So, what are you playing?

by: Randy -
More On: What we're playing
 
Put on your spoiler pants because WhatCulture looks at 10 video games where you die at the end. If NBA 2K21 is any indication, AAA next-gen games may cost $70. And The Witcher showrunner promises that more nods to the games will show up in season two.
 
So, what are you playing?
 
Sean Colleli
It's been a busy week but I've managed to carve out some gaming time. For starters I got the hankering to get back to Rage 2, which I liked quite a lot but wanted to take more time exploring. Then I admitted to myself that I never beat the original Rage, and I really probably should, so I've been working through that for the past couple weeks. To be honest, it's a bit of a chore and I'm already feeling like I'll need to force myself to get through it. I've restarted Rage numerous times but never finished it, and now I can remember why. I'm not experiencing any technical issues this time--apparently Id and Valve finally optimized the Steam version--but the whole experience still feels like a very drawn out tech demo. The action is solid and frenetic but also painfully repetitive, and not in the good Doom or Quake kind of way. Rage is a slower, more methodical game that locks you into arenas and throws dozens of enemies at you, but without the mobility and creative mayhem that made Doom 2016 so addictive. The quest structure is also pretty tedious and everything about Rage's open world is depressingly static. Id's insistence on using Megatexture in 2011 means everything is hideously smeary and low-res up close. And yet...from a distance, Rage is one of the most starkly beautiful games I've ever seen. The vistas and setpieces impart a sense of aching desolation, a bleached, weary loneliness right out of a pre-Star Wars 70s sci-fi dystopia. I swear I'm going to run into Charlton Heston out in Rage's wasteland. It's just a shame that when you examine Rage up close, the illusion dissipates and it collapses into competent but generic tedium. I'll probably have more detailed thoughts in a longer post but for now Rage is a frustrating experience, the premature embryo of what Doom would accomplish six years later. It's just a shame Id had to sacrifice that intimidating, shattered beauty to give Doom the focus that it needed.
 
On a whim I dropped $15 on the Switch port of Star Wars Episode 1: Racer, and wow it's just as much fun as I remember. I played this game to death back on the N64 in 1999, back when I was an undiscerning 13-year-old and, despite a vague, nagging sense of disappointment, I actually  thought The Phantom Menace was a good film. I cringe at the thought now, and the Podracing scene feels like it lasts approximately 400 minutes when I force myself through the movie these days. But credit where it's due, LucasArts turned that sequence into a damn fine racing game. Every racer feels distinct enough that you can define your own play style, and the management system, although shallow, adds another element to upgrading your slick racing machine and budgeting your winnings. Most important was the sense of sheer speed that Racer hits you with--that rush still persists all these years later and makes for a pretty white knuckle experience. While the graphics were blocky even in '99 to facilitate smooth frame rates, they have a crisp, charming cleanness when rezzed up to 1080p, as do most games of that era when properly optimized. In any case simplicity matters when the scenery is flashing past at 600mph. Episode 1 Racer feels like all the best virtues of late 90s arcade games--flashy, challenging, timely, fast--distilled down into one Star Wars flavored, 151 proof shot. So yeah, the Star Wars prequels kind of sucked. The Disney-Wars sequels really suck. But the lion's share of those old Star Wars games still have a lot of fun and heart to offer.
 
Eric Hauter
I'm traveling this week (don't worry, I'm being super Covid-responsible). I brought my Switch with me, thinking that it would be my gaming travel companion, but surprisingly I haven't even turned it on once. Instead I've been playing Stadia the entire time.
 
The family I'm staying with has wifi, and it's good enough for me to pull a steady 1080p stream from Stadia and play quite comfortably on my 13" laptop. I do believe that they all think I'm a little crazy for perching at the kitchen table for hours every morning with a plug-in Xbox One controller, but whatever. It is working like a charm, and I've been able to make a ton of progress on a game I'm reviewing for next week. What is that game, you ask? Well, I could tell you, but then Stadia wouldn't trust me with any more games. You'll just have to pop back to GN on Tuesday/Wednesday after the Stadia Connect to find out.
 
I can say, though, that I've also been popping into The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor on the regular. I've decided to play it in a casual way, more like an actual Elder Scrolls title than an MMO. With the MMO pressure off, the game is much more relaxing and enjoyable. I'm just ignoring all of the battlegrounds, instances, and PVP like they aren't there. I'm not making a point of dashing to the stable to train my mount every day, nor am I being particularly attentive to crafting. Just wandering the countryside, questing  by myself, hopping into fights to help strangers where I can. I am a ronin necromancer, and my name is Allie Tangerine. Bad guys beware when I wander into your town (or underground city).
 
Randy Kalista
Every once in a while I find myself in an unenviable position as a games writer. That position is "I'd rather play this game than write about it." It's ironic, but it's certainly not sarcastic. That's where I am with Hardspace: Shipbreaker. If it was released—and not just in early access—it would've been my pick for Our Favorite Games of the Year (So Far). That stipulation, however, puts Hardspace in direct contention with Kentucky Route Zero come GOTY time at the end of the year. And that's fine. That's a perfectly enviable position, by comparison. Hardspace and Kentucky are worlds apart, gameplaywise, but I'm suddenly realizing the prevalence of folk instrumentals in both.
 
I'm also up to my eyeballs in virtual reality. John Yan is dragging me, kicking and screaming, into the much lauded (and equally derisive) world of VR. I've already got Skyrim VR and Creed: Rise to Glory locked and loaded in my Steam library. Not to mention Half-Life: Alyx, the first game that's come along in seven years of publicly available VR to actually convince me it's a system seller. In unrelated news, I've got a box of Dramamine tablets on standby. Wish me luck. [Update: Creed is now my physically fit path to a better me. I need a sweatband.]
 
John Yan
I'll be doing some light gaming as I continue to try and get my basement back in order after a power outage and water damage from the sump pump not working. Luckily, it was confined to an area that didn't have too much stuff on the floor.  I'll be doing casual Uno as I picked that up during the Steam sale. If I have the ability, I'll probably pop into some 7 Days to Die so as I continue to see what new things they did with the latest update before we start a real session once the stable branch is out.