Delayed Responsibility

I Shouldn't Be Gaming Right Now… But I Am!

Archive for September, 2009

Birthday Blogging!

Posted by deckard47 on September 30, 2009

So I missed the Blog’s second birthday by 5 days. I’m sorry Blog. Will you come back to me? I swear I’m slightly less profane and slightly better at posting (and actually writing non-shit) than I was a year ago. To another fruitful year, Blog. May your pages be full of posts.

And I just realized I missed the first birthday. Oh Blog. I’ll make it up to you.

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Posted by deckard47 on September 30, 2009

Busy lately, as the drab, bare pages of recent days would indicate. This is partly due to my own laziness but (I would hasten to add) is also partly due to a crapload of reviews (NFS: Shift, Wallace and Gromit Ep. 3, Monkey Island Ep. 3, Red Alert Commander’s Challenge [I know… Really?], and an editorial). Which makes me sound so diligent. It’s also due to Dead Space on the PC being “only” 30 dollars. I know, I know. Really Tom?

It’s interesting how playing the game on the PC highlights several things I probably took for granted before. First, the aiming is ass slow. It’s so slow I have the mouse sensitivity up to 100%, something I never do. And it still isn’t enough. It makes the elephantine, sloth-like camera in Mass Effect look like a fucking cheetah. Second, the game is very very pretty. It really is. My computer is absolutely up to the task, and I, being a bold man, went into the ATI widget thingie and artificially bumped up all of the settings. So it looks really amazing. Third (and most importantly), it’s scary. I’m not sure what happened during my first playthrough, but the presence of the stupid sped-up slashing guys really bored me. In the early game, the devs were much more willing to slow things down, cut off the flow of bad guys, and just let weird sounds and whispers fill the air. Oh, and it helps that as a PC gamer this time round, I’m sitting a foot from the screen. When something starts eating my face (only twice, so far!), I feel the spray of my own arterial fluids.

By the way, how many people really think that sitting on a couch 10 feet from the screen is an optimal setting for interesting, fulfilling experiences? It means that I have to turn up the brightness and sound just to see and hear half of my games, and it means I miss all of the little details to distance and aliasing (because, cats and kittens, let’s not even talk about the difference in visual fidelity between my 360 and my PC, especially in Dead Space. I don’t want to start crying again). I suppose for racing games, sports games, and some of the more loose, fun action adventure games like Ratchet and Clank and Tomb Raider, it actually works. These games definitely feel better from afar, lounging (as I’m want to do) on a splendid IKEA couch.

For games like Drake’s Fortune or Prince of Persia (man, when I break down and pick that shit up on Steam, I expect to be blown away), or Thief 3 (or Deus Ex, which, like an amazing bottle of scotch, drew me back in the other day. It is so delicious), I want to be close up to the narratives and stories being told. I mean, how else will I count the stubbles on Drake’s face?

So this post is partly a rant about couch gaming, partly another, “glowing” (ironic, that!) look at Dead Space, and an explanation of how I am Steam’s man, no matter how far I run. Fail.

Posted in Impressions, Random | 1 Comment »

Alpha Protocol: Play as a “Blank Canvas”

Posted by deckard47 on September 24, 2009

Interesting. You may or may not know of Alpha Protocol, Obsidian’s already (to some) controversial game starring the generic Michael Thornton, a video game version of Matt Damon (but without Damon’s hulking good looks, I might add). It’s Mass Effect meets a spy RPG, they tell us, and I’m pretty sure I’ll pick it up.

But please. Please, CVG, it’s a Thursday. I have one day left before I can collapse into a bucket in the back of my office, in my proper liquid state. I am so very close. Why do you have to go do me like this? Check it out, from this article:

You could accuse Alpha Protocol’s hero Michael Thornton of being bland. After all, he’s a spectacularly generic caucasian 20-something with short hair – the ‘go to’ character design for every action game in the world. But this is entirely intentional, because Michael Thornton is you. He’s been specifically designed as a blank canvas; a host for your own personality and playing style.

