Matt McIrvin's Steam-Operated World of Yesteryear

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Much too much video games: Destiny, Titanfall, yet more Disney Infinity
...But on to the ones I actually got for Christmas. For these I really only have first impressions.

I've been spending too much time playing the big game of the year, Bungie's Destiny. I'm only a little way into it (my Hunter is level 7, and the cap for the pre-expansion game is 20), and haven't completely wrapped my head around the many options for network multiplayer play and the byzantine loot system. But I can say that, even on the now-previous-generation XBox 360, it's an absolutely gorgeous game, one of the prettiest shooters I've played. It goes for the blasted post-apocalyptic look characteristic of many such things, but it's very well executed, and I like the strange touches of high-fantasy aesthetic mixed in with the science fiction. People make fun of the narration from Peter Dinklage as your mini-robot friend who looks like a cross between a hovering eyeball and a twisty puzzle, but I think he does pretty well with what he's got.

The worst thing about it is that it requires an Internet connection, and if your connection to the back end isn't absolutely rock solid, you'll be unceremoniously booted out of the game (even if the actual mission you're playing is essentially single-player, which can often be the case).

In some cases this seems to happen as a result of some server problem, possibly just overloading. There are missions I've never played simply because I get a network error message every time I try (and it seems to happen more often with some missions than others, which is what makes me think at least some of it is on the back end).

Also played through just the tutorial to another big online multiplayer shooter of 2014, Titanfall, which weirdly nails together a shooter with free-running parkour mechanics to combat with giant robots. This seems potentially more novel than Destiny in terms of gameplay, though it's not nearly as pretty. But I haven't really played the actual game yet, so don't know how engrossing it is.

The difference between the beginnings of the games is interesting, though: Titanfall throws a ton of explicit tutorial material at you explaining the fairly complex controls, whereas Destiny basically throws you into an artistically depicted trudge across a wrecked Russian spaceport and a fight with alien monsters in dark corridors, with a little narration from Dinklage, and lets you discover things gradually. Partly that's because Destiny basically assumes you know how to play a first-person shooter by now, and the shooter controls are mostly very, very standard, nothing you haven't seen in Halo or even Disney Infinity.

My daughter got some games for Christmas too, and much of it was yet more expansion content for Disney Infinity 2.0, including the Guardians of the Galaxy Play Set. I wasn't too impressed with the Avengers Play Set; it had its moments, but seemed thin compared to the built-in content in Infinity 1.0. (the real gem of 2.0 is the Toy Box). With Guardians it's too soon to tell. Some people have criticized this for being a very short game, but I haven't gotten anywhere near the end yet. Since the Guardians aren't flying superheroes (not in a gravity field, at least), it's got much more in the way of climbing and platforming puzzles, exploring the interior of Knowhere, the city in the giant floating head in the movie.

Peter "Starlord" Quill and Gamora (the pack-in characters) and Rocket (who we also got) seem like fun characters to play; Peter has a surprisingly powerful special attack, an autonomous turret he can place. The game does have one of the defects of the other Play Sets, which is that some of the missions are frustratingly tuned so that they're fairly easy with two players but nearly impossible solo; there is no adjustment of difficulty for the number of players. This would be fine for a side mission, but some of them are necessary to story progression. I'm hung up on an antiaircraft-gun challenge that seems to be tuned this way, trying to persuade my kid to give me a hand.

It's interesting, though: most of the time, my kid would really rather just collect Disney Infinity characters and poke around with them in the Toy Box mode. She'd rather build stuff and relax than fight, which is a fine thing, I think. (Unfortunately, 2.0 affords few opportunities for leveling up a character's skills without fighting, so she tends to use an XP-generating cheating machine that I built off a YouTube video. I figure if the game's making her do something she doesn't want to do, finding a workaround is fine with me.) Not all of her friends agree, though, so they'll probably drag her into the fray sooner or later.

(She even spent some time "playing" Destiny, which meant: taking one of my characters and walking it all around the Tower, the game's safe hub area. She had a lot of fun just exploring its various corners, and hitting the "dance" button a lot. She watched me play it for a while, but immediately stopped watching when Dinklage yelled "WE'VE WOKEN THE HIVE!!" and about a zillion monsters charged out of the lunar Temple of Crota.)

I also got her one of the Lego Star Wars games from a bargain bin, but she doesn't seem interested in playing it. I might have to give it a try myself.


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