Tag Archives: open world

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Midnight Club: Street Racing

This might be hard to believe, considering my long and well-documented love for all things racing games, but I willingly bought a copy of Midnight Club: Street Racing for the PlayStation 2 some time back in that wacky, inexplicable decade known as the aughts. I suspect I got it for cheap at the Blockbuster near my college’s campus when they started selling used games–or rather “previously rented”–but that’s just a suspicion, based mostly on the fact that that is where I got a small chunk of my early PS2 collection during my poorer days eating ramen noodles and working a few hours during the week in an art gallery. For the record, and yes, I just looked, here are all the games still in my collection rocking a “Previously Rented Game – Quality Guaranteed” label from the now defunct Blockbuster business:

Yup. Quite a super-squad there. With that said, let’s get on to the star of today’s show. Everybody, start your engines. Vroom vroom vroooooom…

Surprisingly, for a game centered around driving speedy cars quickly and aggressively, Midnight Club: Street Racing kind of had a story behind all its engine-driven action. Granted, around that timeframe, my experience was fairly limited to car-related adventures through things like Vigilante 8, Super Mario Kart, and Crash Team Racing, where vehicular combat was the central element, and it didn’t matter who was behind the wheel so long as they could toss projectiles out like everyone else. So, taking place in both New York City and London, you’re a bored-as-bored-gets cabbie looking for some street-style racing action…for reasons. Magically, you stumble across your first challenger named Emilio and are then invited to join the titular Midnight Club to continue proving your worth and burning gang leaders in races. There’s no real introduction, and the dialogue sections are flat images with character portraits speaking while two cars sit idly next to each other. Look, it’s not Great Expectations, or even Fast Five, but it’s something.

Not shockingly, when you see that Rockstar had a hand in this, but Midnight Club: Street Racing is a bit open-worldish. Y’know, a genre just starting to hit its stride then. You’re able to cruise around the respective cities, looking for trouble in the form of hookmen, which are visible on your mini-map, which, when you glance at the screenshot above, defies the definition of the word mini greatly. I mean, that was the UI for the era–big, bright, and loud. Anyways, once you get behind them, you’ll have to keep up with their ride until they feel that you’re worthy of a race, which is you against that driver’s entire posse. Also, you can call up these hookmen on your cell phone–a novel concept back then–for a more fair one-on-one race. If you win the race, you get to add your opponent’s car to your garage, which I guess is akin to carving up a dead animal and wearing its skin as a prize. I don’t know a lot about cars.

I remember being initially impressed by the scale of Midnight Club: Street Racing offered, but do remember the cities feeling lifeless and empty. Now, I’ve only ever been to New York City, and I remember a lot of cars and honking while there, as well as swarms of people; here, it is just mostly empty streets, with little traffic to deal with, and that just wouldn’t cut it today. Still, one must consider that this game came out before things like Grand Theft Auto III and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. It was also frustrating that, to even start a race with another member of the Midnight Club, you needed to follow them to the starting line first, weaving through traffic and praying they didn’t get too far ahead of your slow whip, which was often more challenging than the race itself.

Most races are checkpoint races, which means you can veer off the beaten path so long as you hit all the checkpoints and cross the finish line before anyone else. That might sound like there’s a ton of freedom at hand, but this is a condensed city-scape and not miles of Smuggler’s Run‘s open terrain, and there were generally only one or two ways to get the job done efficiently. If rubbing and racing isn’t your thing, well…there’s an arcade mode, which lets you set up head-to-head, checkpoint, and two-player races. Also, some sort of capture the flag mode where you need to bump into the car carrying the flag to steal it and then deliver to some hotspot on the map. I don’t believe I ever took down the gang champion of New York City, thus never even seeing the second half of the game set in London.

I have no idea if Midnight Club: Street Racing hold up in 2018, and I’m not interested in finding out. Still, if I had my copy around, I might pop it in randomly one night for a zip down memory lane, but oh well. Much like Blockbuster, this franchise stalled years ago, and newer, more efficient racers have taken the lead, like Burnout Paradise.

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.

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You gotta swim to survive in Subnautica

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Subnautica from the Humble Freedom Bundle back in February of last year before they ran out of keys for it. However, I didn’t even install it until two weekends ago, kind of waiting for it to finish up treading water in Early Access and release as a full-as-full-gets-these-days game to play. This way I don’t know what has improved or changed or stayed the same, and all I see is a crashed spaceship and an endless amount of ocean to explore, same as you or your brother or your brother’s mother, most likely your mother too. Right…I’m ready to dive in, even if my lungs are not.

