April Humble Choice

Bookkeeping note that probably no one but me cares about, but which I find kinda funny: After nearly running out of backlog a bit ago, I switched to weekly posts for a bit, and while rebuilding the backlog, I’d sprinkle in new posts as they came until I had a 2/week schedule, then back up to 3/week. This meant that the posts relevant to the game I was discussing at the nadir – Far Cry 3 – wound up scattered all over the place. We were nearly through that era, but then the April Humble Choice dropped and I’d forgotten to leave room for it in the schedule, so rather than shifting every blog post by a couple of days, I just picked up the next post in the queue and dropped at the end, then put this post in the free spot. This post is timely (I don’t have much of an audience, but at least in theory people might read this post before deciding whether they want to sign up for the Humble Choice this month) and Far Cry 3 thoughts are very much not, so this makes sense, but it does mean that Far Cry 3 posts are spread out across like three months now.

Anyways, the April Humble Choice dropped on the 4th. What’s in the box?

The Death Stranding Director’s Cut is something I’m very 50/50 on. Hideo Kojima is a mad genius and Death Stranding is the point where he’s completely off the leash. Sometimes the results of this sort of thing are glorious and sometimes it results in the creator disappearing up the ass of their own very niche interests and creating a game that nobody but them is interested in. Death Stranding’s reviews make it clear that it’s not maximum trainwreck but equally so that it’s not maximum genius. I’ll definitely throw it in the backlog and see the results myself.

Aliens Fireteam Elite is a space marines vs. xenomorphs game. These games always struck me as deeply misguided. Xenomorphs are horror monsters, and while Aliens puts the emphasis on a swarm whose individual members are fairly expendable rather than a single killer creature, it was still about a team of cocky protagonists slowly coming to realize how much danger they’re in and breaking down as they’re picked off one by one, until only a small handful of survivors make it out in the end. And being a singular creature type with a striking design facilitates this horror really well and high-octane shooty action really poorly. If the protagonists are wading through the xenomorphs rather than the other way around, then you need really divergent enemy types amongst the xenomorphs to keep it interesting. While I could imagine someone doing that, there’s no sign that this game has done so, and I’m not going to sink 8-10 hours into it to double check.

I’m playing the Borderlands series right now, and so far as games about shooting cool looking alien monsters with a variety of firearms goes, I can’t imagine anything based on the Alien franchise will ever compete. Having a single really cool monster design seems like it would give Alien a headstart over Borderlands’ knock-off creatures, but if the premise of your game is simple visceral fun, then Borderlands’ simple visceral designs work better than something like the xenomorph, despite the xenomorph’s vastly superior cultural cache and artistic merit, because Borderlands’ monsters are purpose-built to be blown up with rockets and the xenomorph is very much not.

If you want to make a game that captures the feeling of Aliens, it needs to be about taking a squad of space marines in or near a xenomorph hive to complete some mission, with the expectation that completing one out of three objectives in exchange for losing half your squad is a pretty typical result, one that emphasizes variety in your team over variety in the enemies (although you don’t have to go with a perfectly lore accurate version with only three different enemies – facehuggers, standard xenomorphs, and the queen – but you do have to have a setup where the standard xenomorphs remain a significant threat from one end of the campaign to the other).

Rollerdrome is my new gold standard for indie games on a limited budget. It sells itself on the weird mechanical concept of being a shooter where you’re on rollerskates and do mid-air tricks to get more ammo. That’s a weird and cool concept and I would like to check it out, but I don’t want to spend more than a few hours on it. How Long To Beat clocks its completion time in at 5 hours, so this is something I can fit into a single lazy afternoon. It doesn’t seem to have much more to offer besides that weird and cool concept of a roller blade shooter, but it’s short enough to plausibly not wear out the welcome of that idea.

