I am bad at Uncanny Valley

In January, one of the free games available on PS4 through the PS+ program was Uncanny Valley. Now, normally I don’t bother with the weird little indie games that they put up there, but Uncanny Valley is a horror adventure game. And when you’re me, “horror” and “free” are the magic words. One or the other will pique my attention, but both will guarantee a download.

The game begins in a nightmare scenario, wherein your guy wakes up in an alley and is subsequently mauled by shadow monsters. Then he wakes up in his home but the shadow monsters sack the place and maul him again. Then the game proper begins and you’re on the subway to a new job. You’ve been hired on as a night security guard at an abandoned office building. You get the tour and instructions from the morbidly obese day shift guard, Buck, and then you’re off to the races.

Now, Uncanny Valley is the type of game where your actions affect how the story plays out. I apparently did quite poorly, as I got a pretty awful ending. But that’s putting the horse in front of the cart. Gameplay consists of wandering throughout the office building for seven in-game hours each night. Then you can either retire to your bedroom to sleep, or continue wandering until you pass out. It seems like every time you fall asleep, you’re taken to a new dream sequence where you end up getting mauled by the shadows again. I don’t know if the mauling is inevitable or something I was screwing up, but I’m not sure I’ll ever find out the truth.

The first couple nights weren’t very exciting. I met the woman who is in charge up facility upkeep, Eve, and found a number of cassette tapes lying about. There was a safe in the 4th floor office that I had no key to, and I was able to turn on a number of computers to read through staff emails. Other than that, nothing happened. I guess I also learned that if you hold the right analog stick, it shows you how much time is left in your shift.

On night three, I found a tape deck and started listening to the cassettes that I’d collected, but then the power went off, and Buck told me that I’d have to go out to the generator to reset it. There was a puzzle on the generator that I was unable to solve, so when my guy passed out, I was put in control of Buck, who then had to go out to fix it himself. This is when the first spooky thing happened, and the screen faded to black as a scream rang out, following by a number of gory sounds.

When I woke up, there was an odd red light shining into my washroom, apparently coming in from the next room. But I couldn’t get into any of the other rooms, so that was a dead end. I opted not to go over to the generator room, just to see what would happen if I ignored it. Turns out, nothing at all. I listened to the rest of the cassettes, which had recording of a man speaking to an AI of some sort, and said AI apparently hurt a man whom she was getting to know fairly well. Seems like maybe that was what happened.

After listening to all the tapes, I hit my timer to see that my shift was over. My guy passed out though, and the next day when I checked my timer, the shift was already over again. Bluh? I spent the day exploring the few rooms I hadn’t been to yet, and the day after that, the timer still said my shift was over from the moment I woke up. So something had gone horribly wrong. Whether it was a bug or intentional, I do not know.

I walked down to the generator room to find Buck’s mangled corpse, but my guy did not react to it in the slightest. Weird. I felt the urge to end this madness as quickly as possible, so I went up to Buck’s room, stole his car keys, and attempted to take off his his car. But I was greeted by some hoodlums who I’d apparently wronged somehow, and they knocked me out and took me into the office. I woke up in some sort of production facility, and complied when they said not to move a muscle. Then the lights went out and there were screams and more gory noises. When the lights came back on, I wandered to the back of the room passing by the mutilated corpses of the hoodlums, and found Eve. Then she knocked me out.

I woke up in an idyllic-looking house, along with Eve. She said she loved me and we’d be happy together forever. Ruh-roh. I wandered over to the bathroom, where my guy was like “I bet I could break this mirror” so I did that and got a shard of glass. Then I went to the storage room and found a grate. Being an adventure game, I attempted to use the shard of glass to pry to grate open and escape, but my guy was standing too close and interpreted my action as wanting to use the glass on himself. And that’s how I ended up slicing my guy’s gut open.

When he woke up again, Eve had bandaged him up, and when I tried to walk away, my guy decided to try to sock her in the face. At which point she knocked him out. Again. Finally, he woke up strapped to the wall, with Eve explaining somberly how she had to make sure that he couldn’t hurt himself any more. So she hacked his limbs off one by one and cauterized the stumps with a blowtorch. Then she cuddled up to his mangled torso and said “I love you.”

I don’t know if I’ll play this game again to try to earn a better different ending, but man, that went places. And here I was, playing just to try to do a good job at being the night guard.

