An old lady gamer talks about Destiny 2

The first of a new series of posts about computer games. Unless I decide that I hate writing about games. If you’re unused to reading about computer games look to the bottom for a glossary. Or just skip this post because I’m going to get a tiny bit technical.

Destiny 2 is free this month for PS4 users who subscribe to Playstation Plus so of course I gave it a look. But not right away. The things I heard about Destiny 1 weren’t great and I had been playing a lot of Titanfall 2 and there’s only so many hours in the day. I only loaded it up because a friend was playing it and recommended it, partly because they know that I’m a reasonably reliable teammate.

I expected to be underwhelmed and that might be why I like it so much. A game like this can over-hype itself to the point where you’re instantly disappointed by it because of the things that it doesn’t do so well and you never come to appreciate the good stuff. If you go in without expecting too much of it you give yourself a chance to notice the stuff that it does really well.

Destiny 2 does have some flaws. It expects the player to have mastered FPS gameplay without considering that much of its natural playerbase would be coming from third person open world games like the Assassin’s Creed series or third person MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. When my other half started playing I had to patiently explain how to corner strafe and, by extension, circle strafe. These are key FPS skills.

There are jumping puzzles. Oh My God, how much do I hate jumping puzzles? A lot. I hate jumping puzzles a lot. I especially hate them when they’re an unavoidable part of the main storyline mission and the double jump mechanic is unpredictable. I spent way too much time waiting to respawn on the rigs of Titan.

Some of the levels are far too dark. I’m all for moody, horror film inspired game play but if I have to look at the waypoints in order to find the door out there’s a problem. Just give me a torch.

Parts of it feel horribly derivative to me. The bad guys often look like someone threw a bunch of Games Workshop figures into a blender and stuck them back together at random.

So what does Destiny 2 do right? Well it’s exceptionally pretty. In every area of the game there are glorious vistas to behold. The character models are beautiful to look at and well animated. While the level design isn’t always perfect the environmental design is top tier. The methane seas of Titan and the structures that stand in them are absolutely stunning. The player character armour and weapons look good too and the armour in particular looks like nothing else that I’ve seen in gaming.

It also sounds great. The music is fantastic and most of the in game sounds are satisfying. The voice acting though is one of the places where the game really stands out. The cast is excellent and includes names like Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Bill Nighy, Claudia Black, Lance Reddick and Frank Langella. Of course great voice acting wont fix a duff script. This script is mostly darkly funny and sometimes grim and dramatic. While it is occasionally clunky it’s clunky in the way the ponderous tomes of classic science fiction are clunky. Given the way the plot and the design riff off the tropes of classic sci-fi the ponderous dialogue works.

I love the story telling. It’s a brilliant example of how to ramp up the stakes. A lot of games don’t know where to pitch the story. We either don’t care much about the story in the beginning or the stakes are cartoonishly high from the start with nowhere to go. Destiny 2 starts with a fairly standard gambit of the player character being brought low and having to regain what they’d lost. But your character loses everything and that loss is small compared to the devastation around them. And around about the time you get your character back up to the level they were at in the beginning and well before you can fix any of the larger problem it turns out that the entire solar system is at risk.

Most of the time Destiny 2 is either hilarious or chilling and occasionally it’s both. I like that. It could go the grimdark route as so many other games do. Horrible things happen right in front of the player and far more horrible things are implied but they’re often juxtaposed with stuff that I find funny. Maybe it’s just me, I do have a very dark sense of humour, so your mileage may vary, but it feels like a deliberate stab at gallows humour. It feels like the people of the game universe are holding onto their sense of humour as a way to remain sane in the face of terrible events.

The game is full of hidden lore and implied story telling. One area is called ‘The European Dead Zone’ and the game doesn’t tell you that it’s in Germany. It’s the German language signs (inside the ruined rail terminal that you will only find if you go exploring) that tell you that.

I’ve already hit the level 20 cap with two characters and I’m close with a third. I’ve made an in-game Clan (it’s called Unloved Season if you’re interested). I will definitely be shelling out for the 2 expansions and probably paying for the Forsaken DLC. That’s as much of a recommendation as I can give – I’m going to spend money in order to play more of it.

