An interesting phenomenon, at least to me: I’ve noticed that the older I get the more annoyed I get by bad worldbuilding in my video games. This isn’t a story concern, necessarily; what I mean is that I need things like levels to make basic physical sense and seem in at least a cursory way to be things that could exist in the actual world the game is portraying.
Why yes, I am playing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order right now. How did you guess?
It’s been a running joke for a while, at least among my immediate family: my wife works in occupational health and safety, so we notice these sorts of things: Star Wars doesn’t have OSHA. Everything, everything is positioned with no railings over a bottomless pit or, if there is a railing, there’s not a chance in hell it would keep anyone from falling over it or, uh, being thrown:
That shit is not safe. And don’t even get me started on this bullshit:
So I’m used to the idea that in a Star Wars video game there are going to be some fall hazards. The idea doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t make sense on a fundamental level, but it’s pre-established in the world. But here’s my problem with Fallen Order: you unlock your Force powers as you travel through the game, and you use them extensively to get where you’re going on whatever planet you’re on– particularly the wall run ability, which is used constantly.
So if I had to use half a dozen Jedi wall runs, had to Force Pull a convenient vine over to myself to swing across a huge gap, had to use Force Push to break through a conveniently weak area of wall, and — oh, right — had to exterminate hundreds of incredibly dangerous examples of the local fauna in order to get to an area, how the hell are there two dozen Stormtroopers already there when I get there?
(“Why the hell are the Stormtroopers so much less dangerous than this space goat” is another question relevant to the game, but not the one I’m discussing at the moment.)
This shit gets to me, guys, it really does. You don’t have Jedi powers, Stormtrooper! How the fuck are you here? How did you get to the top of this wroshyr tree on Kashyyyk that I’ve been climbing using my magic Jedi abilities for twenty minutes? Did someone drop you off there in a ship? Why did they do that? Are they going to come get you? Are you here just in case a Jedi shows up? Because they’re supposed to all be dead.
How did any of these chests get here?
Remember these goddamn things?
Random huge pieces of machinery with no clear function whatsoever that seem to exist only to impede player progress are starting to get on my nerves. There are tons of enormous machines everywhere (on abandoned planets; who built all this shit?) that serve no purpose other than to kill you if you don’t figure out how to properly avoid and/or slow them down (Oh, also: Jedi slowing powers. I had to slow down a huge fan and sneak through an airduct to get here! How are you here, Stormtrooper?) and I just want to know what they’re for. Why are there giant spinny blades with holes in them in this area? What’s this thing, that just slams back and forth but doesn’t seem to do anything? Who decided that these catwalks needed to have places where you had to jump over holes? Because every fucking catwalk has holes, and they don’t all appear to be damaged. Some of them just aren’t finished. Why? Is the Empire suing the shit out of their contractors? Because they need to be suing the shit out of their contractors.
I’m having a lot of fun with the game– don’t get me wrong. But Jesus, the level geography is like they deliberately tried to make no damn sense at all.
Yes goddammit of course I have a Disney+ subscription. I may actually have already mentioned ponying up around here; I signed up a few weeks ago and have been waiting impatiently ever since for the damn thing to actually launch. The entertaining bit is that after those several weeks of impatience I actually forgot until an hour or so ago that the thing was launching today, and didn’t get everything signed in and hooked up until just before dinner.
What am I watching first? Captain Marvel, of course, but we will absolutely be watching the first episode of The Mandalorian before bed, especially now that I have confirmed that a certain thing I was worried about does not actually happen in the show. (No spoilers, of course.)
We spent a couple of minutes scrolling through the available offerings and my wife went entertainingly nuts over some of the possibilities, so I think our $6.99 for at least the first month or two are going to be pretty well-spent. For me, the Star Wars and Marvel content is gonna be more than enough to keep me busy for a while, and having all the classic Disney films, many of which my son hasn’t seen, is icing on the cake.
