Electron Dance
11Oct/2021

Before The High Tide

This is the final in a series of five musings on Control. Previously: Behind the Poster, Use of Weapons, Reverse Shock and Slave to the Rhythm.

There will be spoilers.

So: you reach the final boss. It’s what you’ve been working up to. Sometimes a game sticks the landing, sometimes it fluffs it and the magic withers.

But what happens if you get there and you just don’t know how to proceed? Like that one level in a puzzle game that you just can’t best. You give it your all but it isn’t enough to get you through. The energy wanes. You lose interest. You put the controller down. Maybe you don’t pick it up again.

This isn’t what happened in Control; this is an analogy for what happened to this essay, my final post on Control.

Finishing Control didn’t inspire me to write something glowing about it nor something scathing about it. It didn't inspire me to write anything. I had enjoyed whacking things and some of the set pieces were clever but it never congealed into something amazing. Six months on, the highlights are already drowning in the brown sludge of long-term memory. Black Rock Quarry looked awesome. The relentless Astral Spikes were invulnerable thus fearsome. The Ashtray Maze was fine but more notable for its frustrations. The mirror sidequest was clever but, in the end, it just boiled down to a fight against a powerful enemy with spooky lighting. Reaching some of the secret places was cool, even if they were gamed hotspots with rewards for finding them - carrots to entice you into the dark. AAA doesn’t exist without carrots and everyone’s a donkey.

It's peculiar that Control’s carrot work is quite poor. It’s been the tradition of every Shocklike to finely dice upgrades to imbue hard-earned progress with some tangibility. Your inventory screen sings with success and beckons you onward for more. But Control’s upgrades are like collecting grated cheese, such tiny morsels that it feels like you’ve been conned into a devil’s bargain. Thief had you search for four pieces of a talisman to gain access to the Haunted Cathedral; Control would consider that setting the bar too low. Thief: 2020 would probably have the player gather 23 magic fragments which could then be crafted into one of ten pieces. And there’s that weird unbalancing present in the free Expeditions DLC which puts you through time-limited challenge ragequittery to win… a mod.

Even if you might think you’re above it all, those damn carrots are on a fishing line: they can hook even the best of us and make you feel like you consented to the abuse.

A small voice whispers: why did you play it?

I think Prey (Arkane Studios, 2017) was the last time I indulged AAA and it hasn’t really changed much. That honeymoon period with a power title used to be the best bit, where a game’s systems were mysterious and I hadn’t yet identified the feedback mechanisms or in-game affordances. A whole new world, ripe for discovery. Control, however, made me suspect AAA has continued to learn from its ‘mistakes’ and deleted the mechanic mystery from early game. After all, one person’s mystery is another person’s throw-in-the-towel. Both Prey and Control were more interesting after they had laid out their systems and let you loose in their world. I wrote about Prey:

Prey level design is initially like a tunnel bored through rock. The light at the end of the tunnel is your nav marker. The nav marker is your friend. Trust the nav marker. However, once you reach the station lobby, you’ve actually graduated from Prey academy and Prey says all these worlds are yours (except Europa). Go where you want. The objective markers are still there, but they don’t own you. Because you’re conditioned to follow the pied piper’s nav markers, players may not notice this immediately.

Some talk of the warm “comfort” of shrugging off a hard day with a brains-off AAA game, where the eye-popping spectacle, almost scientifically-refined carrot systems and supportive hand holding forges something people call a High-Quality Consumer Product. There’s only so far you can bend the rules of a big-budget mass-market product before it ceases to be mass-market. And once you’re no longer mass-market, you are no longer big-budget.

The AAA balancing act is a delicate operation; a slip will expose it as graphical erotica stretched over mundane systems. Yes, you get some shooting with a bit of feelgood punch - it ain’t bad but... it’s exactly what I expected: a vehicle for passing time. Once Prey’s wondrous exploration ran out, I was left with the vehicle.

The industry wants to make game products that control your attention and swallow your whole life. But this unhealthy design strategy was encouraged by gamers who would only yield $60 for a game that swallowed them whole, the consumer who wants to be consumed. Maybe we should call this the vicious vore circle of AAA.

