Guacamelee! follows Juan Aguacate’s luchador-focused plight from one world to the other

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I like a good Metroidvania just as much as the next person, but it needs to contain the right mix of visual and gameplay activity to keep me moving, searching for that next item that will unlock all those previously blocked paths I encountered earlier on in the journey. If that doesn’t happen quick enough, I kind of just lose interest and never go back, like in Celestial Mechanica and Lyle in Cube Sector. Thankfully, Guacamelee! is really hitting that sweet spot, and if I worked harder than I do at this amateurish swing at videogames journalism, I’d come up with some witty piñata metaphor here. Oh well, moving on.

Story stuff. Juan Aguacate is but a humble agave farmer living in a small village in Mexico. Oh, and he happens to be in love with El Presidente’s daughter, and no, I don’t recall if they ever said her name or not. An evil charro skeleton named Carlos Calaca attacks the village and kidnaps her, forcing Juan to go after them. Alas, he is killed–not a spoiler–and finds himself in the land of the dead. There, a mysterious luchador named Tostada grants him the power of luchador-ism via a glowing mask, as well as brings him back to the world of sunshine and rainbows. If you don’t know what happens next, well…it should be pretty obvious. Juan Aguacate goes on to film Nacho Libre II: Hay Mucho Diversión. No, no. He’s off to stop Carlos Calaca from sacrificing El Presidente’s daughter in a ritual that could potentially combine both the living and dead worlds.

It’s a pretty stereotypical “damsel in distress” story that we really need to get away from, but the world just oozes with flavor and fun that I have to ignore the game’s shortcomings. From the music to the cartoony, somewhat cel-shaded-like graphics, Guacamelee! makes up for its trite story and story progression–don’t be surprised when you have to take on all of the main villain’s sub-bosses one after the other before getting to the main event–with stunning visuals, Disney-of-yesteryear-like animation, and a sense of place and time. I’ve never been to Mexico. I think, at one time, I was in New Mexico while visiting my sister in Arizona, but that’s not the same. Still, this all feels right. Sounds right as well, given that the soundtrack is deeply rooted in Latin music and mariachi.

Gameplay is the standard mix of exploration and combat, except instead of blasting away undead critters with fancy guns, Juan puts his newfound wrestling powers to use, punching and grappling and doing pile-drivers from upon high. If you’re quick and careful enough, you can string together some length combos from one enemy to another. Perhaps my favorite part of combat is that, after landing a good number of punches on an enemy, you can then grab them and doing a special finishing move or throw them into other enemies. When there’s a bunch of enemies to deal with at once, tossing them into one other is the best tactic. Also, extremely gratifying, like bowling a strike and watching the pins fly off the ground.

For exploration purposes, well, it’s pretty linear in the beginning. Only so many places Juan can get to, but all those blocked paths are color-coded, with each color related to a specific ability to open then. Thankfully, the map also highlights the color coding, which will make it very easy to revisit some areas and finish up that map-clearing business. There’s a good amount of platforming to be done, too, with many jumps relying on quickly using your abilities to reach that platform just a centimeter too high or off to the right to get to normally. Some of these jumping puzzles are quite difficult, almost to the point of Super Meat Boy levels of frustration. It’s a good thing the game is constantly auto-saving your progress.

Evidently, Guacamelee! is littered with Internet memes and other kinds of meta jokes. Thankfully, I’m blind to most of them, though the really obvious references to Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise and Super Metroid with the ability-giving stone statues are…really obvious. Oh, and instead of rolling into a ball to reach hidden areas, Juan gains the power to morph into a teeny chicken that can peck enemies slowly to death. It’s amusing, if not very effective.

According to the map screen, I’ve completed about 25% of Guacamelee!, just finishing up the boss fight with…well, maybe I shouldn’t ixnay on the boss-say. Psst: that’s a clue. Anyways, I still have plenty of new abilities to earn for Juan and more sub-bosses to deal with before Carlos Calaca gets his just desserts, and I’m really looking forward to popping back into Drinkbox Studios’ colorfully cartoony world–both of them–to see what happens next. Until then.