Subnautica begins with a bang. Well, more accurately–a crash. You have smash-landed on alien ocean world, and the only place to explore is down beneath the waves. In the distance is your spaceship, on fire and full of radiation, and though the game never explicitly says you should go back there, one feels the need to get inside it and see if there is anything salvageable, figure out where things went wrong. But first, you’ll need stuff, like food and water and gear, if you are to survive Subnautica‘s shallow coral reefs, treacherous deep-sea trenches, lava fields, and bio-luminescent underwater rivers. You’ll also need to manage your oxygen supply as you explore kelp forests, plateaus, reefs, and winding cave systems, and the water is teeming with life, both helpful and harmful. No one ever said swimming was easy.

So far, I’ve put about two hours and change into Subnautica and don’t have a whole lot to show for it. That’s okay. I’m in no rush, so long as I can continue to catch plenty of bladderfish and peeper to sustain myself and various meters. Actually, I have made some better oxygen tanks, fins to swim faster, a repair tool, and a radiation suit, but there’s plenty more to craft via the fabrication panel inside your still-floating escape pod and I haven’t really left the safety of the initial area.

Here’s the problem I am dealing with: I’m not certain exactly what I should be going after and why. I mean, like Minecraft, which is perhaps the only other “survive” style game I have an association with, the goals are sometimes up to you. Clearly, you want to survive as a general rule of thumb and keep your health, food, and thirst meters healthy and high, but after that…you decide. Maybe you also want to construct a better submersible craft to explore the ocean depths or are interested in cataloguing the various fish and underwater life you come across using your scanner to learn more. Ultimately, I do wish the breadcrumb trail was clearer as even a quest log of sorts would help; right now I feel like I’m stumbling my way to progress, and even that is coming about through mere happenstance and not any specific action I took. For instance, I knew that creating a repair tool was important because there were two things inside my escape pod that couldn’t be fixed without it, but then I struggled to find cave sulfur and had to look up a guide outside the game for it, which was frustrating.

Visually, Subnautica is delightful and terrifying. Granted, again, I’m still only in the starting area and suspect there is much more to come, but the variety of underwater alien life balances itself well between recognizable sea creatures and straight-up weirdness. Every new fish or piece of coral is a fun surprise, and you can generally tell whether something will bite you in the face or not. Exploring at night is extremely unnerving because, not surprisingly, it gets dark, and you only have a flashlight and flares early on. The game runs well enough on my laptop, with just a little pop-in here and there, and I’m thankful that you can play it with a controller too.

I recently tried to get ABZÛ running too on this new laptop of mine, but it seems like that one is real heavy on resources, even on the lowest settings I could find, and so I’ll just have to wait until I magically get a copy on Xbox One or something. Surprisingly, when you search the keyword “underwater” on Steam, you only get a handful of games covering this topic, and most of them are horror titles or VR experiences, which, look, I get. I’ve seen enough of Sir David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet to kind of know what lurks in the dark depths of our planet’s oceans. Still, I like exploring underwater areas in a more leisurely fashion, like with Treasures of the Deep, or the time my sister Bitsy brought home a copy of Endless Ocean: Blue World and played for a bit, and it was so relaxing–not boring–that I dozed off.

So I’m going to stick with Subnautica a bit more because it is definitely my speed, but also in hopes that it really opens itself up more and dangles some carrots before my face to keep me pushing forward for reasons. Besides, I’d really like to see one of those time capsules for myself that are all the topics of discussion these days.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #130 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Traverse through Hyrule
Destroy Ganon at own pace
Pleasing sound effects

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Let’s all go exploring with Breath of the Wild

It took me a little over four hours to complete the initial opening chunk of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m talking about the part when Link, after emerging from the mystical cave of resurrecting people after 100 years because it’s cool to do so, must go complete four shrines to acquire all the necessary powers and hang-glider to start him proper on his journey to destroy Calamity Ganon. I’m not mad. Really, not even the slightest. Those opening hours helped teach me tricks and techniques that I’m still using currently to survive and puzzle my way to victory in Hyrule, some twenty-ish hours later.

Right. I got a copy of Breath of the Wild for my Wii U back in June, after I finally finished putting together the second chapter of my ongoing journal comic project Death, Divorce, and Disney. I’ll use this very sentence to plug it hard, so please click and read away. I’m not going to talk too much about the game’s plot, for two reasons. One, from a summary stance, it’s pretty bare bones. And two, there’s a lot I don’t understand yet, like Link’s relationship to Zelda and Hyrule’s people or why these shrines exist, and so on. That all said, we’re playing as an amnesiac Link, who awakens from a hundred-year slumber to a mysterious voice that guides him to defeat Calamity Ganon before he can destroy the kingdom of Hyrule. It’s not too far off from A Link to the Past, where a non-amnesiac Link awakens during a nightly thunderstorm, summoned to the castle by Princess Zelda’s voice to stop…uh, Ganon.