I almost didn’t buy this, because the idea of the folks behind Fallout basically trying to cross Mass Effect with a Western was a little bit too compelling; I don’t have time for a video game to eat my entire life right now, so it’s almost good that so far the game hasn’t hugely grabbed me. If you’re a gamer, “the folks behind Fallout tried to cross Mass Effect with a Western” really does tell you almost everything you need to know about this game except for the heavy dose of corporatism overlaid on absolutely everything. So maybe if they crossed Mass Effect with a Western and then crossed that with some sort of other future-tinged corporatocracy; the fact that I can’t come up with a proper analogue right now tells me that that’s the game’s main bit of originality, since otherwise the tone is really Firefly, which isn’t a bad thing.
I’ve gotten off the first planet, then went to the second place, and once I got there my ship was immediately impounded and I got hit with half a dozen new quests … and then I quit playing, because it all made me tired. If you have the time for this game, and you like the Fallout/Mass Effect/Dragon Age school of “do quests for this guy, then do quests for that guy, then collect these companions, then talk to them a lot to unlock their quests, then go do those,” you’ll enjoy the game well enough, and usually that’s right up my alley, but … maybe my alley is a bit more crowded than usual right now, and I’m more focused with cleaning my alley and getting some shit out of my alley than properly being … up … it?
That metaphor fell apart. The tl;dr version is that the game is perfectly fun and pretty to look at and there’s all sorts of shit to do and it may just be too damn much for me right now, since my head is in “give me a game where I hit shit and don’t have to think about it too hard” mode, and this is not that game. It’s why I’m still doing Dark Souls runs. I can stab the same shit in different ways. No surprises. I’m too tired for surprises right now.
In work news: I finally have a second human back in my classroom again. She walked in to witness third hour not having their best day, at all, and didn’t immediately quit, so I’m hoping everything works out. Having another adult in there will ease my workload significantly and, not for nothing, actually means the kids will get more help, which is, like, supposedly the point of having adults in the room, so that’s a good thing.
Spider-Man: Far From Home holds the dubious distinction of being the Marvel movie that it took me the longest to get around to seeing. I’ve seen nearly all of them on opening weekend, excepting only this, maybe one of the Thor movies, and Avengers: Endgame, which was derailed for a few weeks by the Ongoing Medical Calamity beginning on the day it was released. This one not only came out during the Calamity but also released on a weekend when I was at a convention and thus out of town. As we don’t really have family-based babysitters available at the moment, we just … never got around to it, until I abruptly remembered it existed and rented it from iTunes last night.
And … meh? Let’s go with meh.
That’s not entirely fair, as basically everything I liked about the first movie was also something I liked about the second, in particular Tom Holland and Zendaya’s performances. Holland is indisputably my favorite onscreen Spider-Man by an impressive margin, and Zendaya does a great job shifting as needed between a sort of forbidding cool and unwilling teenage awkwardness. Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan also probably has his best turn on-screen, and listening to him and Peter talk about Tony is one of the film’s highlights, especially the scene on the plane toward the end of the movie. No, it’s the story that falls down here, and about half of what I didn’t like about the movie is actually Avengers: Endgame’s fault.
To keep it brief, because this isn’t a review of Endgame, a post I never actually wrote: the basic plot of this movie makes no goddamned sense at all, because literally every second of time where Tony Stark knows Spider-Man is alive is on screen in that movie, and then Tony dies, and there is no time at all for him to set up even a single second of the machinations that this film depends on for its plot. My wife made the argument that he set everything up in advance believing that they would be successful and undo the effects of what this movie calls the Blip, and I suppose that’s an argument you can make but I can’t buy it. That’s not a Tony Stark thing, that’s Batman-level planning, and frankly “let me pin a lot of the future of my tech on this dead person coming back to life right before I die” is probably a planning stretch even for Batman.