Monster Hunter World: (could be) The Movie

In the review I posted a few days ago, I made note that Monster Hunter World has a much more engaging story than any previous game in the series. While it’s been fun to follow as I play through the game, I don’t know if MonHunWorld’s story will stick with me at all after the fact. Lord knows that I have no idea what any of the other games’ stories were about any more. What I do know, however, is that this plot is scores better than the plot that I’ve read for the upcoming Monster Hunter movie.

First of all, let’s look at a brief summary of Monster Hunter World’s plot. It begins with your hunter, part of the Fifth Fleet, travelling to an island called the New World. Your fleet is part of the bigger Research Commission, who are in the New World to investigate a phenomena wherein elder dragons cross the seas to the New World every ten years. The particular monster you’re tracking is Zorah Magdaros, a gigantic turtle-like creature that wears a volcano as a shell. Throughout the course of the game, you follow tracks of Zorah Magdaros (though how something that big manages to elude the Commission, I cannot explain), learning about the New World and the creatures that inhabit it. At the midpoint, you learn that the elder dragons migrate to the New World because it’s their final resting place. But Zorah Magdaros has a massive amount of energy built up inside of it, and if it happens to reach the heart of the island when it dies, the release of that energy will incinerate the entire place. For some reason. I’ve already forgotten why exactly. Because it’s going to take a dip in the lifestream or something.

This all leads up to an exciting climactic showdown where the Commission tries to block Zorah from the lifestream or whatever, diverting it back out to sea where it can expire harmlessly. It’s actually a really great setpiece, and makes for a very entertaining climax in the game. There’s cannons, a really big ship with a giant mechanical spear weapon in the hull, and a happy ending. Putting all that on the big screen would probably be pretty neat too. The story actually does continue afterward, but it’s into another mystery that isn’t strictly necessary to get across the point of the Zorah Magdaros story arc. So let’s call it there.

Now, as far as the proposed movie goes, the first strike is that it’s being directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. You might know this fella as the man responsible for all those Resident Evil movies that everyone hates. According to buzz on the internet, his script “would involve an American being dragged into the parallel universe that the Monster Hunter series is set in, learning how to fight monsters, and having to deal with the situation when monsters cross back into the real world and start attacking, such as a final climactic battle at Los Angeles International Airport.”

So basically it’s Space Jam.

Normally I like to try to be more positive about upcoming media. It’s really entitled to damn something before the final product is ready. But I really don’t care for this particular brand of the fish-out-of-water story. Especially because there’s no need for it. Why do we need to tie this into the real world? The fantasy world of Monster Hunter is so rich and interesting on its own, it would be a disservice to only give it half a spotlight to placate Average Moviegoer. Or at least, I’m assuming you would go that route so that people who don’t play Monster Hunter have a point-of-view character that they can relate to. You could also write the story this way because it’s a great way to completely avoid have to be creative and write an actual story. But hey, who am I to judge?

Anyway, that’s my little spiel for today. Just something I felt like I needed to rant about. Regardless of how uninspired the plot my be, I’ll still go see a Monster hunter movie. I really just wanna see those monsters up on a giant screen.

Ugh… Now that I say that, I just realized that there will probably be some Hollywood re-designs of the monsters. That’s… I’m not looking forward to that.

Wherein there is music-based rambling

I have purchased three new albums this year so far. Which is kind of a lot, I guess. I don’t really buy a ton of music anymore. And I don’t pirate any music anymore. So what are our three albums of honour? We have:

  • Story of the Year – Wolves
  • Tonight Alive – Underworld
  • Sons of Butcher – Cover Stains

So in January, I got the new albums from two of my favourite bands of all time, but those aren’t the ones that I feel the urge to type words about. No, today, for the first time in many, many years, I want to type some words about Sons of Butcher.

To catch you up: Sons of Butcher was a 2005 Canadian animated show that lasted for two seasons, and since the main characters were in a band, they also released two studio albums. I don’t know if either show or music were successful, as the market for comedic rock is very limited, but it took me a while to warm up to both. Once I did, though, I was all in. Bought both seasons on DVD and both albums. Listened to them all the time. They’re one of the few bands that I could not get the ex-wife into. And honestly, I don’t blame her. This is stuff for a very specific niche.

