The week’s highs and lows in PC gaming

Steam Stealth Sale

THE HIGHS

Tyler Wilde: Gone in a flash

Steam’s big sales—the latest is dubbed the ‘Exploration Sale’—used to include daily deals and even briefer flash sales, with huge discounts on a rotating selection of games if you popped in at the right time. Recently, they also made a game out of buying games like it was freaking Supermarket Sweep, with voting and badges to earn. I’m glad to see it’s been simplified: just a bunch of discounts on a bunch of games. Maybe it’s a little disappointing that Cities: Skylines isn’t going to be five bucks for one hour only or anything, but here it is for $ 15 and you don’t have to set an alarm clock to get it. Ori and the Blind Forest is worth the $ 12 it’s at, too, and The Witcher 3 for $ 30? Hell yeah. It doesn’t feel like quite the event it used to, but over 8,000 discounted games cleanly presented with no timers or gimmicks is a pleasant Thanksgiving treat. (At least here in the US. Elsewhere, I guess it’s a pleasant unremarkable week in November treat.)

Chris Thursten: Falling back in

I nearly bounced right off Fallout 4. I still think the opening two hours is a little bit misjudged, lumbering your character with a backstory you don’t control and then thrusting you into a very familiar-feeling wasteland before any of it has a chance to settle in. At first, I didn’t feel excited to explore or progress in the story.

There’s not been a single major thing that has changed that opinion, but after more time with the game the attachment that was initially missing has started to form. I spent hours turning my old neighbourhood, Sanctuary, into a real settlement with secure defenses. This is the best addition to a Bethesda RPG in years, in my opinion. There was a moment when, putting up iron walls to turn an exposed parking bay into a shelter, I realised I could do this forever.

I’ll need to take a break before going back, however. My home PC has now finally slipped out of ‘midrange’ and into ‘bad’. As soon as the story took me to downtown Boston, my framerate dropped into unplayable territory. I look forward to finishing my Fallout 4 journey in, er, February or something.

Chris Livingston: Boss Plight

I’m not a fan of boss enemies that look and act like regular enemies but simply have 10 times the hit points so they’re artificially harder to kill. I’m speaking of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate’s gang bosses, who you need to defeat to reclaim turf all over London. There’s nothing different in how they fight as compared to a standard goon, but shooting them three times in the face at point blank range, for example, only shaves off a little health as opposed to all of it.

Anyway, after siccing his crowd of thugs on me, this gang boss attempted to flee in a horse-drawn cart (they sometimes do that so you have to chase them, it’s cute), but I managed to catch him almost instantly. I climbed onto the back of his cart, as did he, and we began to brawl. I did something—I’m not sure what—that caused him to fall off the side. “Ledge kill” the game proclaimed. “Gang Leader Eliminated.” Ledge? It was maybe a four-foot drop. Still, I was pretty damn happy to have instantly won the gang war because the highest ranking damage sponge in the district took a little tumble. Frankly, it was probably a bug. Frankly, this should probably be a low, right? Because it was a bug? Probably.

LA Noire wide

Samuel Roberts: LA Phwoah

I like my flawed masterpieces. BioShock Infinite, Metal Gear Solid 4—games that cost a ludicrous amount of money and seem to be equally hated and loved, but are always worth talking about. LA Noire is more in the realm of failed masterpieces, I suppose, but its historically accurate setting is a source of fascination for me. There’s so much expensive-feeling detail in there yet it’s not used for much more than a momentary backdrop between investigations. Still, go for a wander around it and it’s like being fully immersed in an interactive period piece.

This week Andy spoke in praise of Team Bondi’s interpretation of the City of Angels and it’s well worth a read. It’s coming up to five years since LA Noire’s release, and there’s no sign of a sequel. I’m not sure I want one: but Red Dead and LA Noire collectively show that no-one makes a videogame period piece like Rockstar does.