(Frankly, I feel like the Blip is probably the worst possible way they could have solved the immense story problem that Avengers: Infinity War set up, but that’s a whole other post, and I never wrote it. I think the idea is heinously dumb, and Endgame had a ton of great moments but overall the movie was a clusterfuck.)
The other problem is that I either don’t understand how Mysterio’s powers work in this setting, at all, or I do understand how they work and they’re dumb as hell. So unlike the traditional comic book Mysterio, who actually is able to trigger hallucinations, all of Movie Mysterio’s abilities are linked to these Stark drones that are creating holograms, right? Real holograms, that have no physical presence and aren’t, like, made of hard light or some other fanwank type of stuff? And all of the destruction that the holograms cause in the movies is actually caused by the drones, which, I dunno, blew up the giant column that the hologram just supposedly punched, only without leaving any physical evidence (like, say, bullets) behind? I mean, at no point during the movie is it implied that these drone-things are battering rams. The hologram, which is pre-programmed except where it isn’t, punches something and it looks like it got punched to death, only what actually happened is that the robots shot it or hit it with a rocket or something, and doesn’t the fire monster melt a whole lot of shit? Was that shit actually melted or are we just not supposed to think about that? How much water during the water-monster’s attack was holographic? Did no one wonder where that water went?
(Also: Spider-Man’s powers are kind of fundamentally useless against giant monsters made of water or fire, which is why in both of those battles he doesn’t actually fight the monster, he just jumps around tossing (useless) rocks or trying his best to keep giant things from falling over. The final fight against the drones is awesome, but these were bad giant monster choices for a Spider-Man movie. And part of the reason they had to set it up this way– were the rocks he threw real, by the way? Where did they actually land, since they didn’t hit the monster?– was because if he had ever tried to punch the thing he would have realized it wasn’t real, because Mysterio’s powers in this movie are real real dumb.)
(Did no one notice the giant fire monster wasn’t hot?)
Anyway: they literally show Mysterio rehearsing one of the fights, for crying out loud. So this is all set up in advance. The holograms at times involve Peter’s clothing. And they make a big deal about how Peter uses his “Peter tingle” (I don’t think these films have ever used the phrase “spider-sense,” and I thought “Peter tingle” was hilarious) to fight the last batch of drones, only there should never have been a moment in the movie where the holograms activated his spider-sense and he should have noticed that. All of which could have been avoided if Mysterio’s abilities had been a combination of hard-light, actually physical manifestations of something or another and hallucinogenic gases like the comic book character’s are, which could have plausibly interfered with the, uh … Peter-tingle.
I dunno, maybe this is inside baseball comic-book geek stuff, but that’s what I am, and this film fell down in a bunch of ways that I’m not used to seeing from Marvel movies. I am, for the first time, not hugely psyched about a decent-sized swath of the upcoming MCU product, although there’s certainly a lot that I am, and, well, I set up my Disney+ subscription yesterday, so they’ve got my money. But this is definitely a lower-tier Marvel movie for me despite my affection for the cast. And you’ve already seen it, so chances are I’m not talking anybody out of it, right? We’ll see how long it takes me to get into the theater for Black Widow when that finally comes out.
EDIT, A FEW HOURS LATER: I’m apparently still thinking about this, and this is absolutely one of those movies that keeps falling apart more the longer you think about it. And what the hell is Mysterio’s long-term plan here? Because he keeps making noises about being a big giant (fake) hero like some sort of low-rent Syndrome from The Incredibles, only Syndrome’s gadgets gave him actual abilities and his plan to sell them to everybody made sense, and Mysterio just has his fake holograms, which he apparently wants to continue to use to be Earth’s Mightiest (fake) Hero and not, like, make a giant pile of money or something like that, which seems like a better use for the technology? Dude literally needs a scriptwriter because he can’t think on his feet fast enough, and the one time he has to ad-lib he blows the whole thing and Nick Fury figures out he’s a fake. Are we supposed to notice he’s an idiot? Was that the idea?
