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Stop Bragging About NPC Schedules

There is a disturbing trend I’ve noticed with open world games over the past decade or so. No, it’s not that most of them are mostly hollow shells with nothing but the same repetitive things to do, especially in the case of Ubisoft games. No, it’s not that there are waaaay too fucking many of them. No, it’s not that only one of them is The Witcher 3 and that’s a problem because EVERY game should be The Witcher 3. These are all issues, yes, but not the one I had in mind when I started writing this in my bed at 12:35 at night while listening to a “1 Hour of Medieval Instrumental Music” on YouTube because I am the world’s most hopeless dork.

The issue at hand is one of NPCs. I wanna be fair, it isn’t a problem with the NPCs themselves. I have no obsessive vendetta against the generic people walking through the open world, minding their own business. It’s not THEIR fault they look like one of five different NPC models or that they occasionally merge with a horse to create a hellspawn creature that would make Dr. Moreau’s nightmares have nightmares.

horse woman

In the Wild West, no one can hear you scream.

It’s actually beef I have with the developers of open world games and how smug they are when it comes to their NPCs. More specifically: NPC schedules. What the hell am I talking about? Allow me to elaborate.

Just last week the games industry had their biggest event of the year, the annual E3 which allows game publishers and developers to get on a big stage and talk about all the announcements that leaked in the weeks coming up to the show, like what new version of Skyrim that Bethesda Game Studios will release this year. It’s big, flashy and a bit self serving, but whatever, it’s dumb fun and we get to see cool new shit. Ubisoft is one of the bigger companies that gets its own press conference, so they’re able to waste an hour of our time by having a panda dance with Noob Saibot clones (you had to be there). BUT Ubisoft did manage to squeeze in SOME game news, and that was the reveal of Assassin’s Creed Origins.

I could go into detail about Origins, but that could be saved for another blog post that I may write in the next 1-18 months (depending on how busy I am with watching YouTube videos about board games). What I am going to discuss is Ubisoft’s pride in the revelation that in Origins, you are going to be able to explore a MASSIVE Ancient Egypt, complete with NPCs with their own unique schedules. That’s right, NPCs have their very own schedules that they follow to a god damn T! You can literally follow around a dude allll day and watch him as he goes about his business, doing things like walking and fixing a boat and eating. Just hand it Game of the Year, am I right???

Wrong. And that’s what I’m here to rant about. Developers…I know that you’re surfing the internet, feverishly googling to find your way to someone like me, a 27 year old guy whose only experience with any sort of programming was an 11th grade HTML class where I made a web page that listed my favorite cereals, so that you can get my opinion on your game design. So here’s my opinion: don’t brag that your NPCs have schedules because no one gives a rat’s fuck.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Giving NPC schedules and bragging about it can be traced all the way back to the fourth Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion. Bethesda was proud to announce that every NPC in the game had a schedule, a set series of duties and chores that the NPC would follow with rigid execution. At least, until you killed the character, stripped them of their clothes, and drowned them under a shower of their own books, if you’re anything like me. But while they’re alive and fully clothed? They’re out there living a full fledged life, like they’re god damned people!

It seemed neat. Until I realized that it did nothing to inform the gameplay, except when you got a quest that revolved around following a person on their schedule. Then it did inform the gamplay, but in a very bad, terrible, awful, not good way.

You see, in Oblivion, before the Elder Scrolls became a glorified fetch quest marathon in Skyrim, there were quests that actually had plot lines and interesting characters. Some of these quests, though, involved you stalking characters around town, often trying to catch them doing something illicit in between their mundane, every day tasks.

You know what this involved? Watching someone hoe for six in game hours.

oblivion npc

Who needs to kill goblins and learn spells that can set things on fire when I can watch this.

I admit, there was definitely a certain charm to following people around and watching them live their virtual little lives, but it wore thin when I was actually FORCED to do it. It’s not like these guys live exciting lives. It’d be one thing if my quest objective was, “Stalk Keith Richards and Caligula on their way to a party” but it was “Stalk this random peasant whose most exciting part of their day is whether they take a green apple or red apple for dinner.”

It was at this point that I came to realize…what was the point? Who gives a shit if they have schedules? Does it really make the world feel that much more alive that John Shitface III goes to the same baker every morning? I’m trying to save the world from a literal demigod, and you have the gall to think I’m going to be awed that your NPCs get into bed at the same time? Hey Bethesda. I experience more glitches in one hour of one of your games than in the entirety of three other games combined. Maybe spend more time making sure your code isn’t stitched together by moldy pieces of Big League Chew than trying to make sure that Ivana Cockguzzle hoes the same patch of dirt every Thursday at noon.

Ubisoft, don’t think I’m done with you. Just because Bethesda is my prime example of this “Our NPCs have schedules and it’s great!” dogshit, doesn’t mean that you get off the hook. You’re pulling the same stunt with a game series that is just as notorious for glitches. I just recently started playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and while I’m enjoying it immensely (a topic that may be saved for a blog post as well), it’s got some technical issues. I am not exaggerating when I say that I came across a visual glitch that forced me to restart the game within the FIRST FIVE MINUTES. And it wasn’t the first glitch I encountered, as it was later followed by my character stepping from a horse and carriage into an endless void, as well as a cutscene that featured an invisible person. Need I remind you, I am playing this game a year and a half after it launched, meaning there should have been plenty of time for patches to prevent this nonsense from happening. And let’s never forget Unity and its own mess of glitches, that produced some truly Lovecraftian horrors.

unity glitch

In 18th century France, no one can hear you scream.

Ubisoft, I said it to Bethesda so I’ll say it to you, and I KNOW you two companies are listening to me, don’t act like you’re not. I seriously couldn’t care less that your Egyptian villagers are going to have day to day chores if your game crashes on me, if people vanish mid cutscene or if, even worse, your game isn’t even fucking fun. Don’t strut around, waving your dick around like a helicopter blade as you describe with relish that some random guy you can follow around will act out a daily schedule because that’s not what I’m playing games for. Nobody wants to play a game to watch virtual people do menial tasks. We play games to escape menial tasks, not watch someone else do them. We want to stab people in the throat with our hidden blade and climb monuments and do the same repetitive side mission over and over again. Actually, you can not do that last one, please, that is getting a tad old.

I know this is an odd thing to complain about because it really has no bearing on the actual gameplay, with the exception of those shitty quests I mentioned ealier. It’s more the fact that developers brag about this thing, like it’s a check mark on the back of the game box that is going to cause copies to fly off shelves. NPC schedules are pointless, and if it’s taking precious resources and memory away from the actual game? Well, then, to steal a line from Shakespeare, that’s just straight up bird poop.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Resident Evil 7 Is The Most Important Game Of This Console Generation

resident-evil-7

I’m going to make a bold claim here. Are you ready? Are you sure? Here it coooomes.

Resident Evil 7 is the best game out in 2017 thus far, bar none. Ha! How do you like them apples?

What? Not bold enough? Okay, okay. Maybe you have a point. After all, it is only February, and RE7 is one of only two big games to be released this year, Nioh being the other one. And since Nioh is an arcadey hack and slash game that has been described as a mix between Ninja Gaiden and the Dark Souls game, I would rather get my fingernails pulled out than suffer through that sort of game. So process of elimination leaves RE7 as the best game of 2017 (so far) by default. It’s like winning a two horse race when the other horse is already in a bag of Alpo somewhere.

Okay, so if my previous statement is a bit of a cheat, let me throw a new bold claim your way: Resident Evil 7 is the most important game of this console generation.

Make no mistake, I’m not claiming this is the best game of this console generation. No, not at all. As long as we still live in a universe where The Witcher 3 exists, I doubt any other game will have that claim. Not to mention the gaming masterpiece My Name Is Mayo.

my-name-is-mayo

They should have sent a poet.

No, I simply mean that what RE7 does and accomplishes could, and should, send shockwaves throughout the industry, and put the increasingly stagnant publishing companies of AAA games on notice.

Before I go into what I mean by this, let me set the stage by describing the state of Resident Evil before the release of the seventh entry this year. In 2005, Resident Evil 4 was released, and it was a turning point for the franchise. The game took a much more action oriented approach to its survival horror formula, favoring fast paced, chaotic action sequences over the plodding suspense and jump scares of the previous games. The thing was, Resident Evil 4 still had scary moments, and a palpable horror atmoshphere. It didn’t stray from its roots so much that you could have mistaken it for a Call of Duty game. It was just a different kind of scary. If the first Resident Evils resembled a walk through haunted house at a carnival, then Resident Evil 4 was more like a roller coaster.

So Capcom took a risk, and was applauded for it. Resident Evil 4 was insanely well reviewed upon release and many still consider it the pinnacle of the series, a perfect marriage of old school survival horror and modern sensibilities. But then Capcom made a bit of an error.

You know when your friend says a funny joke, and everyone laughs at it, but then the friend runs the joke into the ground, killing it beyond all recognition? Capcom was that friend. It let the success of RE4 go to its head, and it misinterpreted its success as a call for more action in the series. Enter Resident Evil 5, where the series begins its rapid fall from grace.

The canary in the coal mine for RE5 was when there was footage that showed a split screen for local co-op. Surely this was just a weird graphical glitch, right? Most embarrassing for Capcom to release footage with such a glaring technical error and oh god no, that’s real and it’s actually a co-op game.

Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I actually enjoyed Resident Evil 5. I played it twice with two different friends as a couch co-op experience, and it was actually a totally fun game. My problem with it is that, even though it was a good game, it wasn’t a good Resident Evil game. And when you’re playing a Resident Evil game, I expect to, yanno, play a fucking Resident Evil game. Just like when I go to Baskin Robbins I expect ice cream, and when I go to Golden Corral I expect explosive diarrhea; some things are just a given in life.

So I had to admit that I was a little disappointed in Resident Evil 5, especially after the masterpiece that was Resident Evil 4. While Resident Evil 4 certainly skewed more towards the action side of things, it still very much had a Resident Evil feel to it, and had plenty of scenes of expertly crafted tension and suspense. Resident Evil 5 ended with you punching a boulder. The seeds of disconnect were being sewn by Capcom.

re-5-boulder

Pictured: Survival horror, apparently.

And then came Resident Evil 6. Oh boy.

Fans were starting to voice their opinion that they were becoming a little worried about Resident Evil‘s sudden boner for explosions and car chases. Capcom tried to dissuade those fears by releasing an early trailer that featured fan favorite Leon S. Kennedy, shooting the Romero style shambling zombies of yore, as if to say, “Get ready folks, we’re going back to our roots!”

And then they made the mistake of showing the rest of the trailer. And we got to see the promise of classic survival horror was hollow, mere window dressing for another explosion filled extravaganza that was masquerading as a Resident Evil game. The trailer even promised cover based shooting. Cover. Based. SHOOTING. IN A FUCKING RESIDENT EVIL. ARE WE FIGHTING FUCKING PEEK A BOO MONSTERS NOW.