The beauty is not in the walking in Dear Esther

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On a whim over the weekend, I loaded up Dear Esther. Besides my other plan to beat all those Metal Gear games in order of release, which is moving along swimmingly, thanks for asking, I am also trying to tackle many of the acclaimed indie games from years prior. Y’know, the big small games. The ones that generally feature some sort of unique gimmick and demand you think about things more than just swallow yet another tired, scripted action scene that is supposed to wow you with its bombastic approach at storytelling. So far, in 2014, I’ve experienced Gone Home, Journey, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Thomas Was Alone. Many more to come.

Other than being set on an island, I knew very little about Dear Esther going into it, which is how I like my videogames to go these days. Alas, we live in a day and age where the Internet can ruin anything for you in half a second–that said, hope you all watched last night’s Game of Thrones episode, gotta get that purp. I do recall some heated arguments about whether or not this is a “game,” just like many rushed to do with Gone Home, mocking them both as nothing more than walking simulators, short films with little to no interaction. With that in mind, I went in expecting a pretty good story and little else–truthfully, that’s kind of what I got, and that’s all right.

In Dear Esther, the player starts off on a dimly lit shore of an uninhabited Hebridean island, surrounded by fog and mountains. Far off in the distance is a tall, metal tower, with a red light blinking every few seconds, the beacon beckoning you towards it. As you explore the island, you’ll listen to a series of voiced-over letter fragments to a woman named Esther, which are revealed in no set order. The narrator’s identity is not specified though it’s easy to figure out he is Esther’s husband or lover. Alas, she’s dead, and that’s not a spoiler, as it is something you learn very early on in the journey. Dear Esther, despite its namesake, is more about the narrator and the island’s former inhabitants than anybody else. To say any more of the story would ruin the experience, especially since that’s all there is here, a story; a good one, mind you, and one that can be seen performed in a number of different manners, but just that.

Controlling the player is as simple as using the [W] key to walk forward and the mouse to look around. You can click on either of the mouse buttons to zoom in a bit for a better look at things. That’s it. Those are all your actions. When you enter a dark room, a flashlight automatically comes on, and it also turns itself off when you go back into the light. After playing for about ten minutes, my finger grew tired of just pressing down the [W] key, and I knew I’d have to do this action all the way until the end credits, but thankfully Dear Esther comes prepared for controller support. I’d much rather hold up on a joystick than keeping a finger firmly pressed into a keyboard, and I suspect I’m not the only one. I do wish there was at least something else to do control-wise; perhaps actually collecting the letter scraps or being able to pick up and examine items on the island. Heck, even a jump button, to push exploration even more. I wanted a little more game in this game; yes, it’s still a game.

The writing ranges from mesmerizing to feverish to a bit overdone, but it’s all backed by a gorgeous, swooping orchestrated soundtrack composed by Jessica Curry that can make any scene, whether it’s looking out at the rough ocean waves that brought you to this seemingly metaphoric island or trapped inside a dark, fungi-lit cave, extremely powerful. There’s strings, there’s piano, and they never overtake a scene, simply raise it up. Crashing waves, rushing wind, and cawing gulls provide additional noise at times too.

Dear Esther is an audio/visual trip, a game bent on delivering those two aspects to you at full force. For some, that’s enough. For an hour and a half of simply walking, it’s just enough. I did want something else to do, another way to play in this gorgeously constructed world, to be part of the island, but no man’s an island. And so you keep walking, keep walking, keep walking, all the way to the end. The darkness that greets you is far from comforting, but there is a sense of completion nonetheless. Quitting to the desktop after too many minutes on a blank screen that screamed the end slightly ruined the effect.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Blazing Dragons

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Videogame consoles have never been thought of as the go-to venue for adventure games. Gameplay in point-and-click adventure games often ask you to review a single stationary scene, point at many things with a cursor, and click on them to see what happens. Nine-point-nine times out of ten, you’re doing this with a mouse–thus, the clicking.