Emphasis mine, there. I like how the writer says you might think Michael was a boring, “average” white dude, but really, he’s just a “blank slate” for you, your “imagination,” and your personality. Really. Forgive me for asking, but if the malleability of this avatar is designed to create an optimal experience for players looking to inhabit Michael’s space in-game, why the hell is he white. Forget the fact that a pale skin color should be an option among many (unless the possibility that players might pick a different skin tone would be bad?). Why is it that people keep on creating these guys and calling them “relatable?” Because most gamers aren’t hulking he-men with deep voices. And even the gamers who are that guy? I bet they can negative capability their asses into a different body.

It’s apparent that Thornton’s masculinity is important to Alpha Protocol. Being a creepy dude sex machine and treating women like upgradable items or collectibles is a major part of the plot. If they made it possible to be a woman, they would have had to spend an extra half year making cutscenes where you got it on with hot women, because we really don’t want to see women as real people, or men as sexual beings who aren’t skull-numbingly heterosexual and mainstream masculine in every way create a spy game where one key method of interaction was not sex, or if it was, give all sexes all opportunities, and even then, try to portray sex as a thing that wasn’t about giving, taking, owning, or trading.

Really, if you aren’t going to provide equal-opportunity gender/sex plots/characters, fuck off. Cut that out of your game, because I can think of a billion other ways to make characters interesting and meaningful. Oh, and while we’re at it, yes, Mike Doolittle and supporters, this is something developers are responsible for maturely and equally portraying.

Alex was right (speaking of which, go read that article linked there, then come back). Alpha Protocol just happens to be the worst offender right now. Let me put it plainly: if you don’t  have a strong main character with a clearly defined story arc, you have no excuse to force players into playing as a certain gender/orientation/race/anything (forgetting that the well-defined characters we do have are pretty one-note, one-ethnicity, and one gender). Shit, if it is important that you make your hero a gruff ass-kicking space marine, let me tell you: a man with  a pretty simplistic concept of ethnicity, sexuality, and gendered representations made several kickass space marines who weren’t bald white dudes (you may be able to fault him on a lot of stuff, stuff in Aliens and in other films, but he’s ahead of most developers today. Sad). Maybe, video game developers, you remember those characters. Maybe.



Oh right. Them. Like I said before, you can have gruff ladies. You can have gruff ladies who are not white! You can have gruff people who prefer not to be called “men” and/or “ladies,” regardless of what you think. And all of them can kill those damn xenomorphs. Wow, shit just got liberated like it’s 1986 in here. I better open some windows.

So I may still buy Alpha Protocol. I’m weak, and I like Obsidian a lot. But I don’t need bad journalism telling me how games aren’t as shallow and offensive as they actually are. I really don’t.

PS [Obviously I owe Alex a ton of credit/debt/whatever you want to call it for the work laid out in those two articles up there. So thank you Alex]

PSS [ Oh, and I know you can change Michael’s skin tone. But I’ve only ever seen it “bro on the beach in Cancun” dark… Still white]

Posted in Articles | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Are you looking for Nathan Drake?

Posted by deckard47 on September 21, 2009

Of course the answer is yes. Wish he’d shave though.

It’s Uncharted 2 news/demo time again, and you know what that means! It means that way too many people are showing up here by searching for various versions of Nathan Drake. Which is not a bad thing, really. I mean, it’s a possibility that on the day of the game’s release, I may be mysteriously, suddenly, horribly ill. So ill that I have to stay home and fight Owen for the controller. Maybe. Haven’t decided yet.

Anyway, because I’m the giving type, I thought I’d link to this amusing, possibly diverting article over at Eurogamer. It’s part of their “tech side” of games series of articles, and they examine the new Uncharted 2 multiplayer content. Wonderfully, they find it to be quite awesome. Really, it’s not too exciting an article, but it’s nice to know that while I’m making gleeful noises and making Nate jump in and out of pools of water, someone else is paying attention to something serious about the game. Although, to be honest, I might be making on of the be-hatted enemies roll around in the water. I’m not picky.