Sigh. And what made it even worse is that the game itself was bad. The franchise’s progression was as follows:

Resident Evil 4: Man, this was amazing! Capcom really did a great job of rebooting the franchise but keeping things familiar!

Resident Evil 5: Well, it’s not a very good Resident Evil game but it’s still an enjoyable game.

Resident Evil 6: Well, it’s not a very good Resident Evil game but it’s shitty too so fuck this game.

Things were not looking good for the series. Sales declined from 5 to 6 and for good reason. Throw in a couple of spin offs, like the multiplayer-centric shooter Umbrella Corps, and it seemed like Capcom had officially gone the way of a senile grandparent, hopelessly out of touch with life but still trying desperately to remain cool by saying words like “fresh” and “hip.”

To make matters worse, is that the rest of the game industry was following suit. There was a distinct lack of good, true survival horror games for pretty much the entire PS3/Xbox 360 generation. The only game that seemed to have any interest in providing a scary, immersive and atmospheric experience was Dead Space and look what fucking happened to that franchise (hint: the exact same thing that happened to Resident Evil).

But, there was hope.

In 2015, Capcom released the beloved Gamecube remake of the original Resident Evil, remastering it for modern consoles. Although there was something comical about remaking a remake, the game was much appreciated by me. I never had the chance to play the Gamecube Resident Evil, and I had always wanted to considering the rave reviews it had gotten over the years. When it was available for download, I immediately purhcased it.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had these feelings. The game was Capcom’s fastest selling digital game ever, and even broken a record on the PSN, being the fastest selling digital day one title in the PSN’s history. Clearly, this game was resonating with people, and soon enough Capcom announced they were going to remaster Resident Evil 0, followed by the Earth shattering news that they were planning on completely remaking Resident Evil 2. Capcom had apparently noticed the hunger for some old school survival horror Resident Evil, and was now about to force feed it down our throat like an old Italian grandmother watching her grandkids, shoving cannoli after cannoli down their gullets.

I wasn’t complaining though. Cannoli is delicious, after all, and survival horror is one of my favorite genres. To make this all even better, the gaming industry in general seemed to notice that there was still very much demand for survival horror, as the indie scene exploded with some great, scary games. Outlast and Slender to name a few, with The Evil Within being a AAA example of a new survival horror game. And of course there was the phenomenon that was P.T., a demo for the now aborted Silent Hills (R.I.P.) that set the internet ablaze with how scary and fucked up it was. Hell, I personally know of three grown men who only lasted ten minutes into P.T. before having to quit, while another friend, who is a Navy fucking SEAL, refused to play it because of what he had seen and heard about it.

lisa

nope nope nope nope nope nope NOPE

When you took a look at this survival horror Renaissance and combined it with Capcom’s sudden commitment to getting the older Resident Evils back into gamers’ lives, it made fans hopeful that Resident Evil 7 would bring the series back into the shadows of actual, honest to goodness horror. But would Capcom actually listen to their fans?

Yes, they sure fucking did.

And here is where I finally come back to the whole god damned point of this article. Resident Evil 7 is the most important game of this console generation because it shows what can happen when a game company takes risks and ACTUALLY LISTENS TO ITS FANS.

Resident Evil 7 takes the franchise to some place old and some place new. We go back to the spooky survival horror of the series’ past, a brand of gameplay that puts more focus on exploration, puzzle solving, and avoiding combat rather than shooting your way through hordes of enemies. The game even brings back locked doors with specifically designed keys that require some backtracking to find and unlock, giving this game an incredible ‘classic’ Resident Evil feel. Is it a little goofy that this dilapidated backwoods Louisiana property has extremely specific locked doors with extremely specific keys, as well as a gauntlet of puzzles you need to solve before you can even go into the front yard? Yeah, probably, but fuck me if this isn’t the Resident Evil we know and love.

But Capcom didn’t just shoehorn this game into the blueprint of the originals and call it a day. They actually took a big chance and gave it a first person view. Gone are the fixed cameras of 1-3 and say goodbye to the over the shoulder perspective of 4-6. You’re now put squarely into the shoes of the protagonist, and you’re going to see all the disgusting gore up close, as if you’re actually there looking at the lovely, mutated Southern family chowing down on a dinner of entrails.

Even I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical of the first person view. When I saw that Resident Evil was aiming to be scary again, I was ecstatic. The first person view, though? Ehh, I was a little worried. Resident Evil had tried first person view before and it never particularly ended well.

dead-aim

The dude is trying to shoot you so you don’t have to subject yourself to this game.

But after having played Resident Evil 7, I can’t imagine any future installments in the series going back to 3rd person. The 1st person view makes everything so much more immersive and, thus, more scary. When you’re being chased by a crazy hillbilly with an incredibly deadly shovel, it makes it a much more frantic, pants shitting experience when you actually see him barreling straight down the hall towards you. Similarly, hiding in the corner while he searches the room you’re in is that much more intense when you’re seeing it unfold before you, watching as he gets closer and closer. The switch to first person has, in my opinion, made this the scariest Resident Evil in the series yet.

And this is why this game is, in my opinion, so incredibly important to the industry. Capcom showed some big balls by rebooting one of their most popular franchises, and also showed a good deal of humility by swallowing their pride and admitting that the past couple games in the series have been disappointments for fans. They not only were brave enough to admit fault and reboot the series to borrow from its much older ancestors, but also put a fresh new spin on it as well, making the familiar feel fresh and exciting again.

It’s rare for a game company as big as Capcom to do something like that, and it’s heartening to see it happen, and so successfully at that. This could have positive ramifications throughout the industry. Capcom has officially planted the flag and shown to the rest of the big, AAA publishers and developers out there that if you actually take criticisms to heart and take creative risks rather than stagnate and be content with pumping out the same game every two years, you can make a hell of a good game.

And that’s just what Resident Evil 7 is: a hell of a good game. This entire reboot would have been for naught if it came out and people hated it. That would have been incredibly destructive not just to the series, but to the idea that companies should take risks and reinvent themselves. It would have been every suit in the gaming industry knowingly nodding, going “This is why you’re going to get Call of Duty every year, kids.” But here we are, with a fantastic game in Resident Evil 7, the best the series has offered since the PS2 era. And why? Because Capcom actually bucked up and listened.

Now imagine what could happen when other companies look at this when they start to develop the next big entry in their franchises. Call of Duty had its worst sales in quite a long time this year, showing that series might be in need of a bigger change than just putting the game in outer space and having Jon Snow be the villain. Now Activision can look at Resident Evil 7 as proof that, hey, maybe we can adjust our formula a bit and put some life into the series! Bethesda has received some criticism for Fallout 4, with many noting that, while it’s certainly still a good game, the tried and true Bethesda open world RPG model is honestly starting to feel a little stale. When development on Elder Scrolls VI starts to get going, I sincerely hope that they see Capcom’s leaps of faith with Resident Evil 7 and put it towards evolving not just their series, but the genre in general. And of course, there is the Final Fantasy series, which is probably the new Resident Evil in terms of a series that has fans crying for the game to go back to its roots, with the developers responding, “New phone, who dis?”

Square Enix’s defense of this is even eerily similar to Capcom’s when people questioned the direction of Resident Evil. When people asked where the survival horror and the scares went, Capcom would say things that indicated that they believed survival horror was dead and that the modern gamer has no patience for a slower, more deliberately paced genre, despite no evidence supporting this. Square Enix essentially says the same things, saying turn based strategy and role playing games have gone the way of the dodo, despite games like XCOM and The Banner Saga becoming cult classics seemingly overnight. I truly believe if Final Fantasy LI, or whatever the fuck number they’re on, went back to a more turn based, strategic combat system, more reminiscent of earlier entries, that it would be the best reviewed Final Fantasy since IX or X. Instead, we get relative disappointment after relative disappointment.

Those excuses can end here though, and we can thank Resident Evil 7 for that. No longer can companies hide behind buzz words like “bottom line” and “trends”, holding pictures of graphs trying to prove their points that gamers want certain things, despite the gaming communities saying, quite literally, the opposite. Resident Evil 7 shows that if you trust your fans, and if you go back to what you know and what you do best (in Capcom’s case, scaring the poo out of you), then you can make not just a great game, but a reason to be excited about your franchise. And that’s why, despite the fact that this game involves a boss fight where you’re battling against a giant centipede woman, this is an incredibly important game for this day and age.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Kyle Hanley’s Top 5 Games of 2016

2016-games

If 2016 were a person, it would have been a mangled, shambling, walking corpse hastily risen from the dead by some discount store Necronomicon, vomiting bile and its own entrails all over the place. Everybody’s friend group has at least one of those people. Hell, you may be that person yourself! Don’t lie.

What I’m trying to say is that 2016 was not a very good year, like, at all. I’m sure it was good on a personal level for some people (like, people named Donald Trump) but it was not good on a personal level for most other people (like, everybody not named Donald Trump). On the bright side, 2016 was good for at least ONE thing and that was video games.

It’s funny, throughout 2016 I was actually not too impressed with the games being released. Nothing was grabbing me and the truly great releases were few and far between. It’s also not fair that 2016 followed 2015 which is arguably one of, if not the, best years video games has ever seen. Trying to follow up 2015 in terms of video games is like going out to play a set at a music festival after The Beatles, guest starring Jesus Christ on piano, just got done on stage.

Buuuut, towards the end of the year, as the Fall rush of games started to issue forth, I started to appreciate 2016. And when I actually sat down and thought about my annual top 5 blog post, I realized it was a much tougher task than originally thought. I actually had to think long and hard about some of these games, and I agonized over the fact that a couple couldn’t make the list.

Unfortunately, only five games can make it through the gauntlet of my keen, critical eye. These are those five games.

(Although, a quick shout out to the game Overcooked, which narrowly missed the list. One of the best couch co-op experiences I’ve ever had, and a game that has me regularly shouting things like “KEEP YOUR FUCKING MUSHROOMS OUT OF MY WORK SPACE” at my friends is an instant classic.)

(Also, just wanted to say I had a no remaster, DLC and port rule for this list, which automatically disqualifies games like Day of the Tentacle Remastered, the PS4 version of Rise of the Tomb Raider, and the Blood and Wine DLC for The Witcher 3.)

(Oh and, hi, me again, yeah, I’ll get to the list eventually, but Overwatch isn’t on the list because I don’t play nerdy, multiplayer only games, nerds.)

(Me again! Just wanted to have another interruption to the list to test your patience. Heh heh. Seriously, time for the list.)

5. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

mankind_divided_cover

I was a big fan of Deus Ex: Human Revolution when it came out last generation, so I was pretty excited for Mankind Divided. Luckily, the game didn’t disappoint, as evidenced by the fact that it garnered a coveted spot on my list.

For those not in the know, Deus Ex is a FPS/RPG hybrid, set in a cyberpunk themed world where people get robotic enhancements called augments. These people, colloquially called “augs” face tons of discrimination and needless hate. Not at all like our real world, where everybody gets along and everybody treats others with respect and dignity, no matter how different they are.

ugh

Uhh…maybe not.