Unfortunately, console controllers are not designed for this type of molasses-tempo action, leading to developers fusing the point-and-click style with other more commonly accepted gaming elements, like exploration, puzzle solving, action scenes, QTEs, and so on. Some of the more recent and more successful console adventure games include L.A. Noire, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Stacking, and Machinarium. It can work, but it has to be designed with a consoler gamer in mind.

However, back in 1996 or 1997, I played an adventure game on a console in my high school years’ bedroom that clearly would’ve worked better with a mouse and keyboard. Alas, it only came out for the PlayStation 1 and Sega Saturn. Yup, talking about everyone’s favorite medieval-themed, distinctly British Blazing Dragons.

Blazing Dragons is based on the animated television series of the same name that originally ran on Teletoon in Canada. Never heard of it? Join the club. Join it now, and join it some decades ago when I bought the game simply because it looked cartoonish and fun. Plus, y’know, talking dragons. Evidently, the Blazing Dragons episodes that did make it on U.S. screens were heavily bowdlerized. Anyways, the show, which came from Monty Python brainchild Terry Jones, was a parody of King Arthur and other moments during the Middle Ages, mixing it up enough by telling the stories from the perspective of anthropomorphic dragons beset by evil humans.

The game version of Blazing Dragons, which was developed by The Illusions Gaming Company and published by Crystal Dynamics, walks the same line. In a twist on the legend of King Arthur, you play as Flicker, a young dragon living in Camelhot. Oh, and he’s madly in love with Princess Flame; alas, he’s not eligible to ask for her hand in marriage because he is not a knight. However, a dragon tournament has been announced King All-Fire, where the winner will not only win the prize of the princess, but also become the new king.

With that in mind, you play the game. Using a controller. This means cycling through different cursor options (foot, eye, hand, face) with R1. Flicker can collect a number of various objects and interact with the eccentric cast of both other dragons and human characters to solve puzzles. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those adventure games where you can easily die or find yourself permanently stuck for bypassing a single item earlier on. Yeah, I’m looking directly at you, Beneath a Steel Sky. Many of the puzzles end up relying on your knowledge of fairy-tales, such as planting a bean in fertile soil or using Rapunzel’s hair as a rope to reach something previously unreachable. The other side of solving involves Flicker’s inventions, which end up being crafted with less-than-desirable materials instead of what they really need. Evidently, there is one moment of pure action, but I don’t recall exactly what you had to do and when it happened; I suspect probably near the culmination of the dragon tournament. Otherwise, it’s a lot of chatting for clues, gathering junk, and using items to get one claw closer to becoming a true knight.

I liked Blazing Dragons for its colorful characters, goofy, uncaring plot, and devotion to punny names, such as Sir Loungealot, Sir Blaze, Sir Juicealot, Librarian Pureflame, and Rapunsel Yablanowitz. I was too young to really care or be impressed by the game’s much-touted voice acting cast, which starred the likes of Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings, and Terry Jones himself, though I do remember the audio not being that great to actually listen to. It’s not that many of the characters said lewd things, but rather they sounded poorly mixed, tinny. The game was not perfect, with long load times, some pixel hunting, and the occasionally forced action sequence, but it stood out at the time as something original, a strike of endearing imagination. If anything, I believe this game lead to me discovering Discworld II: Mortality Bytes and reigniting my love for Terry Pratchett’s series of same-name fantasy books.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

Anticipating the strangeness that is Nintendo’s Tomodachi Life

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Over the years here on Grinding Down, I’ve gotten further and further away from what other websites might call “preview coverage” of the videogames still to come out. Mainly the ones I’m interested in. Which is, without a doubt, dozens upon dozens. Really, I want to play just about anything, though we all know, based on time, money, and the consoles I do own, that is never going to happen. Instead, I prefer to wait until I can actually get my stumpy little hands on the game and experience it for myself, that way the words I’m writing at least come out with confidence and a certainty that you can’t get by imagining what a game might be like. I mean, I remember thinking Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, based on a few screenshots alone, was going to be awesomely magical, and it was everything but that.