What you should take away from this post (aside from the fact that I am not in fact giving anyone anything: I am a liar) is that today is the day when the mostly new Uncharted 2 multiplayer content drops. Considering I’ve only ever played the crumbly courtyard mission at E3 (where they wouldn’t let me invert. What the fuck), I’m looking forward to it. I expect to get my ass handed to me by mostly everyone, but hopefully a couple of rambunctious young sexual harassment-types will accost me. Because, you know, I miss those guys. I miss them as they hoot and croon their strange, alien insults accross CoD4 maps. It’s been too long boys.

Posted in Articles, News | 3 Comments »

I am Batman!

Posted by deckard47 on September 21, 2009

Is there already a post called “I am Batman?” Well, there is now. Or there are two of them. Anyway.

I finished Arkham Asylum about 15 minutes ago. It was, throughout my 10+ hour run through, consistently fun, challenging, entertaining, and engrossing. At the same time, there were about a million things that bugged me about it. And they had absolutely nothing to do with the gameplay. I haven’t played a game like this in a long time. Most games that I like, even games that I love, are challenging games to enjoy. I have to strain myself to enjoy them at the level that I do. Games like Mass Effect, The Witcher, and Baldur’s Gate II all test my patience, in one way or another. They have bad path-finding, bad controls, and many other gameplay issues. Arkham is free of all gameplay glitches and unpleasantness.

Now it does bother me. The actors who portray Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are incredibly annoying. Quinn is annoying because her voice is so shrill and grating it could wake the dead. She may be the same actress from the animated series, but I think we can all agree that Rocksteady could have found someone less annoying to do the job. Also, her outfit is so ludicrously, pointlessly sexual, it’s almost impossible. It makes absolutely no sense when you look at previous portrayals of Quinn, or when you examine her character. Likewise, Ivy’s outfit is characteristically (for comics? for her?) “sexy” and tiny. Worse, she graduated from the “horrid moaning sex-voice” school of voice acting. Her combat sounds are especially unpleasant, since they blast at you with incredible force.

Aside from that, there’s nothing terrible about the game. As explained elsewhere, it’s stance regarding mental illness, correctional facilities, and Batman’s “no kill” policy are all a bit suspect. Still, for all that, it’s not a badly written or performed game. Mark Hamill is a revelation (for a person unfamiliar with his Batman animated series work, that is) as The Joker. It never once sounds like Luke, and why should it? He’s acting (and hamming it up), and he basically acts everyone else into the ground, including the man thanklessly cast as the horribly bland Batman. There are a few other amusing things in the game. For instance, if you’re a dude in Batman, you’re huge. You probably take horse steroids every day. Unless you’re a doctor or the Joker. It really detracts from the mostly serious tone the characters try to create. Maybe some of the bad guys could have been stocky or skinny? Or something. Batman hits them so hard, it doesn’t matter how tough they are.

Still. Like I said, this is a game where there are so many little/large thematic and narrative issues that I focus on because the game is almost perfect mechanically. So yes, Arkham is good. It’s so good that all of those things that I just mentioned never stopped me from playing once. They didn’t make me quit the game (see Infamous), or want to punch my own face every five seconds (Saints Row 2, Crackdown).

Also, despite what most reviews said, I thought that the collection quests (Riddler Tokens, interview recordings, “picture” riddles) were nicely integrated. I’ll be honest, when collection quests are divorced from gameplay, I don’t give a shit. I like it when collection quests are given complicated, game-integral reasons. In fact, within the Batman fiction, a bunch of wacky puzzles left by the Riddler actually seem like reasonable things to be chasing after. You know, compared to the stupid Assassin’s Creed Flags, or Prince of Persia light orbs (once you’d found enough to open all of the plates). I guess it’s annoying (for others) to have the Riddler badgering you about puzzles all of the time? Although when you compare him to the annoying messages thrown at you by other villains throughout the game, it’s not actually unpleasant.

