Back In Action

“Spring Break,” a week off from class near the end of winter with lingering snow and temperatures around freezing in Western Massachusetts. Westfield State University (where I attend) has its break a week before every other college in the area, as far as I can tell. My girlfriend and I wanted to go someplace warm, but our school schedules just wouldn’t allow it. We went to Boston for a night which was a lot of fun, but I’d have a lot of free time to do as I pleased at home. Being the avid gamer that I am, it was easy to see this as an opportunity rather than a disappointment.

But there was a problem; nothing I was playing was keeping me that entertained, and I was becoming frustrated. I played Valiant Hearts: The Great War; and although it has a great art style and the World War 1 history lessons are a welcome addition; I didn’t have the urge to progress past Chapter 1. I’d seriously run my course with Destiny. On Sunday I attempted the “Weekly Nightfall Strike,” with a buddy. These are very difficult and require patience, I’m usually more than capable of finishing them… I got so frustrated I told him I was going to go watch something instead and wished him luck without me.

My inability to really delve into Dragon Age: Inquisition was even more perplexing. Even though it’s the most acclaimed game of 2014 and made by one of my favorite developers, I have yet to become very immersed. 25 hours in, and while its gorgeous visuals and complex story are more than good, I’m bored by the combat and annoyed with all the micromanagement and fetch quests. I will definitely go back to it though, and I will probably think it’s excellent by the time the credits role. There are simply times when certain genres, or specific games aren’t moving me. I was in what I’ve heard is called a “gaming rut,” nothing seemed that fun, and I was swapping discs out every hour trying to find the experience I was looking for. I bit the bullet and went to Gamestop to go bargain hunting.

I went in blind, not knowing what I’d walk out with. I considered several options, but ended up with 1 recent game and one from 2010. The first was Wolfenstein: The New Order and the ladder being Heavy Rain. Combined they were under 35 dollars, a small price to pay for hitting the spot they way they did. They are two games that couldn’t be more different, but each had exactly what I was looking for, I just didn’t know it yet.

I played Wolfenstein first. An old school shooter that forgoes automatic health regeneration and other modern tropes and offers a back to basics, carry all the guns you want shoot em’ up experience. Wolfenstein doesn’t feature multiplayer, which is a disappointment, but the campaign is so good it’s a must play for shooting fans. Set in an alternate history 1960 where Nazi Germany won World War 2, you are B.J. Blazkowicz and it’s up to you and your band of “terrorist” rebels to overthrow the brutal worldwide regime. The pacing is exceptional; the 15-20 hour campaign rarely gets repetitive. Stealth segments are frequent and work surprisingly well; and I won’t spoil the locales, but I’ll say the environments are quite diverse for a FPS.

It was nice to play a game where you didn’t have to worry about an RPG esque skill tree or collecting items. The game features both of these, but they aren’t something you have to think about, but instead give an added layer of depth for those so inclined to flesh out game’s universe. It was a simple game with an exciting premise that wasn’t too ambitious for its own good. It was just what I needed to get me in the swing of things again. Heavy Rain was next, and while Wolfenstein relishes in gaming’s past so well, Heavy Rain is innovative, high concept and different than anything I’ve ever played.

I couldn’t pass it up after seeing it for 12 dollars. The sprawling narrative features over 20 endings. Not only do a player’s dialogue choices effect outcomes, but their successes and failures do too. The most exciting and unique aspect of the game is there is no “Game Over” screen; the story will adapt and dramatically change based on many factors. It creates an engaging and cinematic experience rarely seen in a game. Quantic Dream (developer) has fittingly declared their games to be “interactive drama.”

The story centers around a father named Ethan Mars; a married architect with 2 sons. Very early on, one of them dies in an incident where Ethan blames himself. 2 years later, Ethan is living alone, depressed and in a distant relationship with his other son, Shaun. Shaun is kidnapped by a serial killed called the “Oragami Killer,” who puts his victims in a small apparatus that eventually fills up with rain water, forcing them to drown. You play as 4 characters racing against the rainfall trying to uncover the boy’s location. I played the 12 hour game in 2 sittings. It’s riveting, if you don’t mind games where the gameplay is secondary to the story and atmosphere. If you missed out like me, it’s not too late to go back, it still looks great too.

I was officially out of “the rut.” Games weren’t annoying, they were awesome again. I’ve learned that when you are feeling like games are losing their appeal, try and figure out what aspects of a game are annoying you, and look for something else that’s completely different. It’s such a rich and diverse entertainment medium, but it’s easy to get stuck in your own little niche, which can lead to gaming fatigue and boredom. Switching things up and trying a genre you’ve either seldom or never tried may be just what the doctor ordered.

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