The story has you playing as an augmented special forces agent named Adam Jensen, who is returning from Human Revolution. He still hasn’t found much of a personality in between the two games, unfortunately, but as Jensen YOU get to make some crucial decisions that shapes the game’s world in good and bad ways, especially towards the end. He basically gets wrapped up in a conspiracy involving lots of shadowy agencies and corporations and…uhh…gonna be honest, the plot itself gets pretty convoluted, to the point where it makes the endless backstabbing and double crossing of the 3rd Pirates of the Caribbean movie look like the plot for the children book, Franklin Rides A Bike.

While the plot itself is a little overwrought and not particularly gripping, there is still some great world building and writing outside of the main storyline. You can explore its semi open world at your leisure, reading e-mails, newspapers, and books to get a better sense of what kind of world the game takes place in. It’s one of my favorite things about the game. I am a huge sucker for games with rich, well built worlds and Deus Ex has this in spades. It more than makes up for the fact that the game’s plot is an endless dance of “This shadowy corporation actually works for this one, who is trying to frame this group, who is actually working for this one and HERE’S A RUSSIAN GUY WITH A LASER ARM.”

The gameplay itself is also a treat. One of the things the Deus Ex series has always been famous for is the freedom it gives players in deciding how to approach certain situations. You’re able to build your character by carefully selecting augments that best fit your playstyle. Want to shoot first, shoot second, and then ask questions (after a little more shooting, of course)? Focus on gunplay related augs, and augs that help boost your defense so that you can tank your way through a firefight. Would you rather sneak through areas, slinking around like a cybernetically enhanced ghost? Put your points into cloaking and agility based skills. Want to hack your way through the way the game, breaking into computers and taking over turrets and sentry bots for your own personal army? Then develop your hacking augs and watch computers submit to your will.

So as you can see, the game offers tons of choice in what you can do with creating your character and, by extension, crafting your own unique playstyle. This would all be pointless if the game didn’t have good quests or level design that didn’t allow multiple playstyles, but Deus Ex impresses in that department as well. The game offers plenty of avenues in its quests and environments for you to use your wide array of powers. You won’t be going into quests with your maxed out hacking skills, wandering around, slack shouldered and impotent, wondering where all the fun things you can hack are. Likewise, the stealthier players will see countless ventilation ducts to crawl through and places to hid to support their playstyle. And those who like killing will find plenty of squishy bodies to shoot, burn and blow up, you fucking psychopaths.

And speaking of quests, this game has got some good ones, especially in the side quest department. I love an RPG with good side quests, side quests that actually have fleshed out stories and objectives, rather than just the hollow “I lost this item, bring it back to me, thanks” quests that so many uninspired RPGs throw at you. It’s one of the reasons why The Witcher 3 is my favorite game of all time, considering that game had side quests that were more detailed, thoughtful, and fun than some entire games. While isn’t quite The Witcher 3, it sure as hell has some fun side quests that provide entertaining stories with plenty of choices and consequences. One side quest has you tracking down a brutal serial killer who is ripping augs out of its victims, while another has you breaking into a CEO’s office to provide dirt for a local underground journalist group. I was never bored or disinterested in the side missions the game had to offer, and it helped provide a change of pace from the main storyline.

If I had to point out some flaws with Deus Ex, aside from the aforementioned quibbles I had with its story, it would be that the game can be a little humorless and drab at times. While the game’s semi open world hub of Prague is prettier and more fun to explore than the previous game’s depressing rendition of Detroit (though it’s hard to make a version of Detroit that’s anything but depressing), the gritty cyberpunk aesthetics wash a lot of it a way in shades of black, grey, and dark yellow, creating a boring looking world that doesn’t exactly grab you to explore every nook and cranny. And as for the humorless critique I have, I’m not asking for a game to be laugh out loud funny, but a few jokes to break the tension every now and then would be nice. Even The Last of Us had jokes, and that game was literally about the end of the human race. It leaves feeling like it lacks a sense of heart and fun, and giving it a more rigid, bleak feel that gets old by the end of its 15-20 hour run time.

Despite this, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is still a stellar game with a lot of depth, choices, and angry cyborg Russian terrorists.

Stray observation: The game’s character development screen is a clever little map of your characters augs on the various parts of the human body. In order to upgrade the aug, you need to click on the body part, such as the legs, arms or head. One is distinctly missing, however: the dick. Are you telling me technology has gotten to the point where I can hack a security camera with my mind, but I can’t shoot rockets out of my dick? To the next Deus Ex game: rocket dicks. Get on it.

4. Dishonored 2

dishonored_2_cover_art

About two months ago or so, I wrote a pretty fantastic blog post about why Dishonored was one of last generation’s great forgotten classics. I know, I know. Preaching to the choir. You’ve already read it several times. Just wanted to remind you.

So as a loyal reader, you know perfectly well how much I enjoyed the first Dishonored and how much I was looking forward to its sequel. Does Dishonored 2 live up to the lofty standards of its predecessors? Yes. No time for suspense, just yes, it does.

Dishonored 2 takes place some time after the first one. Emily is now an adult, and is the Empress of the Isles, while her father, Corvo (the playable protagonist from the first game) is her bodyguard and closest advisor. Unfortunately for her, things are not going so hot. A mass murderer known as The Crown Killer is methodically eliminating all her political opponents and nay sayers, and while that seems like something an Empress would be totally cool with, it’s creating a bit of a massive PR problem, and is leading to the general population to harbor distrust and fear towards her.

As if someone framing you for hiring a serial killer to purge the Isles clean of your opponents wasn’t bad enough, a witch shows up claiming to be her long lost aunt and that she is the rightful heir to the throne, not Emily. She also has mechanical soldiers. Ugh, I hate when that sort of shit happens.

delilah

Ugh, seriously? This is like the fifth coup this week. Alright, whatever.

Thus begins the adventure of Dishonored 2. At the beginning of the game, you get to choose whether you want to play through as Emily or Corvo. While many games would have been content with having the difference between the two characters be simple changes in dialogue, Dishonored 2 goes the extra mile by creating two different characters with very different and unique play styles. Emily allows for a craftier, more stealthy approach, giving her powers that allow her to distract and slink by enemies with ease. Corvo allows a more aggressive, combat heavy approach, with powers that deal damage. The game’s impeccably designed levels are crafted with these two different playstyles in mind, allowing Emily and Corvo to make full use of the range of their powers. It’s nice to know that as Emily you have lots of ways to hide and sneak past enemies, but as Corvo you’re not going to be walking around with your dick in your hand, with nothing at your disposal, wondering why the game is only tailored for half of the playable characters. I applaud Arkane, the developers of the game, for the taking the time to create such different characters, encouraging the player to go through the story more than once.

All of this would mean dick if the game wasn’t fun to play, though, which it luckily is. I already mentioned the game allows choice between two different characters, but it goes even deeper than that. You also have tons of choice as the actual player you choose. Like the first Dishonored, the crux of Dishonored 2‘s design philosophy is giving the player a ton of tools and a playground to use those tools as you see fit. The game’s powers allow for creative, satisfying uses, especially when you combine some of them to devastating effects. Take for example Emily’s Domino and Doppleganger powers. Domino allows you to link characters together so they share the same damage and effects, meaning killing one person with Domino will kill the rest of them. Doppleganger allows you to summon a decoy of yourself, which usually draws guards over, because seeing a woman will make them come over and use pick up lines and try to get your number (or attack you on sight, can’t remember which). BUT summon a Doppleganger, link it to a couple of enemies with Domino, and then attack your stoic Doppleganger, hurting the enemies in the process? That’s some devilish shit.

These creative powers and their possible combos were one of the best things about the first Dishonored, so it’s great to see that they kept that playful sense of experimentation that made the first one such a joy. And when you string together a bunch of powers to clear a room of people looking for you? I don’t get to feel cool that often, especially when I’m in my underwear playing a video game, but that is one case in which I do.

But perhaps my favorite thing about Dishonored 2, like its predecessor, is its world building. Like I just shamelessly admitted in the last entry for Deus Ex, I love games with world building. I loved the first Dishonored for it, and Dishonored 2 proudly takes the baton. The game doesn’t spend too much time in the previous game’s city of Dunwall, instead trading the grey, plagued filled Victorian streets for the sunny, bright, city of Karnaca.

If Dunwall took inspiration from London and Victorian England, then Karnaca takes its inspiration from a Mediterranean coastal city. Gone are the perpetually cloudy skies and streets crawling with rats and things-that-resemble-zombies-but-are-definitely-not-zombies, these-are-way more-original-and-called-Weepers-and-okay-fuck-it,-they’re-definitely-just-zombies. These are replaced by an endless blue sky, sun soaked beaches, and buildings infested with pesky things called bloodflies, that are only slightly more annoying than the fucking endless rat swarms of the the original Dishonored. Karnaca is full of culture and history, waiting for you to discover it, if you’re a nerd like me and enjoy reading books about a fictional city’s past and present. Books and notes help flesh out the world, and you truly feel like you are in a living, breathing place. If it weren’t for the swarms of insects that lay eggs in your brain, it would totally be a place you’d love to visit.

So when you mix the in depth world building with the gameplay that gives you endless freedom to complete any given scenario, Dishonored 2 proudly continues the Dishonored name.

Stray observation: You have a supernatural force providing you with dark, magical powers, but none of them affect your dick? Where’s the dick lightning? I know Emily doesn’t have a dick, but you’re telling me the guy who can give you the power to fucking teleport can’t give her a dick, and then lightning for said dick? I’m noticing a disturbing trend in games this year.

3. Batman: The Telltale Series

batman-telltale

Telltale has so many different series under so many licenses, it’s getting to the point of parody. From The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones to fucking Minecraft, Telltale has cast a Texas size net over the pop cultural world, taking everything and anything and putting their unique brand of adventure game spin on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if this Fall they release The Berenstain Bears: The Telltale Series.

bstain-bears

Brother will remember that.

So it makes it all the more impressive that one of their latest series, Batman, is also their best. As a big Telltale fan, I expected a memorable experience, but Batman is Telltale at the top of their game.

For those unfamiliar with the Telltale formula, they are episodic, story driven adventure games with lots of dialogue, exploration and QTE based actions scenes (the quick time events are better than they sound). One of the things that makes them so great is the choice based gameplay. Throughout the story, you’ll hit lots of tough choices which will result in big changes to the story. At the end of every episode, they even have a little recap of your big choices, along with stats of what other players chose so you know how much of a dick you are compared to the rest of the world.

Batman is no different. It doesn’t really do anything to revolutionize Telltale’s modus operandi, and that’s fine. Because while it doesn’t revolutionize what Telltale does, it damn near perfects it. In Batman, you play as both Bruce Wayne and his Dark Knight alter ego. As Bruce Wayne, you get to choose whether to be the brash, arrogant playboy, or a more mild mannered, selfless philanthropist. As the Batman, you can choose to be the just, honorable version who wouldn’t kill a fly even if it was laying eggs in his bum, or a darker, more brutal one who breaks bones and maims his victims. As with Telltale, the choice is up to you, but your choices will have ramifications, good and bad. In the game, you balance taking care of Wayne Enterprises and dealing with politics as Bruce Wayne, and investigating crime scenes and beating up assholes (figurative assholes, not literal) as Batman. The game’s got great pacing and balance and I wasn’t ever bored despite the fact that this is pretty much just an interactive story.