So, yes, a rather good game. Definitely worth your money. The question is, what will arrive next that can top Batman? Just on principle, I’ll say Borderlands, and Dragon Age. But I bet they won’t be as well-made, gameplay-wise, even if I like them more.

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The Witcher 2: Witchy Enough for the Witcher

Posted by deckard47 on September 18, 2009

That’s right, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (which makes me think of Cigars of the Pharaohs, of course).

Here’s the video.

So. Excited? Yes! The graphics look about as good as you’d expect (sharper, less wonky than the first game) and the new physics (courtesy of Havoc, which hopefully means us ATI folks won’t get screwed again) make combat and spells look pretty amazing. They also seem to be making an effort to create more autonomous, interactive worlds. I especially like the soldiers doing push-ups, and the barrel trick. Geralt looks a bit funny (some kind of wacky pony-tail), but he seems to be stoically Geralting on, unsurprisingly. Oh, and they’re pulling a bit of a Mass Effect with their conversational camera angles and dialogue system.

No info on what the release date will be. Normally I would let them tell me in good time, but I really want this bad, now. Much like The Witcher before it, this game looks to refine a lot of mechanics taken from other recent RPGs. Hopefully, they’ll get it all right again (or more right!).

Oh, and that dialogue is obviously performed (in odd English) by the guys who made the game, right? Become Geralt sounds awesomely hilarious.

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Dark Forces: You’re not authorized in this area Rebel scum!

Posted by deckard47 on September 18, 2009

So I’m sitting here, watching Owen play our newly downloaded Dark Forces (Jedi Knight is in the pipeline). It is at once (for both of us) an incredibly nostalgic and an intensely primitive experience. We marvel at the level design, sound design (which, despite the old tech, is irrevocably Star Wars), and graphics, equally joyous and derisive. Every Stormtrooper who yells “get him!” or “stop Rebel Scum,” or “surrender immediately,” is an awesome dude. It’s like those parties where everyone who loves The Rocky Horror Picture Show gets together and dresses up and yells shit at the screen. Every switch and timed door invokes a Pavlovian response: dislike (those damn Imperial Officer closets), delight (the “Briar” pistol is back!), and laughter (the flashlight).

As he keeps on drunkenly insisting (and as I keep on drunkenly affirming), “this is so awesome.” We marvel at the way gameplay used to be: secrets, enemies, walls, doors. At how the awful graphics make every encounter iconic: an Imperial Officer is instantly, recognizably an Imperial Officer. Valve may be all about character silhouette recognition, but these guys were doing it first. And those damn secret doors. Some kind of wicked, dark shared memory tells us when we’re near one. He’ll start pressing “e” on walls, swearing that there’s a secret door nearby. And I know he’s right! We both reflexively know where switches, doors, secret elevators, and enemies are. We’ve played these maps so much, and heard those bad guys tell us that “we’re not authorized to be in this area” so many times, its like riding a fucking bicycle.

So we sit here, drinking our gin and tonics, listening to Rodrigo and Gabriela, marveling at (of all things) the immense amount of effort that went into exposition in this old game. It makes most modern games look terse. My previous Rocky Horror reference was, for me, surprisingly apt. What if we got a room full of maladjusted types like us, raised (as our parents direly predicted) on Dark Forces, Doom, and Wing Commander, and embark on some collective reenactment of those good old days. Of course, for me, it’s different. This is his childhood, this, and Doom. I inherited his love for them but for me, my first (and best) taste of gaming was Wing Commander (by the way, Steam, give me Wing Commander and I’ll give you my firstborn).

