Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, this time last year:
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.
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…
So this was my 2016 in retro gaming, in two or three short sessions per week, in the order played and with my trophy percentages included to reinforce the fact that I’m neither a gaming wizard nor a helpless grandpa:
* Borderlands (59%): 11/15/2015 – 4/27/2016. I was still working on this when 2015 ended, and spent one-third of 2016 finishing up and exploring all the nooks and crannies, scavenging for all the weapons I could find just for the sake of comparison shopping. Because when a game gives you literally over three million possible weapons at your disposal throughout its known universe, you can never be satisfied with the arsenal already at your fingertips because you’ll always have that one unsettling, haunting thought: what if the next batch of loot has a gun that’s even better?
That being said, two of the DLC missions drove me nuts: “Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot” taught me that plotless arena battles get really boring after, oh, the seventh consecutive battle without a break (let alone the mandatory 25 in a row, which wasn’t happening); and “The Secret Armory of General Knoxx” too accurately illustrated the realistic feel of a miles-long battleground, in which the missions and side quests just so happened to alternate between the two farthest antipodes again and again, back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth until it felt like “Road Trip: The Game — North Dakota Edition”.
* Batman: Arkham Origins (38%): 5/4 – 8/17. A big, sprawling photocopy of the first two games as a feature-length intermission while fans waited for Arkham Knight‘s release. I liked the first two and had no problem going through the same motions in different shapes. I loved the off-kilter choices for new villains (Deathstroke! Shiva! that ’80s D-lister the Electrocutioner! Peter MacNicol as the Mad Hatter!) but got bored with the dozens of repetitive Batcave learning modules and skipped nearly all of those. I also cannot believe the lengths they went to, the reams of monologues written and recorded, just to elevate Anarky to the most pretentious video game character in world history. But given how my attention span works, I’d much rather play a blatantly derivative new game than literally play the same old game twice.
* Bioshock Infinite (42%): 8/24 – 11/9. For me the series that began my Year 1 in PS3 gaming concluded at long last with a combination prequel/sequel involving alternate Earths whose timelines are wrecked by the kidnapping of one Earth’s child to replace their deceased counterpart in another. In other words, the final chapter is “Fringe: the Game”. The alt-history aspects were entertaining (Custer winning at Little Big Horn is a major plot point). The floating city of Columbia made for a fun, dizzying labyrinth. This may be the first game I’ve ever played that tackled racism head-on and in many ways disturbingly presaged our current American political climate. And the sniper-rifle upgrade that came with the “Game of the Year” edition was so amazingly overpowered that my head-shot mastery ended most conflicts in mere seconds. But the fight-scene bloodbaths were more jarring in some of the sunnier settings, and at least two of the time-jumping NPCs complicated the narrative more than I could track at times.
Infinite‘s connections to the first two games were largely superficial until I got to the last two DLC missions, the two-part “Burial at Sea”, which may have given me the first stealth missions I’ve ever liked in a video game, not to mention the final tying of loose threads, albeit in tragedy, properly brought as much closure to the series as it probably needed. On the other hand, they’re lucky I didn’t take the religious-fanatic big-bad Comstock personally. His vision of the world is clearly distorted and off the mark, but I can see where some might take him as negative allegorical commentary. I’d encourage naysayers to revisit the original Bioshock and indulge in its scathing satire of Randian objectivism and vainglorious humanism taken to their extreme, horrifyingly logical conclusions.
* ICO (43%): 11/9 – 11/30. The old-school PS2 puzzle-solver fantasy game was upgraded for an HD world, packed with architectural details enlivening a world of deep panoramas and intimidating castle settings. The puzzles were suitably challenging, though it bugged me that in between scenarios your young hero spends much of the proceedings grabbing the damsel-in-distress by her arm and yanking her along for blocks at a time at a brisker pace than she can handle on her own. Fortunately the game’s otherwise impressive realism didn’t allow for realistic consequences such as cruelly dislocating her shoulder or letting her sue her savior into debtors’ prison for wanton physical abuse. Otherwise: good clean fun!
* The Lego Movie Game (58%): 12/19 – 12/27. Another Christmas season, another extended two-player jam while my son came down from college for the holidays. The inventiveness was above-average compared to all the other Lego games we’ve played, flying as Lego Superman or even Lego Green Lantern was kind of fun, and the early training levels were only slightly insulting to us adults. Value-added bonus: if you haven’t seen the movie itself, they’ve helpfully sliced and diced it and made cutscenes out of most of it. On the down side, the Instruction Page challenges, which show a construction-in-progress on the right side of the screen while you scramble to select the next necessary piece from a circle of choices on the left, proved near impossible for me because my eyes are getting old and couldn’t switch focus from one side to the other within the necessary milliseconds. Thank the Lord the youngster was around to win those parts for us.
* Shadow of the Colossus (12%): 12/7/2016 – a few hours ago. I’d been wanting to play this game for years and was excited at the prospect of diving into its PS3 upgrade. This, more than any real personal crises, was the most aggravating object of any kind to cross my path and ruin my days in 2016. I like the idea of a visually arresting game that’s just sixteen boss battles in a row, even if every boss battle takes 30-60 minutes, but the control paradigm frustrated me to no end on multiple fronts, the responsiveness of my hero to my commands was buggy and inconsistent and infuriating, his realistically programmed horse reminded me how terrible I am at actual horse-riding, and I finally had to surrender and walk away when the required strategy for the ninth Colossus required simultaneous camera movements I couldn’t master and relied too much on the aforementioned horse. I haven’t been this ticked off about quitting a game since Final Fantasy II left me trapped in a dungeon of no escape. The short version of this paragraph: GRRRRRRRRRRR.
…so, see you next year, then. Assuming Sony doesn’t pull the plug on any and all PS3 out of greedy spite. And assuming, Lord willing, that I still have just enough eyesight left to keep making those all-important head shots.