Gaming Roundup: The New Summer of Gaming

Last summer, I committed to playing–and completing, if possible–as many last-generation console games as I could. I’m slow to adopt new tech, so even though the new console had already been available for three years, I made my usual excuses: my old one still works, there were still so many games I’d never played on it, I didn’t need the timesuck in my limited leisure time, I didn’t need the wallet pressure until I’d paid off my grad school debt. And you know what? Last summer I had a lot of fun playing and writing up games no one else was playing anymore.

But when I finally bought the next-gen in May, the rewards were immediate and delightful. I had a suite of next-gen games all ready to download from when they were offered free or cheap during console promotions. The new console had a stronger wifi connection–a crucial improvement in my old apartment, where my connection strength was subject to the whims of weather. (In my new apartment, the console is wired.) Gaming became been exceptionally social for me this summer, as not only my neighbor but another friend of ours dropped in several times to drink wine spritzers and try out new-to-us games.

I’ve had to talk myself out of feeling self-conscious about the new console. I didn’t feel this way when writing up summaries of the games I played on my old console, but that was a self-consciously retro project and an economical one to boot. The new console and its games are a luxury for me, but two or three years behind everyone else, it feels late or boring or unserious to comment.

I know that shouldn’t matter–surely games, like books, still have meaning years after their release dates–and in any case, I do it for myself and the handful of people who read my blog (hi!). So here’s what I’ve been playing in the new Summer of Gaming.

Completed, sort of

Mass Effect: Andromeda. I wrote about my initial experience with the game here, and my feelings remain unchanged. To my surprise–I was expecting a little more to the story–I finished the main quest the weekend before I moved into my new apartment. In keeping with the general vibe of the game, the main quest did not end with a soaring heroic climax: instead, it offered a new area to drive around, plentiful opportunities for your companions to pop off one-liners, and a brief but pleasant respite for applause before you get onto the never-ending work of settling space. I misted up anyway, with all those side characters speaking rapturously about home while mine was cluttered with boxes and all the inexplicable grit that emerges when you pack up your house.
At the end of it all, I have but one bitter complaint. I am not sure who would have been the right love interest for logical, professional Rose Ryder, but I absolutely did not mean to get locked into a romance with a crime lord who won’t even visit your ship. I thought we just had a sexy heist flirtation! I didn’t realize I’d never be able to flirt again once I helped him take over Planet Crime.

Oxenfree. I never would have completed this game alone. I started the game with my neighbor for company, and I will never forget our experience of the game’s opening, from the boat trip to the island to the discovery in the cave. There we were, just playing a sulky teen having a bad time at a party, and suddenly we were in the midst of a supernatural cataclysm! We didn’t have the subtitles turned on at first and missed some key dialogue due to both of us yelling pretty much nonstop during the cave reveal. (We then watched that section on YouTube and decided that hearing it was kind of worse than not hearing it.)
The rest of the game is deliciously spooky and suspenseful, and it was so much fun to share it with a friend. It does break my completionist heart that you can’t earn the best possible ending without playing through a second time. On the plus side, we started a replay with our other video game friend and noticed some interesting differences, so we have some motivation to revisit this world and scare ourselves silly again.

Gone Home. Speaking of spooky games! Although it’s been out for ages, I knew little about this game going in, and I had my shoulders up around my ears nearly the whole time I explored the silent house. At the end, I admired the way the game had set up the scene–the stormy night, the furniture in disarray–and played on my expectations for what would happen there. I also appreciated the level of detail that went into building its 90s-era universe; I actually owned some of the textbooks you find in your little sister’s room.
That said, the first-person exploration style of game is not for me. In Gone Home you can flip every switch and pick up every piece of clutter, and I am indeed the type of player who will open every door and sack every credenza. But instead of admiring the meticulously drawn pencils and the way they roll forward when I tug a drawer open, I’ll just be disappointed that I can’t use them as a food or weapon, or sell them off to a merchant NPC, or engage with any NPCs at all.