Okay, so this is not a surprise to long-time readers: if I end up investing a lot of time in a title, I tend to resent it, because it holds me back from seeing anything else. This isn’t FOMO so much, but a game that would take a few days for a teen to plough through would likely take me a few weeks. During that time, more games will come out, the hot-take window will have expired and no one is going to read your Control screed fifteen years after the game was published. And that’s because many of these titles are lavish sandcastles, washed away with the next high tide and forgotten. Perhaps someone will tweet one day, “hey, Binary Domain was a lot better than you thought, you should give it a go”.

So it’s true, I have an unfair tendency to hate on a long game, which dissuaded me from getting back into puzzle games. I’m currently struggling with some resentment for A Monster’s Expedition, which I’ve been working on for one month, and I suspect its hot-take window has already expired. And so, Control.

My enthusiasm was ebbing towards the end as the play experience became repetitive and all I had to look forward to were set pieces and cutscenes. I had already worked out, from reading all the logs, that The Director was the one who had let the Hiss in. But, just in case the player hadn’t done enough figuring out, I was then treated to a cutscene where it was all laid out in front of me, everything I already knew as if it was Jesse’s sudden insight. Joel’s sudden insight was remembering Electron Dance friend Badger Commander who always skipped cutscenes.

But while Control hammered the main plot points into my head, there were all those unexplained side stories. What is The Board? Who are the Formers? Why had Marshall disappeared? Was Darling really gone? Who was “Ahti”? Will Dylan, who offered the most interesting conversation of the game, wake up? But it wasn’t enough. I had no enthusiasm to write about any of this or play any of the other DLC. The journey was over. The end. The fifth of five Control essays: missing in action.

Was I just too old for this stupid shit now? Had I seen too many of these games? I’d seen Shocklikes through the years and these stories no longer seemed to excite, even though I loved the concept. I’m playing the original System Shock for the first time partly as an experiment to answer these questions.

In a world where a Marvel-Fortnite crossover is a premiere videogame event, it’s easy to embrace cynicism so intense that it incinerates your soul. The real question is why I even bothered playing Control. So I could be disappointed as per expectation? No, it was the complete opposite. Cynicism had already gutted my appetite for the $$$ game, and I braved the attractive and lauded Control to try and fix myself. I didn’t want to be such a clown about these titles.

Playing Control was a project to reprogram the mental association I had with AAA. To see the splendour of the Oldest House instead of Press F to Comfort Elizabeth.

It was a project that did not succeed.

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  1. In terms of AAA titles I probably should play: Dishonored 2, Saints Row 3 and 4. I’ve got a whole wardrobe full of big-buck titles lying around like Metal Gear Solid (I don’t remember which one), GTA IV, the two new Deus Ex titles, The Witcher series, Fallout: New Vegas, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Watch_Dogs…

    I can’t bring myself to install any of them. Picked most of them up for pennies.

  2. A lovely conclusion to this series. As you know I had to give up on Control due to graphical wonkiness with my should-have-run-it-fine RTX 2060, as well as maddening difficulty spikes. But I will return to it one day.

    Your points about AAA are well-taken. It has become a template of sorts (or maybe several templates across genres), and only rarely does a game break the mold. More and more they are cash grabs full of microtransactions and too bloated for their own good. Far more interesting space is AA, or even A, where you see games like Subnautica, Pathologic 2, Foundation, Frostpunk, Outer Wilds, and so on. Another point is that
    “mainstream” development doesn’t automatically mean AAA, either. Studios like Coffee Stain come to mind–developers with stability and money that nonetheless don’t swim in the Ubi/Epic/2K/etc pond and don’t really want to. To me, AAA means massive budgets and vasty development times, often coupled with naivete about what the game out to be.

    Sometimes they surprise you, of course. Red Dead Redemption 2 deserved the praise it’s gotten. Doom Eternal is just plain balls-awesome. It’s like a summer blockbuster movie, back when we had those. Maybe it’s not deathless art–maybe not even that great a movie–but it can be fun. It entertains. Though I’ll be first to admit, speaking personally, my hobby seems to be BUYING games, not PLAYING games. I buy way more than I play, and I’m rarely enraptured by any.

