Saturday, February 25, 2017

Game Diary - not Horizon.

Last night, when I was finally able to retire and play some video games, I was crushingly, achingly aware of the fact that I am not playing Horizon: Zero Dawn.  I'm consuming everything I can for the game, lately, trying my best to watch mostly combat videos of Aloy hunting mechadinos.  I'm aware that [spoilers!!!] the game begins with Aloy as a wee little babe, getting her Bluetooth and there's some sort of montage of her growing into the badass hunter we've seen in all the trailers,[/spoilers] but I've done my best to avoid those "first hour of Horizon" videos.

I'll probably watch one later tonight.  I don't think I'll be able to resist.

Of everything I've watched, though - and for the least spoilers - one of the best is Digital Foundry's long look at just how goddamned sexy this game looks.

One thing I'm really pleased about, though, is the fact that every review, preview vid, impressions thing calls out the fact that the combat is the high point of the game.  That's huge, to me - that the core, moment-to-moment combat is the big draw.  After enjoying the open-world sweet, sweet motion mechanics of Gravity Rush 2 lately, I went back and checked out inFamous: Second Son.  I distinctly remember calling out Second Son as the best-looking open-world game you've ever seen when it launched, but going back to it, it does not look particularly hot.

I believe Horizon will be viewed the same way, one day.  It's not gorgeous in the Gravity Rush or Night in the Woods or Vanillaware way - it's gorgeous in the same way Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was the best-looking video game in the world once, and now is not.  It will surely be surpassed, and will look poorer by comparison in the future - but what can stand the test of time are gameplay mechanics - and perhaps the groovy designs of its dinobots.

So, really, I'm dying to play Horizon.  I feel it is causing me physical, emotional and spiritual damage, every moment that I'm not playing Horizon, and in a desperate quest to get even a taste of its flavor in interactive form, I reinstalled Far Cry Primal.

Ubisoft: The King of the Bullshot.
I mean, it's still pretty though!

I spent an hour or so just re-learning the controls, did a few side quests in the lower parts of the map, sicced my leopard or sabertooth at a few unwitting tribespeople and shot some arrows at dudes.  It was pretty cool.  It was okay.  It was pretty clearly not scratching the Horizon itch, though.

I uninstalled it and just goofed around in Gravity Rush 2.

Some of its most beautiful and spectacular environments are found only in the mining side-missions, which see Kat lowered far below the gravity storms that plague her world, into these lost places that seem to be both connected to and centuries lost from the cities she calls home.

So I fought a boss, did a quest, tried to capture some decent footage for a Gravity Rush clip show that I'll probably never make, and my brother texts, suggesting Overwatch. 

I don't really want to play Overwatch, but I didn't want to tell him that.  I don't get to spend enough time with my brother, so we played a bit of Mystery Heroes and I did some decent Mercy work (take that, enemy Mercy who teabagged me after they won the first round of Ilios) and we went 4 and 3 - not bad! - and I pulled out my Tracer to lovely effect.  Very nice.

Then I snuggled back in to Night in the Woods.

For me, so far, Night of the Woods is kind of a ten out of ten, mostly because of how low it shoots.  Or... no, that's wrong.  That implies that it's kinda' shitty.  What I mean is it's very, very focused, and very precise about what it's trying to do.  If I was going to compare it (in terms of genre) to anything else, it feels mostly like a Sierra game circa 1989.

Like the old Space Quest games or Kings Quest, but instead of just trying to be funny or just produce a magical world mostly told via exploration and a ton of puzzles that will kill you, it's kind of about an entire community that's suffering brutal depression after the economy fell out from under their once-idyllic little town, and the tragically self-involved player-character Mae.  She is a trainwreck of aimless self-entitlement, and is slowly coming to terms with the concept that her friends are growing up and she may have to, one day, as well.

More than anything, it's a storybook.  A comic book you occasionally platform-puzzle your way through, but mostly you just walk through its (unbelievably beautiful) scenes on your way to the next person you want to talk to, because while Gregg is undoubtedly your best friend, you really want to work on patching things up with Bea today.  I mean, it was pretty shitty how you forgot about her Mom dying, and everything, and you should probably try to make that up to her, right?

What Night in the Woods is shooting for (I think) is emotional engagement through its narrative and presentation, and that is what is 10/10 about it.  Its writing, ninety per cent of the time, fucking sparkles.  It's often brief and honest and very plain - it's beautiful, but it's not flowery over-writing - but neither is it too brief, or terse.  Instead, it's the simple, rarely-perfect English we speak to each other every day, often pregnant with the magic we hope to find in our lives and the tragedy of how things have actually worked out.

This, combined with its remarkable presentation, makes it successful.  It's ambitious in this - but humbly so.

What I really want to call out in it, though, is the animation.  The art direction?  Simple, clean, effective, gorgeous.  The writing?  Sparkles.  But it's the animation that links these things up, and elevates Mae and her pals from drawings to real, beautiful characters that you can really feel.  The accusatory squint she levels at Fiasco Fox, along with the observation that he is too dreamy by far.  The wild look in her eyes when she goes on a drunken rant at a party in the woods.  The flailing arms of Gregg, who's pretty darned excited about almost everything.  The way Mae holds her arms out to balance as she tiptoes along a telephone wire (that sounds like a guitar string being plucked as she jumps on it).

It's very effective - and nearly always bespoke.  Whoever animated Mei after she dropped over the fence in the game's opening, exhausted and dirty, laying on the ground in front of the cop (her aunt) who just happened to be in the area, deserves a fucking Oscar.

But it's also not Horizon.

I'm probably building it up too much, in my head.

One of the benefits of having absorbed all this media for the game is that I'm aware that its side quests are mostly fetch this, collect that or hunt the other thing - I did a sidequest in Primal last night that saw me escorting a bunch of my tribesfolk as they chanted to like the Earth Goddess or something - it was pretty cool!  And I know how the NPCs faces animate during these hundred(s) of little "go here do that" conversations, and I know Horizon's melee combat is pretty limited (but, I hear, satisfying).

I like to think - and hope - that I'm aware of its shortcomings and limitations, but it's got me, man.  It has seized upon my imagination, and there is no escape.

Can't fucking wait 'till Tuesday.  Don't have a long weekend 'till like mid-March, though.  Still.

S'gonna' be awesome.

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