Wolfenstein 2 and its portrayal of relationships

I can’t stop thinking about Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus.

There were moments that made me squeal and flail out of both excitement and distress. There were scenes I was genuinely astounded to be experiencing in a big budgeted FPS. Scenes that feature raw and weighted emotion from a main character that would have otherwise been portrayed as the cliche macho masculine non-stop killing machine war hero with nothing to lose. But The New Colossus manages to do something so few, if not any, games have done with its buff, tough-as-nails, main character BJ Blazkowicz, and it’s make him a believable, vulnerable, human being.

The New Colossus sets the player up from the start with a character whose fate seems to be already sealed. BJ wakes up after the events of the first game bound to a wheelchair, only to find out that some of his organs have been taken out to ensure his survival a little longer, and that Anya, his love interest from the first game, is pregnant with twins.

It was my immediate assumption to assume: “Anya’s gonna die, and Blazkowicz is finally going to become that cliche ‘man with nothing to lose’ nazi killing son of a bitch that’d  feed into our nazi killing veins.”

But the game never fulfills the cliche of the cheesy action stereotype. Instead, it does the absolute opposite.

The game transitions into BJ’s childhood, showing his relationship with his Jewish mother, his abusive father, and his first love.

His father is a horrible man, but in many ways, a man of his time. He’s an ignorant racist whose sole purpose is to work, provide for his family, and exert the power of his masculinity. He abuses his wife, and humiliates BJ for taking comfort in his mother’s care.

There’s one particular flashback where a young BJ is afraid of the dark, and his father consoles him by handing him a BB gun, and head together into the basement so BJ can face his fears and realize that it’s only his imagination. I found this scene fascinating because it’s the only time we see his father not being a complete piece of shit. And it’s that contradiction of his father’s character that makes him more believable. Not every good and bad guy is black and white, and it’s this sort of character portrayal in The New Colossus that make its character development so complex.

In so many ways, the game’s most prominent theme is about parenting and relationships. Even the game’s antagonist, General Engel, is a mother. And the display of her relationship with her daughter is made front and center of a particular scene early on that sets the stage for just what kind of person Engel is. It’s brilliant.

I liked the first Wolfenstein, The New Order, quite a bit. But nothing prepared me for how developer MachineGames would completely pivot the franchise. I now think about the game’s characters first before even associating it with killing nazis — which is obviously what we’ve always known the franchise for in the first place.

Whether or not it’s my Game of the Year, I can’t say just yet. You’ll have to tune in tomorrow on my YouTube channel to find out my Top 3 picks for GOTY.

And I haven’t even dived into the gameplay itself and how it varies and changes almost constantly. Maybe for another time.

Kurt Indovina
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Rime Review [Nintendo Switch]

From a glimpse, RiME hits all the right points in presenting itself confidently among other contemporary artful adventure games. It has a distinctive art style, emotionally pounding soundtrack, and a sad yet touching story about a lost boy — yet none of those things feel completely its own, and through all its emotional elements, it seems to lack what matters most, and that’s heart.

You play as a boy who wakes up on a desolate island. With no explanation or context you’re free to roam around.

As you wander through what appears to be ancient civilization left in ruins, you are subtly guided with aid of a wild fox, but never are limited to explore at your own pace. You’ll encounter puzzles primarily solved using the environment around you by shifting certain items, playing with shadows, and other visual elements. The puzzles are easy, some of which I solved on accident almost immediately before understanding what it was that I had to do in the first place.

With easy puzzles and seemingly safe environment, it was hard to pinpoint the importance of doing anything. From the start we’re faced with a tower in the distance, obviously pointing the direction we should be heading. But why that was a priority for a boy that supposedly washed up on shore, didn’t really seem to make a lot of sense.

The stakes are raised, however, when encountering the game’s most prominent foe — a giant bird creature that tails you from above for more than half of the game. Here the creature takes an important object for progressing forward, but again, what we’re progressing towards still seems to have no relevance.

RiME - Switch Screenshot 04

Thankfully, the story behind the boy is unveiled as the game progresses using its environment, and collectibles hidden throughout the world, giving the player somewhat of an objective to explore in order to understand what’s going on. But unfortunately we’re left only with hints, most of which don’t make sense until the game’s somewhat underwhelming and cliche ending.

Environments do vary from an open peaceful seaside, to underwater ruins, but still maintain a similar gray blocky theme throughout, which becomes dull fairly quick.

To its merits, it is much longer than other games of its genre. However, after my 7-10 hour playthrough, I’d make the argument here that length is only as important as the value gained from the experience, and in this case RiME could have benefited from some heavy trimming.

RiME doesn’t utilize any of Switch’s features such as motion controls or its touch screen while in handheld mode — and that’s okay. It does however suffer from severe framerate drops that occur consistently. Most of which happen randomly with no indication of the game doing anything taxing to the hardware. This is my first rodeo with the game so I can’t compare its performance to its PS4 or XboxOne release. But I’m hard pressed to think it’s due to any limitations of Switch given its current library which seemingly has much more demanding titles. I can only hope that there’s a day one update that addresses its performance.

RiME’s strongest traits come from it’s design, and artistic direction, but fails to implement anything new to the genre. It has a little bit of everything from environmental storytelling, puzzles, and exploration, but it doesn’t do any of things particularly well or original.

What we’re left with in the end is a hollow attempt at trying to be some its better contemporaries. And by never truly fulfilling its own identity, it all comes off trying a bit too hard, making it more self-indulgent than rewarding for the audience.

Given Switch’s currently library, RiME does fill a much needed gap in its genre of art focused exploration puzzle games such as Journey, ABZU, Unfinished Swan, and the like. So those eager for a unique experience, especially on the go, RiME answers some of those prayers. Just be ready for a inconsistent performance, easy puzzles, and lackluster pacing.

