Gaming Round-Up: The Reject Pile

I’ve been having trouble finding anything I’m passionate about to play lately. I’ve tried a lot of different things, but none have stuck. Let’s work our way down the list, shall we?

Combat in the anime MMORPG SoulworkerSoulworker:

I started by continuing my tradition of trying new MMOs whenever I’m bored. First up was Korean import Soulworker, an instanced grinder in the vein of Vindictus.

Of all the games in this post, Soulworker impressed me the most. It’s actually got a lot going for it. The cel-shaded graphics, for instance, are gorgeous. Screenshots absolutely do not do justice to how vibrant the colours are, nor how fluid and full of personality the animations can be.

The combat’s great, too, and I found a character I quite enjoyed: a pale-haired, sword-wielding girl who bore a certain resemblance to my heroine from the Soulcleaver novels.

Most surprisingly, there’s clearly a lot of effort put into the story in Soulworker. The meta-plot is pretty rich and elaborate — if decidedly quirky in the way one would expect from an Eastern game — and the quest NPCs actually have a fair bit of personality. Each playable character also has their own backstory and style of conversation that influences the feel of the game.

However, Soulworker is crippled by two severe flaws.

One is that the people who cared about the story are the ones who wrote it back in Korea, not the ones who translated it into English. The voice-overs haven’t been translated at all, and the subtitles are incredibly awkward. You can still understand what’s going on, but the style of speech is so unnatural it rips you right out of the story.

My character in the anime MMORPG SoulworkerThe other is that it is incredibly grindy. I expected that to be the case going in, but even so, I was shocked by how little time it took for me to reach a point where I couldn’t even progress the story without repeating the same dungeons multiple times in order to level up. It stops being a game and starts becoming a chore very quickly.

It’s a shame. With a few rough edges smoothed out, this could have been a pretty good game.

Closers:

Next up was another action-heavy Eastern grinder, Closers.

Not gonna lie, guys, I managed maybe twenty minutes in this game before I couldn’t take it anymore.

Somehow I completely missed the fact going in that Closers is a side-scroller. Like, what the hell. I know side-scrolling MMOs aren’t unheard of, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

The controls are spectacularly awkward, too. I managed to rebind everything into something semi-normal, but it never felt quite right.

Dat UI, doe.Add to that more sloppy translations and one of the most unbearably obnoxious interfaces I’ve ever seen in a game, and you get a recipe for endless frustration.

I very rarely say things like this, but stay away from this game. Life is too short.

Getting what I paid for:

A few months ago, Ubisoft gave away a bunch of games — Watch_Dogs, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, and World in Conflict — and it took me until now to play them all.

I was underwhelmed by them all. Watch_Dogs had something approaching an interesting story, and I enjoyed the music and ship piloting mechanics in Black Flag, but both suffered from an over-reliance on stealth, clunky controls, and a general feeling of dullness.

This was my first time playing an Assassin’s Creed game. I can’t say I was particularly encouraged to play more. Though in fairness I’ve never liked pirates in fiction. I don’t understand what people find so compelling about a bunch of rapey, scurvy-ridden sea-muggers.

A shot from Assassin's Creed IV: Black FlagAs for World in Conflict, it was just kind of dull. There didn’t seem to be a lot need for micro, and there wasn’t much macro, either, and the story didn’t attract me at all. I’d love a good RTS, but I don’t think this is it.

Overwatch PvE:

Finally, Overwatch recently had another free weekend, and it coincided with a repeat of the two events that comprise all of the game’s story content to date: Uprising and Retribution. Naturally, I was eager to try that.

It was fun, but I’m still left a bit baffled as to Blizzard’s thought process here.

The thing is, these are basically two missions extracted from a campaign that doesn’t exist. Without that context, they can’t achieve much in terms of story-telling, but they’re also far too linear to make much sense as repeatable content. They’re not enough to fill the gap of story content, but they don’t work as grindable events, either.

Sometimes I really don’t understand why Overwatch is so successful.

* * *

I’m just glad Vampyr isn’t far off now.

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TV: iZombie Recovers, Lucifer Falters, Lost in Space Disappoints

Lately there’s been an unusual excess of sci-fi and fantasy TV for me to watch. Unfortunately, it hasn’t all turned out to be must-see television, but it has been interesting enough for me to have a few thoughts to share.

"Brother Love" (Robert Knepper) in iZombie season four(Un)Life in New Seattle:

I went into season four of iZombie with a fair bit of trepidation. While season three impressed out of the gate, over time it began to flag badly. The plot was extremely over-complicated and confusing, and most of the characters ended up going in dark directions that I didn’t care for. I was worried the show was losing its mojo.

However, I am pleased to report that, with only a few episodes left, season four has been kicking all of the ass.

iZombie is now a very different series from when it started. It’s gone from a very simple, lighthearted show with a very small focus to a much more intense drama where the very fate of humanity may hang in the balance.