Wait, wait, wait. Before we begin, let me give y’all my early thoughts on Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. If two full-fledged games and 492 packs of DLC were not enough to sate your hunger for guns and loot and farming pearls, good news–there’s going to be more Borderlands action for you. It’s set on the moon. A new move lets you “ground pound.” You can play as the wise-cracking Claptrap. I’m just setting myself up for disappointment here, as I’m probably going to pick up regardless because, well, I find the gameplay pretty addicting. There, I came clean.

Moving on. Let’s talk about Tomodachi Life, recently announced today in an unannounced Nintendo Direct to be coming out for the Nintendo 3DS this summer (June 6, 2014 to be exact), right around the same time Animal Crossing: New Leaf dropped last year. It’s the localization version of Tomodachi Collection, a unique mash-up of The Sims playful style of gameplay using your customized Miis for a whole bunch of zany nonsense. I think nonsense is a great descriptor for Tomodachi Life, and if you don’t believe, please do watch that Nintendo Direct again. Eyes open, mind open. As of late, Nintendo’s not been afraid to get weird, and I’m really digging that mentality. However, they need to figure out what they prefer–unwavering loyalty to the classic franchises to the point that they feel unnecessary, such as with Yoshi’s New Island, or mixing things up with oddball titles like NES Remix and Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball.

So, what is Tomodachi Life? Well, from the outside looking in, it’s your own personal soap opera. You fill a town with Miis–ones you’ve created or gotten from StreetPassing and so on–and you give all of these Miis distinct personalities. Digitalized voices too. After that, a lot of what happens in this alternate reality is…well, out of your hands. You and your Miis will go on adventures, fall in love, break hearts, be weird, dream a little dream, sing songs, etc. For those looking for a little more guidance, Miis have specific desires for food, clothes, other accessories, and even relationships, and they will sometimes want to play minigames with you, one of which looks like a turn-based RPG in the same vein as Find Mii. It’s not a day-to-day simulation á la Animal Crossing, more like checking in on your gaggle of Miis and seeing what trouble they get into. I personally hope to fall in love with Samus Aran and woo her away from Iwata.

Just like Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Tomodachi Life supports Nintendo’s Image Share tool, which means you can expect my Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr pages to be constantly updated with the batshit antics my Mii gets up to. This push for social media interactivity makes perfect sense for this kind of game, where it is all about the seemingly unexplainable moments. Now you can just share them with everybody else with the click of a couple of buttons and watch the “likes” roll in.

Lastly, and let this be understood–the existence of Tomodachi Life on U.S. shores is a great thing, as it means there’s still hope for Fantasy Life. You haven’t forgotten about that one, have you? I certainly haven’t.

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, where stealthy men are made

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So, this plan of mine to play through all of these Metal Gear games in order of release…hmm. I knew going in that the first two games–Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake–were going to prove the most difficult of the bunch, and that’s mostly because they are…well, old. That’s not to say that all older games are more difficult by default (and design), but it does seem to be the case with me, as I can barely get through a level unscathed in any Mega Man game (circa 1987 to now), let alone reach a boss with enough health left to give me a fighting chance. The Legend of Zelda…I love it oh so very much, but I also absolutely suck at it, with Link making it to a dungeon one out of every ten chances I try, and that alarm sound that plays when he’s down to half a heart a constant companion in his journey across Hyrule.

That said, to make this process easier and not force me to give up from the word “go,” I’ve used some online walkthroughs for both Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Not ideal, but had to be done. Still, even knowing what to do next does not mean you’ll succeed 100% of the time, especially when it comes to boss battles, which can quickly go topsy-turvy if you’re not using the right weapon and equipment. But more on that stuff soon. Gotta first summarize what’s happening this time around. Oh, and did you know that Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake did not have an official English version until it was included as a bonus game in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence for the PlayStation 2 in 2006? Well, now you do. Evidently, there was a non-canonical installment produced without Kojima’s involvement for the NES called Snake’s Revenge, but non-canonical means a whole bunch of fart noises to me.

