Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Rotation, November 2010

Work, holiday travel, and brief bouts with illness may have prevented me from writing much the past few weeks - but not, thank goodness, from playing videogames. Here's what's been in rotation this month:

XBOX 360
  • Deadly Premonition. Finally finished this endearingly bizarre thriller a few nights ago, and holy crap was the ending a revelation. Actually, the whole game was a revelation, on so many levels. There's lots more to come from me on the subject, including some analysis of the many risks this game takes that the AAA blockbusters won't even touch. But for now, let me just say, without the "so bad it's good" irony common to many reviewers' takes, that Deadly Premonition is without a doubt the most ambitious, challenging (not difficult, though - more like subversive), and ultimately rewarding game I've played all year. It features easily the most memorable protagonist of any game in recent memory, and a story that oscillates between absurd and poignant with more frequency and dexterity than everyone's favorite Sean Connery-in-a-Speedo postapocalyptic film, Zardoz. Approached with an open mind, this game can be an amazingly resonant, if unrelentingly odd, experience. If you are even the slightest bit interested in Deadly Premonition - and are willing to endure some obvious and frustrating design and technical issues to get to the brilliance underneath - do yourself a favor and pick it up. And for God's sake, DO NOT indulge in spoilers. You're better than that.
  • Dead Rising 2. Completed the last quarter of the story early this month, and I don't mind saying how touching it was to see Chuck save Fortune City wearing only Borat's banana hammock. The close-ups featuring our hero's bare ass as he shared a tender moment with his seven-year-old daughter were especially emotional.
  • Red Dead Redemption. Well, I got to Mexico. And now I get it. For a game that's so high on so many GOTY lists, it drags like a sumbitch in the second act.
  • Harvest Moon DS. Just as impenetrably directionless and cheerfully addicting as the SNES classic, this portable version makes me wonder how, and no offense to the 70 million of you doing so, anyone could play Farmville. Not because Farmville is a "blatantly cash-grubbing spamming app made by an evil company for the PopularStalkingPlatformBook" or "only moms play it" or "it's more interactive advertisement than game," although all these things are true, but because nobody can fuck with the cuteness of Harvest Moon. Yo, you seen that sheep? With that fresh-sheared look? Straight ADORABLE up in this bitch. "This bitch" being, of course, the barn.


  • Dawn of War II and its expansion, Chaos Rising. It's been a mystifying but not entirely unwelcome journey into the Warhammer 40,000 universe this month, largely propelled by the very solidly-executed Dawn of War II. I'm not sure if this game qualifies as an "action RPG," "tactical RTS," or some other variety of "descriptor ACRONYM," but it's damn fun regardless. While I enjoy the resource-gathering and base-building of games like StarCraft and Age of Mythology, I'm generally lousy at adopting any other strategy than turtling. DoWII removes that temptation along with most of the intense micromanagement, freeing the player to aggressively pursue and destroy enemies the way any Space Marine worth his 41st millennium equivalent of stripes would. In many ways this game has more in common with Diablo or Torchlight than with StarCraft, but the distinction is academic: what I love most about these Warhammer games is the way their over-the-top weaponry and righteous pseudo-religious xenophobia give just enough context for me to jump in, guns blazing. Very much looking forward now to a game that would have never otherwise been on my radar, the upcoming 3rd-person shooter Space Marine.

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