    That said, we can cull your list down quite a bit:

    –Dishonored 2 is okay, but doesn’t hold up to the original. There’s one mission that’s totally worth the price of admission, but most of the game is rather pedestrian.

    –Saints Row 4 is only one you need to play, and it is glorious.

    –GTA IV and V are an acquired taste I never acquired. In my opinion you’d be better off with RDR2.

    –You only need to play the first new Deus Ex. The second was highly forgettable.

    –Similarly, you can skip past the first two Witchers and go straight to 3. Witcher 2 is great, but 3 outclasses it. No need to bother with the others.

    –Fallout New Vegas has not aged well. I’d say that ship has sailed.

    –The Metal Gear Solid you don’t remember is The Phantom Pain, and it’s quite a remarkable game, partly because of how immense they managed to make it with a relatively modest budget (for a top shelf AAA game). Of course, in its immensity it flies in the face of something you just complained about regarding AAA games. If they’d tightened the experience to 45 hours it would have been unforgettable. At 200+ it’s… long.

    –Wolfenstein: I really enjoyed The New Colossus, though I wouldn’t consider Wolfenstein required reading. The aforementioned Doom Eternal would be a better purchase.

    –I am actually a little curious about Watch_Dogs Legion, because I hear it’ll have 4-player co-op and my weekly crew will need a new game once we get through the Borderlands 3 DLC. But I never got into the first two, so it’d be a cautious step.

    I like your approach, even if it’s unintentional: you sample a AAA game every now and then to see if the taste has changed, but you don’t feel you owe your hobby a steady AAA diet. It’s like Marvel movies. Everybody should probably see a few Marvel movies. That’s just healthy. And if you love them, by all means, see them all. If they’re not your jam, that’s no big deal. But you still want to check in on Thor every now and then to see how he’s doing.

  3. NODS

    CONTINUES TO NOD

    ONLOOKERS BEGIN TO EXPRESS CONCERN ABOUT WEAR ON NECK MUSCLES, SUCH IS THE EXTENT OF THE NODDING ON DISPLAY

    What can we do! What can we actually do. We can’t stop time. Can we? We can’t put on literal blinkers and force ourselves to progress through our backlogs in a timely and linear fashion, heedless of the baubles and explosions of the gamosphere around us, ever unfolding.

    I kind of wanted to play Genshin Impact (this is a shameweeb cipher for I really wanted to play Genshin Impact), but it is a f2p mobile-first gacha game, which is another way of saying ‘strip me down Sally and feed me feet first into the hungry voremouth’ and ffffffFFFFFFUCK that! I have a life to live and that would be the end of the twin concepts of consumable time and a sane mind.

    There just isn’t. There isn’t time. There isn’t time to go back, and there isn’t time to keep up. We’re the others, you and I; the ones outside the discourse. Everyone is, though: the discourse acts in composite, it eats constantly, chewing on fragments of people and lives and hours. It is never one omniscient viewpoint. It is never whole.

    So don’t feel bad. No one person could ever be The Discourse. Even the people who get paid to pretend that they are, are in fact not. So don’t fret over your unfinished AAA turds. Flush. Them. Out of sight and out of mind. And join me in trying to come up with a better way.

  4. grated cheese

    as soon as i read grated cheese it felt as though every word of the rest of this article fell into place in my mind before i read it, such was the level of synchronization i felt

    i’ve been using this grocery store points system app for the past year (?) and while it’s nice to save the money (well, get reimbursed in fake money that i can spend at the grocery store on groceries, so it’s basically real money) it concerns me how much attention it can consume. is this the direction the world is heading in? not just in videogames, but in everything? social media is “gamified”. wish there was a better word for this concept of Intentionally Consuming All Available Time And Attention that didn’t vilify games, but maybe they deserve it.

  5. Hey Steerpike. God, SHOPPING for games is more fun than playing them sometimes. I love buying wishes! It’s awesome! Especially as wishes are so cheap these days. And if I don’t play them, they remain happy wishes forever! I do find the work further down the A chain a lot more interesting – you can almost guess the experience ahead of you with a AAA game.