Right. Well, it’s Christmas Eve, December 1999. FOXHOUND’s new commander, Roy Campbell, brings Solid Snake out of retirement and sends him to Zanzibar Land, a heavily defended territory located in Central Asia, in hopes of rescuing Dr. Kio Marv, a Czech scientist capable of bio-engineering a new species of algae. Also, Snake has to destroy the revised Metal Gear D. Y’know, typical secret “save the world” mission stuff. Along the way, Snake will team up with a colorful band of others, like Holly White, a CIA operative posing as a journalist, Gustava Heffner, an StB agent and bodyguard, and Dr. Drago Pettrovich Madnar, the Metal Gear inventor from Outer Heaven. Understood? Over and out.

Let’s get to the good stuff first. Metal Gear 2 improves upon just about every complaint I had with the original Metal Gear. Gone is an inventory of card keys, now replaced with colorized keys that work on multiple doors (i.e., the red card can open any door requiring cards 1 to 3). There’s still some guess-work to do on doors, but much less than before. Codec conversations are both more meaningful and interesting, with plenty of people to call and get responses from. Snake has a new move, crawling, and this is where the stealth mechanic becomes a Real Thing, as the previous game was more about occasionally hiding. Being unseen is extremely vital to staying alive, since guards can see better and will work harder to find you after going into alert mode, and grinding for ten-plus rations no longer works. The story is better told, with some fantastic moments, and I’m mostly thinking about Snake’s conversation with Heffner, though the game itself tries to end on a knee-slapper, playing Snake off as just another clown with his head in the clouds.

The parts I’m continuing to not dig are the checkpoint system, the heavy emphasis on backtracking, how difficult it can be to drop back into the shadows, and…honestly, that’s it this time. And those first two elements are heavily related to one another, which is why I ended up playing this, just like the original Metal Gear, in one sitting. Well, two actually. The newest season of Game of Thrones interrupted Snake’s mission for the night, but only that. Naturally, I thought I was near the end of the game when up against the Metal Gear D, but in true franchise form, there were a couple more sections to get through after that.

I think the most grueling part of Metal Gear 2besides the invisible swamp path and inane puzzle involving an owl, a snake, and your stockpile of rations–is just how much it relies on back-tracking, going from one building to another, crossing a desert full of mines each time. For all of time. Eventually, you get really good at it, but early on, without a walkthrough telling me specifically where to go, I wandered aimlessly and ended up just getting caught and killed for no good reason. Because guards are relentless in searching for you, following you across screens and into elevators and jamming your radar, and you basically have a millisecond to find a hiding spot when they go into caution mode, though you’re unlikely to, leading to scenarios where it’s better to just gun everyone down than crawl under a cardboard box. Hence, my 198 alerts in the stats at the bottom of this post.

Oh, one more thing. You know how the Metal Gear series loves to force you to look outside the game for answers, like codec frequencies and such? Well, that’s here too, but alas, since the game comes bundled in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, there wasn’t an actual game manual for me to access, and so I missed out on figuring these nifty tie-ins myself. One involved deciphering some kind of code. Instead, the walkthroughs just put it all out there. Boo to that.

And just like before, I have stats for y’all. Mmm, numbers and details:

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Last time I was a deer, and this time a zebra. Not sure which is a better rating, though I’m glad to see I killed six fewer humans for this operation. We’ll call that “improving.”

Well, with Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake completed, it’s time for me to move on to…Metal Gear Solid. Dun dun dunnn. Which I’ve not played since its release date of September 1998. Really looking forward to seeing how it–and if it does at all–holds up. The Internet tells me that Metal Gear Solid is basically a 3D version of Metal Gear 2, and playing them back to back should hopefully show whether that’s true or not. Onwards, to Alaska!

