be a deal-breaker.

The land you travel over  – two islands’ worth – is pretty well-realised. It’s not just one-on-one shooting, either: there’s bases to liberate, a whole crafting tree, some on-rails vehicle sections and a plethora of additional stuff to do that deepens the story without detracting from it if you decide to skip it. It’s a big buffet, and consequently can feel a bit daunting.

By the end of the game, I had the usual Ubisoft optional-extra fatigue. I’d wanted to complete a lot of the side missions because they were tied to further narrative – about former Japanese occupying soldiers, for example – but by the time I got to the end of the story I was ready to go on to the next entry.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is the DLC that grew too big for its boots. It’s basically a chopped-down version of the main game, left to marinade in the neon leavings of some shitty direct-to-video SF/action movies and given a voice by Michael Biehn. It has dinosaurs that wear lasers and can talk to you, sidekicks who call you MOTHERFUCKAAAA and scanlines aplenty. This trailer should tell you all you need to know.

(Other than the fact that I loved it, even though it kind of dies in the arse after you get to ride a dinosaur. Though really, what could top that?)

Actually, this is what can top that: the fourth game in the series, helpfully titled Far Cry 4. It features a quirky villain, just as before, but the ambition of the game was scaled upwards, as was some of the difficulty. It told the story of a rebellion in a tiny cod-Nepalese country, a tale of familial links and the madness of power. It featured tiny gyrocopters flying above chasms, animals (including honey badgers) that would fuck your shit up and whole sections set in a) Shangri-La and b) drug-induced hazes. There was an embarrassment of riches, graphically speaking, and a lead villain that had Troy Baker Troy Bakering harder than he ever Troy Bakered. I mean, just look at this. 

Also, it had some Clash as a theme tune, so there’s that.

Make no mistake, I absolutely loved this game. I spent a ridiculous amount of time catching as many of the optional mission rewards as I could. I didn’t want to leave: more so than in the preceding games, the developers created a sense of place. The player character, Ajay, has a reason to be where he is, and you’re made to feel that your actions are important, and will move the story forwards.

I can’t underscore enough how much fun this game is. There were constant moments of delight, even as parts were supremely difficult. (Fuck you, escort missions.) It’s a game I would absolutely play again, and it’s made me very, very excited for the forthcoming fifth game, set in a yee-haw fundamentalist enclave.

I moved back to the PS4 for the most recent Uncharted game, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, a non-Nathan entry that could well be my favourite of the series, alongside the second title.

I haven’t written about it here, but earlier in the year I played through Uncharted 4 and found it very, very enjoyable, with a brotherly aspect that gave it more depth than it would normally have had. I was kind of happy that it was meant to be the final game in the franchise, as my habit of playing series of games in a row meant that  I was a bit jack of Nathan Drake’s bro-fisting archeobullshittery by the end of it.

However.

The Lost Legacy is absolutely the right move for Naughty Dog. It’s a game that stands alone from the others, providing the perfect entry point for people who haven’t played the rest of the series. It’s shorter than the rest, but it doesn’t short-change the player in terms of Indiana Jones-style set-pieces. It’s just as epic, as cinematic as the rest of the series, except it manages to contain more character development than pretty much the rest of the series combined.

Yep, that’s right. There’s actual conversations here! Characters that change as the game progresses. Characters – like Nadine Ross – who I had thought were fucking intolerable, who made me like them by just being themselves. Chloe Frazer is finally promoted from sassy sidekick to main character and absolutely deserves it.

I don’t really want to spoil the story – it’s full of the usual oddities and just-in-time moments that you expect from an Uncharted game – but it’s so good to see a game that doesn’t rely on some joking dude to carry it. I would be 100 per cent behind more games exploring the doings of this duo.

(Besides, Nathan couldn’t have managed to crack out some yoga atop spires of an ancient lost city, now, could he?)

So that’s where I’m up to, pretty much. In the past two-ish months, I’ve played some pretty long, pretty intense games, and I’m happy to note that they (mostly) held up, and certainly repaid the time invested. I’m currently grinding my way through Yakuza 0, a game I’d been dying to play. I’m about 40 hours in, and I’m about a third of the way through the story, yet it doesn’t drag. I guess this is what happens when hitting dudes with motorcycles is a primary fighting mechanic.

I’ll have further game stories when I’m finished this beast – and maybe Yakuza Kiwami as well, assuming I can knock ’em both over before I die.

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