What shines in Batman is its story, and how it plays with the canon that we know and love in fresh, imaginative ways. To go any deeper into that would mean I’d be treading dangerously close to spoiler territory, and that is not the El Hanlo way, so just know that this is not the same old, same old Batman story. Familiar? Sure. But it’s got great ideas that we haven’t really seen before in the universe, and I can’t wait to see what they do going forward.

Another noteworthy thing about the story is its choices. Like I mentioned, choices are kinda of Telltale’s schtick, and Batman provides some gut wrenching and difficult decisions over its five episode run. But the REAL aspect I like about Batman’s choices, is that they feel like they actually matter. A knock I have against Telltale is that the choices in their games rarely have long standing ramifications. Make a choice that saves one character, and kills another? No biggie, the surviving character will likely die shortly after. Piss off a character in a pivotal moment? Ain’t no thang, it won’t matter in any significant manner by next episode. The reasons for this are pretty easy to see. If Telltale had to write drastically different stories for every little branching choice, their games would take fucking years to make. The fact that the choices are not going to impact the main story in any long standing way is kind of a necessary evil. And while Batman still very much veers you towards the ending it has in mind, I feel like your choices have waaaay bigger consequences in this game than any other Telltale series. Again, don’t want to go into specifics because spoilers, but literal characters may not exist in your playthrough even though they did in mine. It’s heartening to see Telltale is working that much harder to make every person’s playthrough unique to their own decisions.

Like with the other Telltale games, my biggest criticism with the game is a technical one. As my Irish great grandfather Henry Hanley would say, “The game runs like shite.” (or I assume he would say that, I never met the man, honestly). The game chugs like a Powerpoint presentation running on MS DOS and it crashes harder and more frequently than a North Korean test missile. I had at least 3-4 crashes in my time with Batman, and there were a few times where I got helplessly stuck in the main menus, unable to proceed or exit out. This kind of performance from a game that I don’t think exactly pushes the technical limits of any console it plays on is sort of unforgivable, and it’s sad to see it’s a chronic problem with Telltale’s releases.

Besides the unfortunate poor performance issues, Batman still manages to be the best series Telltale has crafted yet, thanks to a sterling story and meaningful choices (and a great license, of course).

Stray observation: Okay, now this is getting ridiculous. You’re telling me with all of Bruce Wayne’s money and the extensive R&D department Wayne Enterprises has, not once was a rocket dick mentioned as a possible new gadget for Batman? Do game developers just not care about what we, the gamers, want?

2. Inside

inside-cover

I have a soft spot for great indie games, and a 3-4 hour indie experience can be just as satisfying and memorable to me as a 10-12 hour AAA game. Some of my favorite gaming memories are related to indie games, whether it’s the heroin level addictive nature of Rocket League, the emotional, beautifully crafted Valiant Hearts, or the brain bending, time manipulation puzzles of Braid. Those are just a few indie games that can all proudly stand next to the massive blockbusters that companies like Naughty Dog and Bethesda churn out.

And now you can add Inside to that list.

Despite being less than four hours (maybe even be less than 3 hours, depending on how quick you are), Inside had me gripped like few other games this year, its relatively short run time full of imaginative ideas and creative puzzles. The game is designed by the team that did Limbo, and even Beethoven could tell the similarities between them (Beethoven was the blind dog, right? I don’t know my composers that well). Both are side scrolling platformers where you control a young boy, both are heavier on puzzles than actual platforming, and both involve ambiguous ‘storylines’ heavy on symbolism and dark themes.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I found Limbo overrated. Good? Yes. But great? Nah, not quite. So when I heard about Inside and saw it was getting rave reviews and even perfect scores from gaming media outlets, I was honestly a bit skeptical. But when even reviewers I dearly trust started to sing the praises of this game, hailing it a masterpiece, I knew it was time to go out of my way to buy it and play it. So I did. And I loved it.

As I said earlier, Inside is a side scrolling platformer, putting you in the role of a young boy who is working his way through a dystopian future, avoiding guards and dogs, murderous mermaid things and deadly security devices. Along the way, you’re going to be solving tons of puzzles, and this is where the game shines. Games some time have a tough time nailing a sweet spot for puzzles that are tough enough to make you feel clever, but easy enough that you’re not staring at your screen for an hour, blood pouring out your nose, bottom lip quivering.

frustrated

“This may be the brain aneurysm talking, but I’m not having much fun.”

Only once or twice did I have a feeling of frustrated helplessness, but I’ve gotten that when trying to open a jar of mayo, so maybe I’m just a moron. Either way, the puzzles in Inside are super smart and effortlessly drive the game forward.

Another star of this game is its atmosphere. Like world building, another thing I easily fall in love with is a game’s atmosphere. Inside drips with atmosphere. It’s super dark and there is a constant sense of dread and foreboding as you get farther and farther in the journey. There is some creepy ass shit you come across in this game, like the aforementioned murderous mermaid things (pretty sure that’s the technical name for them), and it adds to this oppressive atmosphere, truly immersing you into the game and its clearly fucked up world. This was one thing I DID love about Limbo, and they’ve absolutely nailed it with this game as well.

But there is one big gripe I have with this game, and its the story. Or rather, the ending. No, I’m not going to spoil anything about it because I’m not an asshole, but the ending is dogshit. The moments leading up to it? Awesome. The actual final scene, right before the credits begin? I’ll repeat: dogshit. And this is one problem I do have with some indie games, and that’s when they get too pretentious for their own good. There are times when an indie game is artsy just to be artsy, or at least it comes off that way. Inside unfortunately comes down with that affliction as we get to the end. Throughout the game, its story is often ambiguous, but it gives you pieces and scraps to try and paint your own picture about what’s going on. But with its ending, it just gives you a big middle finger and says, “Try and figure this shit out, asshole.” It’s a shame that the ending is my least favorite part of the game, because that’s the obviously the last memory you have of any game, and it put a sour taste in my mouth.

Despite my qualms with the ending, I still would not call Inside anything less than a masterpiece. It’s got too many incredible moments and it’s still waaay too well made to let its ending, which is obviously subjective, ruin the rest of its unforgettable journey. In fact, it’d be an easy pick for my Game of the Year, if it wasn’t for the next game…

Stray observation: The story doesn’t have an ending, and you know what else it doesn’t have? Rocket dicks. Sigh.

1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

uncharted-4-cover

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Honestly, with my top 5 this year, it was just a race to see which game would get 2nd best, because there’s obviously nothing that was going to top this masterpiece. You can call me biased, considering how big a fan I am of this series. But even with my affection for all things Uncharted, I don’t think any one can deny that this is simply one of the best games of this generation, if not THE best.

Uncharted 4 puts us in the shoes of Nathan Drake, perhaps for the last time, as he reunites with his long lost brother. Nate discovers his brother is in serious debt, and the only way to clear it is to find the long lost pirate city of Libertalia. I probably would have just gotten a loan, but whatever, sure, let’s look for something that’s been lost for centuries and is probably cursed. In pure Uncharted fashion, Nate isn’t the only one looking for this treasure. Hot on the trail is an old ‘business partner’ named Rafe, who has with him a literal private army. Meaning Nate is going to have to kill even more people to get what he wants. Thank goodness he is apparently immune to PTSD.

smiling-drake

“I may have shot dozens of people to death, and even killed a few with my bare hands, but I’m fine. See? Smiiiile.”

As always, the writing and performances in the story are amazing, better than pretty much everything else in the industry. Naughty Dog is almost supernatural with their consistency in this department (along with everything else, really), so it’s really no shock that they would once again hit it out of the park. All the actors deliver grade A performances, and if this is the last time we get to hear them as these characters, then it’s a hell of a send off. And of course, the banter the characters share in and out of cutscenes add to the depth and chemistry these characters have to their relationships. The plot itself isn’t anything groundbreaking for the series or the genre, but damn if the dialogue and these characters don’t make up for it.

One thing about Uncharted 4 that does set it apart from the others is its pacing. To the chagrin of some, A Thief’s End slows things down a bit. There are more moments of quiet exploration, more chapters that are devoted to building the story and the characters. The influence from The Last of Us shows, and it’s by far the most grounded Uncharted yet. The game DOES ramp up, (impeccably so, might I add) and it does have big set pieces, but the action is certainly more subdued and less common than Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception. I could make the argument that those games were a little too combat heavy, with too many rooms of endless goons, so I’m actually happy to see a little less mindless action in this one.

Honestly, I could go on and on about the great things about this game, so I’ll just keep it succinct. If this is indeed the last Uncharted, than this is as near a flawless final chapter as we could have asked for. The game is full of great little moments and references for the fans, but it never gets too fan servicey. It feels and plays great, it looks gorgeous, it’s long but it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Even the multiplayer is worth playing, a surprisingly addictive and well made mode that keeps you genuinely hooked rather than just being a check mark on the back of the box.

I’ll end the gushing with this. If you have a PS4, play Uncharted 4. If you don’t have a PS4, buy one, then play Uncharted 4. As always, you can thank me later.

Stray observation: Finally, a game that knows what gamers play games for. I love that you kill the final boss by whipping out your dick and shooting a flurry of rockets out of it. Thank you, Naughty Dog, you guys are true heroes.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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12 Things The NFL Can Do To Fix The Pro Bowl

pro-bowl

The Pro Bowl is happening this weekend, and I’ve got unfortunate news. The Pro Bowl, once a timeless classic and one of the most anticipated events on the sports calendar, has gotten a little stale. It’s not as popular as it was in its glory days and football fans are just looking for something a little more exciting.

Lucky for the NFL, I’m here to help. I’ve done some thinking about ways in which the NFL can drastically improve the Pro Bowl, things that will make it fresher and more exciting than it’s been in decades. I don’t know if Roger Goodell is reading this (he probably is, he’s a huge fan from what I hear), but he should take heed to these wise words and suggestions I have to fix this once great game.

So here are 12 things the NFL can do to fix the Pro Bowl!

1) Nothing ruins the Pro Bowl like players half assing their way down the field, not giving 100% for their adoring fans that paid hard earned money to go see them. I have a solution: bomb collars. Specifically, bomb collars set to explode if the wearer ever dips below 20

miles per hour. If they could bring out Dennis Hopper to play his character from Speed

to appear on the Jumbotron and taunt players throughout the game, that would be even better. Lord knows he could use the work, I haven’t seen him in anything lately.

2) Real estate agents love to say, “Location, location, location.” Apparently nobody told Roger Goodell. Just look at the past couple places the Pro Bowl has been. Hawaii? Booooring. Orlando? Yawn. Let’s spice it up a bit. Let’s go somewhere exotic, like Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Nothing will draw the crowds and excitement like Amish people and horse poop!