Now, he’s comparing it to Rise of the Triads (not as good, he says, it just allowed you to shoot out lights, while Dark Forces allowed you to shoot out more lights). Of course, he now says that Dark Forces‘ increased light-shooting capability blew him away as a child. I feel like I should be recording his words, as if he were the elder scion of my hideous brood, a man who has been places and seen things there I couldn’t see (or that I saw with different eyes). One thing we agree on: the Dianogas were scary as hell.

I suppose there’s more to say, but for now, we’re happy that some suit at Lucas Arts saw fit to make a bit more money of fools like us.

On a different note, this experience reminds me of something completely different. It reminds me of the days when we had the one computer, the 386, and I was too scared (Dinogas!) to play games like Dark Forces and Doom. Despite our intense (and I mean vicious) brotherly hatred, I would watch, in awe, as he adroitly navigated these corridors, killing monsters I always had trouble dealing with. It was, oddly, in no way a symbiotic experience. I would watch, and keep dead quiet, so as not to annoy him into kicking me out of the room for “watching him play ” (a villainous offense).

[a break, to point out that the Briar pistol is the best way to make long range accurate shots. Don’t forget]

It’s an especially strange set of memories, since my gaming experiences with the other (younger) brother were so completely different. For a period (before and after we hated each other), we would play every single game as a group activity. Sure, you took turns, but you were always there when the other person played, helping out, soaking up the game. It was better than any co-op experience I’ve had since, but it was also inexplicably less memorable.

There are people (you know the kind) who will tell you how there was that one summer (probably the summer of 80-something) that “defined them.” Fuck that. Watching another person play terribly simple shooters and sims (and occasionally playing them myself) was my childhood.

Now, he’s finishing the “Tak Base,” which houses the mysterious Dark Trooper arm. Oh Dark Troopers. And he just died. They had autosaves even, it would seem. Oh well.

It’s interesting how our responses to this game are so strong. My response to the original Monkey Island was something like this: “oh. That’s rather nice.” I wonder what our response to Jedi Knight will be. That was, as Owen says “the quantum leap” in FPS design, for us. Sure, there was Quake, but Quake was like a really nice set of tools (it resulted in CTF, after all). Jedi Knight, for us, represents the modern FPS as we think of it now: story-driven, full of complicated puzzles and levels. Bring it on.

[P.S. And I will love Mysteries of the Sith. I will love it so much. Bring on the Rancor!]

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Quick Thoughts: Borderlands

Posted by deckard47 on September 15, 2009

Owen and I are looking forward to Borderlands, here at the Cross compound. It’s going to be pretty sweet, we think, and the thing that kills us is that we probably won’t be able to play it together. Even though we have 3 (yes, a fancy PC, a 360, and a PS3) systems that can run it, none of them will play with each other. Maybe we can get Owen’s (pre black keys/sharp edges) Macbook to run it? If so, there will be some quite epic co-op matches going on.

But I’m forgetting my reasons for posting. Kotaku (yes, them!) have a brief preview up about Borderlands. It’s the kind of short, pointed preview I like, generally. If you aren’t going to go all fancy and critical on a game, it’s sometimes nice to hear about someone’s strong/ gut reaction to some integral part of the game. The funny thing is, the way he writes about the game just makes me want to play the game more, even though he’s kind of/sort of panning it. Check it out:

The damage modeling, too, is a big plus, allowing you pinpoint precision in how you take an enemy down. I was able to snipe off a bandits foot from across a map. Yes, that means there is plenty of gibs and gore. And for a while I was satisfied running around shooting things, playing Borderlands essentially like a first-person shooter map packed with bots.

But overtime that grew a little dull. The enemies aren’t altogether that intelligent, and the spawn points can be, no matter how random the results, very predictable.

So I jumped into a few missions and the game really started to trudge. Why would I want to run out and hunt Borderlands version of feral dogs? Do I really need to clear out the gangs in this dust bowl? Why do I care about the garden of an amiable loner?

Without much of a plot to anchor the missions too, I was losing interest quickly. Fortunately, I eventually started to hunt down some missing logs and journals for a couple of missions and the audio recordings began to fill me in a bit on the backstory.

