Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as a kid, I frequented video arcades regularly. As a parent, my son and I spent a good decade playing games together on his various systems. When he graduated and moved away to college, he took all his systems with him, leaving me with only my old Nintendo that won’t play cartridges unless you keep the Game Genie firmly inserted, and an Atari Plug-‘n’-Play Controller I got for Christmas a few years ago that interested me for about two weeks. On Black Friday 2014, I decided I wanted back in the 21st century gaming mode and picked up a used PS3 for reasons already outlined in the post linked above.
Naturally I started off a generation behind the rest of the civilized world, but I didn’t care. After fifteen months without, holding a controller felt abnormal and rusty for the first few weeks. Once I got used to it again and figured out how to disable the “Digital Clear Motion Plus” feature on my TV, I could shake the dust off my trigger fingers, choose the games I wanted to play, sprint or meander through them at whatever pace I saw fit, and try some different universes beyond Final Fantasy and our other longtime mainstays. The following is a rundown of my first year’s worth of solo PS3 adventures, sorted not by preference but by my mostly lackluster Trophy percentages, best to worst. Y’know, for fun, as games are wont to be. Consider this my personal PS3 report card.
Most of these were games we’d avoided simply because he was younger and they were Rated M. Some weren’t on our father/son radar because he loathes FPS setups, whereas I can still recall the days of the original Wolfenstein. A few were just released too late for us to get to before his relocation.
So this was my 2015 in gaming:
* LA Noire (86%) — Back in my day, the closest we got to crime-drama games was Hogan’s Alley. The chance to drive around 1947 Los Angeles in hundreds of old-time autos (from jalopies to sportscars to experimental models to clunky service vehicles) was a blast in itself, and may be the closest I’ll ever come to seeing actual LA streets up close. I liked the idea of detective work as a puzzle-solving paradigm, though I was better at gunfights than at lie-detecting. Hearing recognizable actors was distracting and cool at the same time — Mad Men‘s Aaron Staton as our intrepid hero, a significant late-stage role for John Noble, and cameos for the voices and CG-rendered faces of Rich Sommer, Michael Gladis, Vincent Kartheiser with a silly accent, and people not from Mad Men like Kurt Fuller and The Force Awakens costar Greg Grunberg.
My version came with one of the DLC cases, but I was hooked enough to shell out for the rest. Just the cases, mind you — not interested in skins, bonus weapons, or tiny things like that. Even after I’d finished those, I spent at least another 2-3 hours cruising L.A., seeing the sights, putting the cars through their paces, and realizing there were exactly zero consequences for engaging in rampant destruction between cases. Sorry about that, imaginary citizens. I hope your digital suffering was brief.
* inFamous (56%) — Sandbox games can get repetitive after fighting the same five or six henchman varieties over and over and over again, but romping around the neighborhoods of a fully realized fictional city with electrical superpowers and a moderately engaging to-do list kept me going for quite a while, though a stupid glitch kept me from finishing the very, very last side quest and nabbing one more trophy as a postscript. Still better than many of the Marvel and DC games I’ve tried over the years.
* Bioshock (54%) — Once I got the PS3 hooked up, a couple days of perusing demos in Sony’s online store led me to begin one-man gaming in earnest with one of the most critically acclaimed universes of the past decade. The not-quite steampunk-ish environs, the multitasking between arsenal and superpowers, the edge-of-my-seat suspense, the disturbing lighting effects, the narrative (meta-)twist near the end that thankfully wasn’t spoiled for me — I don’t think I could’ve picked a better game for initial immersion. It’s opened up a new area of pop-culture references and effectively ruined old-timey music for me. Whenever I hear peppy ’30s crooners in TV and movies, now all I can think about are the mad dreams of Andrew Ryan and ironic horns echoing in darkness.
* Heavy Rain (50%) — When Sony’s answer to Seven first came out, my son and I debated whether or not a game made entirely of single-button action commands is truly a game. That’s an oversimplification of its overall mechanics, but I was happier moving and interacting at will than I was when being led to play one-note prompts. I like the idea of taking the medium into a wider spectrum of genres, but “direct-to-video thriller” was an odd, low-bar choice. Once again I never saw the final plot twist coming, but it left me spending the next two sessions saddened by the killer’s reveal and feeling like I’d betrayed myself, which is not the kind of disappointing sensation I ever got from, say, Ghosts & Goblins. Despite the pervasive gloom and the annoyance at having to navigate/bypass The Woman’s three nude scenes, I spent extra time after my initial Pyrrhic victory digging into Heavy Rain‘s Choose Your Own Adventure chapter structure and seeing how many alternate endings I could work out. Once I finally got to the one where nobody died on my watch, then I considered the case closed.
* Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus (48%) — My son and I have been big fans since their PS2 heyday. He got this for Christmas and was kind enough to let me borrow it. Considering this may very well be their final appearance on the PS3, I milked it for as long as I could, reveling in the cartoon antics and heavy-duty weaponry and satisfying booms and crunches that were always among the series’ finest trimmings. Once the main story was completed, I lost interest in mere grinding for the sake of all those remaining weapon upgrades, but it was great seeing the destructive duo in action one more time. And yes, we are looking forward to the upcoming movie, though I confess I’ll be surprised if it lands a wide release here in Indy.
* Bioshock 2 (42%) — The next natural step after the original, though I soon had to make up a new rule for myself: no more playing two games in the same series back-to-back. Downshifting from my upper-level Bioshock drone straight to the larger, slower, more cumbersome Subject Delta made for a frustrating transition, like switching from riding a motorcycle to driving a garbage truck. With time the upgrades and reflexes came and things got better. I was disappointed that the new sinister ringleader eschewed Ryan’s fatal objectivism in favor of faux-religious manipulation, but the very idea of philosophical conflict as a gaming aspect is so fascinating that I gave it a bit of a pass. Not enough of one to shell out extra for any DLC, but enough to appreciate its otherwise surprising excellence as a sequel. Call it the Die Hard 2 to Bioshock’s Die Hard, I suppose.
* Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (33%) — My son and I played through all available Lego games before he moved out. We agree Lego Lord of the Rings was the greatest of all times. We also agree the Lego games make for terrible one-player experiences, so we avoid them when playing separately. When he came to stay here over the holidays last month, we spent our first two-player reunion since 2013 on what we now both agree is the worst Lego game we’ve ever played. The levels themselves were adequate and easily navigable like those of any other game, but the Joker/Luthor team-up plot devolved into extended twaddle involving a giant Joker mech that overstayed its welcome, the dialogue and its quote-unquote “jokes” were dumbed down way below normal-kid intellect and would’ve been rejected from any Disney Channel sitcom, and the overworld was an incomprehensible wreck that drove us two grown men nuts trying to figure out how it worked, where everything was, and what meant exactly what. We had to consult an online walkthrough just to figure out how to replay previous levels. That’s bad. Worst game of the year.
* Limbo (28%) — I haven’t gotten much into downloading indie games yet because I frankly have no idea which ones would or wouldn’t be my thing. I’d read about this one and found it on sale one day. I loved the stark-noir visual design, the real-world physics applied to otherworldly scenarios, the cartoony gallows humor, and the fact that you’re not given a single clue how anything works and are forced to suss it out yourself. Granted, I’m creaky enough that I don’t mind being led around a game by excessively helpful NPC tutors to an extent, but it was refreshing to yell at a game, “OKAY, NOW WHAT?” and be greeted only with a stony silence that implies exploring and deducing are the player’s own responsibilities. Months after it took me several tries to finish, as a break from Lego Batman 2 I watched my son play through this one evening on my recommendation, and of course he completed it in half the time it took me. I’m so proud of the showoff.
* Borderlands (17% and counting) — Now in progress. I dig the even mix of quests and side quests, as well as the weapons system that allows for literally millions of possible armament combinations, requiring players to do some comparison shopping and decide which attributes and extras make the best possible guns. It’s like a cross between Soldier of Fortune and Consumer Reports. I have no idea how many more jobs are left to do (I’ve just finished Uncle Earl’s first few dumb errands), but I can’t see myself playing through this four different times as each of the four main characters. Life’s not nearly dull enough for me to indulge that many replays. Maybe if I run out of all other PS3 games someday.
* The Last of Us (1%) — ONE PERCENT? OF ALL THE STINGY, HATEFUL, DICTATORIAL SCROOGES. Y’know, I wasn’t enthusiastic about dipping into another grim-‘n’-gritty ordeal after Heavy Rain, but when Naughty Dog releases a new game, if I have the right platform on hand, I’m there. I had to take longer breaks between sessions because that intricately oppressive atmosphere could be super depressing at times, but I persevered and saw both Joel and Ellie through their tortured road trip. The complicated antihero ending was flat-out shocking and functioned at literary and acting levels rarely seen in many Hollywood movies. But still: ONE PERCENT? COME ON.
…so, see you next year, then. Assuming I’m not still going gun-crazy in Borderlands by then. Assuming Sony doesn’t coerce every PS3 in the world into bricking so that fans have to buy a PS4 if they want to continue. And assuming, Lord willing, that my hands still cooperate and don’t develop arthritis this year. That better not even happen before I get to Bioshock Infinite.