Jun 28 2022

Hyped games that don’t do anything for me

Published by under Games,Movies,Thoughts

There are quite a few games on the market that have received praise from almost every critic in the known universe and that are even labeled “masterpieces”. And when I tried to play them, I was wondering if something’s seriously wrong with me: I either did not like the games at all or just found them bleak and boring and uninteresting and no fun at all or, in some cases, I even immediately hated them.

Hollow Knight

Yes, let’s start with Hollow Knight. Everybody in the gaming sphere seems to love this game to pieces. I have tested it via my Game Pass membership on PC and Xbox Series X and I even bought it for my Nintendo Switch.

I get why people like the art style. I like the “Tim Burton bug style” as well. It’s very atmospheric and I actually could imagine to enjoy getting lost in this world and explore it simply for its style and atmosphere.

The super-melancholic, depressing music I absolutely hated right from the start and I switched it off.

Now come all the real problems with the game:

Why are some bugs obviously my enemy and attack me and why are some other bugs harmless or even friendly and can and do even talk to me? Why should I be motivated to attack some of the other critters? This is an immediate problem that I have with the game: It does not provide me with any story at all and thus with absolutely no motivation to enter a fight with anything. At least I do not feel any motivation or interest in fighting those other bugs. To collect some of that “geo” that’s the substitute for money in that game that the creatures might leave behind?

Also, and this is something that I absolutely hate in games: When I leave a screen and come back to it, the whole screen “resets” and all enemies in it respawn at the exact same location where they were before I fought my way through them. I. Hate. That. Mechanic. In. Games. It’s lazy, annoying shit. And it does NOT make the game any more interesting at all. It’s just annoying and it renders all of the player’s efforts USELESS. That is neither satisfying nor fun to play.

Then the game has some super-shitty mechanism when you die somewhere and have to start from the last save location (benches in the game are game save locations). It then can take minutes to find your way back to the boss fight where you just got butchered. Oh, and yes, when you die, you basically lose all your possessions and have to find your very own “dark half” and fight against your dead spirit and defeat in order to get your stuff back. And then you can giving that boss fight – or whatever it was that killed you – another try. It’s annoying and frustrating, not fun.

And then comes another thing that I don’t like about the game: It’s a brutal, old school platformer. I like some platformers; for example, Midnight Mansion I absolutely loved. But I really despise the ones that were designed to be brutally hard so that some players can feel superior because their lives allowed them to burn thousands of hours into learning specific button patterns on their controllers to “master” a level in a computer game. Again, I don’t feel positively challenged here, such game designs just annoy the shit out of me. (For the record: For similar reasons, I am also not a fan of Spelunky.)

There is nothing in that game that even pretends to try to motivate me: There’s no story that’s grabbing your interest, there’s no sense of progression in that game, there’s just nothing there that catches my interest or my attention. There’s just a nice looking Tim Burton bug world. And that’s not enough for me.

In short: I am not the demographic for this game and I don’t get the appeal.

As a side-note: I absolutely adore Hades and Dead Cells, two games that very often come up in this context.

Now how can I like Dead Cells, which at the first look also is a platformer without any story, but at the same time not like Hollow Knight?

Because Dead Cells does not ask you to be a good at platformers, it does not ask you to be good at ridiculous platformer-boss-fights and it also does not ask you to memorize a whole world just to find your way somewhere – in Hollow Knight, mapping sucks and in Dead Cells you don’t need it at all because every run is different by design. At its core, Dead Cells is a rogue-like game, not a platformer, and its levels are procedurally, randomly generated for each run (Hades does this, too).

Also: Dead Cells is not mainly designed to actively try to kill the player, so for me it is more FUN to play and it also looks gorgeous in its own style and it actually has a great soundtrack that I like to listen to. It also has a sense of humor and is not depressing and bleak at all, despite the setting. Dead Cells is relaxing to play, not frustrating.

About Hades: This game has set the bar so high for all future rogue-like games that it has changed the industry forever. Hades has likeable characters, great voice acting and with each run you learn a tiny bit more about the world, its characters and their stories. The gameplay is amazingly smooth and fun and you never get frustrated when your character dies and gets thrown back into Hades, because then there will be new things to learn and to discover and new dialogs to have or listen to and the story will develop further. Even though the game loop itself might be repetetive, the game never feels repetitive at all. Hades is a design marvel. It doesn’t come by accident that I own Dead Cells and Hades on Switch, PC and Xbox Series X.  (Darkest Dungeon and several other games, too, hmm.)

