Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, at the beginning of 2016:
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…
…and it’s been a minor MCC annual tradition ever since. Last year’s entry covered a banner year in which I made time during my limited gaming sessions (three times a week at most, 90-120 minutes/sesh) to plow through five different games, winning four of them and infuriated at the other one. In 2019, I managed…um, not many. Very, very not-many. But I have excuses!
* Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (trophy count 51%): 1/11/2019 – 9/27/2019. Anyone who’s kept close tabs on these entries can diagnose one of my major gaming issues: I have a Borderlands problem. Every installment I’ve played has been intricately crafted and unnaturally immersive. They’re packed with pop culture references and demented personalities. They’re shamelessly all about looting and weaponry and EXPLOSIONS, and generous to a fault with all those sweet treasures. I can and will spend months on them. I spent over a year on Borderlands 2. Final Fantasy used to be my favorite franchise, but sometimes they don’t let me have all the EXPLOSIONS I want, or give characters sufficiently B-movie names, or keep their tongue-in-cheek as firmly as the Borderlands Escapist Universe does.
Even better: this time The Pre-Sequel kindasorta has a story to it in between all the battles and looting and upgrades and weapons shopping. It bridges the gap between the first two games, introduces a new set of player characters, brings back the original team as NPCs, and hints at the future I’ve already played in BL2, including the Big Bad of Borderlands 2 before he’s corrupted, like Anakin Skywalker but extra snarky. The game mechanics are the same, the escalation of weaponry and power was sufficiently gratifying, and the need for a walkthrough was rare except whenever the search for Vault Symbols drove me batty. I do like my side quests and little challenges, even when they’re repetitive busywork. Virtual chores, really. But they’re an excuse to explore more corners and prolong the magic.
Least favorite change: I didn’t care for the “Grinder”, the machine that lets you create a new weapon by tossing two unwanted weapons into it and averaging their stats into a newly synthesized contraption. I mourned the resale of every pair of weapons I mashed up into new weapons that were almost always disappointing.
Full disclosure: though my official play-dates lasted nearly nine months from first trophy to final Save date, I had to take a hiatus from the game for nearly a month after our big Dragon Con adventure while we got our responsibilities and other life aspects back in order. I would’ve been happier to play beyond those nine months, but I ultimately couldn’t finish the final DLC campaign “Claptastic Voyage” because the final boss battle with 5H4D0W-TP was too much for me to handle solo. (Co-op play with other humans has never been my thing, especially not now that any PS3 game’s online side is surely a ghost town by now.) I also didn’t bother with any DLC that appeared to be nothing but plotless arena battles, which tend to bring me more relentless tension than worthwhile incentives. Nevertheless, eight months’ worth of BL:tPS seemed like plenty without being too much.
Whether or not I continue in that universe is up in the air. I’m tempted by Tales of the Borderlands though I know it’s not the same kind of game. Obviously Borderlands 3 is too much for my poor, obsolete PS3 to handle. Maybe someday I’ll get to touch it, hopefully while I’m still young and before the aging process dulls my reflexes and starts to wipe out the muscle memory I need for my mad sniper-rifle skillz.
* Dead Space (trophy count 31%): 9/29/2019 – present. Despite my extreme fondness for the Bioshock trilogy, horror games aren’t an automatic draw for me. This one seemed sufficiently acclaimed that I decided to give it a whirl. Now I remember why I never finished Resident Evil 4 on the PS2. The plot is equal parts Alien and Bioshock: a crew of survivors is stranded upon a ship with a malevolent force that wants them dead. Our hero Isaac, dressed in a suit of space armor resembling one of Marvel’s Celestials, has to run errands all over the ship involving a plethora of spaceship parts and broken systems as the friendly NPCs soon discover the original crew was slaughtered by genetic experiments that were supposed to herald great advancements but instead devolved into ghoulish monsters. Shrieking and bleeding ensue. Whenever you die, sometimes the cutscene goes on for several extra seconds so the bad guys can continue desecrating your corpse, because they’re sick and of course you need more incentives not to fail.