Crackdown’s aimlessly emergent leap of faith

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Occasionally, I will pop into Crackdown, kick a few gang members in the gut, leap up like a European tree frog to the top of some buildings, and collect a couple of Agility Orbs. If I get lucky, I’ll also take out a gang leader or unlock another agency supply point, which acts as an ammo-refilling and fast-travel hotspot. Given the size of the map for Pacific City, these waypoints are vital to getting around quickly, in spite of the fact that, eventually, the agent you’re playing as should be able to leap over entire buildings. Until then, it’s a much slower-moving game, and I still find myself uninterested in driving any kind of car because of that, y’know, Doc Brown quote.

By far, the best thing about Crackdown, which came out in 2007 mind you, is that it drops you in its open world and immediately lets you do whatever you want. Sure, there’s some guidance with map icons and your commander giving you directives in your ear, but you can completely choose to ignore all that and go on a gang-related rampage, test your might in some land- and car-based races, or experience the dopamine release that comes with finding an orb that increases your skills at a molasses-like pace until you get enough to upgrade. This sort of “totes on your own” mentality can be good and bad; at first, it’s liberating, not having to worry about running over to start some trivial quest, just bounding from one area to another and seeing what unfolds. However, after some time, it becomes boring, especially now that I’ve collected about half of the Agility Orbs in the game, which just leaves behind an empty husk of a city.

Alas, that’s where I’m at now in Crackdown: a bit bored. When it comes to main missions and, uh, actually playing the game, you’re tasked with taking down three different criminal organizations each operating in a separate region of Pacific City. Each organization has multiple lieutenants and minor bosses that can be erased from digital life in any order. You can also eliminate the organization’s kingpin at any time, though those at the bottom of the ladder drastically lowers the firepower and abilities of the kingpin’s guards. Reaching some of these big bosses requires planning and the navigation of large buildings, so you’re better off waiting until your powers have grown, allowing you to jump higher and dish out more damage. I think at this point I’ve killed maybe three to five lieutenants, certainly no major crime-lords yet, and I don’t even know where I should be focusing my attention. Seems like everywhere I go in Pacific City, some bad guy/girl is up to no good and surrounded by goons with guns all aimed at me. Really, it’s just easier jumping from roof to roof.

Visually, Crackdown is no Saints Row: The Third or Grand Theft Auto V. I mean, how could it be? I ask thee again–how? The year 2007 did what it could, and the focus here was more on tall buildings and a sense of openness, a freedom to go left or right or even very high up. That means that when you’re running around on the streets below, everything is bland. Flat and lifeless. Cars are chunky and blocky, and these bounce off other vehicles like bumper cars at the summer festival, occasionally emitting some smoke. I’ve done only a handful of stunts with cars and don’t expect to do any more as they all handle like garbage, even the much-hyped “Super Car” from the Agency. Civilian life in Pacific City consists of groups of five to six people–most who are clones from other groups of people–walking around and running the second they see the Agent coming their way. But that’s all they do, is walk around, just walk, walk, walk. Strangely, and maybe this is the loner in me speaking, but life is better way up high, where silence lives.

Combat is no step up either. You can throw objects like cars or gas tanks, you can kick with your kicky stick (leg), or you can use one of two carried weapons to pierce flesh with bullets. The left trigger locks on (when it feels like working), and right trigger fires. Alas, the shooting feels light and ineffective, especially when up against bosses that have multiple health bars. It’s akin to shooting a bag of sand, except that bag of sand no longer remains unmoved, it’s also firing back your way. It gets even worse the farther away you are from the target, though the Agent’s shooting skills should advance at some point, so maybe it’ll be easer then. Oh, and you can toss grenades, which explode with the impact of a big fart that could no longer be held in. It’s not great, and my tactic involves shooting a guy until I start to reload and then running into them with a jump kick. Rinse and repeat, as well as run away when you lose too much health.

Like I said, I’m getting bored with Crackdown, so I’ll probably do another round or two of running and jumping around in hopes of nabbing some more Agility Orbs with the hope of stumbling upon a boss and, if the wind is blowing my way, putting him or her in the ground. I’d like to progress a bit more only to see the Agent grow in strength and ability, not because the story is some compelling piece of literature. This is truly the definition of a sandbox title, and I’m just about done playing.