Disco Elysium

I basically grew up with pure text adventures liked Trinity, The Lurking Horror or Zork who later evolved into point & click adventure games like Indiana Jones and The Fate Of Atlantis. Fate Of Atlantis had multiple endings and even some of the puzzles were randomly rearranged in each new game, to give every player the feeling of playing their very own version of the game – and story.

Despite the marketing, Disco Elysium first and foremost is a point & click adventure game that also implements certain role play mechanics and that changes the way the world responds to the player based upon the player’s choices and the “build” of the player’s character. So far, so good – in theory.

Many reviews will tell you that the game gives you gigantic freedom to do whatever you want. And that simply isn’t true. For example, I really would love to just hit the ugly, stupid, obnoxious, bad-mouthed druggie kid that’s throwing stones at the corpse with my crowbar and for some weird reason that option is not there.

I cannot say whatever I actually want to say because either the dialog option just does not exist or the game system throws some inner monologue at me that prevents me from actually saying what I just clicked.

In short: I do not feel any of that freedom that everybody has been writing about. Quite the opposite: I feel severely limited and trapped inside a (by design) broken character and broken personality.

There is not one really likeable or interesting or even friendly character in the game. Most of the people you meet are just mean, aggressive assholes.

There’s no interesting story in that game either. You can discuss politics and ideologies in this game until Kingdom Come, but there is no fucking story that in any way develops. You suffer from amnesia because your drank your brain cells away, but it’s not like that is any way interesting or offers interesting choices. Your animal side is looking for more disco while other parts of your brain rather want to discuss communism. But nothing has any actual deep meaning, and none of it is in any way interesting.

The world around you is bleak and depressing. The main music theme (the one with the fanfares) is also fucking depressing.

The only atmosphere the game manages to conjure is one of depression, frustration, hatred and of going down.

There was absolutely nothing in this game that ever made me smile or that motivated me to explore the world. After several hours, I even could not be interested anymore to listen to the never-ending dialogs. Everybody character in this game is miserable and is rubbing it in your face. And then comes the depressing fanfare theme again.

And another thing that I hate: The outcome of many, many dialog options or other interactions is determined by the role of fucking dice! That randomness does not make the game more interesting, it only manages to make the game super annoying. They try to mimick old school RPG game mechanics with that, but let’s face it: This ain’t an RPG, and those are no good RPG mechanics either. This only adds useless and uninteresting randomness and frustration to the game.

Disco Elysium tries hard to be a political game for a mature – or should I say: older – audience. But there is no feeling of escape from MY world in there, which an adventure or RPG game should offer me. All Disco Elysium offers me is an even shittier world than the one we all live in, one that you are happy to leave behind when you exit the game and don’t want to go back to. This is not what gaming should be about. (The Last Of Us I and II made the very same horrible, horrible design choice and I absofuckinglutely hate those games for it.)

So again: I am not the demographic for this game either. I rather play The Darkside Detective or Gemini Rue instead.

Update: I played the game again last night. Got killed by the union mob in the cafetaria. Farthest I’ve ever gotten in the game. The interesting thing, though: Something stirred in me, a feeling of “I’m gonna you show you fuckers.” I actually might give this game another run. But I doubt I’ll play the PC version again. My AMD Ryzen notebook got extremely hot last night during that game and I don’t like that. Disco Elysium is currently on sale in the Nintentdo eShop and also in the Microsoft Xbox store. I haven’t yet made up my mind which of those two versions I’m gonna get. The Switch version still has a lot of framerate drops, the web tells me. I don’t I would enjoy that. The Xbox version, on the other hand, is Series X native. Hmmm.

XCOM 2 – War Of The Chosen

I’ve played and beaten XCOM – Enemy Within and what I totally loved about this XCOM game was its creepy atmosphere and its sense of thread and menace. I loved the fact that the game opens in Germany, and I also loved it when UFOs crashed 1950’s style in the middle of the night somewhere near a remote and isolated farm and “sectoids” were then crawling around the place.

They absofuckinglutely nailed the atmosphere in XCOM – Enemy Within.

And in the end, you blow up the invaders’ mothership and Earth gets to live another day.

And this is the first problem with XCOM 2: The game pretends that this never happened but that instead the aliens had one and conquered Earth. This is the very first thing that really pissed me off.

