Once again, it’s been way too long between posts for me, and the excuses are many and varied: getting sucked into extended play sessions that eat into my allocated writing time. Much more local theatre-going than I’d expect at this time of year. Unwanted time spent in hospitals supporting family members. The onset of Cabaret season here in Adelaide, with both a Cabaret Festival and Fringe to investigate.
But there’s been plenty of playtime, though. Oh yes, plenty.
When I last wrote, I’d just completed my first play through of BioShock Infinite; I gave myself a couple of days of palate-cleansing, then went back in and wrapped up a 1999 Mode run. Whilst it was nominally the highest difficulty level of the game, my familiarisation with the game’s expectations (not to mention the “Return to Sender” trick on the final battle) made this feel far easier than my first run through the game. I still love the story, and I still think the gameplay adds nothing to it – but I wait to see whether the forthcoming DLC will be able to bridge the gameplay-narrative gap.
As soon as I had finished Infinite, I ducked into XBLM and bought Spec Ops: The Line from Games On Demand… and, after two back-to-back playthroughs, it’s a chin-stroking contrast to the polished sheen of BioShock. In no way could Spec Ops‘ gameplay be considered superior: there’s way too much awkwardness to entertain that idea, with the cover system a particular source of great frustration. The visual and aural aesthetics, whilst pleasing in their own way, are also a notch below Infinite… and the narrative could only just be deemed on par (which is excellent).
But where Spec Ops: The Line excels is exactly where I hoped it would: in the ludonarrative realm.
In encouraging (not telling, with one notable exception) you to perform some truly horrific acts of war, Spec Ops creates a sense of inner conflict with the player’s character – and, as strange as it may seem, that soon becomes congruent with the clunky controls. Walker fights your control because he’s fighting with himself; the uncomfortable extended periods of checkpoint-free play has the effect of forcing you to sit there and ever-so-slowly tiptoe through the horrors of the battlefield, contemplating each move as if it were your last.
At least that’s how I react to it. Maybe that’s a little fanciful, but it seems entirely consistent with my experience.
I loved my two playthroughs of Spec Ops: The Line, and only today did I finally gather the courage to start the slog through the FUBAR difficulty level. And it is, without a doubt, the most punishing third-person experience I’ve had; popping out of cover for less than a second at the wrong time can mean instant death. There’s a high degree of chance involved with this difficulty – if you even blindfire at the same moment that two enemies fire upon your location, you’ll die – but I’ve made it through two of my ScaredyPoints already, so I’m feeling like this will just be a grind. A good grind.
But, in late May, with the prospect of being out cabaret-ing five nights a week for the month of June, I didn’t want to necessarily start a game with a heavy narrative thread. So I decided to start a game that I could just tinker with… you know, just play an hour or two here and there, whenever I got the chance. I decided on Mario Kart Wii… completely forgetting how sucked in I get by a lot of Nintendo games.
And did I ever get sucked in by Mario Kart Wii.
And I discovered a whole bunch of new ways to swear.
My goals were simple: unlock all the content available within the single-player modes. This boils down to unlocking all the Expert Time Trial Ghosts (largely a straight-forward affair, with one or two exceptions), and one-starring all the Grand Prix (including Mirror Mode). And one-starring essentially means: stay in first place most of the time, and win most of your races.
On 50cc? A doddle, even whilst learning the tracks. On 100cc? After experimenting with a few new karts and drivers, pretty easy.
On 150cc? Oh fuck you Mario Kart, fuck you right in the eye. Imagine three flawless races, leading from start to finish, and then – on the fourth race – getting double-blue-shelled on the second lap (the second time whilst in the air over a drop) and falling from first to unrecoverable last because your items turn out to be little more than chaff.
Yeah, that happened to me. So did double-blue-shell mere metres from the finish line; blue-shell-red-shell-POW on the final turn; triple blue-shell on the second lap.
But I eventually one-starred 150cc.
On Mirror Mode? Fuuuuuuuck.
I’ve never sworn more at a game… yet immediately returned for more. It’s an incredibly well tuned piece of software that can keep you interested, even when it’s cheated its arse off and abused you in the process. But, despite Mario Kart Wii being a planned gaming distraction for the month of June, I played and I played and I played and… I eventually won. Or rather, one-starred everything (and even managed a few three-star rankings on easier levels). So Mario Kart Wii is now off The List.
Which leads me to one last piece of gaming news: a game that I’d been looking forward to for nearly a year.
A particularly industrious procrastinative mood saw me finally set up a US PSN account so I could purchase Dyad; even now, months after the European release, it’s still not available for sale in Australia. So: I bought; I downloaded. I eyed the game on my XMB with some deal of hesitancy; I know this is going to be a List-Lingerer, I know this is going to be a game I want to love and adore but which I will be astonishingly poor at actually playing.
But I took a deep breath, and started playing anyway.
Initially, I was… well, disappointed. For all the talk of minimalist presentation, the level introduction screens felt cluttered; for all the promise of transcendental visuals, my Space Giraffe-ready eyes weren’t really challenged. It looked pretty, yes, and it sounded lovely, for sure; but it was not what I had expected.
Mind you, I had expected it to change my life… so the problem there is with me, clearly.
But I decided to force myself through all the levels (as recommended by creator Shawn McGrath) before attempting any of the “Trophy Levels”… just a couple a day. I’d come home from work, duck out to the theatre, come home, push through a few levels of Dyad. Every new level introduced a new mechanic, or put a slight twist on an established mechanic – it’s a relatively linear learning curve.
And that plan worked well… until I got within a handful of levels of the end. Some of those later levels required many, many attempts to garner even a solitary single-star rank; I was actually starting to get demoralised by Dyad. Depressed.
But then came the level “Giraffes? Giraffes! From Outer Space”.
And if my first play of this level doesn’t win my Best Moment Of Gaming Award for 2013… well, something pretty unbelievably fucking special is going to have to come out.
It was amazing. Exactly the kind of experience I was looking for.
Dyad is brilliant. I’ve yet to sink any time into the Trophy Levels, and there’s a fair few of the “story” levels that are still at one-star rankings, but I am so looking forward to getting to know this game better.