3) Now that we have the city down, let’s talk about the field. You know how in the Mario

soccer games, the fields would have hazards that players would have to avoid, like a storm

that would lift some of your players off the field and into a whirlwind for a minute or two?

How has this idea not been implemented in real sports yet? Imagine the thrill of seeing

Antonio Brown leaping up for a catch only to be snatched in the jaws of a hungry alligator or to see Ezekiel Elliot plunge into a chasm from a well timed earthquake.

4) You know why the NFL has a sketchy steroid policy, especially when compared to baseball? Because not having steroids is boring. Who wants to watch a bunch of saggy, slow and depressed athletes when you can have chiseled, muscular specimens playing at peak performance because of a little bit of chemical enhancement? So for the Pro Bowl, I say let them have at it. For Pro Bowl weekend, the NFL is Hamsterdam from season 3 of The Wire. All steroids are fair game and you can take as many you want to prepare for the big game. I want to see some Altered Beast looking motherfuckers step out onto that field.

5) Everyone knows what makes the Super Bowl so great and memorable is the halftime

performance. Nobody would even bother tuning in if they didn’t have the chance to see

dancing sharks or Janet Jackson’s boobie. As far as I can remember, the Pro Bowl has no

such unforgettable performances. We need to end this.

Let’s get some of the hippest acts to come and bring some flair to this dull event. I’m thinking hot musical groups like the Baja Men or that one Carter brother or this one Rolling Stones tribute band I saw once.

6) Love it or hate it, social media is a powerful tool and can greatly influence things. Historians will look back and declare that Donald Trump’s twitter was the main catalyst for World Wars III, IV, and V. But don’t let the looming threat of nuclear holocaust steer you wrong. Social media CAN be used for good and this Pro Bowl can prove it. How? No coaches, only Twitter. Fans will tweet the plays they want to see run; whichever gets the most retweets wins. Run the kicker up the gut on 4th and 28? The people have spoken!

7) Footballs are so 1948. Let’s revolutionize the game by replacing that hunk of leather with a beehive. Hope you’re not allergic, fellas!

8) Nothing grinds my gears like a player who is too afraid to take a little old hit to the ribs,

head and spine from a 275 pound man monster, and instead dances out of bounds to safety. I have a solution. Douse the sidelines in kerosene and light that bitch on fire. Let’s see how quickly our wide receiver friend will hop out of bounds when he has to pass through a wall of flame to do so.

9) Instead of helmets, everybody must wear foam cowboy hats. Extra points to players that

walk around bow legged, saying things like, “Let’s talk turkey” and “That dog ain’t gonna

hunt.”

10) Two words: rocket boots.

11) Referees are replaced by Siberian tigers. They have the same color scheme, and they’d likely make the same amount of correct calls, amiright or amiright?

12) Have the Patriots and the Falcons play the game instead, and call it the Super Bowl.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Dishonored Is A Forgotten Classic

dishonored

I am a weird person.

This may come as a shock to many of my loyal readers. I mean I may write stories about such things like a half human, half bat hybrid going to a job interview or about a pet goblin who stuck his fingers in the wrong jar of peanut butter, but I otherwise I have come across as nothing but a perfectly mentally stable 26 year old who likes video games and dick jokes.

So yes, it may be surprising, but I am in fact, quite weird. For example, I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with self serve soda fountains. I have flat out refused to go to certain dining establishments because they lack a self serve soda fountain, even if nothing is wrong with their food and they’re an otherwise great place. And if I do go to a place with a self serve soda fountain, carry out is not an option. I am fucking eating my food there, no matter what the situation is, because I am going to get my god damn use out of that self serve soda fountain. I could argue I’m merely being thrifty and cost efficient, but I can certainly see the other side of the debate that labels me as weird.

Another weird quirk is that I am sexually attracted to giant women. Like, 100 foot tall giant women. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was literally a sexual awakening for me. I could go into more detail about this lovely fetish, but I honestly think that could be a blog post in itself, so I’ll keep the more tantalizing details to myself for now. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty fucking weird fetish.

Another example of my weird brain and its weird needs is when it comes to series of fiction. If a new installment of a series I follow comes out-whether it’s a movie, book, TV show, or video game-I MUST experience every previous installment of it up to that point so I can experience the series fully, even if that involves so many hours in front of a screen or page that my eyes start to bleed, I wet myself, and I begin to have grand mal seizures. When Game of Thrones comes out, I need to watch every episode leading up to the new season. When the Harry Potter books and movies were a thing, it was the same. Every book and every movie must be watched in order, or it wouldn’t feel complete.

This goes for existing series that are already finished. Going back to Harry Potter. I can’t just be like, “I’m in the mood for Goblet of Fire. I think I’m going to watch it.” It’s more, “I’m in the mood for Goblet of Fire. Time to set aside 20 hours to watch the first three movies leading up to it, and then to watch the rest of the series after because of course that’s what I need to do.” As a side note, I have barely rewatched or reread the Harry Potter series since then for this reason exactly.

If I come into a series midstream, without taking the time to reacquaint myself with everything before, I literally feel hollow and empty, like there’s no point to experiencing the lone installment I’m in the mood for. And I do decide to, let’s say, watch Return of the King without watching the first two again, then I can’t shake the gnawing feeling of guilt, like I’m doing something so dirty and unnatural that every priest in a ten mile radius can sense.

priest

“You watched Back to the Future Part II all by itself? That’ll be ten Our Fathers, eight Hail Marys and instant, permanent ban from heaven.”

What is the point I’m trying to make here? Dishonored 2 has just recently come out, and I’m interested in playing it in the near future. So what does this mean? Time to replay Dishonored!

Yes, I’m sure I could have just started this post with that sentence instead of putting you through that quasi therapist session, but like I said, I’m weird.

So back to Dishonored. I actually have not played this game since it’s 2012 release, so it was actually a treat to return to it. I enjoyed it a lot back when I first played it, and I’ve found myself enjoying it again this time. Enjoying it a lot, actually. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say it. Dishonored is THE forgotten classic of last console generation.

For those who made the mistake of missing out on Dishonored last year, it is a first person stealth action adventure game set in the steampunk Victorian style dystopian city of Dunwall, a dismal place plagued by a tyrant rule and, well, plague. The game puts you in the creepy ass mask of Corvo Attano, a royal bodyguard who is wrongfully accused of murdering the Empress. It’s not all bad, though. The city is taken over by a power hungry beauraucrat who rules over it with an iron fist admist a rat borne plague that is killing thousands and turning even more into zombie like Weepers. Okay, maybe it is pretty bad. But Corvo gets super powers, so yay!

As often happens after becoming empowered with supernatural abilities by an occult figure and after being framed for the murder of your beloved Empress, you are busted out of prison and recruited by a resistance force to clean house high profile target after high profile targe in the totalitarian government that rules over Dunwall. These missions form the bulk of the game.

The beauty of Dishonored is the freedom the game gives you. The game is not technically open world, but the mission areas themselves are extremely nonlinear and allow you to explore the area and approach the mission anyway you want.

Now lots of games have a promise like this. Leading up to release, they’ll say things like “VAST OPEN ENVIRONMENTS” and “LOTS OF MISSION CHOICE” and “WE PROMISE IT’S FUN, HONEST, PLEASE LISTEN”. But time and time again, the game fails to deliver, funneling down its desired path, where choice is merely an illusion and where the best approach to a mission or level is super obvious, requiring zero thought.

Dishonored is not one of those games.

Dishonored gives you a ton of cool powers, like the ability to teleport or stop time or possess a rat, fish, or even human being for your own gains. The powers are all fun to use, but the brilliant thing about Dishonored is that it actually gives you opportunities to use them! How many games have you played where the game offers you a power or weapon, but it either rarely gives you a chance to use it effectively OR you end up becoming so complacent with an already super useful power/weapon that you never dig into your back of tricks to pull it out?

I’m thinking something like Metal Gear Solid V, which had dozens of weapons, and one of four different sidekicks you could take out on missions. The problem was, in my 60+ hours with MGS V, I think I may have used four different weapons and only one of the sidekicks for about 95% of my missions. The weapons and sidekick (D-Dog, natch) I used were just so useful in every situation that there was no need to experiment and try other loadouts. The game didn’t do a good job of forcing me to adapt and to try everything at my disposal.

Another example would be the God of War games. Now let me be clear, the GoW series is one of my favorite series of all time, and I love the original trilogy probably more than I’ll love my future children.

baby

Kratos never woke me up at 3 in the morning because he was ‘hungry’ and in need of ‘love and caring’, you little shit.

But I’ll be the first to admit that the games’ combat got a little bit repetitive by the end game because there was no reason to ever switch over from the chain blades you had from the very beginning. The game would give you other neat looking weapons and it would parse out magic spells, sometimes literally ripped from the gods themselves, in an effort to get you to diversify your combat techniques, and it never worked. Nothing was as fun as the chain blades and, more importantly, the games didn’t offer up any enemies or situations that required thoughtful, strategic weapon experimentation.

These are just two examples (well, four if you count each game in the GoW trilogy), but I’m sure I could go on. The point is, Dishonored does not commit this cardinal sin. Dishonored’s levels and missions are built so that each power can be used in an interesting, useful way. There are ponds with fish that you can possess to swim through a grate into a building that is otherwise not accessible. Likewise, there are holes in walls that only a possessed rat could find its way through. There are rooftops and ledges that only cunning use of the teleportation ‘Blink’ power can reach. Areas crawling with enemy soldiers can be countered with stopping time and running right the fuck past them (though you unfortunately can’t stop to give them wedgies in this state). Dishonored has immensely clever level design in this regard, and you can see the care the developers had in trying to make sure no power was left untapped.

To make this even more satisfying, the powers are actually fun to use. It’s always neat to explore the upper nooks and crannies of the levels with Blink, and pushing a group of soldiers off the top of a bridge with the Whirlwind attack is more satisfying and funny that anyone would be willing to admit. One of my favorite powers is possession, where I get to see the world from the point of view of a rat as it scurries around the legs of a housemaid as she cleans and almost steps on me because remember that weird giantess fetish I have?

Things get ESPECIALLY cool when you combine the powers in clever ways. Summoning a swarm of rats and then possessing one of them so you can sneak through the ensuing chaos always makes me feel like a genius. Or how about when you stop time, teleport over to a group of soldiers, and plant a springrazor mine literally on one of their chests so that it explodes the lot of them when time restarts. It’s one thing that the levels and missions are tailor made for each and every power, but the fact that they’re actually fun to play with makes it even better. After all, it’s always good when a video game is, yanno, fun to play.

The fact that game allows you this kind of freedom, that it allows you to be this creative in your playstyle is truly special. Whether you want to use these powers to aid you in a stealthing your way undetected through a mission or whether you want them to turn you into an unstoppable force of destruction is, again, entirely up to you. And unlike other games of this nature, where they offer a stealth or combat approach, Dishonored truly allows you to slip through like a ghost or to barge through like a hurricane.