Back to my original point, about how long I spent in the “tutorial” section of Breath of the Wild. I got hung up for a while on how to access the two shrines located in the colder, snowy section of the Great Plateau. I assumed I needed better clothing to keep Link warm, and I was mostly right. It turned out I needed to figure out a recipe for the helpful Old Man and, once satisfied, he’d pass over some magical shirt to keep Link from freezing his nipples off. The problem was I didn’t know how to cook, and in a very non-Nintendo way, the game did not provide me with a hand-holding walkthrough to ensure I knew how to do this. I figured I just walked up to a pot on an open flame and there would be a prompt waiting for me, kind of like what happens in Fallout 4. Nope. All I kept seeing was “sit,” and so I sat, stuck. Turns out, you need to go into your inventory, pick a bunch of ingredients to hold, exit the menu, and then stand by the pot to get the prompt–so far, it’s one of two things I’ve had to look up for the game, and I deeply regret it.

I’m now much deeper into the story and map, but also totally not. It just feels that way to me because the hour count on the game’s save slot has gone way up. There’s still a lot to discover. In truth, I’ve completed a smidgen of shrines, found a few Korok seeds, climbed a couple tall towers, unearthed three lost memory spots, and haven’t taken down a single Divine Beast, though I do have the quest from the shark-people to do so whenever I please. But that’s up to me and my discretion. Personally, I like the less intense side quests, like finding horses or returning chickens to a pen, or just collecting ingredients to try my hand at cooking. Also, taking pictures of weapons and bugs and flowers to fill out the Hyrule compendium is good, wholesome fun that reminds me dearly of Beyond Good & Evil.

When it comes to waging war, I’m not great at combat, and part of that is me feeling like I’m missing a dodge button or something. Early on, I remapped the jump button, and that has helped a bunch, but timing your way around an enemy’s attacks is still a bit tricky, which has, naturally, made me rely more on loosing arrows from afar and being a sneaky elf. Y’know, just about how I play every RPG I get my grubby mitts on. Like many, the idea of breakable weapons breaks my heart, but at least unlike in Dark Cloud, Link isn’t far from a full inventory of things to use when one weapon breaks. It does, however, mess with your head a bit because you’ll find a cool, powerful weapon as a reward in a shrine and then be reluctant to use it in the field because you don’t want it to disappear. I don’t know. It’s a weird system, and I need to learn to not love my gear because nothing is permanent.

Also, Breath of the Wild is the game that actually got me to admit defeat and buy one of these plastic things:

I kind of want more, which is a dangerous thing to say out loud. And not just because they make a magical chest full of fish and raw meat fall from the sky once a day. I have a love for tiny figurines.

Anyways, Breath of the Wild. It’s really good, and I’m completely content to take my time with it. Sometimes I’ll play it for several hours in a night and then not return to it for a few days. That’s okay. Despite having a quest called “Destroy Ganon” since the start of the game, the in-game world is seemingly in no rush to see that actually happen. At least that’s the vibe I’m getting. If anything, my current adventures are leading me far away from Calamity Ganon for the time being and into the fins of a bunch of shark-people that taught me how to swim up waterfalls.

Grand Theft Auto V, crass comedy in a crazy world

GTA V final overall impressions just okay

Grand Theft Auto V is the first game in Rockstar’s entire hooker-killing franchise that I’ve actually completed, and by that I mean I successfully played all of its main story missions, picked my A, B, or C choice for the finale, and watched the lengthy end credits–over thirty-five minutes long–scroll by as I pondered my collective time and experience as three unsavory souls stuck in Los Santos. And…exhale. Considering I still can’t even get past the second mission in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, this is a real, genuine accomplishment, a feat worth featuring.

To be honest, I don’t think much overall about GTA V. Now, please be sure to read that sentence a second time before you blow a blood vessel; I did not say “I don’t think much overall of GTA V,” but rather about. It’s kind of everything I expected it to be based on past experiences with the franchise, and I feel like it went through all the motions, and I went with it, a mute player. If you must know, I enjoyed what I played of Grand Theft Auto III, really dug Vice City for its vibe and tunes, and never got too far in San Andreas. Also, Chinatown Wars is a surprisingly good time, but quite a different beast from its bigger siblings. Truthfully, Saints Row: The Third is more my kind of freedom.

The story in GTA V revolves around three men: former bank robber Michael Townley, repo man Franklin Clinton, and uncontrollable psychopath Trevor Philips. They have their own personal stories to see unfold, but they also eventually all get mixed up in the same nefarious business, which involves running a bunch of heists and making some serious moolah. It’s clearly a videogame story, as things happen so that the player can take part in extravagant setups and scenarios and leap from tall buildings and blow up important locations and all that. A few missions feel like they just came up with some third part to play, spur of the moment, so all three protagonists could be there, even if there was absolutely no need to bring the greenhorn Franklin along. Of the three main characters, I was most disappointed in Franklin’s overall journey, as it seemed like the whole “other guy got the girl” subplot fizzled within the game’s first hour. Michael has heavy family stuff that gets resolved, but not in a way that fills me with confidence. And Trevor…well, he’s pure crazy, a lot of fun to watch, but just walking insanity, and GTA V would actually be a lesser game without him to keep everyone on their toes.