In progress

Dragon Age: Inquisition. Heck yeah! When I first set up the console, I immediately started a new character. My… sixth, I think? Ridiculous, but DA:I has been one of my more social gaming experiences, particularly since two of my friends also play, so that adds a different dimension to the experience. This game was a comfort replay on my old console, but it’s an even more beautiful game on the new console, as there are suddenly lots of trees in Skyhold and Cullen’s eyelashes load at the same time as the rest of his face, and it has enough little secrets that there are still things I’ve never seen before. Since I bought the GOTY version, it also has some new equipment as well as DLC that was not available on the old console. It’s the DLC that places this game firmly in the “In Progress” category; I can’t load in my older console games, so before I can confront the architect of our misfortunes, I need to play through the main quest again. Fine with me–my achievements didn’t carry over either, so I get the satisfaction of unlocking those again.

Beyond Eyes. This is a sweet, slow-paced game with a lovely mechanic: you are a little blind girl who leaves the safety of your own yard to search for a friendly cat that used to visit you. The world you move in is startlingly blank until you approach something closely enough to perceive it through sound or touch or smell; then the features of your world emerge in delicate watercolors. Sometimes you are mistaken; you approach the sound of running water and believe you are headed toward a fountain like the one in your yard, but it turns out to be a drain. Or you feel nervous approaching a field of crows–crows scare you–but as you get closer, you realize you are passing a yard full of chickens.

Dreamfall Chapters. I’ve barely dipped in here, and it’s tough going. Dreamfall: The Longest Journey was one of my favorite games on the original Xbox: beautiful, interesting worlds; good voice acting; compelling story. It’s an heir to the point-and-click adventure: you move around (slowly), pick up things, solve puzzles, choose conversational options that may have consequences. But gameplay and storytelling have evolved so much in the past decade–consider Life Is Strange, which offers these mechanics in a nearly seamless cinematic experience–and this long-awaited game isn’t really on that level. Still, I’m glad to find out what happened to Zoe and Kian since I last saw them, and I’ll probably limp along.

Sims 4. Why don’t I ever learn, friends? Sims are just not meant for consoles. Theoretically you can enter cheat codes on console Sims 4, but I have heard that this affects your ability to unlock achievements, so I’ll pass. Like the Sims 3 console version, you can’t explore the neighborhood seamlessly; there’s a load screen when you enter another lot. It does have some new mechanics that I kind of like–the emotion meter adds a little more human interest to your experience–but it’s the sort of thing that makes it more rewarding to play one family or even one Sim, rather than presiding over your neighborhood in the Godlike model I favored in Sims 3. On the plus side, the limitations of the game keep it from being a timesuck. I shepherd my Sim family for about one Sim day at a time, maybe two; that’s really my max before the gameplay gets less meditative and more tedious.

Seasons After Fall. Like Beyond Eyes, it was the look of this game that enticed me–and even though I’ve only played a short time as my little Impressionist fox friend, I think I’m going to like leaping and bounding around this lovely world.

Tales from the Borderlands. I played the first episode on my old console, but was able to reserve the rest for the new console. I started the episode over to show my neighbor, but it’s a bit more gory than our usual entertainments–I’d forgotten! When you’re in the midst of a Borderlands phase, you take the blood and shooting for granted. When I heard myself explaining the scene where Rhys and Van take a car down to Pandora (“There’s always a car scene, and it always has good music, and at least one creature always gets gruesomely run over”) I realized, okay, I’ll come back to this when I’m in the mood for it.

Witness. I’m not sure about this game–which was a free download, but is typically on the pricey side! I like puzzles, but when I finally got out of the garden into the wider world, I felt dismayed that I’d have to trudge around solving more of them.

In the Queue

Tomb Raider, which I am not yet sure if I’ll replay. I did enjoy it, and I know there is more for me to unlock there, but it’s unlikely that I would revisit it if not for the “definitive” edition that came with my new console.

Rise of the Tomb Raider, which also came with my new console!

Life Is Strange: Before the Storm. I look forward to this glimpse into Chloe’s life before Max, although I will miss the time-manipulation mechanic.

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India. Another free game. I don’t have too much attachment to the AC series and have heard nothing, good or bad, about this one.

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