Tom Senior: Remote control

Sony has confirmed that it’s going to release an official Remote Play application that will let us stream games from our Playstation 4s to our PCs. Why is that interesting? Well, imagine how shooters will work if we’re allowed to use mouse-and-keyboard setups to play against PS4 players using pads. If the latency is good enough, we could suddenly see crack snipers in Destiny’s PvP Crucible modes, getting easy critical hits with the precision of a mouse. There are ways to use adapters to play PS4 games with a mouse and keyboard, but it’s technically a bannable offense.

I often wonder if Destiny would really work on PC. Structurally, it’s a great fit, drawing influences from Diablo and MMOs like . As a shooter, I’m less certain. Enemies have giant weak points that are fun to snipe with a controller, but ought to be trivially easy to hit with a mouse. We’ll find out soon enough. We don’t know when the official app will come out, but an Twisted are working on an unofficial one right now.

James Davenport: 10 PRINT “Reading is great!”; : GOTO 10

Winner of the hardest book to Google? 10 PRINT CHR$ (205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10—yeah, that’s the title. It’s a line of code often used as a stepping stone for newcomers. To keep it simple, it prints line after line of two random ASCII characters until interrupted. The result is something that looks like a maze. The book also uses this code as a stepping stone, not for learning coding, but for observing and studying code as a cultural artifact. It trains helps the reader understand code as a logical construct, but also as one informed by cultural contexts in the same way that we dissect books, movies, sculpture—all art, essentially. I’m still early on, but it’s a pretty nice way of looking at the stuff. Code isn’t strictly cold, hard logic. Code is imperfect, expressive machinery.

Fallout 4 4 4

THE LOWS

James Davenport: Fallout 4? More like—

I ‘finished’ Fallout 4 this week. Which means I completed the main campaign (I’ll definitely be back). Phew. It wasn’t great, folks! There were some really messed up moral moments, but they were undermined by a few bugs that broke a long quest in the final stretch. I can’t say I expected a good story, but given the inclusion of a voiced main character and a lack of choice in character origin, I figured Bethesda was going for something more intentional and curated, like a Mass Effect, maybe. The result was a few wet farts in characterization capped off with a series of supposedly consequential choices. But in the end, a short video plays that obliterates any notion of character you developed for yourself, and then you’re back in the world. A largely unchanged world. It’s a bummer, sure, but the game is still great, just mostly when you’re doing things unrelated to a main quest. I’d rather just roam and role-play. I don’t need fancy cutscenes, VO, or an epic story. I just need a systemic world and my twisted imagination.

Tyler Wilde: I also have a Fallout 4 opinion

Before Wes went out of town for Thanksgiving, he asked for the cooling vent above us to be directed away from his desk. So they aimed it at mine. I’m cold as hell over here, Wes. But thanks for the segue, because I’m also cold on the inside when it comes to Fallout 4. Frigid, really, but it’s been interesting to see how the staff’s opinions vary on it. Tom M. lost interest in a few hours. Phil enjoyed it quite a bit. Andy says it’s a good game but a bad RPG, and I think James echos some of that in his low this week. I admit I’m not very far in, and not every game hooks you right away, but I’m repeatedly disappointed by my character. I dressed her up like a total badass, but every time I approach the main story it’s all soft-spoken ‘where’s my baby’ crap. I’m wearing a burlap sack on my head for crying out loud.

I don’t mind RPGs that cast me as a specific character, so long as I like guiding that character. Shepard was cool as hell. But I also like the blank slate approach, where my character is mine: dumb as a post, extremely charismatic, and fond of big guns. I can have all of those attributes in Fallout 4, but I’m constantly reminded that they’re just stats and abilities layered over this mild mannered woman who, just days ago in her mind, was sipping coffee in her suburban home. She’s nothing like the character I’m trying to play as, and on top of that, she makes no sense. Shepard and Geralt are interesting people who belong in their worlds, but this vault dweller ought to be called ‘Video Game’. She hardly shows any wonderment at her new surroundings, strolling up to a crafting station to fashion a new barrel for her gun like it’s nothing. Her baby was stolen from her, but she doesn’t sound mad about it at all. Thrown into this world she has no experience with and no understanding of, she’s bizarrely calm, regardless of my dialogue choices. She’s a bad, milquetoast character—too defined to be a blank slate, but without any personality traits I could describe.