Glossary

  • FPS – First Person Shooter. A game like Doom where the player runs around with a gun and the in game gamer shows the player character’s point of view.
  • MMORPG – Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. Online computer versions of tabletop role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.
  • Corner/Circle strafe – A way of moving in FPS games that allows your character to edge round corners or run rings round an opponent while still facing them and thus shooting at them. It’s relatively intuitive if you’re using a keyboard and mouse but if you’re playing on a console and forced to use a controller it means learning to use both sticks simultaneously.
  • Jumping puzzles – not necessarily genuine puzzles but areas in a level where jumping is necessary to get where you’re going but is not easy and may not be obvious.
  • Double Jump – hitting the jump button twice to jump extra high, extra far, or glide depending on the game.
  • DLC – Downloadable content. Additional bits of gameplay that you pay for separately but require the original game to work.
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Reveiw of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I’ve already written about the experience of going to see this film with my son but now I’m going to tell you what I thought of the film.

It’s very entertaining but it’s not a good film. It’s not good in ways that I, as a writer, find irritating but I still enjoyed it. If you like dinosaurs or you have kids that like dinosaurs and are old enough to deal with the level of peril then you’ll probably enjoy it. I’d also recommend it if you have a nostalgic hankering for disaster movies.

Now I’m going to talk about the film in more detail and that means spoilers. There will also be spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok.

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The cinematography is excellent, it’s a beautiful film. The visual effects are stunning. The music is pretty good and though it doesn’t quite have the majestic sweep of the music from the original Jurassic Park it does the job. The casting is excellent and the cast do a fine job with the script that they’re given. The problem is the script and to a lesser extent the editing. I find that frustrating as a film fan because those should be the easiest, or at least cheapest things to fix.

The plot is full of holes some of it makes no goddamn sense. None of the dialogue is exactly sparkling and a lot of it is just horribly flat. Every scene with lava in it made me want to throw the director into a volcano. Owen (Chris Pratt) survives at least 3 things that would definitely have killed him – the radiant heat from the lava, the pyroclastic flow and the jump from the cliff into the sea. I half expected him to turn out to be a robot or something.

The director doesn’t seem to know what to do with Blue the raptor. She’s one of the big driving forces of the plot and she saves the human characters several times but she’s not treated like a character in her own right which would make for a far more satisfying arc. She just disappears from the film for long stretches which makes her triumphant slaying of the Indo Raptor feel cheap.

But the scene that I find most irritating doesn’t involve lava, or Blue or plot holes. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen are in the front of the truck about to drive out of the ship and she asks him where the mercenaries are taking the dinosaurs and he says that he doesn’t know. All that scene adds to the movie is run time. It doesn’t develop the characters or move along the plot or build the world. It doesn’t add tension or raise the stakes and it’s not funny. There’s literally no reason to leave it in.

Compare that scene to Thor and Loki in the lift together in Thor: Ragnarok. That’s also a little joining scene and it happens at roughly the same point in the film. That scene is funny and poignant. It shows us how Thor has grown and it gives us a hint of Loki’s ambivalence about that growth. It sets up the action in the next scene, it lays the groundwork for Loki’s subsequent attempted betrayal and his eventual heel turn.

You might be about to suggest that and Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are just better actors. I don’t think that’s it. They’re very good but so are Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. The problem is the script that gave them so little to work with, the director who filmed such a nothing scene and the editor who left it in.

Nevertheless, I’m still probably going to see the inevitable sequel. I just wish it was going to be a buddy movie about Maisie and Blue fighting wildlife crime in the forests of Pacific Northwest.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Took my son to see this movie and it was an interesting experience. My son is autistic and, like me, has ADHD. This means that he finds some movies a tough watch but he still enjoys them.

He found the previous movie, Jurassic World, a bit over stimulating and half way through I had to break out my narrative decoding skills to tell him who would live and who would die. It was the first time I broke down the logic for him and explained how I could tell roughly what was going to happen.

He found the film so hard to watch because he identified so strongly with the two boys, particularly Grey, the younger of the two. He calmed down considerably when I told him that it was a family movie and that meant that they boys wouldn’t die. I predicted that even though the park was packed with kids and escaped dinosaurs that we wouldn’t actually see any of the children die.

Then I explained that it was a disaster movie and that meant that the hero could only die at the very end and by giving his life to save others but that they probably wanted Chris Pratt for the sequel and he’d be fine. I explained that in a disaster movie the people morally responsible for the disaster would die in narratively appropriate ways. So that one guy is going to die in a helicopter crash, that other one is going to get what he wants and it’s going to eat him. I explained that anyone in a uniform who’s name we didn’t know was dinosaur fodder and that he shouldn’t get attached to them.