Huh. Well, it is basically an FPS-postapocalyptic Diablo, right? Which is exactly what he described? Actually, it’s funny, but that little summation I just did makes me think of Fallout 3 (oh snap!). It too was a post-apocalyptic RPG with annoying, numberless AI (horrible AI) goons who “aren’t altogether intelligent” who had random spawn points that just weren’t enough.

Now I’m being mean. But really, if we’re talking Fallout 3 here: “Without much of a plot to anchor the missions too, I was losing interest quickly. Fortunately, I eventually started to hunt down some missing logs and journals for a couple of missions and the audio recordings began to fill me in a bit on the backstory.” Which is exactly how I felt about Fallout 3. The main story is boring and forgettable, and only the side missions make the main game any fun.

But, I must admit, i’m making an unfair comparison, and I’m reaching. His (Crecente, sadly) article just makes me think that I will absolutely love Borderlands. It’s going to be like a version of Fallout 3 without the wretched voice acting and horrible shooting controls you mean? Yeah, I hate the sound of that. What’s that you say? It will have a palette that paints in colors other than puke green and brown-grey. Say it isn’t so.

Really, I’m sure that the “story” won’t be amazing, but when I think of a lot of games I’ve played lately (like Darkest of Days, Call of Juarez: BiB, Dead Space, Fallout 3, Fable 2 and many others), not a single one of them had a terribly compelling main story. And let’s be honest, diaries and logs can only make up for an absent story so much. Eventually, we reach a situation I like to call “we don’t actually have a story.” Which is, again, a surprise for Crecente? He’s used to better treatment from his ARPGs? Wacky.

Of course (again), it’s a pointless argument. Some people want to argue that Diablo has a convincing story and world, and isn’t repetitive and boring. I think they’re completely wrong, and I think that Borderlands’ world looks more exciting and fun, and the gameplay looks much better. So I guess it’s time to end this little “pointless exercise in making fun of someone else’s opinion” post. Because I never engage in that, right?

Oh, and this reminds me, forthcoming post on a little post from Kotaku (from yesterday?) about race, games, and design (I know, you think I’m fucking kidding).

Posted in Impressions | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Reboot, Please

Posted by deckard47 on September 13, 2009

I was talking about Lara, Tomb Raider, and other super exciting things with Simon, and he mentioned something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately (thanks to a Sleeper Hit bit I’m doing): what is a reboot, and more importantly, what are the ramifications for characters, writing, and narrative in games when they get rebooted (here I really owe Simon a shout out, since he was also helpful when it came to fiddling with my latest GSW article)?

So what happens? What happens to how the story is told, how the character is made, introduced, and handled? We can all marvel at how reboots fiddle with the gameplay formula, or the graphics, but, let’s be honest, those things happen every few years with games. It’s just a bit more interesting to look at how reboots aid and hinder the development of new narratives and characters, of new ways of looking at a familiar hero (or of making a familiar cast and setting unfamiliar, through writing and presentation, and art).

Busy right now, so I can’t really pursue this in a concentrated manner. Soon, I think. Oh, and I’ve reached Lara’s Manor/Crypt in Underworld. I can’t say it’s very exciting so far.

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Lara the Super Hero

Posted by deckard47 on September 10, 2009

It’s pretty obvious to most people that Lara Croft is not the “everyman” so many developers are mistakenly, humorously obsessed with. Never mind that this everyman is often a gravelly-voiced, shaven-headed, hugely muscled dick who kills lots of people. He’s relatable! He makes jokes!

Ahem. So she’s not a guy, right? That’s one step. That already makes her different than an unpleasantly large number of video game heroes.