Moving closer to the present, I Googled Sons of Butcher randomly the other week, and through a series of clicks I discovered that they have a Bandcamp page and way more than two albums. While my instinct was to immediately download them all, I opted instead to pledge $5 for their live cover album. The track list was a strong list of classic rocks songs that I love with a number of SOB originals. Seemed like a good idea.

Results? Mixed. Mostly because it is a live album and lacks a certain polish. Normally that’s fine. I actually like the rawness of a good live album. But none of these guys are particularly good singers, which poses a problem when you don’t have any means to sand up the rough edges. Also, since there’s presumably no mixing going on, all the guitar solos are muted and only come out of the right side, which is not optimal. I mean, the solos are really good. It’s a darn shame they don’t get to shine a little more.

Aside from those gripes, I like the album. It’s not a straight cover album by any means. Like I noted before, there are a number of Sons of Butcher songs in there, and a number of the covers are tweaked a bit, usually for the sake of making them “funnier.” I really love “Tasty Meats (Done Dirt Cheap)” but the changes to “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” aren’t especially hilarious, just excessively dirty. Thankfully that song gets cut off a little early.

That actually reminds me of something else weird; there are clearly supposed to be skits in between some of the songs, but they’ve all been excised. Why? I couldn’t even fathom a guess, but the cuts are poor and it’s more than a little distressing. A couple songs cut out very abruptly, and there are a number of instances where tracks cut out just as soon as the band starts talking. I can see how this may have been necessary for a physical album release, but when you’re using a digital marketplace, why not just keep it all in. Maybe it’s a simple as none of it was funny.

Like so many things that I like, I feel as though I’d never recommend this to anyone. It’s just for such a specific crowd, and I am very sure that nobody I know has the required sense of humour, or a taste for very unrefined live music. But that’s why I have this blog! So I have “someone” to “talk to” about all the weird things I like and not get scoffed at like I’m some kind of idiot.

Last Month in Movies – January 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – It was absolutely everything I wanted it to be and more, though it still pains me deeply to even consider that there could be a superior Star Wars movie to Empire Strikes Back. It’s seriously wreaking havoc on my list of favourite Star Warses.

While I’m sure that nobody but Future Me reads this blog, I still feel it’s necessary to avoid spoilers. So here are, in vague terms, a few things I really liked about the film: the way Luke Skywalker was handled, especially towards the end. The strong use of vibrant colours, red in particular. The reveal, and identity, of Rey’s parents. Thrilling space combat!

Quite frankly, I really appreciate that the film was constantly zigging where I was expecting it to zag. I was surprised on multiple occasions, and I think that there was only one thing that made me cock my head to the side and wonder if that was the best choice. I’m pretty sure you’ll know exactly what I mean if/when you’ve seen it. Otherwise, yeah! Awesome movie!

Suicide Squad – Speaking of movies that surpassed my expectations, this one sure did! Not so much because I personally didn’t think that I’d like it, but it seems to me that the fan/critical reception was middling at best. Also, after Batman V Superman… It’s hard to trust DC movies.

I was a little worried at first, because it was slow going and it seemed like half the run time was going to be explaining the backstories of all four hundred characters. But it picked up quickly and I really got into it. Maybe a little formulaic in execution, but I liked where all the characters went, and the acting out of most of them was really great. It makes me real excited for the possibility of a Joker and/or Harley Quinn movie. Less so for Deadshot. He’s just Will Smith being Will Smith, but a bad guy this time.

I wish that I had more to say about Suicide Squad, as this feature is awfully light this month. I guess they could have used Killer Croc or Captain Boomerang a little bit more. Or just cut them completely because neither one made a lick of difference to the story. Oh well, maybe next time.

A dino-sized review: Monster Hunter World

I’ve been playing Monster Hunter games for almost eight years now, and as time goes on, I only find myself more and more enamored of the series. Maybe that’s a little weird considering how little it has changed over the course of the last decade, but you know what they say – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Monster Hunter has actually developed very similarly to the Pokémon series of its lifetime. Each game contains the same core gameplay mechanics, and every sequel refines a few mechanics, sands down some rough patches, and maybe throws in some weird new distraction that can be helpful if you take the time to use it. Where the bigger differences lie are in the new worlds to explore in each game, and the new stable of monsters that come around with each generation.

However, times are changing, and so are the things that we thought we could expect from a new Monster Hunter game. Two years ago, Pokémon Sun and Moon changed up the Pokémon formula in some very drastic and surprising ways, and now with Monster Hunter World, Capcom has proved that they don’t have to stick to the rigid formula that we’ve seen in every MonHun game that came before it.