He’s matured a lot since then but he still found parts of this movie a little too much. I had to remind him that it was a family movie and that they wouldn’t kill the kid in a family movie. Once he’d been reminded of the genre conventions he was able to remain calm by trying to predict the twists and turns.

This time around he not only identified strongly with the child character, Maisy, but also with the velociraptor, Blue. I had to agree. I think the film is ok but it’ll be much better once someone adds subtitles for Blue. Once all the noises she makes are translated I think they’ll mostly turn out to be calling other dinosaurs bitches and insulting Owen (Chris Pratt). I’m pretty sure Blue thinks it’s a buddy movie.

I’ll post a review some time soon but the short version is that the film is very entertaining but also flawed in really annoying ways.

I have things to say about movies

This isn’t a proper blog post because I don’t have enough to say to write a proper blog post and, in spite of what my friends might tell you, I’ve never quite mastered the skill of talking for ages when I don’t actually have anything to say. So this is just a brief chat inspired by recent cinema visits.

I’ve already posted twice about Infinity War, here and here, and I might yet have more to say about it. If anyone’s interested I might have something to say on the subject of how Thanos is not just a dick he’s also wrong.

Yesterday I went to see Deadpool 2 and I might have something to say about that soon but for now I’ll just tell you all to go and watch it (if violent action comedies are your thing). If you’ve been put off from going because you’ve heard rumours that Wade’s true love, Vanessa, is getting fridged I suggest you go anyway. Gail Simone, the woman behind the Women in Refrigerators website, said on twitter that she enjoyed Deadpool 2 more than Infinity War.  If that isn’t enough then I’m available to entirely spoil the film for you if that’s what it takes to get you to go.

Another thing I saw yesterday was a trailer for Equaliser 2. Some time ago I posted a review of the first Equaliser film. I missed that in the cinemas and I probably wouldn’t have gone if I’d known about it. I tend to object to reboots even when they have Denzel Washington in them. I saw it on Netflix because I was in the mood for a certain kind of film. I really liked it. I might make my other half watch it with me in preparation for watching the sequel in the cinema.

Yes it’s going to be an action grandpa film but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it’s done creatively. The first film included a scene in which the central character took out a squad of assassins using the inventory of a convenient hardware shop (if you’re American think Home Depot, if you’re British think B&Q). If the idea of Denzel Washington slaughtering very bad men while armed with only power tools and ingenuity doesn’t interest you then I don’t know what to say.

I have not been well

For the first time in months I haven’t hit my preferred posting schedule. It’s because I have not been well. Or in the vernacular of my homeland, “Ah’ve been nae weel”.

I’ve had an infected cyst and it’s been super painful. I’m now on antibiotics and almost back to my normal levels of nae weelness.

I’ve been dealing with the pain with a combination of regular painkillers, vaping CBD and playing Just Cause 3 on the PS4. It’s free this month to anyone with a Playstation Plus subscription. This is not exactly a review because I am not a reviewer. It’s just information for anyone else who might need distracting from pain or from the existential horror of life in 2017.

I’m not sure that Just Cause 3 is a good game but it’s certainly a fun one. There’s a lot of violence but so far not much gore. It’s funny but only if your sense of humour is like mine: as black as the earl of Hell’s waistcoat. You do have to hang up some of your critical faculties to enjoy it properly because the protagonist has to be mildly superhuman to pull off most of the stuff he does but his abilities have so far not been adequately explained.

If it’s distraction you’re looking for then this game does it well. It’s pretty to look at, the voice acting is excellent, the in game music is subtle but compelling, and the plot is interesting enough to drive the action but not so much that you don’t want to stop and do the challenges and side quests. There’s a variety of gameplay though there’s not much of a stealth option and I personally find the vehicle controls on the PS4 controller a bit shonky. This is a game that kept me entertained when the pain wouldn’t let me sleep and I had to wait for the antibiotics to work.

Also there’s a David Tennant voice cameo as the person kidnapped by the regime to do the radio announcements.

As I say it’s currently free on Playstation Plus and available cheap in any second hand games emporium. Or on Amazon it’s available for XBox One, PC and PS4. The XBox and PC versions are less than £15 but the the PS4 one is the gold edition and is more than £30.