The week’s highs and lows in PC gaming

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THE LOWS

Xcom 2 Low Header

Andy Kelly: Tough break

I’ve been playing XCOM 2, and as Tom’s review correctly pointed out, it’s bloody brilliant. But one thing that has soured the experience is that it highlights my complete inability to competently play strategy games. You always feel like you’re on the back foot in XCOM 2, which fits the fiction of being the commander of a scrappy group of rebels, but it also means the game is really difficult. Some people love this, but I can’t enjoy games if they’re too challenging. It’s why I hit a brick wall with the first two Dark Souls, and probably will with the third too.

I’m still playing XCOM 2, because it’s fundamentally such a well-designed game, but I’ve rage-quit and restarted my campaign so many times. The reason I don’t get on with tough games, I think, is patience. I don’t have the mental discipline to fight the same Dark Souls boss multiple times to learn its weakness. To some of you—especially here on the internet where people love flexing their virtual muscles—this will be a shameful admission. But some of you will be quietly agreeing with me that hard games aren’t much fun. Don’t worry. I get it.

Angus Morrison: Damp squib

Sorry, Andy, Firewatch is my low of the week. I bought it on Tuesday, and played obsessively through to completion. My God, those opening hours were good. The colours! The heavy set-up! The oh-so-believable voice acting. Despite being a little more prescriptive than I was expecting, I became helplessly caught up in its mystery. I’ve even ordered the prints from my disposable camera.

But the unremarkable, almost bland way the story wraps up is heart-breaking. Such tension built up in such style, dispersed in mere minutes as the story is explained without ceremony through a lone audio log. It feels like a third act is missing, and instead of taking the time to set up a conclusion that could have established it as a seminal work of short fiction, Firewatch delivers a mundane, low-stakes shrug. The fire gutters and dies as quickly as it began.

Truck Simulator Highs Lows

Chris Livingston: Off the map

As people who live in California can attest to, people who don’t live in California often have the idea that California has two cities: San Francisco and Los Angeles, and that you live in or at least very close to one of them (despite the fact that California is so big you can start driving at dawn and stop driving at dusk and still be in California). I live in a city that’s neither San Francisco nor Los Angeles and is thus typically ignored, so when American Truck Simulator was announced I was hopeful that my city was actually represented since the game takes place (in part) in California.

I just had a quick drive in the demo, and my city is in there! Unfortunately, my exit off the Interstate—which is a major exit!—isn’t. My dreams of driving past my house have been dashed. In fact, the entire area I live in, which is part of the city in question, is completely missing. Oh well! I guess I can always walk down my street on Google maps and make truck sounds.

Phil Savage: Self-destructive habits

I’m writing this here in the hope that a doctor or therapist sees it, because I think I need some help. This week, I saw an article about The Elder Scrolls Online. My reaction? “Oh, I should try that again.”

This desire makes no sense to me. I played the beta of TESO, and didn’t enjoy it at all. But even if it had been good, I don’t want to be drawn into another endless, repetitive timesink. My New Year’s resolution—prompted by last year’s twin Destiny and Guild Wars 2 obsessions—was to sample more games in 2016. So far, it’s worked—I’ve played eight of this year’s new releases, and completed five of them. It’s been brilliant, because it’s given me the chance to experience small, strange little games like Oxenfree and Pony Island. I’m not going to give that up for hundreds of hours of a disappointing MMO, not matter what my brain thinks it wants.

Overwatch Highs Lows

James Davenport: No-verwatch

The Overwatch beta has kicked back in, but this time Blizzard’s integrated some light progression systems. Level up, get a loot chest. I didn’t care initially, but then I saw the loot chest animation. I saw the loot rarity levels. I felt the pull. Damn. I’m fairly certain I wrote an angry low about how the majority of a Blizzard game’s fun is in it’s focus-tested reward systems and extravagant UI flourishes. But I am a human, and susceptible—willing, even.

And so now I’m reduced to a quiet pouty state, waiting for my beta invite like a letter from a loved one. I’m checking my inbox more than normal, seeing Overwatch characters in the clouds, and dreaming about my buddy, Watson, the talking gorilla who most definitely is not real. Guess I’ll have to spend another few weeks while Tom Marks flaunts his legendary skins (look at these damn things) and talks about a meta I can’t even comprehend. There are guns, cool looking characters, and now there’s loot and a shiny animation one circle away from the god’s eye. My non-watch resumes.

Tim Clark: Masochistic design

Yesterday I found a .txt file on my desktop named ‘you should read me’. Immediately fearing I had a particularly ostentatious virus, I did exactly what you probably shouldn’t and double-clicked it. The text inside read:

Hello friend,

Who am I?

I’m your friend. You remember me, don’t you? You’ve been playing my game. Discovering my story.

I’m so glad that you’re interested in learning about me. I’m very keen to learn more about you as well. I decided to take the time to write you this letter because I want you to know that–

I’m watching you play this and– I’m wondering…

What kind of person are you?

I suppose we will both get to find out soon enough…

-Hamilton

Huh. A quick trip to uncle Google’s house reveals the note is generated by the game Masochisia, in which, according to the Steam description, a “young man discovers through a series of hallucinations that he will grow up to become a violent psychopath”. Here’s the kicker though: I have never played Masochisia. Dun dun dun.

It turns out my girlfriend has though, and I guess that’s how it got there. We share Steam libraries so it must be something to do with that, though she insists she didn’t play it on my profile. (She also tells me it’s a neat spooky premise that the gameplay doesn’t quite deliver on.) Still, I’m intrigued enough to try it. Cute design either way. But a low because, for a moment, I thought my PC was infected. And now it might be haunted.

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