Vikings, Assassins and Thieves – Games From My Week Off

A Week Off To Explore My Steam Library

The PC master race’s biggest issue is that of its own avarice. We lords of gaming sit upon our thrones made of steam sales, staring out across our vast steam libraries in disgust at our own greed. This week was my first chance to really dig into the tens of games I bought within the last year that have been left to gather dust in the steam cloud. My first attempt at accessing some of my treasure fell short, as I couldn’t get my steam copy of Mass Effect to load. Fallout: New Vegas then failed to maintain my interest, as I spent too much time fussing with video quality settings before switching to the next game in my list. My heart stopped when I realized that I hadn’t played my copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the sequel to my favorite PC FPS-RPG. After playing Booty Revolution for two hours on my stream (twitch.tv/pandamanana), I felt fairly disappointed overall and vowed to continue my quest to experience more of the gaming collection I’ve assembled over the years.

New Is The New Old

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While searching through my collection, steam felt it appropriate to shove an advertisement down my throat that showed off a sale for an indy game that was 50% off. The Banner Saga found its place within my library within a few minutes, but I promised myself to play it before it became lost among the dusty piles of forgotten presents. Much to my surprise, The Banner Saga is one of the best games I’ve played in years. It takes substantial inspiration from two of my favorite games, The Oregon Trail and Final Fantasy Tactics, with a healthy sprinkling of Norse mythology tossed on top. The artwork is breathtaking and the atmosphere is incredibly easy to get lost in. As an artist and old school animation fan, The Banner Saga stands as one of my favorite pieces of animation that I’ve ever seen, especially combined with the game’s fantastic soundtrack. Much to my surprise, The Banner Saga’s gameplay is just as fun and engaging as its artwork is gorgeous. Each character takes a unique roll in combat and brings their own special abilities to the fray that help differentiate similar classes. Banner Saga’s dialogue is what caught me most off guard, as it is a very serious game based in a norse fantasy world with writing that feels very natural and comforting instead of obnoxiously Shakespearean. Instead of hearing about ‘ye old’ shops and having characters spout ‘forsooth’ at one another, characters in the Banner Saga speak like normal people would, creating an illusion that the audience is part of their character’s world and is hearing the speech translated from another language into english. The straight forward dialogue was a refreshing approach to fantasy writing in an era where everyone wants their characters to talk like they’re from Middle-Earth or Westeros. Refreshing is the perfect one-word description of The Banner Saga. The PC desperately needed a good turn based RPG, with great writing and fantastic graphics and The Banner Saga was more than happy to oblige.

Old Is The New New

While looking through my steam library, my friends mentioned that they wanted to play an older game that recently went on sale called The Ship. It just so happened that I had a copy in my collection, which prompted my friends and I to gather on raidcall to play a multiplayer match. Although our first match was clumsy and stupid, having been put on the worst map by far, the rest of my experience in The Ship was nothing but fucking outstanding.  If you’re curious how my first experience went, it was streamed by my friend Noah aka TheSkydrinker, which you can find here:

http://www.twitch.tv/theskydrinker/v/4209548

Just like the Banner Saga is derivative of some of my favorite games, The Ship is essentially what would happen if The Sims and Hitman had babies. Each player is placed in a random section of a ship with another player as their ‘target’. Players must hunt down their targets and kill them without being caught. The tricky part is that each player also has someone hunting them, which means that every other passenger is a potential threat and each player must also maintain themselves, in terms of their bladder, hygiene, enjoyment, etc. Players are discouraged from slaughtering passengers randomly, as each random kill costs the player money, while each successful target kill rewards the player with money based on which weapon was used; less used weapons reward players more than more common ones during the match. At the end of the round, the player with the most money wins. The Ship is simple, but also one of the most fun I’ve ever had with a group of friends in a LONG time. It’s not just a deathmatch style game, it’s a blast of spy mastery, assassinations, stylized graphics and trying to take a shit without getting shot in the face. I can’t gush enough about The Ship and I can’t wait until my friends get together again to play another round.