What’s this dumbass gonna do when Galactus shows up? Did Earth acquire no new heroes during the Blip? Is his plan to continue to just fake being a superhero, like, forever? How is this not the biggest Underpants Gnome plan of all time?
Also, and this will probably be dealt with in future films, and is more a Hmm That’s Interesting than a plot problem, but how long have those two Skrulls from Captain Marvel been running around pretending to be Nick Fury and Maria Hill? Was that actually Fury and Hill who got dusted during the Snappening, or the Skrulls? Because that would actually be kind of cool if the Skrulls have been letting Hill and Fury do double-duty all this time and Fury’s actually been chilling in orbit. My wife pointed out that Real Fury probably doesn’t let Skrull Fury have Captain Marvel’s beeper, which is a legit point, but it’s still fun to think about.
Part of me feels like reviewing this game is pointless, because it came out way the hell back in 2016, but I never pay attention to the year books came out before I write about them, so to hell with it: I first downloaded Salt and Sanctuary for my PS4 a couple of months ago, played it for a couple of hours, and for whatever reason it felt unreasonably hard and didn’t click. I jumped back into it for no good reason a week and a half or so ago, and it immediately proceeded to eat about 20 hours of my life between then and beating it on Sunday. So I’ve been playing quite a bit of it later, and watching videos about it when I wasn’t playing it. I don’t know why it didn’t hit at first, but maybe running a mage build made all the difference.
Anyway: S&S is a 2D Soulslike combined with a Metroidvania, which is an utterly impenetrable sentence if you don’t speak fluent Gamer Nerd, so let me unpack it for you: difficult combat, tons of different ways to build your character that will lead to you fighting with anything from magic and giant hammers to whips and guns and scissor-swords, difficult boss encounters, penalties at death, collecting materials (in this case, salt) from defeating enemies that you can use to level up and are lost if you die unless you defeat the beast that killed you, and an absolutely enormous map (that’s only maybe 2/3 of it, if that; I don’t think there’s a complete map on the internet anywhere yet, which is unreal) with tons of shortcuts and secrets and replayability and lots of backtracking. Combine all that with a seriously cool, unique art style and we have something I’m going to be very into:
It’s an interesting combination of cartoony with gory; killing enemies results in a surprisingly satisfying explosion of blood and body bits, and the overall aesthetic is just Lovecraftian enough that it never got old, although in general I found it a bit too dark a lot of the time– you will be lighting a lot of torches in this game, and there’s a particular enemy that lives in completely dark areas and keeps a light on its forehead like some sort of bipedal angler fish, and the way my build worked out I often had to choose between being able to see and being able to attack it, because you can’t hold a torch and a two-handed weapon at once, and all of my weapons were two-handed. Which got complicated.
Another thing the game does well is the addition of what it calls Creeds, which are basically your character’s religion; there are about seven of them, three or four of which are available at the start of the game. When you find a safe area in the game (a “sanctuary”, where you can level up and there aren’t any enemies) sometimes they are already dedicated to a creed and sometimes you can choose what creed to dedicate them to; you collect items throughout the game that can let you add things like blacksmiths and vendors and fast-travel points to sanctuaries, but you can only add them to sanctuaries that belong to your creed. Sanctuaries can be converted between creeds, too (and you can change yours,) but that can lead to violence if done too many times to the same creed. Connecting vendors to a collectible item leads to a bit of strategic thinking about where to place them, but if you find all of the guides you can put a guide at nearly every sanctuary, so it’s not as big of a deal: more important is that the vendors and such also add bonuses to areas, so you get a salt bonus if you add a Stone Leader at a sanctuary, for example.
I just finished my first run, and it’s distinctly possible that I’m about to dive right in with a second, although I’ve got my eyes on a couple of other games too. But any game I play through twice before heading off to something else is pretty special. If you’ve found that your tastes in games line up with mine in the past, check this out.