Switch owners solution to games like Journey and The Witness, this is not.

Going Digital: Week 1

It’s been a week. I know, big whoop right? Oh how far I’ve come. But really, in this short time I think I’ve learned a lot. And though there are more cons than pros, I anticipate a good payoff in this journey to own less.

Pros:

  1. Pooping
    My time on the toilet has become infinitely far more valuable since I started reading comics digitally. Instead of aimlessly swiping through a void of infinite social media bullshit, I instead read comics. Of course reading comics while pooping isn’t a new endeavor, however, it’s just much more convenient. Especially when hanging out at Ugly Duck Coffee, where’d I feel awkward taking in some reading material to its only bathroom. It’s socially acceptable to have your phone with you while pooping, but in my case, I’m just reading comics.
  2. Sales
    There’s a few comic volumes that I missed along the way and I found that they’re more frequently on sale on something like Comixology than they are physically at a store. Now, yes, I could order them used off Amazon or eBay in probably pretty decent shape cheaper, however, it’s the convenience of being able to purchase it on my phone, and being able to read it whenever and wherever my heart desires.
  3. Space
    I’m notorious for moving somewhat frequently (though I currently reside in my longest place of living going on four years), and with every move, comics are always my biggest dilemma. Reading them digitally obviously completely eliminates that problem.

 

Cons

  1. Holding them
    Unlike video games which have always been made on a digital medium, comics were originally created on paper, bound to the dimensions they were printed on. Yes, the majority of comics today are produced entirely digitally, I know that. However, they’re still being produced to be seen in the same format and page size as they have for decades and decades. Until I find a comic that challenges the conventions of how a comic is viewed on paper, it’s hard letting go of how it’s always been and continues to be.
  2. Sharing them
    Some of my most beloved comic series’ were discovered because someone handed it to me; they let me borrow it. It’s the very reason I hold onto specific titles, because they’re the books I’ll eventually want to pass off to someone who hasn’t read it yet. But with digital, there’s really no good way for sharing anything. The ability to show or share something in our most recent age is becoming increasingly more frustrating.
  3. Attention span
    I’ve always had a tough time playing games on my phone. There’s too many distractions. There’s too many things to do and see on it. All it takes is one text, email, or any other notification to appear, and I’ll be completely removed from the game. And yes, there’s usually an option to mute these, but it’s the temptation I think. The ability to stop playing at any second, and get carried away in the rabbit hole of distraction. Distraction aside, I just don’t ever feel comfortable holding my phone for that amount of time to enjoy a game. The same negatives apply to reading comics on my phone. I don’t feel as distracted as I do when playing games, but, I definitely don’t feel as absorbed.
  4.  Supporting Local Comic Book Stores
    This is hands down the one I struggle the most with. In an age dominated by digital platforms and Amazon, I feel an obligation to support stores in my neighborhood as much as I can. I preach a lot about voting with your dollar: spend your money with morals. I’m now a hypocrite. And my reasons are entirely selfish.

With all that said, there are still a few comics I’ll be going to buy monthly physically, however. Those are: Royal City, Black Hammer, Southern Bastards, and Moonshine. I cherish these series’, and they’ll be something I’ll most likely want to share with others. So I’m not entirely abandoning my local comic stores. Still, I’m a horrible person. I know.

Looking back, some of these cons feel a bit more petty, and something that I eventually will be able to part ways with. None of them in particular I think will ruin me. Next week I’m taking a trip to Vegas. Trips are usually perfect times to catch up on reading, and this will be the first trip that I decide to go with nothing but my phone and see how that goes for a long plane ride. Armed with my Switch too, of course.

Kurt Indovina
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Rochester, NY continues to cultivate a video game industry all its own.

Three years ago when I first heard that The Strong Museum of Play (located right here in Rochester, NY) initiated the only Video Game Hall of Fame in the United States, my Roc pride was met with triumphant fists to the sky, followed with a “fuck yeah! I love my garbage plate city!”

Seeing The Strong make headlines on major game publications such as Polygon for the game museum, or Game Informer write about the launch of a “Women in Games Initiative” always comes off a bit surreal. But why is it surreal, when it now seems to be a reoccurring theme for Rochester to be making headlines in the game industry? It’s because, at the end of the day, this city is still small. Hang out at enough coffee shops, and get your groceries at Wegmans, in a week’s time,  you’ll practically be the mayor of Rochester. So seeing this small time town make headlines on huge game news outlets gets me giddy.  It’s a different feeling from living in Seattle–a city recently built on the foundation of the gaming industry–where headlines about Nintendo and Microsoft and Valve are to be expected.

That all said: today I was able to attend an event here in Rochester, that journalists at major publications, couldn’t attend so easily. Being a Rochesterian, and a game journalist, I was able to mosey just a few blocks from the CITY Newspaper offices (where I work) to The Strong National Museum of Play, and witness the unveiling of 2017’s Video Game Hall of Fame inductees in person, when otherwise, others watched from a live-stream. It felt good.

Screenshot 2017-05-04 at 7.17.54 PM

Best part of today was that I finally got the chance to write for my local publication about video games–an opportunity I’ve been patiently waiting for. So a big thank you to CITY Newspaper for allowing me to do that.

Whether or not they intentionally chose May 4 — arguably geek culture’s most favorite day of the year — is up for debate, but The Strong National Museum of Play today presented the 2017 inductees into the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Based on a committee formed of international journalists, game developers, and educators, this year’s inductees include “Donkey Kong,” “Street Fight II,” Pokémon “Red” and “Green,” and “Halo: Combat Evolved.”

Please be sure to read the full CITY Newspaper piece here.

Screenshot 2017-05-04 at 7.18.12 PM

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