    That said, I’m tempted into GTAs and the like just for the open worlds. That’s something Control isn’t strong on. While it does let the player wander about it feels like an carefully managed arrangement of corridors and hubs.

    Thank you for the offers of culling. I don’t know if I’ll actually take onboard your lessons as I have no idea when I’ll next brave a AAA game. Knowing my stupidity it’ll be NEXT WEEK DUMBASS. Then again I’m still at the start of Blighttown in Dark Souls, so.

    And CA, you with all the nodding. I’m still entranced by AAA money projects but, gahhh, it’s just the length of them disappearing over the horizon that does me in. ANd I’m terrible at sunk cost fallacy when it comes to games, always expecting the good bit is around the corner. Ashtray Maze bait. So obviously the project droqen is currently involved in should interest me.

    I do miss being able to get my hands around the industry. I mean… there were always blind spots, but now it feels like trying to be an expert in mathematics. You’ve got to specialize. No one can know everything.

    Ah, droqen you make me want to write that thing on Fortnite I’ve been wanting to write, which gets even more into the attention thing. I worry that attention-hungry games are monopolising time and diversity to all our detriment. I also hate loyalty point systems, especially as they have become so convoluted over the years; getting vouchers for extra bonus points if you buy specific stuff in your next shop within a certain time period. I’m not a violent man, but my trigger finger is itching.

  6. I think I put up a wrong link to the 10mg list of Steam. That just picked out an individual game. Here’s the full list: https://store.steampowered.com/curator/38713864-Ten-Minute-Games/list/67131.

  7. I was going to write something more here, but it would’ve been pointless argument about how many angels can dance on an AAA game.

    Instead: play Pathologic 2. Like, it’s engaging and tangible and demanding and rewarding and alive, vitally alive, in a way that AAA games no longer even know how to dream of.

    That is all.

  8. “The AAA balancing act is a delicate operation; a slip will expose it as graphical erotica stretched over mundane systems.”

    This line warrants the chef kiss; to follow it up with the argument that AAA product strategy is a “vicious vore circle” is divine.

    Re. Badger Commander, you’ll be pleased to know that I have a sideline in trolling him by refusing to skip cutscenes in multiplayer games. This is sometimes delightful, such as our replay of Lost Planet 2 last year – he genuinely likes a few cutscenes in that – but mostly it annoys him. All the more so if I pretend it isn’t me, because then he assumes it’s Potter doing it.

    Donning my 45% recoil reduction “I liked Control” hat for a moment: I like those unexplained Control stories. I’m sure most are pure seeding for DLC, possible sequels and Remedy’s ongoing shared universe project. But taking Control in itself, a game that’s all about mystery and otherworldly threat should leave a lot of stuff unanswered. Works for me to leave stuff hanging. Especially questions like, seriously now, what the fuck is up with the Formers and what does it mean that they’re in conflict with the Board? I’m sure any actual answer would be disappointing.

    I reckon I can be more savage than Steerpike in culling your wishlist of AAA games you really really really want to press F to play, but perhaps less savage than Andy.

    Saints Row 3 and 4 – pick either, probably 3, and play only story missions for 2-3 hours. you’ll get the gist. anything that isn’t a story mission is basically crap.

    Metal Gear Solid (I don’t remember which one) – don’t bother unless it’s 5, in which case, play the first mission. it’ll probably take a few hours if you take it slow and again you’ll get the gist and see what’s strongest about this.

    GTA IV – don’t bother unless you need something to help put you off the series for good (in which case, dive right in!)

    two new Deus Ex titles – don’t bother. i liked the first in 2014 but feel it won’t have aged well. the second i was mostly bored and confused by.

    The Witcher series – do not go near these, they are HUGE and not for joels. if you must, play the 3rd one far enough in that you experience at least one ‘detective’ sidequest, and have gotten to grips with the combat. by that time you’ll have gotten the gist.

    Fallout: New Vegas – eeeeh, i loved this way way back, but don’t bother. the minute to minute is weak. the good stuff is in the bigger picture and you don’t want to sink 50+ hours into a bethesda engine

    Wolfenstein: The New Order – put it on easy and play the first mission through. the experience for new players sucks at normal or higher difficulty.