Really though, playing through Tomb Raider: Underworld, I’m constantly made aware of the fact that Lara is anything but average. She can kill anything, from tigers to armed goons, she can escape ridiculous, sinking ships, and she can face off against villainous winged ladies, all without a single wince, groan, or faltering step. In other words, when it comes to adventuring and exploring, she’s the indestructible badass to Nathan Drake’s fallible, barely-makes-it-by-the-seat-of-his-pants joker.

Lara encounters two kinds of creatures during her travels: friends, who treat her with respect and care, and enemies who want to kill her, very badly (professionally, though). If it weren’t for the fact that she’s chasing after her long-lost (possibly Underworld-dwelling) mother, her emotional involvement in the story would be almost non-existent. Sure, she cares for her cutout-character sidekicks, Zip and the English guy, but they’re as emotionally resonant as a box of rocks. Why should we care for them, when Lara can’t really muster up more than amusement at their lack of knowledge/expertise in areas she excels in? When they’re in danger, she furrows her brow, and looks a tad troubled. It’s a bit like watching a James Bond or Indiana Jones movie: don’t get too connected to the sidekicks, because they’ll be gone soon enough.

Except that’s not true: even in the most continuity-challenged, misogynist-riddled fictions, side characters at least attempt to perform a level of complexity and depth, along with a connection to the main character. Lara doesn’t actually have to care about Zip and whatshisname, she just has to do a better job at pretending they matter. At the beginning of the game, Zip attempts to kill Lara. The question this action evokes should go something like this: “holy shit, why would Zip want to kill Lara?” Instead, it’s something like this: “Oh, the stereotypically Black guy wants to kill his ‘friend”/’mployer. I wonder when during the game-long flashback we’ll learn of her occult-inspired betrayal/possession, which encouraged his assault!?”

This is not the drama-inspiring, exciting beginning the designers wanted to create, but thanks to Lara’s almost godlike disconnection from the world she inhabits it’s hard to avoid such a let-down. Whenever she admires the beauty of a newly discovered temple or ruin, she just sounds so… bored. It’s like she’s reading the latest “Ancient Temples Quarterly,” not experiencing the thrill of doing the job she loves.

Then again, this is Tomb Raider, right? I’m glad that they’ve created a real, kind of interesting character, I suppose. Think of the alternatives, think of the series’ own history and Lara’s past incarnations. I’m not even asking that she be flaw-ridden. I don’t don’t need her to be like Nathan Drake, and I don’t need her to be like April Ryan. One does not have to be filled with tics, flaws, and quirky habits to be an interesting, empathy-worthy character. But one does have to have more than “idle” and “ass-kicker” modes. Hell, even something more than Lara’s steely cold action/British approach to everything would be nice. Sadly, players mostly see only one other side to her, and that’s her “emotional” side. That’s what happens when A) she’s close to finding out new information about her Mom, and B) her “friends” are in danger. Once again, this is not a problem on its own. If Lara didn’t feel compassion and worry for her friends and family, I’d find her to be even more of a weirdly emotionless automaton than I already do. The problem is that she has no other noticeable character elements. She may enjoy spelunking and exploring, but she enjoys these activities like a cat enjoys the ministrations of its human: she can’t quite dignify the game, or the world, with her complete attention.

It’s hard to describe the things about Lara that are “off” because they’re not horrible, glaring flaws. She’s not a stupidly violent, senseless killing machine like Kratos and his ilk (though her disrespect for local flora, fauna, and ancient structures is, as always, extreme), she’s not a pointlessly campy sex caricature (see Bloodrayne or Bayonetta) [Edit – as pointed out by Simon, she is a weird, sexist caricature, physically. She’s slightly less oriented toward the pawing mouth-breather set, but all of her strength, badassery and wit don’t make up for the fact that more effort is still spent animating her butt sway than voicing her dialogue], and she’s not a silent, vacant “character” (sorry Gordon!). She’s solid; she takes up space. In this way, she’s infinitely superior to most “characters” in games who take up only as much space as their ill-written, game-necessary dialogue prescribes (for this, see almost every movie-game, most “story heavy” games, and most action games).