Bioshock was imbued with moral complexity, ironic olde-tyme iconography, a mind-bending meta element, and an outlandish quality to its sci-fi designs that made them feel appreciably fantastical in a way that evoked “Whoa!” and “EWWWWW” in unison. They were scary, but the scares were fun. Dead Space allows no such cracks of light into the darkness. It’s oppressively grim, happy to drown its meticulously detailed backgrounds in murky shadows, torturously judicious in its hard gear-shifting between baffled silence and nerve-jangling volume-11 horror orchestras, and generally out to get you. I can tell it shouldn’t take that many hours of gameplay to finish, but after three months I’m only on chapter 10 out of 12 because I can hardly stand to play more than an hour at a time. I took 2½ weeks off from it after Christmas because I wasn’t clamoring to return to that ambiance. Its labyrinth of terror is a lovingly shaped but foully souring killjoy. It’s more depressing than watching Twitter users verbally assault each other over basic semantics.
To be fair, I diminished some of my own enthusiasm by reading up a bit on the game while I was only a few chapters in. The limited-resource aspect bugged me early on (I hate hate HATE having to conserve bullets), but when I learned the monsters don’t respawn in rooms and levels you’ve already cleared out (except when an occasional ambush is specifically written into the story), I despaired for days because that meant I couldn’t simply farm for extra resources. Since conservation would therefore have to be a tactic, I consulted message boards to see which of the game’s several weapons would be best to focus on upgrading and stockpiling the corresponding ammo. I was annoyed to learn your starter weapon, a bladed gun called the Ripper, ranked consistently highest among past players. Not only that, but there’s a trophy you can win by using only the Ripper for the entirety of the game. That meant there was zero incentive to buy literally any other weapon ever, which meant I’d be denied the simple joy of a rotating arsenal…one of the biggest perks in the Borderlands series, not to mention numerous other, more benevolent shoot-’em-up games, which in this case would be nearly all of them.
Also not cool: a fighting system in which you can’t kill the monsters by shooting them just anywhere on their stupid bodies — no, in this game you have to shoot their flailing limbs, thin tentacles, or other moving-target appendages, but shooting their big fat heads or even wider and plumper bodies is a waste of time and precious ammo. I can get behind the idea of trying to do Something Different in game design, but that’s arbitrarily senseless. It wouldn’t be so bad if the Ripper were remotely useful in melee — severing limbs sounds doable, right? — but Isaac’s hand-to-hand combat options suggest he doesn’t actually know how to fight. When he isn’t shooting, he has exactly two (2) moves: he can stomp the floor six inches in front of him really hard; or he can swing his arm wildly in front of him at eye level — not down low, not at torso level, and only in painfully slow, awkward, 180-degree arcs like he’s a Little League batter closing his eyes and praying for home runs while he strikes out. That move works great whenever the monsters courteously walk into the blade’s path. Isaac can fight about as well as I can in reality.
It’s bleak and frustrating, but I’m still chugging away at it because I’m certain I can beat it and I’m curious to see if there’re other redeeming qualities yet to come. An occasional inventive touch sneaks in here and there — I love that Isaac’s health bar is built into his spine, the sero-gravity levels are imaginatively designed challenges, and, more importantly, I’ve finally gotten to the point in the game where there’s no point in buying any more equipment upgrades, so now I can spend all my money on health packs and bullets. Lots of bullets. ALL THE BULLETS.
…and that’s my 2019 in gaming, such as it was. Yes, that’s it. Yes, I know that’s sad and barely qualifies to be called a “list”. That’s why I don’t identify as a capital-G “Gamer”.
Until next year, then, assuming other hobbies (reading, streaming services, another round of home maintenance disasters like the ones that made for a rather cursed 2019) don’t get in the way yet again. And assuming no one buys me a PS4 as a gift so I can sink my teeth into Borderlands 3. Yay retro gaming!