Now that I’ve said that though, I’d like to note that the core gameplay loop is the same: Take your big weapons, find a big monster, kill it, and use its fangs and scales to fashion bigger weapons to fight bigger monsters with. Repeat ad infinitum with bigger and stronger monsters. This can’t change, or else it just wouldn’t be Monster Hunter. Obviously. But everything that’s wrapped around this core concept has seen a change that ranges between mild tweaking to a complete overhaul.

Continue reading

Monthend Video Game Wrap-Up – January 2018

~ Game Over ~

Mega Man X (SNES) – Much consideration went into the choice of what the first video game I played in 2018 would be. But it really couldn’t have gone any other way.

Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (PS4) – A shooter spin-off of a visual novel mystery series. So for every 5 minutes of gameplay, there’s 20 minutes of dialogue. Still liked it.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Switch) – I purposely waited until 2018 to finish it so I didn’t have to reorganize my “best games beaten in 2017” list. It would have been much too hard to place.

Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure (3DS) – Dug this up to beat it so that I could delete it to make room on my SD card. It’s actually an excellent game. Reminds me of Space Channel 5.

Mr. Pumpkin Adventure (WiiU) – A highly surreal point-and-click adventure about helping a pumpkin-headed man with amnesia to remember who he is and why he’s an amnesiac.

Monster Hunter World (PS4) – Tore through the story quests, because the game doesn’t really begin until you gain access to the High Rank quests. Loving it, but longing for portability.

~ Now Playing ~

Resident Evil 7 (PS4) – Booted ‘er up for the first time in a long while to dive into all the DLC from the season pass that I bought with the game last year and subsequently ignored.

Pokémon Ultra Sun (3DS) – The adventure continues, at a rate of about half an hour a week.

Yooka-Laylee (Switch) – I don’t know how the game was when it initially launched, but I think that the current version is generally a very good homage to Banjo-Kazooie.

Volgarr the Viking (Switch) – Almost beat world 2, but man, the boss is really tough.

Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4) – After a painfully slow start, it’s definitely getting its hooks into me. Except when I had to kill a bunch of people with a chain gun. That was really dumb.

Milkmaid of the Milky Way (iOS) – Retro-style adventure game about a rancher who must… rescue her cows from aliens? Fun, but the rhyming text often feels forced and gets annoying.

Super Mario RPG (SNES) – Played via emulator, which caused the game to crash quite often. Funny, I don’t have that problem when playing on an actual console…

Commence countdown

I know that I’ve mentioned it before, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually embedded the trailer for the film adaptation of Annihilation. So… here it is. Watch and get hype! Less than a month to go!

BTW, though I put it down for a while about halfway through because… probably because I started taking my Switch to work to play on lunch break, I finally finished the third book in the Southern Reach trilogy, Acceptance. It was really, really good. Better than Authority, maybe not quite as good as Annihilation. There’s definitely more going on, and you actually get a few answers about what’s happening in the story, but overall it just wasn’t as absorbing. Still great!

TE’s Top 7 Games Beaten in 2017

Hello! 2017 is over, so like everyone else on the internet, it’s time for me to do a “Top X Y’s of 2017” list. Video games seemed fitting this year, because 2017 was like the best year for video games ever. And I chose to do 7 because 17 is way too many and 10 is too mainstream.

If you’re new here, how I do my year-end lists is different from most. In the case of video games specifically, I don’t choose from games released in the year, but rather from the pool of games that I’ve beaten during the year (that said, 5 out of 7 are 2017 games). This is partially because I split my time fairly evenly between new releases and retro games, and partially because I like to go against the grain. Also, games that I’ve beaten before are excluded (or else the list would just be Mega Man X and Shovel Knight over and over).

Preamble complete! Back to adventure! …I mean, article!

This is easily the one that sticks out as the weirdest of the group. An action-heavy road-trip rogue-like? Actually, it may even stick out as one of the weirdest video games period. Or maybe not, because there’s all sorts of insane junk on Steam these days.

More to the point, Death Road to Canada is about, well, a road-trip to Canada in a world where zombies have taken over. Maybe not the most compelling or unique tale, but that’s not the real meat of the game. During your travels, you will have to stop off at various locations, like abandoned apartment buildings and grocery stores. Here, you will face down endless hordes of zombies while searching high and low for supplies. You’ll be able to use nearly anything you find as a weapon, and sometimes you’ll even pick up other survivors to join your pilgrimage.