The open-world gameplay in GTA V is everything you’d come to expect from the company that certainly had a big hand in creating the genre. When you’re not accepting main story missions as either of the three gruff dudes, you can drive around the sprawling city and its outskirts, play a round of golf or tennis, do some yoga, get a haircut, shop for new clothes, invest in buildings, visit the strip club, surf the Internet, watch TV or a movie, take the dog for a walk, and so on and so on. There’s quite a lot of miscellaneous, nontrivial time-wasters for those wanting just a bite of action, as well as larger side missions in the forms of Strangers and Freaks. Random events like “Stop that purse snatcher!” occur from time to time, and you can also just stand still and watch the world go by or sit in your car listening to your favorite station. I found a lot of the side stuff more interesting than the main missions, as they are clearly trying to be big and bombastic, and there’s always an excuse for a gunfight, no matter what the scenario. Thankfully, thanks to a rather easy auto-aim feature, shooting down gang member after gang member is no big thing, and probably the biggest aid I had for completing this game next to Franklin’s bullet time mode when driving.

Let me talk briefly about the collectibles scattered around and outside of Los Santos, as I only stumbled across one during my entire criminal career. Which is very similar to my experience in finding those golden film reels in L.A. Noire. Either they are extremely well-hidden or I’m going blind, a likely case. According to the Internet, there’s a ton of things to find: Spaceship Parts, Stunt Jumps, Letter Scraps, Hidden Packages, and more. I found a single Letter Scrap, which ties into the Mystery of Leonora Johnson side quest–and that’s it. I started the missions that opened up the ability to find Spaceship Parts, but never came across them, and I felt like I did a lot of “off the path” exploring, mostly because I was trying to hide from cops, and changing elevation is a vital tactic.

A lot of material in GTA V is extremely off-putting, and for good reason. Rockstar’s treatment and regard of women is abysmal. If they aren’t there to either have sex with the main characters or sex with someone else to anger the main characters, then they are on their way. Take Michael’s family. He has a wife and a daughter. His wife is sleeping with her yoga instructor, and his daughter wants to get into porn. Take Trevor. Past the early intro scenes, you first truly meet him as he’s having sex with meth head Ashley, who never plays a further part in the game. Later, he kidnaps a man’s wife and begins to have a relationship with her. And lastly, take Franklin. He lives with his aunt, who self-describes herself as a “new age feminist,” and the two are constantly bickering. I don’t recall a single time that I returned home as Franklin that she wasn’t whining or complaining loudly from the other room. He has a childhood friend Tonya Wiggins, who is a crack addict. At first, it seems like he’s a man all about winning back his ex-girlfriend Tanisha Jackson, but that plot fizzles very quickly, so much that her sudden appearance near the game’s end was befuddling. Aside from these, there’s a few other women that stand out: Devin Weston’s lawyer Molly Schultz, the athletic MaryAnne Quinn, and celebrity-crazy old Mrs. Thornhill. In short, why couldn’t there have been a female gang leader or a woman working closely with Michael to keep his identity better hidden? Or some role more involved. Because to Rockstar, men do the ruling.

Early on, I actually watched some in-game TV, something I never even attempted before in Grand Theft Auto IV, despite a lot of people going gaga over the fact that such a large and completely skippable thing existed way back then. I ended up watching “Gordon Moorehead”, an animated detective drama radio show that looks innocent enough, that is until anyone starts speaking. I don’t recall the specifics of the episode’s story, just the constant degradation of Gordon Moorehead’s assistant Molly Malmstein, who Moorehead constantly treating her as a woman of little intelligence, often slapping her. I think the show is trying to to poke fun at sexism and misogyny, but actually just reinforces it all the way. It’s extremely disappointing; you literally can’t go anywhere in Los Santos without some knock against women.

I dunno. Looking back over this post, maybe I do think a lot about GTA V, just nothing too great. It’s got its problems, but it also felt very routine and predictable and crass for no good reason. The use of crude language, especially. I played a single post-credits mission, but haven’t really gone back to do any further exploring or money spending, and I just don’t really see myself getting back into the swing of things. I guess I’ve had my fill.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #41 – Grand Theft Auto V

2013 games completed gta 5 franklin bike copy

Three bad men team up
For the biggest score ever
Drive, shoot, open world

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.