Grand Theft Satire

The last game I ended up playing this week was Grand Theft Auto V for the PC. GTAV has been out for almost two years on other consoles, but the PC version is by far the definitive copy that is most polished and closest to perfection. At $60, the singleplayer experience itself is a steal by a long shot, as it offers a ridiculous amount of gameplay and enjoyment for a very wide array of different players. A younger adult that might not understand the more subtle forms of satire in the game will fully enjoy the game as a shoot-em-up driving simulator, while the older audience members will appreciate just how on-point the writing and storytelling is. If Grand Theft Auto IV was a story about how crappy the American dream is, Grand Theft Auto V is all about what happens after the American dream is accomplished. Each character represents a different perspective of American culture and life. Michael is the quintessential middle aged American male, disappointed with their lives despite financial success. His kids are assholes, his wife is unfaithful and he hates himself and everyone around him, but wakes up every morning in his own Hollywood Hills mansion. Franklin is a great example of an American young adult. He sees his friends struggling in the ghetto, attempting to be cool rather than successful, yet he yearns for something more and fights goes to great lengths to get the success that Michael has at the cost of his personal relationships. If America is a character in-and-of-itself in GTAV, then Trevor is its foil. He stands in opposition to everything that Americans hold as stable or guaranteed. Trevor kills without warning, yet scolds his friends for being disrespectful to women. He’s a violent, hateful and self destructive individual, but also laughs at how fucked up the rest of the world is. Trevor is to GTAV what the Comedian is to the Watchmen, whether that’s a good thing or not. Although I’m not very far in the game’s main story, I can say that Grand Theft Auto V is one of the best satirical entertainment experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. It takes the piss out of just about anything in America, especially including its player base and their parents who are more frightened of a nipple than of their kids playing games that glorify the wars in the middle east. Every person that thinks that Grand Theft Auto is the scum of the earth completely misses the point. It’s not a celebration of violence and hate, it’s an open letter with two words on it meant for every facet of American culture that needs a good kick in the ass: Fuck You! Rockstar says “Fuck You!” to Facebook, young kids playing games meant for adults, all of Hollywood, the rich, the poor, the stupid, the smart, the media, the cops, the criminals and everyone in between. If you’re not at least partially insulted by Grand Theft Auto then it’s not doing its job right and I can’t love it more than I already do for it.

Grand Theft Auto Online fails in every way that its singleplayer counterpart succeeds. It’s clumsy, stupid, frustrating and insulting. Load times prevail in Los Santos’ online component and basic mechanics of an online game must be googled to be understood in a user interface that’s more confusing than doing taxes on a roller coaster. I actually had to google how to create a ‘crew’, GTA’s form of friend grouping, which lead me to a website OUTSIDE of the game where I was meant to form my clan. The game’s Social Club features are sparse and yet still incredibly mind boggling, as I struggled to invite my friend to my crew and never found out, after almost five hours of playtime, how to join a job with a friend. If a player is playing alone, the experience will go much more smooth, albeit with extended loading periods in between gameplay sessions, as most of the problems stem from the match making and social features, but even then, the game is just about as chaotic as one would expect of a multiplayer crime simulator. High ranked players with pimped out cars and weaponry trawl the streets looking for unsuspecting players to mow down repeatedly, as others spam your in game inbox with requests to join jobs that your probably not a high enough rank for. The most fun I had was when Noah and I decided to rob convenient stores for cash, while avoiding other players for fear that they’d kill us for our prizes. If your multiplayer game is best experienced by avoiding other players, you’ve seriously fucked up royally. The worst part by far is that the game boots players for being AFK very quickly, which, in a game full of stupidly long load times, means that a player whose attention wonders even a little while staring at a loading screen is forced to experience another right after for their sloth. Rockstar’s GTA Online is an offense to any gamer who wants to sit down and play a game with friends without having to jump through hoops just to do so. It took Noah and I at least two hours to get the game running and start playing with each other in the most basic sense, which is inexcusable for a triple-A title of GTA’s caliber. Luckily, I don’t give a shit about GTA Online, because the singleplayer experience of GTA V is so amazing and worth every penny of the $60 price point.

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