That’s nothing especially new; in fact it feels a lot like a 2D version of Dead Rising. What sets Death Road apart is the RPG bits in between action sequences. It works almost like a choose-your-own-adventure, in that you’ll be given random events along the road. Maybe you run into a band of thieves, maybe one of your party stumbles across an angry moose, maybe you decide to stop off at a mini-golf course. Often, you’re given a choice of how to deal with these situations, and depending on your choices, you could end up with extra supplies, or someone leaves the group because they were blamed for a particularly nasty fart, or your entire team ends up dead in a flaming car wreck. These events give the game a very unique flavour, especially since all the while, your band of travellers will be making snarky comments to and about each other.

There are so many variables at work in Death Road to Canada, so many events, weapons, game modes, weird random jokes and randomly-generated characters, that you could play it for weeks upon weeks and not see everything. The amount of content is only made that much sweeter by the fact that the game is always fun. Smacking up zombies and finding treasure is always a great time, even when you’re under pressure by a particularly thick horde or a looming nightfall. Survival in the face of impossible odds is the greatest feeling, and what’s even better is that there’s a two-player cooperative mode that lets you and a friend tackle the trip to the Canadian border together.

How did Super Mario Odyssey, possibly my most hotly anticipated video game of 2017, end up only at number six? To be fair, it was nearly impossible to actually rank these last seven games, but what set them apart is that every game that ranked higher made me feel something. They hit nerves, toyed with my emotions, frustrated me the best ways, and truly absorbed me. The only thing that I felt throughout Odyssey was “WHEE! I’M HAVIN’ A GREAT TIME!” Which is still great, of course, but it probably won’t really register as an especially strong memory for me.

That said, if I were ranking the games completely objectively, I’d likely slot in Mario at #2, so.

Let’s start again. Super Mario Odyssey is amazeballs. I don’t like to use that word, but I literally can’t think of anything else that quite perfectly describes how excellent this game is. It is the purest example of what I think a video game can and should be. It’s a massive, glorious adventure into worlds that toys with your preconceptions of what Mario levels should be and what kinds of challenges you’ll face in said levels, and it never stops being fun. It never stops being suprising and exciting, and I absolutely cannot wait for the inevitable DLC kingdoms.

I think the most important aspect of the game’s appeal is its unexpected simplicity. And to that end, I would like to direct you to the video at this link. It is a wonderful analysis of Super Mario Odyssey’s mechanics, and how even though they are simple, they can lead to endless possibilities and countless hours of fun. Go on, drink the Kool-Aid.

If Super Mario Odyssey fell behind the rest of the pack because it “only” made me feel pure elation, Resident Evil 7 edged it out because it made me feel absolute terror. It made me feel some other things too, like complete despair and a desperate need for more hours in the day, but mostly just the terror.

To properly describe that, we need to start at the very start. Specifically, the initial reveal of the new gameplay style. After the mostly despised Resident Evil 6, Capcom had to seriously re-think what they would do with the main series going forward. Their solution was to dial it back to a smaller-scale story, focus more on horror than action, and put the player in a first-person perspective. I was highly wary of this at first, but it turned out for the best in all the ways. I absolutely consider RE7 to be up there with RE2 and RE4 as one of the best games in the series.

I’ve written about this game several times before, but I guess it’s worth summing up again. RE7 is a horror masterpiece. Most of the game is spent quietly sneaking around spooky environments, hoping that monsters aren’t going to pop out and murder you. They inevitably do, and it’s much, much worse when those monsters are replaced by stalkers who will relentlessly prowl around, looking to find and kill you. The story is much smaller in scope than the last few main games, putting you in the shoes of a man looking for his assumed-dead wife in a creepy swamp mansion. Of course, there’s more to it than that, and the fun twists and reveals are very impactful, and very much in the classic Resident Evil style.

I also want to make a small mention that RE7 has some of the best DLC I’ve paid for. The two “banned footage” packs contain alternate game modes like an escape room and an ultra-hard remix of the Baker mansion. I haven’t played the second pack yet, but I got a real kick out of the first one. Two new story episodes were released right at the end of the year, and I haven’t made time to play them (or even room on my PS4 to download them), but one stars the one and only Chris Redfield, so I’m very eager to give it a go in 2018.