Not to keep beating up on MGS V, but allow me to compare the two. MGS V was a game that proclaimed to an open world game of pure, unbridled freedom, where you truly could go through any mission either stealthily or bloodthirstily. But honestly, the game was so stubborn in its MGS roots that going through with anything other than a stealth approach was a huge pain in the ass and, more often than not, suicide. Seemingly endless amounts of guards would pour out of some infinite guard faucet just off camera and they would seek you down with supernatural efficiency, no matter where the fuck you went off to hide to collect yourself. The game proclaimed to be, “Stealth or action, whatever you feel like doing!’ but really it was “Stealth or action, whatever you feel like doing, unless you don’t want to have a miserable time, then go stealth, always.”

While Dishonored certainly pokes and prods you to complete the game in a stealthy manner, for the purposes of a more positive ending, it never dissuades those with a bit of bloodlust from savagely murdering every living thing with a pulse. The game also allows you to mix up your strategies and combine both methods for a stealth action-y approach, once again adding the already impressive amount of freedom and choice. And those powers I raved about earlier? The game even lets you unlock these in literally any fucking order you want. So many games keep certain powers locked until you reach certain levels or pass a certain story mission. Not this game. Every power is available right from the start, ready to be unlocked with the proper amount of Runes (a type of collectible peppered throughout the world). It’s a refreshing liberty not often afforded to us in games.

But if I had to pick my favorite thing about Dishonored, it actually isn’t the insane amounts of freedom and choice nor the fun, varied powers at your disposal. The thing I love about this game is the immersive atmosphere of its game world. I am a HUGE sucker for well realized worlds, games that have settings that are intricately detailed, with thought put into every inch and loads of environmental storytelling to show for it. Dishonored passes this test in spades. Its game world of Dunwall is one of the most immersive, atmospheric game worlds in recent memory, right up there with Rapture and Columbia of the Bioshock games and the Ishimura of Dead Space. You truly feel like you are exploring a desperate, hopeless city breathing its last breath. Forceful propaganda is emblazoned on buildings, right next to the bloody scrawling of someone decrying that there is no escape from the plague. Posters advertising health tonics and taverns and bordellos line walls, adding even further to the world building. Continue to walk around and you’ll find the world is absolutely teeming with books and documents to read, making this deep world even deeper. You’ll read not only bits of history of Dunwall, but also works of fiction from its world, making it seem even more real and authentic, like it’s place you could actually visit if it weren’t for the insane, ruthless dictator and deadly rat plague.

dunwall

Ahh. Nothing says ‘vacation spot’ like air pollution, grey skies and utter hopelessness.

I honestly can’t say enough just how much thought went into making Dunwall feel like its own place and it’s without a doubt one of the big reasons why I truly think this game is a forgotten classic.

It doesn’t need to be forgotten, though. Even if you put away your PS3 or 360, the game is available as a remaster for the PS4 and Xbone. With the great reviews Dishonored 2 is getting,  why not get the full experience and buy this one first? If you’re looking for a game that allows you to do whatever the fuck you want in a richly detailed and painstakingly built world, it’s tough to do much better than this game that far too many people have neglected for far too long.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to possess a few rats so I can hang out next to some gigantic seeming maids. Don’t judge me.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Bethesda Chose The Wrong Remaster

oblivion-logo

I am not a guy who is easily surprised. If I was out to eat and I find a used Band-Aid in my salad, I’d probably nod and go, “Interesting choice.” When it comes to video games, I get even less surprised. When you’ve been in the hobby since 1994, you’ve seen things. Things that will desensitize you to any bizarre piece of news.

I’ve seen a console commercial with a creepy, sentient baby doll and a floating PS3.

I’ve seen Kevin Spacey play a villain in Call of Duty.

I’ve seen a game called Farming Simulator 17.

Seventeen.

There are seventeen of those fuckers.

farming-simulator

No, this isn’t a Photoshopped picture.

But color me surprised when earlier this year there were rumors swirling about that Bethesda was working on a remastered version of Skyrim for the current gen consoles. And when it was confirmed at this year’s E3, I was even more surprised that it was a real thing.

It certainly isn’t the worst idea for a remaster. After all, Devil May Cry 4: Definitive Edition DOES exist, a remaster asked for by no one, not even the developers of the original Devil May Cry 4. It was more the fact that it was Bethesda. This is a game company that takes its time with its games, often releasing games 4-5 years apart from each other because they’re so massive, expensive, and glitch filled. It seemed like an odd decision to take resources away from a studio that needs every person they can get to focus on remastering a five year old game that is still, honestly, kind of fresh in people’s minds.

Here’s my thoughts: Skyrim is a great game, arguably one of the best Western RPGs ever made, but did we really need a slightly better looking version of it? Yes, there’s mod support, but if adding top hats to mudcrabs is the number one reason to spend $60 on a game I already own and put over 150 hours into, then I’m not sure if your game needed to be made. It just doesn’t seem necessary, especially since this is probably going to take time and resources away from an actually new Elder Scrolls game.

Well, Skryim Remastered/Definitive Edition/Collector’s Remastered Edition/Whatever The Hell They Ended Up Calling It Edition has been released and it seems like a lot of people thought what I thought. The game is obviously still good, because it’s Skyrim, but there’s just no need to revisit it. The baked in DLC and upgraded visuals and mod support are all fine and dandy, but it’s probably not worth plunking $60 down if you already played Skyrim to death last generation (which is probably what most Skyrim owners did).

But here’s what I find frustrating, besides the obvious fact that this probably postpones Elder Scrolls VI. It’s that if Bethesda insisted on remastering a game, they simply chose the wrong game to remaster. As I said before, I love Skyrim. It’s actually one of my top 10 favorite games of all time. But five years is not enough distance from it to justify the money and time I’d need to spend on it.

However, if Bethesda had chosen another one of it’s beloved classics to remaster, I would have totally been on board.

A game that has been out for twice as long as Skyrim.

A game that is just begging to be revisited and dressed up.

I’m just drawing this out for suspense.

I mean, there’s a huge fucking picture of it at the top of the article, so I dunno why I’m bothering with this.

Guess what it is yet?

Morrowind? No. Yes, yes, I know you probably think it’s the best one but I’m not talking about it here.

Fallout 3? No, but you’re getting warmer.

Fallout 4? Now you’re just being a smartass.

It’s Oblivion. Bethesda should have remastered Oblivion. And here’s why.

The first and most obvious reason is time. There’s more time and distance between Oblivion and now than there was for Skyrim. It’s pretty simple math. Skyrim was released in 2011, so that’s five years. Oblivion was released in 2006, so that’s ten years. And the difference between five and ten is…uhh…umm…it’s like, twice as much. So whereas a Skyrim remaster feels pointless because it feels like it was just released yesterday, Oblivion has been gone just long enough that we’d be hungry to return to its world, ready to revisit all the places and characters we fell in love with a decade ago.

I mean, I feel silly even stating this point because it seems just so obvious. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I feel like that is true for all things. Well, unless you’re a cancer survivor. You probably don’t miss the cancer that much, no matter how long time passes.

 

happy-patient

It’s malignant! The cancer’s back, baby!

But the simple fact is that Oblivion has had more time away from gamers. If it returned, we would welcome it like we’re welcoming an estranged father who has been gone for a decade. With tears, smiles, and some serious abandonment issues.

And to all you filthy Morrowind loyalists. I understand even more time has passed since Morrowind than Oblivion but shut up, no one likes you people.

So there’s the whole time and distance thing that Oblivion has a clear, objective advantage over Skyrim with. There’s also the fact that Oblivion is more in need of an upgrade than Skyrim. Skyrim’s updated graphics make an already pretty game into a slightly prettier game. The difference is not all that big, and DEFINITELY not big enough to warrant a full $60 price tag.

But imagine Oblivion with updated graphics. To say that Oblivion’s graphics haven’t aged well would be…mild. The environments aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re certainly more generic and bland than the much more detailed areas of Skyrim. And don’t even get me started on the NPC models, who look like something like a mix between a heap of clay melting in the sun and a person conceived and born in Pripyat, circa 1987.

ugly-oblivion

“Greetings! You may recognize me from every single one of your nightmares!”

I’m not asking for a new fucking engine built in house. But mods have updated Oblivion‘s looks to stunning levels. Why can’t Bethesda do the same? Giving this game a complete graphical upgrade/rehaul would make Oblivion feel fresher than ever, something this Skyrim remaster simply couldn’t do, on no fault of it’s own.

And I’m not just talking graphical upgrades, either. Oblivion could get a gameplay reboot that would make it feel newer and more awesomer than ever. I’m not saying completely change everything. But certain annoying things that Skyrim fixed could be similarly updated here. I’m talking the game’s broken leveling system where enemies were constantly getting stronger with you, creating no sense of progression. Or how you can’t use weapons and magic at the same time. Or how the melee combat is clunkier and more awkward than a baby giraffe with cinder blocks surgically grafted to its feet.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. With these deeper upgrades to Oblivion, we’d be venturing into remake territory, not a remaster. Which I would have to slightly disagree with, simply because of the modding community that Bethesda games boast. Gameplay mods happen all the time, and while I know exactly jack shit about developing games, let alone massive open world RPGs, I don’t think that it would require the game to be rebuilt from scratch to incorporate better graphics and gameplay adjustments. Obviously, the core game would remain intact. It would just be shinier and more polished.

And think about the statement this would make. If Bethesda strutted out and said, “We’re remastering Oblivion and if you think it’s just a new coat of paint, you’re fucking wrong. We’re doing this, this and this and it’s going to blow your fucking minds.” followed by dropping their gigantic balls on stage. No longer would remasters have a label of being mere ports, just lazy excuses for game companies to churn out a money grab. Suddenly we have a precedent, where a remaster can become a TRULY definitive edition of the game. Think of the PS4 and Xbone’s version of GTA V. Rockstar fucking nailed it by not just improving graphics, but actually adding new missions, music and a legitimately whole new way to play the game. This is even more proof that this vision of a remastered and perfected Oblivion is far from impossible.

And to you all you filthy Morrowind loyalists. I understand that Morrowind would be even more ripe for updated graphics and game mechanics but shut up, no one likes you people.

Anyway, beyond the fact that Oblivion‘s fields are more fertile for upgrading than that of Skyrim, there’s a far more simple reason as to why Oblivion would have been a better target for remastering than Skyrim. And that’s simply because in many ways…Oblivion is just a better game.

Let me clarify something very quickly so that you don’t start throwing things at me (which would be you throwing things at your computer, so really you’re just hurting yourself there, pal). I think, as a whole, Skyrim is better than Oblivion. If I were to rank my top 25 games of all time, (which I, ahem, DEFINITELY haven’t done because I’m DEFINITELY not that nerdy so this is DEFINITELY hypothetical, but HYPOTHETICALLY) Oblivion, as a whole, would rank below Skyrim. But if I did a tale of the tape with the two games, Oblivion outshines Skyrim in a couple of key areas.