You cannot let a sequel simply annihilate dozens of hours that players put into beating a game and expect them to be fine with that. You should at least have the decency to tell them that despite all the efforts, the aliens came back with a bigger ship and more force and this time humanity lost. That’s also not nice, but it would at least serve as some kind of bridge to the new setup. But no, XCOM 2 actually tells you that you did NOT win in the previous game – according to XCOM 2, none of the important stuff ever happened.

Pushing that aside, the next problem that XCOM 2 has is that it replaces the sense of menance and threat and the creepy atmosphere of its predecessor with… stress. Once you’ve passed the first fistful of (mostly introductury) levels, the game rapidly turns into a hectic management nightmare. There is just too much going on, too much interrupting and annoying dialog and messages and too many alarms and micro-management things to attend to. Simply put, the game feels like stressful work.

There are some nice creepy setups still in the game, like the “dead” cities with the zombie-like creatures. That’s still kind of nice in itself. Or the very hard Shen’s Last Gift mission (which reminded me a lot of a certain research institute in Gears Of War that was also still run by a crazed AI).

But then “The Chosen” appear, and I must say I just find them annoying and not interesting at all. Full disclosure: I don’t watch Marvel superhero movies anymore either. It’s too much silly nonsense that does not do anything for me.

I also cannot relate to any of the other characters in the game and none of them are in any way likeable or interesting or make the game world memorable.

In Enemy Within, we had Dr Vahlen and Shen Senior – and their discussions and stabs at each other and their different world views. They made life in the base interesting and their cut scenes were always worth a watch. I never had that feeling in the sequel with Shen Junior and Dr Taygan.

What I also generally disliked in the game is the premise: In Enemy Within, you run an underfunded, secret first and last line of defense operation, governed by a faceless board of directors. You’re an actual hunter trying to protect your home.

In the sequel, you’re basically a resistance fighter – also known as terrorist – that tries to overthrow the powers that be or at least sabotage them at every corner.

Sabotage and terrorism do not have the same appeal to me as defending the world from an almost invisible, strange and alien invader whose actual motives you don’t even begin to understand in the game. It’s all in the unknown.

The last problem: XCOM 2 is even more XCOM than XCOM, baby. Meaning: The actual fights feel MUCH more unfair and much more random than they felt in Enemy Within. In XCOM 2, you can almost expect that you will miss a 95% shot. EVERY time. And that’s just no fun at all, it’s also just frustrating. These things happened in Enemy Within as well, but it did not feel as frequent as it does in XCOM 2; in XCOM 2, it very often feels like missing a shot is the default setting.

Many people complain about the unholy amount of timer missions in XCOM 2. I’m not certain if I actually have a problem with those or not. For me, the problems with the missions in XCOM 2 lie elsewhere: I find them mostly uninteresting and plain and simple boring, simply because I cannot really get into the atmosphere of the game and I also don’t feel motivated to do any of the things the game wants me to do. The game and its world just don’t grab me. I don’t care for anything that’s happening there. And I also know that should I complete this mission, only more stressful micro-managing will be waiting for me.

I absolutely loved XCOM – Enemy Within (and own it on Xbox 360, PC, Android and Kindle Fire), but I am very obviously not the demographic for XCOM 2. The game does not click with me and I just don’t like it at all.

Phoenix Point, by the way, suffers from similar problems as XCOM 2, which is a shame because the first levels of the game actually looked and felt very good, but then the problems began.

If you want some alternative to Enemy Within, I strongly recommend Mutant Year Zero and even Gears Tactics instead. Unfortunately, both of these games don’t offer much replayability, but Mutant Year Zero absolutely nails the atmosphere and has some fun characters to play and Gears Tactics is gorgeous to behold and it absolutely nails the tactical gameplay.

The Witcher 3

Until now, I think people would just shrug and say “well, if you don’t like them, why are you even writing about it? Why don’t you fucking move on and do something else?” But adding The Witcher to the list will probably be regarded as the inexcusable, ultimate sin.

I bought The Witcher 1 and 2 for PC and The Witcher 2 also for Xbox 360 on which I actually sank quite a few hours into the game. The Witcher 1 was almost unplayable for technical reasons – the controls suck rocks and I refused to invest any time into a game with such shitty controls.