It’s a big adjustment, but I deeply admire the writers for being courageous enough to shake things up so much, and for the most part, it’s paid off. Season four of iZombie still maintains much of the quirky charm and off the walls humour that made us all fall in love with the series, but it’s now a bigger, more powerful story as well.

I was initially skeptical of the show’s continued reliance on the case of the week formula — it was one of the things that dragged season three down — but they’ve mostly done a good job of making the cases tie into the greater narrative, and they haven’t been afraid to buck the formula when the situation calls for it.

The cast of iZombieSimilarly, I didn’t at first enjoy the idea of bringing Angus back into the story, as it felt like his plot had been pretty conclusively wrapped up, but “Brother Love” has became one of the most spectacularly creepy yet gripping aspects of the series to date.

My one big complaint would be that the season’s attempts at social commentary have largely fallen flat. The conflict between zombies and humans is clearly intended to echo real world prejudices, but real world minorities aren’t an existential threat to the human race, whereas zombies are, so the anti-zombie perspective ends up far more sympathetic than the writers seem to want. Any message of tolerance is lost in translation.

It also feels like a little bit of a missed opportunity not to revisit Liv’s estranged family now that the zombified cat is out of the bag and they (presumably) know why she couldn’t save her brother, but it’s already such a packed season I can understand why they haven’t tried to cram that in on top of everything else.

Aside from that, season four of iZombie has been nearly flawless.

I was pleased to see the show has already been renewed for a final season. Even before the announcement, I was thinking to myself that the story seemed to have about one season left in it, so I think this will work out well.

Hell fallen:

On the other hand, Lucifer’s third season ended up being mostly a disappointment. It started out okay, and it had some good ideas, but a number of missteps dragged it down.

The official logo for the TV series LuciferFor one, it focused far too much on relationship angst. The conflict between Linda and Maze was utterly unnecessary, and the love triangle at the heart of the season was just terrible.

I hate love triangles at the best of times, and this one was made worse by how uninteresting Chloe continues to be. For a romantic arc to work, the love interest has to be appealing to the viewer, but Chloe just isn’t appealing at all. She’s dull, wooden, and lifeless. I can’t understand why anyone would want to be with her, let alone why two immortals would end up competing over her.

Also, the case of the week formula began to really bog things down. It’s always been the weakest element of Lucifer, but rather than de-emphasizing it as iZombie wisely has, Lucifer clung to it with an incredible fervour.

It became painfully predictable. Each week, a new murder where there’s no relevance to the meta-plot, the true culprit is blindingly obvious, and Lucifer makes it all about him in an incredibly childish manner.

Lucifer’s immature ways were amusing for a time, but by now, I was expecting the character to have evolved. Even a show as silly as Lucifer needs some character development.

Lucifer with his renewed wings in season threeHe does finally grow a bit by the end of the season, but only after a truly painful expanse of episodes where the series pretty much just chased its tail.

The frustrating thing is that season three had a lot going for it. “The Sinner Man” was a very interesting villain, and his arc had some memorable twists. There was potential there. Charlotte’s storyline this season was nothing short of brilliant, but it got largely ignored in favour of the petty angst that defined so much of season three.

Sadly, Lucifer has now been cancelled, which means season three may well be its last, barring a miracle pick-up by Netflix or some other network. Despite my criticism of season three, I would like to see it continue. As iZombie illustrates, one bad season doesn’t necessarily spell doom for a show, and the ending of season three did look set to move the show in a fresh direction.

Doldrums, Will Robinson:

Going in, I heard a lot of good buzz around Netflix’s Lost in Space reboot from people whom I respect. Therefore I was quite surprised by how boring it turned out to be.

I mean, it’s not terrible. I’ll probably watch the second season (which is already confirmed). But I can’t say I’m impressed.

For one thing, it is, to be blunt, pretty dumb at times. I never fully recovered from the brain-achingly silly pilot.

The robot and the Robinson children in Netflix's Lost in Space rebootSeriously, guys, that’s not how ice works. At all. I don’t expect a lot of realism from my sci-fi, but when you’re screwing up something you could have tested in your home refrigerator…

The biggest problem, though, is that none of the characters feel real. Dr. Smith is so cartoonishly evil she seem ends up feeling more ridiculous than sinister. The rest of the cast (with one exception) is little better. They all feel forced and unreal.

I also thought the plot was undermined by how much of the show’s drama is dependent on the incompetence of the Robinson children (especially Will, who is just terrible on every level). Either they’re superhuman wiz kids who can serve as part of a deep space exploration mission, or they’re just kids who make mistakes, in which case they have no place on a mission like this. You can’t have it both ways, but that’s exactly what Lost in Space tries to do.

The only strong mark in the show’s favour — aside from the admittedly amazing production values — is Penny, who is awesome. Alone among all the cast, she feels like a real person. She acts pretty much exactly how I would expect a teenage girl to act. She’s precocious, but not superhuman, and relatable in a way the other children aren’t.

And her snark is delightful.

As I said, I’ll probably return for season two, but for me Lost in Space is very much in the “I’m watching this because there’s nothing better to do” category.