Lara Croft mourns her first deer kill, slaughters dozens more

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I think I’m just about done with Tomb Raider. No, wait. I am done. Given the new low that I stooped to last night, it’s best that I just put it and its unlocked Trophies, as well as untouched online multiplayer aspect, behind me, orphaned on some storm-hidden, sun goddess-worshipping tropical island, one which, with any luck, I’ll never find again.

Tomb Raider‘s story came to a close a couple weeks back for me. I don’t remember the exact percentage number at the end of it all, but since then I’ve slowly been working towards that soul-settling 100%. Basically, nabbing all the leftover collectibles. Well, that’s not going to happen. Sure, I’ve upgraded all my weapons with every mod available, finished every optional tomb, collected every relic and document from every level that had ‘em, earned all the ability skills, and done most of the GPS caches and challenges.

It’s that last mentioned category that will go incomplete, thus robbing me of a full completion rating. Oh well. The GPS caches actually end up getting marked on your map, making them easier to find since they are only glittering lights, but the challenges, which are things like “shoot down eight tiny wind chimes that blend in really well with the background” or “find 10 specific mushrooms in a forest filled with mushrooms” are not labeled on the map. That means you spend a lot of time running around the same environment, constantly clicking left trigger for Lara’s hunting vision in hopes of seeing something glow. At this point, I have two mushrooms left to find in the forest levels, and that seems like an impossible task–even with an online walkthrough–as I can’t tell which ones I’ve already collected and which ones are still out there, being fun guys.

But let me talk about earning salvage in a post-game Tomb Raider world. In order to pay for weapon mod upgrades, you need salvage, which is earned from finding crates of it in the environment, looting fallen enemy bodies, and skinning slain animals. However, the first two–crates and enemies–are quite finite once the game ends, with little to no respawning for both of them. This means that if you don’t have enough salvage by then, you’re going to have to grind for it, and the quickest and easiest animal to kill over and over again like some mindless sociopath are deer, the same forest friend that gave Lara Croft some minor heartache when she first had to kill the beast to feed her tummy.

Let me start at the start. Early on in Tomb Raider after acquiring the bow, Lara is given a quest to kill a deer, with the implication that she needs to do this to stay alive. To eat, keep her energy up, etc. She goes through the hunting motions and even apologizes to the deer as she guts it. This is supposed to be an emotional scene, but it quickly dissolves into just perfunctory videogame mechanics, as gutting the deer earns Lara both XP and salvage. Note, not food. The quest was for food, and the reward was other stuff. I’m not a huge fan of hunger meters–looking at you, Minecraft and Don’t Starve–as they constantly put pressure on you to always be looking for something scrumptious to keep that meter high instead of letting you just play the game, but here, where hunting is emphasized, it would’ve made sense to have Lara kill a deer every now–for hunger’s sake.

Anyways, since killing deer obvious meant nothing to Lara in the end, just a means to more skills, I took her down a dark path for my last half-hour with Tomb Raider. Back in the coastal forest sections, I had her running in circles, assault rifle at the ready, blasting deer to the ground with a single shot, sometimes  popping off a rabbit or two while waiting for the deer population to respawn. When ammo ran out, I took to practicing how far I could snipe a deer with a loosed arrow, as well as how high they could bounce into the sky once I got the “exploding arrows” perk unlocked. Evidently, kind of high.

This sort of obsessive, stalker-like hunting all became methodical, something which I think an archeologist would appreciate, approaching a task systematically, even if that task is basically slaughtering deer after deer after deer, and all for salvage, a secondary currency that lets her grow in power. Strangely, even after all the weapon mods were bought, Lara can still earn salvage, but that only makes the hunting seem even further without point. No thanks. I’m done voraciously knocking down digital deer, though I don’t expect their death-cries to leave my head for some time.