First and foremost, Skyrim waters down a lot of the RPG aspects that Oblivion did so well. Skyrim‘s character leveling is much more basic than Oblivion‘s, where you simply funnel points into three different areas: health, stamina or magic. There are perk based skill trees, but those grow and unlock organically as you play, rather than being any result of strategic use of experience points. Oblivion requires a much more thoughtful approach, where you have to upgrade traits that govern your skills, meaning you have to actually spend more than ten seconds on your character screen when you level up. Skyrim‘s more streamlined character progression is good if you prefer to spend more time killing villagers, stripping their clothes off, and then drowning them in a large pile of their own books (I can’t be the only person who habitually does this in these games), but it does dampen the whole “role playing” aspect of this role playing game. Less control over how your character grows can make leveling up feel a little hollow in Skyrim, versus Oblivion‘s more in depth and much more satisfying character progression.

The other thing Oblivion does much better than Skyrim? Quests. And this is kind of a big one because, hey, quests are pretty fucking important in an RPG. Again, I love Skyrim, but its quests…can get a little tiresome. It’s like when you invite one of your best friend’s over to hang out and he/she constantly pees in your kitchen sink. You still love them, but, come on, that’s a sink not the toilet. Okay, maybe not the best analogy, but my point is as great as Skyrim is, it has a bit of a big flaw in its questing.

Quests in Skyrim are one of two things: fetch quests and other fetch quests. There are a few interesting quests here and there that don’t require going to some dungeon to grab something for someone, so that you can go back to find out that that same someone needs something ELSE grabbed for them, but they are so few and far between. Even The Dark Brotherhood, an absolute home run of a quest line in Oblivion, is pretty much reduced to fetch quests with the occasional assassination thrown in. Call me crazy, but when I join an assassination guild, I expect to be slinking around, killing high profile targets in creative ways, not being sent to some fort to grab a book someone left there by mistake.

dark-brotherhood-skyrim

“Kill people? Heavens no! First we need to find my missing silverware set! Don’t worry, there’s only 30 pieces spread throughout caves across the entire country.”

And it’s not just the Dark Brotherhood. There’s the Thieves Guild which is not comprised of high stake heists and robberies, but rather dungeon diving to try and find some artifact of a long lost race. I honestly barely remember it because it was so forgetful.

Compare these to their Oblivion counterparts. As I hinted at earlier, the Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion was one of the most awesome, captivating quest lines in any RPG I’ve ever played. It forced you to actually assassinate people, often in interesting ways. And of course there’s the big twist halfway through the quest line that creates one of the most gut wrenching scenarios I’ve had to endure in a video game. And Oblivion‘s Thieves Guild was almost as good, involving lots of unique heists that you had to pull off, many of them involving tense but satisfying stealth segments. Far more enjoyable than Skyrim‘s Thieves Guild, where you were a glorified errand boy.

And I could go on and on. Oblivion was positively chock full of quests that involved exploration and dialogue and your wits, rather than just dungeon crawling. Like the quest where you had to figure out a way to get a pious man to beat you to death with a specific weapon. Or the quest where you had to investigate missing art in a castle, having to actually search out clues rather than having a waypoint guide you, screaming, “HEY IT’S RIGHT HERE, THE WAY TO END THE QUEST IS RIGHT HERE.” Or the quest where you had to help an ancient god fool an entire town into thinking they were being plagued. Did Oblivion have a good deal of fetch quests? Sure, every RPG does. But they were not NEARLY as common in Oblivion as they were in Skyrim. The quest design in Oblivion, quite simply, puts Skyrim to shame.

And here’s the point I’m trying to make with this. Take an Oblivion with upgraded visuals and polished, less dated mechanics and what do you get? A game that is flat out better than Skyrim, original version or remastered. Bethesda missed an opportunity not to just make a better, more daring and memorable remaster; they missed an opportunity to make a better game. It would have taken a little more work, sure, but it would have pleased the fans, created much more excitement and, as I said earlier, set a precedent that remasters don’t have to be just straight up ports for people who stowed away their older consoles. They can go back and actually make the original games better, giving players a reason to go back and lose themselves in it all over again. I know I personally would have bought an Oblivion remaster on day one, whereas I have no intentions of buying the Skyrim remaster until maybe a year or two from now, if at all.

God dammit. Now I’m in the mood to play Oblivion. I’m off to sit in front of my PS3 for 80 straight hours. If I don’t come back, send food and a bar of soap.

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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BAT PEOPLE NEED NOT APPLY

Job interviews. A momentous occasion in one’s life that can bring lots of anxiety, mental stress, and nerve wracking decisions. This is especially true when you are a bat person.

Take Oswald Smith, for example. Oswald is one of the 1% of humans in the world who are classified as Chrioptera sapien, or bat person to the layman. Though most of them would prefer if you simply called them your friend.

Bat people seemingly showed up overnight, an evolution phenomenon that resulted in a strange species of half human, half bat hybrids. While bipedal and perfectly capable of human speech and motor function, they look like overgrown bats. Fine brown or black fur covering their bodies, a face with a blunt snout and pointed ears, and, of course, a pair of leathery, ragged wings hanging underneath their thin arms.

Unsurprisingly, a sudden emergence of a race of half human, half bat creatures was met with a certain amount of resistance and distrust.

So that’s why on that sunny Monday morning, Oswald Smith of 214 Redwood Lane, Apartment 506 in the Shady Tree Apartments complex, found himself shaking with an impossible case of nerves as he tried to pour himself a cup of coffee.

The coffee splashed uselessly all over the kitchen counter, almost getting on the suit Oswald had bought for the interview. Oswald cursed at himself in his high pitched voice and jumped back.

“Whoa, whoa,” said Max, Oswald’s human roommate, who had just walked into the kitchen in his pajamas, “easy there, pal. Kitchen counters don’t need the caffeine nearly as much as we do.”

Oswald angrily set his dripping mug down and examined his suit to make sure everything was alright.

“Just so damn nervous,” Oswald explained.

“Why?” Max asked, grabbing his own coffee mug from the cabinet and taking it over to the half spilled pot next to Oswald. “Because you’re trying to get a job out there in a world where everyone hates you and wants you dead?”

“Uhhh.”

Max smirked as he poured his coffee into his mug, successfully and spill free.

“Look at that!” Max exclaimed in mock amazement. “I was able to pour coffee! Just another thing humans can do better than bat people!”

Oswald slumped, every muscle in his sinewy body a showcase of dejection and embarrassment.

“Oh, relax,” Max said cheerfully, nudging Oswald with an elbow, “you know I’m just having fun. All you have to do is remember what I told you. Do you remember?”

“I think?” Oswald said, scratching his head.

“If somebody doesn’t like you…” Max began, helping.

“Oh, oh. If somebody doesn’t like me, they can go to heck.”

Max glared.

“Go to hell.”

Max continued to glare, furrowing his eyebrows at Oswald in disapproval.

“Do I have to?” Oswald moaned.

Max gave an authoritative nod.

“If somebody doesn’t like me, they can go fuck themselves. Hard.”

A tiny moment of silence, followed by a simple “And?” from Max.

“No, Max, I refuse, I’m not saying-”

“It’s part of it! You have to say the whole thing!”

“I hate that word Max, and so do a lot of humans, actually and-”

Max plugged his fingers in his ears and said, “La la la la la, I’m not listening until you say the whole fucking thing, la la la la.”

“FINE. Anyone who doesn’t like me can go fuck themselves because they are an unaccepting cunt and nobody likes unaccepting cunts, except other unaccepting cunts.”

Max gave a proud nod, like a father who just saw his child progress to the next round of a spelling bee.

“Congratulations, you’re one step closer to being just like us. But, uh, maybe not bust that out during the interview, okay? Especially since they don’t know you’re…uh…situation.”

Oswald sighed. As if this interview wasn’t stress inducing enough, there was the fact that he was going to an interview where they had no idea he was a bat person. Thanks to the recently enacted Bat Person Equality Act, employers no longer could legally ask whether or a prospective emplyee was a bat person on the application. This was all well and good as it certainly allowed Oswald more opportunities rather than having his application thrown into the shredder at first glance, but it also meant a lot of awkward moments of potential bosses staring at Oswald in slack jawed disgust as he walked through the door.

“On the bright side,” Oswald mused, “there are less security guards with guns when they don’t know I’m coming.”

“There ya go,” Max said, raising his mug in salute, “there’s some of your glass half full attitude. Bring that into the interview, and I’m sure they won’t run out screaming right away.”

“Thanks,” Oswald said, flatly. Oswald’s phone alarm then began to buzz, signaling it was time to leave for the bus.

Oswald took a quick glance at his reflection in the toaster, straightening out his suit and checking his tie. He gave a quick nod of approval and turned to Max.

“Wish me luck,” he said, heading towards the door.

“It didn’t work the last eleven times, but sure. Twelfth time’s the charm, as they say, somewhere, probably.”

Oswald grabbed his suitcase leaning by the door and stepped out of the apartment, heart racing and body shaking.

*

Oswald stood at the bus stop down the street from the apartment complex’s gates. As bat people have terrible eyesight, Oswald was not allowed to hold a driver’s license, resulting in a constant reliance on public transportation. While good for the Earth’s ozone, this resulted in many more awkward, public social situations for Oswald to endure.

The squeal and rumble of the bus rolling down the street was a harbinger of doom and despair for Oswald, since it meant the time for the interview was only getting closer. He gulped as the bus screeched to a stop in front of him, the sliding door opening with a harsh hiss. Before Oswald stepped onto the bus, he said a quick prayer that the driver was Nellie today. Nellie was a sweet old lady who either didn’t care that Oswald was a bat person or was simply too senile to notice.

Oswald stepped onto the bus and saw to his dismay, that it was Georgie, the barrel chested biker dude who drove the bus in between his orphan burning and crocodile taming sessions. Or that’s what Oswald assumed, at least. He stared coldly at Oswald through his hairy face, his eyes narrow, black slits sandwiched between two inch thick eyebrows and a beard big enough to qualify as a National Forest.

“Morning,” Oswald said, swiping his bus pass.

Georgie grunted. Oswald gave an uneasy nod and turned to face the rest of the bus. Luckily, there weren’t many passengers. Just a couple of young college kids, both with headphones in their ears, an elderly man, and a middle aged guy in a leather jacket. They all were looking out the window, appearing a bit to keen to keep their eyes on anything that wasn’t Oswald. Oswald situated his sweaty grip on his briefcase and headed towards a seat a couple rows back from Georgie. Before he got a chance to sit down, though, Georgie spoke.

“Actually,” he said in his ten packs a day growl, “that seat’s broken. Won’t be able to sit there, pal.”

Oswald stopped in half sitting motion, confused and unnerved.

“Broken?” he asked.

“Mmhmm. Can’t be taking any risks with it, so you might wanna mosey on over to another seat.”

“Okay, then.”

Oswald moved to the seat directly behind it but was once again stopped by the scratchy rasp of Georgie.