Somebody obviously cares about who Lara is, and they care about who we think she is. Still, it’s as if this care was a reflection of the real thing, as if our Lara were some slightly-removed, shadowy reflection of the real one.

Lara’s not connected enough to our world, and the ways in which she connects to it are always vague, slightly unfeeling, and less emphatic than they should be. Even the connections she has are simple, one-dimensional ones. I’ll admit that when it comes to characters, I’m comparing her to Nathan Drake more than I should. He’s the product of a pulpy, self-aware fiction that delights in painting him in familiar, broad strokes, and then taking those familiar facets to their extremes. But he’s over-the-top and cliche in a way that feels honestly relatable, if completely unreal. He may be foolishly disbelieving and mysteriously jovial in the face of certain death and dark magic, but he does it in a way that feels grounded in the world. He’s a caricature of a caricature, a man lovingly, perfectly constructed from the leavings of older, less self-aware scoundrels, but he relates to his world as if he lives in it. Lara, for all of her prowess and newly found pathos, approaches everything like an actor in a play, and a play she only half-likes at that.

All that said, I enjoy Lara’s take on the action adventure genre, and on games. I love the intricate, humongous puzzles, the ludicrously vibrant and “explorable” settings, and the outlandish bad guys and set pieces. It’s like a summer action movie, without the problematic “native people” (well, sometimes) and without the Bruce Willis/Michael Bay racism (again, sometimes). Plus, she’s an interesting, strong character who has a long history in video games. As a character, she’s older than almost everybody else out there, especially if you don’t count “characters” like Mario.

I think she’s important to video games, if only because she has pioneered many things, good and bad, and because she’s still around to tell the tale, unlike so many of her competitors. I like her games a good deal, and it’s too bad that despite Underworld‘s commercial success, a “reboot” was again, deemed necessary. Maybe it will be a good thing? Maybe Lara will reappear, more deeply invested in her own existence, and in the immediacy of her own adventures.

If she does (and if they fix that damn shooting and that damn camera), she’ll be even more of a force to be reckoned with, even more than she is now. Here’s hoping.

Posted in Impressions | 10 Comments »

Full of Anger

Posted by deckard47 on September 8, 2009

This post was going to be about a couple of things: Race to the Galaxy being awesome, Demon’s Souls swallowing every second of my free time, and how Jack White and Nick Cave should get together and do an album. It will still be about those things, eventually. For now, it’s going to be about this:

My apartment (and the apartments in the same building) have basically no power. We have two outlets that work. Right now we’re waiting for the entire house to fucking explode, thanks to two laptops, the router, the fridge, and a desktop/monitor all being plugged in to a bunch of daisy-chained power strips. Why is this happening? Because when this shit broke, our land lady was on fucking vacation, as was her favorite electrician. I’m sure it’s hard to find people who fix eectric shit on and around labor day. But my fucking apartment isn’t on vacation. It’s here, powerless (haha), as am I. As always, it’s strange to realize that most of my “work” necessitates enough power to run the systems and the desktop. Hell.

Honestly, there isn’t much to say about Nick Cave, Jack White, and Race to the Galaxy. Owen and I just realized what a great collaboration the former two could produce, and as electricity becomes a distant memory, Race takes center-stage among our daily activities. There’s some horribly stupid, pedantic message, something mildly ironic, in my sudden inability to get my work done for the various sites I owe writing (an playing) to. But honestly if a person said that to me, I’d have to fucking punch them. Onward.

Demon’s Souls is absolutely amazing. I’ve only just now beaten the first boss (1-1), and am moving on to fight number two. I’m learning all of the quirks of the game (there are way too many), getting basic combat nailed down, and a lot of other extraneous stuff. I’m still moving my way through the early stages of the game, but I expect to have way cooler stuff and (I suppose) kill cooler demons soon. Until then.

P.S. Power back on!

Posted in Impressions | Tagged: | 5 Comments »