    Watch_Dogs – don’t bother. i briefly tried the second after places like Waypoint raved about the characterisation, and thought very little of the game

    Dishonored 2 – no idea, not played this

  9. ShaunCG: I’m a fan of this list and the specific recommendations about how to approach the ones that ought to even be bothered with. It has me wondering, which (if any) AAA games would you recommend playing all the way through, or more than a few hours?

    Andy Durdin: I played Pathologic Classic HD a bit, after watching a guy do a long video of what makes Pathologic good. I really, really wanted to like the walking. I appreciated a lot of the moments I had with the game, but couldn’t bring myself to play significantly more.

    Joel: Thanks for the link and correction :D It’s hard for me to tell what it looks like from the outside, but I do still love the idea of there being more short games. Ideally every game in the world would just be way shorter, or someone would come around and just post little guides to “how to enjoy the good parts of every game in as little time as possible” like ShaunCG has. I don’t want a completion walkthrough, I want an enjoyment walkthrough!!

  10. Droqen: yeah, the original Pathologic had endless amounts of slow trudging from one side of town to the other and back. I still think it’s something really special—one LPer I’m watching who’s just discovered it this year and is at the end of their second 40ish hour campaign (second of three playable characters) calls it “monumental”—but it really wasn’t designed, well, tightly.

    You know how Director’s Cuts of movies are often just longer and flabbier? Pathologic 2 is a Director’s Cut done right: the pacing’s tightened, the story is richer, all the pieces actually working together now to much more effectively create the experience. And somehow they did this while adding in sprinting and fast travel mechanics that support instead of undermining that experience; and filling each of the 12 days with far more detail—none of which is mere filler side quests—while somehow guiding the player into all the systems and facets more effectively yet without tutorialising. It’s a synthesis of writing and game design and visual art done, this time by masters, not journeymen.

    It’s still not a game for instant gratification or thoughtless entertainment; and it’s 20 to 30 hours long and often extremely stressful and emotionally challenging. But it’s phenomenal.

    Skip Pathologic Classic, and play Pathologic 2.

  11. GYAR buddy! Gimme some spoiler tags! Maybe I should known better but, you know what I shouldn’t have known better cause I’m dumb as hell. Also my wanton adblocking means I probably make you no money. You know what nevermind, stop listening to me (if you were to begin with).

  12. Even on its own terms, Control was a dud for me. Storytelling has never been Remedy’s strong point—in the Max Paynes the pulpy stereotypes and dleightfully overwrought metaphors were carried along by a constant momentum. In Alan Wake they tried to go for a slow burn of horror, but for me it felt dull and tired. I don’t know what Quantum Break was like, because nobody I know who played ever spoke about it (so either it was completely uninteresting *or* so horribly fascinating that it could be classified as an Altered Object that controls the minds of its players to keep its secrets…). And Control felt even duller and flatter than AW. It was far stronger visually than in story (although Ahti is a fun and interesting character). But the lifelessness of its story wasn’t a disappointment for me, as after AW I didn’t have much in the way of expectation.

    Where Control was a real disappointment for me was its combat. Max Payne one was exuberant and janky. Max Payne 2 polished it to be a beautifully flowing dance of bullet time death. Alan Wake—although its level layouts left a lot to be desired when facing many enemies—was brilliant: its rhythm of running and dodging, slowing to focus the light on enemies, or waving the light for crowd control, and the two-phase nature of its enemies with the satisfying bursts of light as you defeat their shroud and then defeat them: chef kiss. Quantum Break cannot be spoken of. And then Control. Okay, so in Control the enemies had a satisfying pop also, like balloons filled with variegated paint. But everything else about its combat just didn’t work at all for me. I never felt any rhythm happen. I never found the spaces of the levels—as bluntly attractive as they are to look at—to create interesting situations; even less so once you unlock flying and the auto-aiming throw. It didn’t feel like I was confronting and defeating enemies so much as constantly mopping up surprisingly deadly annoyances. Well, maybe that’s why Jessie is a janitor.