The Witcher 2 looks and feels dated and very linear, but at least it was playable. However, I simply lost interest after a few hours, at some harbour in some small town in a story line that I cannot even remember and never cared much for.

The Witcher 3 I purchased for Playstation, Xbox, Switch and PC. I mostly played it on my old Xbox One X and later on my Series X.

The world in the game looks mostly great, I give it that.

The NPCs and animals in the game look wooden and not convincing at all.

The audio of the game is horrible, especially human voices in the background sound god awful to a point that it breaks immersion.

The controls are among the worst in any open world game in existence – the “Worthabuy” channel on YouTube was 100% right about this. The Witcher 3 plays shitty because of that – and they never got it fixed in all those years.

I cannot say that I cared much for the story in the game, but I also never got really into it because I just cannot find it in me to keep playing a game that’s so shitty to play because of mostly technical reasons.

I will, however, give the game another shot when the Xbox Series X next-gen patch becomes available. But my gut feeling tells me that this most likely will only boost the graphics but it won’t be fixing any of the real problems that the game has.

It makes me a bit sad – because technically, this should be a game that I really love. I like the Netflix series a lot, I find the character that you play very interesting and the setting of the world loudly screams “play me and lose yourself in me”. But: I just can’t. The Witcher 3 feels as bad and wrong as AC Origins (a super disappointing game, especially because of all the hype and marketing) and AC Valhalla (just uninteresting and boring).

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, however, despite all its flaws, was the damn best open world game I have ever played and probably will ever play. Even though I put over 220 hours into it, I rather play the Kassandra story line again from scratch than sink another hour into The Witcher.

I probably would also rather play all three Metro games again from the start – and those had enough technical issues as well (but at least those got fixed with many, many patches over time).

But AC Odyssey holds the crown.

Conclusion

These were just four examples for very popular and hyped games that don’t work for me at all. There are many more, but for some reasons those are standing out a bit because I tried very hard to like each of  these games and I have put a lot of effort and hours into trying to get into those games. And failed. Each time.

I am also beginning to observe a pattern over the last years. Either I have lost my connection to computer gaming or gaming has moved away from me and I am no longer part of a demographic or audience that game developers care for. There must be a reason why I no longer find myself buying as many new AAA games as I did in the past or why I find them mostly uninteresting, unattractive and boring.

Still, there are AAA games on the horizon that I’m still very much interested in and that I am really looking forward to: STALKER 2, The Callisto Protocol and the Dead Space Remake, for example. But somehow, that also feels a tad sad, because there was a time when that list would have been much, much longer.

Maybe the same thing is happening in computer gaming that I have been observing with movies: I have always loved cinema and movies. But when was the last time I actually wanted to see a new Hollywood/US-American movie? Nowadays, when I want to be excited about a movie, I noticed that I am no longer looking to America but that instead I am looking out for new South Korean productions (in their original language, with subtitles). And I compared to the decades before, I rarely watch movies anymore.

I cannot put my finger on it, but obviously something has changed in the last years.

 

 

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Jun 16 2021

Get vaccinated

Published by under Thoughts

Covid-19 is an undeniable reality and it actually has killed people in my direct neighborhood and it also has killed friends, relatives and loved ones of people around me.

Even though I’m in Germany and a member of one of the risk groups, and even though I had registered for a vaccination as soon as I could, I had to wait quite a long time before I could receive a vaccine against Covid-19.

I also was not given an actual choice to pick the vaccine that I wanted. BioNTech would have been my first choice, mostly because I’m fascinated by the technology behind it, but also because it is the most effective of the available vaccines. However, had I instisted on receiving BioNTech, I would have had to wait several weeks (or even months) longer for my shot.

So I got “Janssen” by Johnson & Johnson in the end, which was relatively new in Germany and available. The undeniable advantage of the J&J vaccine is that only you need one shot and then you’re done. The possible downside is that it might not be as efficient as any of the others.

I got my dose 2.5 weeks ago and the only side-effect that I had was that I was suffering from a numb arm and hand for several hours. I was expecting a worse experience, but truth be told, it went just fine for me.

The ultimate benefit: For the first time in 1.5 years, I no longer suffer from the fear that any random contact with some other person could actually kill me. I might still get infected, but even then I still have some protection against the worst. It also significantly reduces the risk that I might unwillingly and unknowingly infect someone else.

The air has gotten breathable again.

If you have the chance to receive a vaccination against the Coronavirus, do yourself and the world a favor and take it.

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