What I’m Playing

Summer 2016

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I’ve actually had time to play games recently! Of three highly anticipated games, two are of beloved franchises and one’s a newcomer. How do they stack up?

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

mirror's edge catalyst cover artWhen I first played this game, I was a little disappointed by its repetitive nature and lackluster story, but when you settle into the controls it can be a lot of fun to run around the city. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst suffers from the same problems as other games forced into the ‘open world’ mold: fetch quests with little meaning or impact (I found it difficult to listen to the story-related voice-overs when concentrating on movement), running through the same areas over and over, and a lack of immediacy to the main story thanks to being able to wander aimlessly (or in my case, get lost in the city and not know where I am).

The original Mirror’s Edge was no achievement in storytelling either. On the other hand, its carefully designed levels made running feel more exciting. I did enjoy the more dynamic combat system in Catalyst even if it’s a little hard to understand at first – using the environment to fight is optional, yet you will have better results and feel more awesome when you bound off a wall and treat a bad guy to a flying kick in the face.

The story tries too hard to be hip, with unnecessary ageist jabs (which fall particularly flat when the oldest characters look about 40). I got news for you, kids, you can’t be parkour heroes forever. Shared with the first game is a sense of confusion about what Faith is actually fighting for. Shady government conspiracies are only fun if you get a peek behind the curtain once in a while. Maybe some of Catalyst‘s transmedia material (comics, etc) do this, but if so, it falls victim to spreading itself over too many channels.

No Man’s Sky

no man's sky cover artMuch has been made of whether the developers knowingly misled players by claiming No Man’s Sky had more features than it launched with. The hype train certainly exceeded safe speeds at some point, but even though I wasn’t aboard, I have to admit that there’s not as much to the game as there probably should be at its price point. Perhaps if there were more Myst-like puzzles and mysteries on alien planets; better, more fluid flight controls; or a mining mechanic that isn’t really boring, the game might feel less tedious.

No Man’s Sky nails the retro sci-fi look, feel and sound. Even if the graphics aren’t cutting edge, the game still offers impressive visuals and the atmosphere of a great journey or undertaking. I rather enjoy learning words in alien languages and watching them fall into place in conversations (unfortunately, conversational depth is not a feature of this game). I love searching for the coolest looking ships and the excitement of traveling to new planets.

Other than that, you feel a bit like a robot playing the game. I have my own repeating routines for when I first enter a system, for when I first land on planets, for how I optimize inventory. Without more depth, you can end up taking a back seat to the little optimizing/organizing robot in your brain.

I am glad the game exists, and I think it can redeem itself as an almost zen-like experience that you can come back to periodically; but it’s hard to argue that No Man’s Sky doesn’t have some missing pieces that would make it more fun to play.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

deus ex mankind divided cover artI’m a big fan of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. For a modern entry in the franchise, it nailed the feel of the beloved original. The one thing I couldn’t stand was all the boss fights. To its credit, Mankind Divided is blissfully free of them (for the most part).

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I felt very clumsy playing this game on an Xbox controller. I was mystified that I couldn’t quite manage the controls gracefully, though it has been some time since I played Human Revolution. I managed to klutz my way to the endgame, where it felt like the story was only half-told (developers anticipating the next installment, no doubt already in production?). The one most interesting story hook – that Adam Jensen has had strange augments installed without his knowledge – is neither resolved nor deeply explored. However, the game’s class commentary on how the augmented are treated and how they are trapped by society is compelling, if already well-worn during Human Revolution.

Well-preserved are the inventory-managing, vent-crawling, security-overriding antics of the gameplay, offering several routes to solving problems. Unfortunately, these tried-and-true mechanics are undermined by a silly AI system. Simply wait for an alarm to reset, and the guards won’t recognize your ultra-cool augmented visage and you can walk away a free man.