And when I ignore my quests and go exploring, so far all I’ve found are rooms full of guys who attack me. Sure, there’s a story to pick up, like the gang at the brewery who kidnapped a rival to leverage for food, but nothing I actually want to read. Maybe I just haven’t sat in this cold desk long enough to find the good stuff—expect a shivering rebuttal to myself once I figure out where to find the fun in this game. I’m convinced it’s there somewhere, because I do trust, you know, everyone I know, but then again, Rocket League is constantly calling me, and I can’t stop myself from picking up.

Samuel Roberts: I’ll review another Final Fantasy I guess

They keep coming! I’ve reviewed two Final Fantasy XIII games and have successfully annoyed fans of XIII-2 nobody Noell Kreiss, so why not go in for a third run, eh? I’m actually more excited about playing Lightning Returns in December than I was running through tens of hours of corridors in XIII again (brr) and enduring XIII-2’s truly terrible story.

But we’re still not getting the best out of the series, really. IX, XII and X/X-2 are the ones that should be prioritised for PC, on top of the more divisive XIII entries. Ideally I want the entire library on PC without having to resort to emulation or, you know, charging up my PS Vita.

Syndicate wide

Tom Senior: Assassin’s ennui

I think I need to take a break from Assassin’s Creed for a few years. Eight hours into Syndicate I stopped playing when I realised I felt absolutely nothing. I was expecting to love London, but it’s strangely bright and pristine. I missed the sodden Tricolors and braying crowds of Paris in Unity. Evie and Jacob are spirited heroes, but their adventure is templated in such a familiar way that couldn’t get excited about any of it.

During one mission I caught Charles Darwin trying to break into a warehouse, and helped him break up a sham medicine racket by gassing twenty guards to death. It sounds exciting when I put it in a sentence, but I couldn’t shake the growing sense of de ja vu. An hour later I climbed Nelson’s column and hung off Nelson’s face during a sunset, and couldn’t bring myself to synchronise with the area, as I have hundreds of times since the series began. Yep, time for a break. I’ll see you in a few years, Assassin’s Creed, or whenever the series goes to feudal Japan, whichever comes first.

Chris Thursten: More like BADtlefront, am I right?

It wasn’t until this week that I got a proper chance to play the release version of Battlefront. I had a bad feeling about the beta, and that’s speaking as a life-long Star Wars fan. I love this universe, and it’s occupied a place in my life that no other series has: from my years with Star Wars Galaxies and the Jedi Knight series to hundreds of hours in Knights of the Old Republic and its sequels, including SWTOR. I’m even heading to my first X-Wing Miniatures Game tournament tomorrow. I like Star Wars, is what I’m trying to say, and I should be squarely in the middle of Battlefront’s target audience.

It simply doesn’t do anything for me. It’s a simplistic, reductive-to-a-fault FPS, and Star Wars has always been served best by games with actual mechanical depth: X-Wing Alliance’s flight model, for example, or Jedi Knight II’s saber-swinging. It’s visually impressive and the sound is great, but it never really feels like Star Wars to me. It’s claim to be this museum-quality recreation of Star Wars using archival material is punctured every time the Emperor comes barrel-rolling through the air towards me, cackling and flinging Force Lightning as he goes.

Also it’s a extortionately-expensive FPS with bad guns. It’s bad for that reason too.

Chris Livingston: Penny failing

There are old-timey bicycles in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. The ones with the giant front wheels and the tiny back wheels? The ones people look like complete idiots riding around on, especially formally dressed people such as the ones who crowd Victorian London’s streets? You know the ones.

And you can’t ride them. You can’t ride those old timey bicycles. I tried and tried. You can knock them over but you can’t ride them. Even the NPCs in games don’t ride them, so you can’t even knock them over while someone’s sitting on one. I mean, think of the gifs alone, seeing these assassins riding around on old-timey bicycles.

New rule: no putting comically huge-wheeled old-timey bicycles in games unless you can ride them and knock people down who are riding them.

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