Life is Strange 2 is the sequel to the award-winning game where you walk around as a hipster. This one stars a different hipster, I guess. I’m not down on the walking simulator genre in general, I think there are some valid experiences to be had where the only significant mechanic is walking around a place. Return of the Obra Dinn, most notably, is a walking simulator attached to a bit of paperwork, and while the paperwork does add some kind of pass/fail metric, it is not the primary mechanic. The primary mechanic is walking around observing things. Obra Dinn is sufficiently opaque that some kind of checklist of things to figure out is needed to pull a player in deep enough to understand just how much there is to explore here, but you can imagine a game (or some kind of interactive experience, anyway) that drops you into a crime scene that’s sufficiently straightforward at least in what the crime was, and then leaves you to piece out what happened without any mechanic for checking if you were correct. It’d be a very internet-era thing where the fun would be in the conversation happening around the game, either within small circles of friends playing the game together or a broader sub-culture if the game manages to become the flavor of the week, but we are in the internet era so that could work.

The Hipster Walking Simulator series, however, uses its mechanics to deliver a linear plot with the illusion of choice (the first game had exactly one real choice at the end). It feels like another one of those things like Gris that should’ve just been a film but Kickstarters for films don’t do as well as Kickstarters for video games so they slapped on some dialogue choices that alter nothing.

The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is a narrative-focused game where you are a sad knight. It has a text and illustrations format that looks interesting and beautiful, but, I mean, it’s about being a sad dude in a medieval dystopia. “What if you had to struggle against unfair odds to make something of your life” is not some weird experience I need to play a video game to experience, and while there’s a lot to be said for a relatable story, it’s really not clear what else there is besides this game being about a guy who must struggle against unfair odds to make something of his life.

I’m going to pick up Monster Prom 2: Monster Camp because I like the writing of this series so hey, why not, but I’m not putting it in the backlog. I said earlier that Rollerdrome is my gold standard for an indie game not stretching its content thin, but the Monster Prom series is also good for this (although the quality is in a steady decline from the original, as it struggles harder and harder to make its thin mechanics apply to new situations, and they don’t seem to have any proper game designers on staff to write new ones). In fact, Monster Prom is really good at simultaneously having an extremely low time to complete (about 45 minutes) but an extremely high time to 100%, which means it can plausibly be the one video game bought in a month for someone with more time than money and who really likes Monster Prom without holding closure on its story hostage to 20+ hours of gameplay for people who like it enough to engage with as a distraction but not as the main game played for a full fortnight.

Revita, meanwhile, continues the blight of indie games that stretch themselves thin with Roguelite gameplay. Neat pixel aesthetic, gameplay that looks unexceptional but fun, aaaaaand a 10 hour completion rate for just the main story on How Long To Beat with nearly 30 hours for main story + side content (and five hundred hours for 100%, although given how round the number is, I’m guessing that’s one guy submitting what may or may not be a wild guess – HLTB doesn’t make any effort to check that people reporting completion times have actually acquired relevant achievements, and while liars get washed out by numbers in popular games, Revita’s not that popular).

I have mixed feelings about passing on Founders’ Fortune. The premise of a cute little village-building game where each villager has a randomly generated personality and develops relationships with other villagers sounds like fun, and I’m mainly passing up on it because I’m worried this will end up like Little Big Workshop where it’s very frustrating in play because it’s poorly balanced or has UI issues or in some other way lacks polish. These kinds of city builder games have a steep demand for effective polish which means indie games can fuck them up easily, which can result in a game that I play for 20+ hours but ultimately walk away from unsatisfied because it was slowly smothered by its technical limitations as my little workshop/village/whatever scaled upwards past the limits of what the game could handle while still only reaching half of what the game’s objectives tell me should be possible. I’m worried enough that Founders’ Fortune might do this that I’m passing on it even though I have no particular evidence that it actually will.

That’s two new games in the backlog bringing me to 168 total, meaning I am finally below 170 games even after a monthly restock from the Humble Choice (although partly I got here from moving the Forest to Regrets after realizing that, for all that I really want to play the game that the Forest promised, I’ve already played enough of it, and read enough of their wiki, to know that they didn’t make that game, and also Die Young when I realized that the game they were promising sounded a like what the Forest actually delivered, which I evidently don’t like enough to sink more than 5 hours into). I’ve been hovering at around 170 games in the backlog for a long time, with dire implications for what games I might never get around to, but it is starting to look like that was mainly a consequence of 1) working out the kinks in how selective I should be with what games go into the backlog and 2) the OGL crisis devouring all of my free time in January and February of this year, to the point where I had zero game completions in all of January.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s