    I had time to kill and was curious enough about some of the story bits to watch LPs of the Foundation and AWE dlcs. Foundation had potential, but answered too many uninteresting questions and didn’t really bring up any new interesting ones. And AWE was just empty: its Alan Wake crossover parts even more insipid, the semi interestingness of Control and AWE’s respective stories combining to create something less than either, like multiplying 0.1 x 0.1 to get 0.01.

  13. PS. After the unpleasant taste that Control left in my mouth, I finally started up Alan Wake’s American Nightmare to see if my memory of AW’s combat was overly rose-tinted. It wasn’t. Although AW’sAN doesn’t do anything interesting with it (or anything much of note at all), it was a delight to get back into those rhythms here and there when the game allowed. I wouldn’t recommend it, but for me in that context it was like a pleasant dessert after an overly long and stolid meal.

  14. Very glad to see love for Pathologic 2, which is traumatic and soul-pulverizing (but in a good way). The comment that this time it’s done by masters rather than journeymen says it all. The stress you feel while playing is palpable. The imperative whisper of your task list, the relentless ticking of the clock in the background. And of course that damned town, so cruelly designed to make navigation difficult–but not a chore–it’s an experience.

    Then of course the OH COME ON horror when you realize “fast travel” is not fast at all; that your fingernails are better traded to the town’s celibacy-inducing child population in exchange for morphine, because naturally the children have all the morphine here, because THIS FUCKING TOWN

    I digress, to once more align myself with the Red Dead 2 camp: if you want to try an open world that’s not an icon hunt and does make good use of its vasty map, you can’t do better.

  15. I do have the Alan Wakes around here, think I picked them up for free on EGS. I was fan of Max Payne back in the day – I concur with Andy that MP2 felt much better with its ability to keep bullet time running, such a pleasure that game. I always meant to have a go at Alan Wake but it just slipped away from me.

    On the subject of Control’s story, I think it just suffers from emulating the SCP Foundation too closely. You never see SCP, you never understand it, because it’s effectively a collection of random short stories. The SCP Foundation is this beast of imagination, something unknowable and always one step ahead. Control has to turn that into reality and it can never reckon with the SCP of imagination. Not every SCP story was good reading, just some of them but I found I could not find anything of interest in Control’s OOP stories – with the black comic tone a little too heavy: the building itself was the most impressive act of creativity, outshining the stories. (SCP is horror, right? But Control isn’t meant to be. I wonder if that is what causes the rupture for me.)

    I really don’t mind there being mysteries in Control but there were two flavours of mystery here: throwaway and DLC-bait. The mystery here just didn’t work for me. It felt like, I don’t know, manufactured mystery that I was *meant* to care about? I just found there to be little harmony with most of Control’s different elements, all the different OOP just felt like random SCP stories than having little commonality. I read a LOT of documents. (The DLC-bait was, of course, different. Marshall disappearing, for example, seemed to be “important”.)

    I also found it difficult to accept, narratively speaking, The Hiss could spew out billions of Hiss-infected Bureau agents on demand by the end as well as the Jessie+crew’s qualm-free ability to kill them. (Except for Dylan, thank GOD, we must save him because he’s a real person.) True this isn’t a unique problem for Control.

    Pathologic 2, well, there’s nothing to say about that except I have a copy which Andy guilted me into buying some time ago. He hasn’t quite guilted me into playing it yet, though :) And thanks for the additional AAA notes there, Shaun!

    Brendo: I did include a line at the top “There will be spoilers”. But don’t worry about depriving me of ad revenue. There are no ads and there is no revenue.

  16. No revenue? I hope ED’s doubtlessly nefarious megaconglomerate owners aren’t paying you in exposure, Joel!

    Still, it could be worse; they could lay you off and then get you back as a freelancer with no benefits, pension or national insurance contributions *coughcoughrpscough*

  17. No, CA, I’m not even getting exposure.

  18. Andy, thanks for the recommendation on Pathologic 2 – your explanation of the first game resonates with my experience, although for me the general “sloppiness” or “lack of polish” or “indie charm,” whatever we decide to call it, was fatal – especially paired with the clumsy and absurd dialog (translation?). But I really liked the game that all the rave reviews had promised me, so maybe P2 will do the trick! Also good to get some feedback on Control’s stultifying storyline. TBH I don’t usually buy games like Control (period, but especially not) for their narrative content – the plot of most triple-A titles feels like it was written by a really precocious sixth-grader. The open world, quest-o-thon variety of Triple-A that is all the rage right now usually feels like it was written by a squad of seventh graders who were told that they were precocious way too often while growing up and so now they’ve got a psychopathic confidence in their own tricks (alongside burgeoning cannabis/pornography addictions because the internet) and here they go repeating those tricks 200 times so you can repeat them 300 times (cause you die half the the time).