I’ve already written a huge spiel about this one, so maybe give that a read and then come back to check out the rest. If you need a TLDR, here are a the main bullet points:

  • A great evolution of classic Mega Man gameplay
  • Generally excellent boss battles
  • The game that Mighty No.9 should have been
  • Insanely thorough weapon customization features
  • Eight playable characters (though five are paid DLC)
  • Tons of extra content (collectibles, achievements, modes)

Honestly it was an incredibly difficult choice whether to include this or Hollow Knight as the 2D platformer on the list. They both really deserve it, but I am biased toward run-and-gun action. If this were a Top 8 list, however, rest assured that the extra spot would belong to Hollow Knight.

Like Mighty Gunvolt Burst, 2016’s DOOM washed over me like a wonderful wave of nostalgia; a terrific modernization of a classic franchise. Both are shooters -albeit of a different perspective- that build on their inspirations, though their modern incarnations couldn’t be more different. While IntiCreates took the retraux road, Bethesda brought DOOM fully into the current generation of gaming with all the fancy bells and whistles.

But bells and whistles are where the upgrades ended. Sure, the game looks gorgeous, gives you permanent power-ups, is rendered in full 3D and has all sorts of nonsensical DLC packages, but at its core, DOOM is still DOOM. It is pure and simple, unlike the vast majority of modern shooters. You won’t see any cover mechanics or regenerating health or annoying attempts at realism here. Doomguy can carry all of his guns at once, and never has to reload. Doomguy jumps like a video game character and can clamber up ledges. Doomguy can collect crazy powerups like Berserk, which imbues him with the strength to smash even the largest monsters to giblets with just his fists. It is my perfectly idealized first-person shooter.

I think that what really sold me on DOOM, however, is that as much as it feels like classic DOOM, it also feels strangely reminiscent of Metroid Prime. The game is segmented into stages, but each one is a massive area full of secrets that can be freely explored. There is a ton of verticality in every level, which I think is what really makes it feel like Metroid; you’ll be hitting the jump button just as often as the shoot button. Combat isn’t about hiding behind cover and taking careful potshots. You need to constantly be moving, because the enemies will follow you relentlessly and trying to hide will only get you pinned down and killed. Fighting is fast and active; every encounter is legitimately thrilling, and there is a very real threat of being killed at all times. It’s just got a really nice flow that Call of Duty and Halo have never nailed.

Literally the only thing that I didn’t like about DOOM was the bosses. While they are a tick above classic DOOM bosses, they still brought the game’s pace to a screeching halt by being significantly harder than anything else the game throws at you. But everything else was perfect! The lightning-fast combat, the focus on exploration, the adrenaline-pumping glory kill system, the sweet weapon modifications, and let’s not forget the bumpin’ death metal soundtrack! Yes, DOOM was a very strong contender for the #1 spot on this list, and I thoroughly regret having waited so long to play it.

I’m not really sure where to start here. I think we all know by now that the original NieR is one of my favourite games ever, on the strength of its characters, narrative, and soundtrack. The gameplay is all about deconstructing video game tropes, and the true ending contains a twist that you just don’t see in mainstream games (or any games that aren’t NieR, for that matter).

I went into NieR: Automata expecting more of the same, and I was not disappointed. It started up with a world that prompted so many questions; the far future of Earth where the last remaining humans live on the moon while their android army battles the mechanical forces of alien invaders back on the planet. Only, after a few hours, you start to wonder why you never see any humans or aliens. It’s a typical Yoko Taro game, with plenty of haunting themes and so many events that exist just to punch you in the gut and break your heart. It’s an examination of the nature of people and why we’re so friggin’ obsessed with violence and war. My advice to any considering playing this game is to not get too attached to any of the characters. Especially not any of the more immediately lovable ones.

Like NieR before it, Automata likes to toy with genre and perspective, but not nearly as much as the original game did. There’s no top-down Diablo-style level. There’s no text adventure segment to the game. Fishing is significantly less complicated and not at all important to your quest. But by focusing on two genres (third-person action and shoot-em-up), Platinum was able to polish up the gameplay to a level far surpassing that of the first game. That and it’s really nice to see those two particular genres mashed up, as it’s a very uncommon combination in our modern world of genre-bending indie games. The dappled-in RPG elements are a nice touch, too, as the androids’ chip system makes way more sense that Nier’s word system ever did. I just wish that they hadn’t felt the need to make it more like Dark Souls by having to recover your body if you get killed.