“Damnedest thing,” he said with a hearty chuckle, “that seat’s broken too. Bus company gave strict orders. Nobody to sit there. Liability issues and all, son.”

“Uh huh,” Oswald conceded, his fear giving way to annoyance. He went a few rows back to give that seat a try, only to hear Georgie clear his throat.

“I’m sorry about this, honest, but that there seat is broken too. I’m just so embarrassed about all this. I’ll get this to the shop for repairs tonight, you have my word.”

One of the passengers stifled a laugh, trying to cover it up with a fake cough. Oswald simply nodded.

“Perhaps,” he said in fake politeness, “you could just direct me to a seat that isn’t ‘broken’.”

“No problem, friend,” Georgie said. He lifted his fat hand and pointed towards the back. “See that seat all the way down there? The very last one?”

“Sure.”

“Well, that’s broken too. BUT, you’ll be able to stand next to it if you hold onto the pole.”

“Is that the only open, non broken spot on this bus?”

“Correct. Wish I could be more help, hand to God.”

“Okay,” Oswald stated flatly, heading to the described spot. He held onto the pole, facing Georgie and the front of the bus. Oswald shook his head at the situation. Jeez, is this 2045 or something? He thought in disgust.

Oswald’s thought was broken up by the feeling of being hurled backward, as Georgie slammed down on the gas. He even took the other passengers by surprise, a couple of them banging their heads on the back of their seat. Oswald held on for dear life as Georgie wound his way towards the city, the bus feeling more like a roller coaster than anything.

“Sorry everyone,” Georgie apologized after his tenth hairpin turn, “this thing’s been acting nuts since that last stop. No clue why!”

The elderly man towards the front shot a bitter, angry look back at Oswald, as he held onto the seat in front of him for dear life. Oswald blushed and turned to look the other way, hoping to avoid any other unhappy glares.

It was a rough ride to downtown for Oswald, one that involved lots of sliding around the bus and constantly bumping into seats, always close to losing his grip on the pole. At the first stop on the Main St. stretch of downtown, Oswald took the chance to get off the bus, even though it was a few blocks away from his actual stop. Harried and nauseous, Oswald stumbled to the front of the bus, mumbling apologies to the various passengers. When Oswald got to the front, Georgie kept the door closed. Oswald stood impatiently, but refused to turn to Georgie. He didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. Finally, Georgie pulled the lever to open the door but not before muttering “Fucking screecher.” under his breath just loud enough for Oswald to hear.

Oswald felt his face flush with anger, but he kept his cool. It wasn’t the first time he’d been called that. Although he usually had something thrown at him in the process, so he tried to look at the bright side.

Oswald stepped off the bus and onto the sidewalk of Main St., relieved to be out of Georgie’s clutches. Of course, now he had to face a new challenge: walking downtown, in broad daylight, looking very much like he was heading to a job meant for humans, definitely not for him.

He hurried down the street, head down and eyes focused on just the ground in front of him. He heard a couple of snickers and someone said sarcastically, “Little early for you to be out, isn’t it?”

Oswald ignored everything, and instead kept running through a fantasy of his imminent job interview, trying to imagine every possible question and every possible answer to each of those possible questions.

Soon enough he was outside of the Lockbox Company office building. Lockbox was a credit insurance company, and Oswald was looking to get into the data entry department. Though he had no prior job experience, being a bat person and all, Oswald was in fact very good with numbers, so he all he needed was a chance.

Oswald looked at the door, staring at the company logo, a golden padlock with a dollar sign on it. He could possibly be seeing that door and logo every day for the forseeable future, as long as everything went right. For a brief moment, Oswald was filled with hope and optimism.

Feeling a second wind from these positive thoughts, Oswald pushed the door open, and strutted with confidence across the lobby. He felt the stares, but he didn’t care. He was Oswald Smith, bat person, and he was about to be a proud new addition to the Lockbox-

Oswald’s thoughts were cut off by the very distinct sensation of getting tackled to the ground by a six foot six, 250 pound security guard.

“Nice try, asshole!” the security guard breathed in Oswald’s ear. Oswald felt a pair of handcuffs being slapped onto his wrists. Though he should have panicked, he was more in awe of the fact that a security guard had handcuffs.

“Mr. Harker,” the security guard said into a radio, using his free hand to keep Oswald’s head down on the tile floor, “we got him. We got the bastard.”

There was silence, followed by the garble of a radio channel opening up.

“Huh? Who?”

“The bat person who took a shit in the potted plants the other day.”

“I did what now?” Oswald said, finally breaking his silence, as one does when accused of shitting in potted plants.

“Shut up, ya creep!” the security guard said, knocking Oswald in the back of the head, causing his world to go black.

*

Oswald awoke in the building’s security station, a cramped office with glowing monitors showing surveillance camera feeds all over the grounds. One monitor was hooked to a Blu Ray player, which the security guard-whose name turned out to be Leo-was shoving a disc into.

Oswald sat in the chair, woozy from the blow to the head. Leo didn’t have any ice, but was nice enough to supply a frozen TV dinner from the staff lounge to soothe the swelling bump. It was a half hearted gesture, mostly forced from his boss, a gentle, older man named Mr. Harker, the very man Oswald was supposed to be having an interview with.

Mr. Harker was in the office as well, waiting for Leo to fast forward to the point on the Blu Ray that was going to incriminate Oswald for being a no good potted plant shitter inner.

“Here we go,” Leo said, triumphantly, stopping the Blu Ray’s progress, allowing it to play out in real time.

The footage indeed showed a bat person walking across the lobby at night. Oswald could tell it was a he, and he was swaying back and forth, obviously drunk. The bat person lurched towards a potted plant by the receptionist deck in the lobby, which was empty.

The bat person silently laughed on the feed, teetering over the potted pant, and squatting right above it.

“Is this the part where, yep, this is the part,” Oswald said, answering his own question as the bat person took a massive dump on the potted plant. It was a downright shocking and impressive amount of poop coming from this intoxicated bat person.

“You should know,” Leo said with disgust, “since you lived it.”

“Me?” Oswald said incredulously. “Even with a grade 3 concussion I can see the differences between me and the drunk.”

“Oh yeah?” Leo questioned, crossing his arms in a smug, defiant manner. “Name ONE.”

“Well for starters, he has a tear in his left ear. Unless I got surgery on it in the past week and had it heal without the need for stitches and absolutely no scarring, that’s not me.” Oswald tilted his head towards Leo and Mr. Harker, so they could see his left ear, which had no damage whatsoever.

“Medicine works wonders these days,” Leo said skeptically.

“Sure. So much so that I apparently was able to go to the doctor and get myself on the world’s most successful weight loss pill, as this lovely gentleman is a good fifty pounds heavier than me. Look at that pot belly.” Oswald pointed at the protruding gut of the bat person as he wiped his butt with leaves from the potted plant.

“Don’t you and your kind have super fast metabolisms or something?” Leo asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Or something. Also, this guy has brown fur. I have black fur.”

“Well…” Leo began, stroking his chin, “if you look at it in a certain light, it kinda-”

“I believe we are settled here,” Mr. Harker said, patting Leo on the shoulder, “I think it’s safe to say you may have jumped the gun a bit here, Leonardo.”

Leo simply stared dumbly at the monitor, scratching his head.

“But he looked so similar…” he trailed off, leaning in closer.

“A harmless mistake,” Mr. Harker reasoned. “Now, if you could please leave me and…I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”

“Oswald,” Oswald replied.

“Oswald. If you could please leave Oswald and I alone, Leonardo.”

Leo, still obviously confused over his error, left the room, face contorted in a twist of bafflement and embarrassment.

After the door closed behind Leo, Mr. Harker gave a dry, humorless chuckle.

“You’ll have to excuse him,” Mr. Harker said, turning his full attention to Oswald, “he had quite a football career. Broke a lot of rushing records at Prescott High.”

“Go Griffins,” Oswald said with a mock fist pump.

“Indeed. Unfortunately, he sacrificed a bit of his, shall we say, ‘common sense’ to get those records.”

“And tact. And humility.”

Mr. Harker’s lips drew into a thin smile.

“So I believe it goes without saying that I, and the rest of Lockbox, deeply and wholeheartedly apologize for Leonardo’s error. If there are any medical bills to be paid or anything we can provide to help you for any suffering you might have endured, simply let me know. I’ll give you my card.”

Mr. Harker reached into his suit pocket and drew out a business card, handing it over to Oswald, who simply stared at it.

“The funny thing is,” Oswald said, “I was here for an interview today. A job interview.”

Mr. Harker slightly withdrew the card and raised an eyebrow.

“For what position?” he asked.

“Data Entry Clerk.”

“Ah,” Mr. Harker said, nodding. He gave a deep sigh and said, “Well, this is quite unfortunate. Right before this whole debacle happened, I’m sorry to say that the position was, uh, given to somebody else. Somebody with years of experience in the field, I’m afraid we had no choice but to hire the person on the spot. Very sad to have to say that, especially considering the circumstances.”

All while this was happening, the video feed kept playing behind Mr. Harker, now showing the bat person moving onto the next potted plant to shit in that one too. It felt remarkably appropriate to Oswald.

“I see,” Oswald said, nodding, his aching head protesting with each nod.

“But we are always looking to expand our operations,” continued Mr. Harker, “and we are especially looking to diversify our staff. We’ll be more than happy to consider you for future openings. Let’s revisit this in, let’s say, two to three years. Sound good?”

Oswald stared blankly and mumbled a weak, “Yes.”

“Good,” Mr. Harker brightened, once again extending his card towards Oswald, “now please take my number for future reference. And allow me to walk you out.”

Oswald stood up, his balance wavering. Oswald regained himself and started to walk out, when Mr. Harker held up a hand.

“Actually, you’ll need to leave that here,” he said, pointing to the TV dinner above Oswald’s head. “If Cecile finds out somebody left with her four cheese rigatoni, I’m afraid potted plants with poo in them will be the least of our worries.”

“Right,” Oswald bluntly agreed, setting the dinner down on the desk. Mr. Harker then turned and led Oswald out.

*

When Oswald was back on the street, he felt numb and disheartened, a common feeling after interviews. He looked around, his already horribly vision slightly blurred from the hit to the head. Across the street he made out a bat person cleaning somebody’s windshield, his clothes tattered and ragged, obviously the wardrobe of someone who has been homeless for a while.

Down the left side of the street he saw a billboard with a caricature of a bat, fangs bared and bloodied as it flew towards the onlookers. In large stenciled letters it said, “WOULD YOU LET YOUR DAUGHTER MARRY THIS?” with a URL to some religious group underneath it.

On the right side of the street, he saw a small diner called Niko’s. A small sign in the window claimed “BAT PEOPLE NEED NOT APPLY”, a demand which was a loophole in the Bat Person Equality Act since it wasn’t ‘technically’ on the job application.

After taking this all in, Oswald looked up the sky and closed his eyes. He gave a defeated sigh.

It could always be worse, he reasoned. He could have been one of those potted plants.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2016 in Uncategorized