    I am SUCH a a sucker for advertising, that’s usually only enough to get me to buy a game and then let it rot in my steam library undownloaded, or played for 1 hour and then uninstalled because holy shit it’s 60 gigabytes?? The pandemic has been *especially* pernicious in kindling this habit, where I can easily spend 2 hours clicking through my algo-mended Steam list getting hyped on all the razzle-dazzle graphics or deep-ass looking indie narrative work, only to end up buying nothing and instead ransacking my evening on one of the precisely four video games that are still engrossing enough to dominate my whole weekend as an “adult” – those being CAD, GIS, clicky-listen-NPR-shake-head-mutter, and of course, last but not least, Civilization IV with some judicious modding.

  19. ShaunCG: I’m a fan of this list and the specific recommendations about how to approach the ones that ought to even be bothered with. It has me wondering, which (if any) AAA games would you recommend playing all the way through, or more than a few hours?

    droqen: hey, I’m glad you liked it! It should be taken with a pinch of salt, of course. That list was thrown out with minimal thought, and what thought there was centred around Joel. Though if you’re impatient with AAA games, yet curious about aspects of what they offer, and have the disposable income to approach games like this, I can see such crib sheets being useful. :)

    That said, I’d recommend playing a AAA game all the way through… to anyone who hasn’t gotten bored of playing it yet! I think the desire for completion, for reaching a conclusive state, compels many of us to continue playing past the point of diminished returns. That was certainly true of me. These days I put less time into gaming than I used to, and I’m fine with drifting away from a game as my interest wanes.

    The last AAA game I put a significant amount of time into, and played to completion, was Borderlands 3. It’s a solid game if you dig… that kind of thing? I should’ve stopped a little sooner; I ended up achievement hunting and replayed the entire game in True Vault Dweller mode, which was a bit much really. But the core gameplay was fun enough, and the various character build permutations appeared to have enough potential, and my play sessions mostly bitesize enough, that I let the game as a whole overstay its welcome. Before that it was Death Stranding, which I’ve certainly not completed but did put a good number of hours into. It’s idiosyncratic and interesting enough that I want to return to it – at some point.

    No one in particular: It’s weird that I seem to be the only person here who actually liked Control’s combat? Is this a playstyle difference, or am I just a videogaming basic bitch?

    The game’s tendency to warp new enemies in forced adaptation; in most fights I would pull a variety of tricks out of the toolbox, depending on what I was facing and how I prioritised targets. With the PC’s mobility I found it a lot of fun to move around combat arenas, make use of cover and available telekinetic ammunition, engaging groups of enemies on my terms – sometimes diving right into the fray to hit particular enemies with a more specialised ability or weapon. It was only in the crappy expedition sequences that I disliked it – primarily because they were significantly harder than most other fights AND timed AND had multiple disparate sequences chained together, all for little reward, which was a bit much.

    I’d place Control’s combat above Alan Wake, which has a hugely compelling and thematic mechanic in its use of light, but which otherwise can be rather one-note, and a little too fond of swamping players with spongey enemies. The player often feels vulnerable, which is appropriate to the theme, but Alan’s general lack of mobility means most fights involve moving backwards whilst shining a torch and shooting, and hitting the dodge button when you get the cue to do so. Don’t get me wrong, that’s another game I liked and the combat is engaging and generally well-balanced, but having recently played 15 hours of the game and it’s DLC chapters I clearly remember its limitations.

    Joel: Congratulations on attaining Operating Thetan status!

  20. Aw, damn it. I fucked up the last tag. My stupid KVM switch often eats keyboard input on Windows, so I assume I failed to close a tag or something.


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