What separates it from the original NieR and its sister series, the Drakengard games, is that it actually isn’t completely hopeless. After all those hours, when I finally finished Ending E, I found myself tearing up in joy, at the beauty of what was happening on screen in from of me. And that song, Weight of the World; I still get a little misty-eyed when I listen to the “complete” version, and I listen to it quite a lot. The soundtrack in general is just phenomenal. The original NieR’s soundtrack might be one of the very best in video games, and Automata’s is absolutely up there too. It’s maybe not quite as good, but it’s still unbelievable. There is so much feeling baked into every track, and you really just don’t get music like this in… anything, really.

Of course it’s the new Zelda game. I mean, come on now.

What really makes Breath of the Wild extra special is that it’s probably the first game since Xenoblade Chronicles X that I’ve really gotten lost in. Like, the “I came home every day and just played until I fell asleep” kind of lost in it. It was my second life for a solid month, and continues to be something that I think about even when I haven’t picked it up in a while.

It wasn’t until only a couple weeks ago that I started hearing that a lot of folks, even fellow Nintendo fanboys, aren’t too keen on the game. And, you know, I get it. I really do. It’s so vastly different from every other Zelda game (except maybe the first) that I can see why people wouldn’t dig it. But I really, really do. I love that openness, that lack of direction. Zelda games have been so linear for years now that it’s nice to finally have a game that absolutely feels like Zelda, but lets you do whatever you want whenever you want. I think what really seals it for me is that I can just enjoy the world for itself more than most other video game enthusiasts. I don’t need a little trinket as a reward every few steps. For me, the importance of the journey far outweighs whatever is at the destination.

The vast world is only the main draw, though. All the little things within it are gravy. Fighting monsters is always fun and varied because your stock of weapons is constantly changing. The shrines are almost all very fun little things to find and solve (but the motion-control shrines can frig right off). The divine beasts are shorter than the more complex dungeons of games past, but I found them to be very cool little jungle gyms to play around in. Truth be told though, I still haven’t even beaten them all. Towns mean more than ever now that there are real sidequests and shopping is a much bigger part of the game. And honestly, just poring over the in-game map to try to find all the little references and cool geography is like a smaller game unto itself.

If there is one thing that I could change about Breath of the Wild, I think I’d like for there to be just a little more randomness to it. Like in Skyrim, how a dragon can come out of nowhere to wreck your day. I’m not asking for a lot, just a little something so that even once you’ve spent your entire life exploring every nook and cranny of Hyrule, there’s still something that can surprise you once in a while. Though I think that may be exactly what Master Mode is for. I still haven’t given it a try.

Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect. Of course not. But it’s easily the most impactful game that I’ve played all year. Some day, when there aren’t five billion other games to play, I really hope to finally get back into it and check out all the DLC. I hear that the extra story content is really quite good. Maybe that’ll be my game of the year for 2018.

Office excitement

Sir Ben Kingsley visited my office today. Yep. It’s a thing that happened. And honestly, the way people around here reacted was like one notch short of how the characters on TV’s The Office would have acted if a celebrity had visited their workplace. Pandemonium all day. Personally, I tried to play it cool, but I got infected by everyone else’s excitement. I’m a little ashamed. At the very least, I did my best to stay out of the crew’s way.

As the story goes, he was shooting a short additional scene for the upcoming film Nomis. Just a 30-second snippet. He was in and out in ten minutes, but I think that maybe the more impressive thing was the crew’s set-up and take-down. We had about 20 people on the film crew milling about for about two hours, setting up and preparing for the shot. Once it was over, they were gone in under five minutes. It’s kind of fascinating how much more quickly they were able to tear down the operation.

It’s also important to note that in their hustle and bustle, the film crew made a significant mess on our freshly-cleaned carpets and dinged up a bunch of walls. And the office was just renovated last summer. Le sigh.

Anyway, if you care, you can watch that movie to see the Winnipeg skyline outside the window I almost never look out of. It’s got Mr. Kingsley talking on a phone or something in front of a window. I don’t know if I’ll care enough to actually watch the film right away just to spot the scene. I think it’s more likely that I’ll be looking through old blog posts a few years from now, and stumble onto this one, which will inspire me to finally check it out.