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What We've Been Playing: September 2016

What (two of) the team at Waypoint was playing last month.

by Mike Diver
Oct 12 2016, 10:22pm

Patrick Klepek (@PatrickKlepek)

There are few games I've turned off with more profound disgust than the original release of Destiny. As someone once obsessed with Halo, a series that fueled many late nights in high school and college, the prospect of a brand-new universe from its creators had me on high alert. And though I'd tempered expectations, knowing Destiny was more about the experience with other people than its single-player story, the game's "ending"—a generous term for a sequence that ended abruptly and explained nothing about what happened—nearly had me tossing the controller across the room. I didn't want anything to do with the game after that.

Over the next year or so, I kept hearing from a group of friends who'd stuck with Destiny and were having a blast. There was a core theme to their enjoyment, though: playing with others. For many, Destiny had become a glorified chat room, a way to catch up with one another, even if what they were doing amounted to little more than grinding for loot day in and day out.

'Destiny: Rise of Iron' screenshot courtesy of Activision

But I needed Destiny to become a better game. In the lead-up to Destiny's biggest expansion, The Taken King, I felt a serious case of FOMO. The last time FOMO hit me that hard was before Dark Souls II, prompting me to use my wife's weeklong business trip as a reason to rush through the original Dark Souls. In that week, I discovered one of my favorite games of all-time—not bad. Like anyone else, I'm prone to jealous curiosity, and I kept wondering why Destiny wasn't connecting with me. Given how many people whose opinions I genuinely respected were continuing to spend time in Bungie's world, I had to know what was going on.

As it turns out, The Taken King was—is—excellent, and it converted me into a believer. Even today, Destiny makes it frustratingly difficult to find the good stuff. Players have to work too hard to enjoy Destiny, but when you've dug through the layers of obfuscation, a genuinely fascinating game emerges. The Taken King's story didn't hold a candle to anything from Halo, but it was enough to get me digging into the other parts of Destiny, culminating in a fan letting me join their raid group and running through the most hardcore experience Destiny has to offer. It lived up to the hype; there really is nothing else like participating in a raid.

This is a long way of saying that I've been poking around the new Rise of Iron, what might be the last major add-on for Destiny before Bungie rolls out the equivalent of a sequel next year. It's OK? It's more Destiny! But it's not an evolution; it's more content on the same hamster wheel. I wanted to fall in love with Destiny again, and have a reason to spend another 30 or 40 hours in this world, but while it adds more things to do, it seems the biggest ideas are being saved for the future. That's fine; I have other games to play. Rise of Iron is for hardcore fans, the people who originally convinced me to give the game another shot. Hopefully, whenever we hear about the next big step for Destiny, it'll be like The Taken King: a reason to come back.

'BioShock' screenshot courtesy of 2K

Mike Diver (@MikeDiver)

After a slow August, I've been cracking on with a whole bunch of games both freshly released and new to me in September. Short, narrative-focused titles have gone down well, ideal fare to see out a day: I finished The Bunker, Virginia, and Dear Esther's consoles-tuned "Landmark Edition" in single sittings, each a compact experience that warrants investigation for very different reasons.

Dear Esther is the progenitor of this movement we've come to call the walking simulator, uh, or certainly one of the foundational cornerstones of, and a fantastically atmospheric wander around an isolated outpost of the British Isles. Its patchily poetic storytelling is of an acquired taste, but its path—many routes, one destination—remains one worth walking today. Virginia tries, and almost succeeds, to emulate the spooked drama of a mid 1990s X-Files episode, but crashes, clumsily, into some weak Twin Peaks–y surrealism-for-the-sake-of-it in its final quarter. It's nevertheless a compelling play, with a (mostly) keeps-you-guessing plot and a wonderful score.

The Bunker is ostensibly an FMV title, starring actors from The Hobbit and Penny Dreadful, but plays in a slow point-and-click style—you direct your character, John, through the titular underground setting, fighting against his memories to escape into a post-apocalyptic light. It's weirdly reminiscent of "where am I?" British kids TV show Knightmare in its endearing stiffness and insinuation that something bad could happen at any time; but is let down by a pretty poor user interface and some needless quick-time events. I certainly enjoyed it more than Patrick, but I can't say that I'd wholeheartedly encourage you to seek it out unless it pops up on PS Plus sometime soon. It's an ideal contender for that sort of exposure, as it's very much a play-once-and-nevermore affair.

'The Bunker' screenshot courtesy of Wales Interactive/Splendy

While on the move, I've been gently testing the decaying gray matter with both the new Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney—Spirit of Justice and the substantially older Hotel Dusk: Room 215, on my 3DS. I also picked up Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective the other day, on the recommendation of future (UK) VICE Gaming Podcast guests Bit Socket, so it's pretty clear where my head's at right now when it comes to portable play. At home, when longer sessions present themselves, I've dived back into Rapture, murdering my way as far as Fort Frolic and Sander Cohen in the remastered BioShock—and what a thrill it is to be down in the depths again. I don't think there's been a more exhilarating single-player shooter in 2016, so far, than this spit 'n' shined nine-year-old title, save perhaps for the rebooted DOOM. I never dug into the DLC for either of its sequels, either, so I'm looking forward to that, when free time finds a way—though I might skip the questionable politics of Infinite, as much as my cloudy memory suggests I quite liked it the first time.

The game that's really eaten up a significant chunk of my limited late-night play time, though, is Forza Horizon 3. I'm struggling to think of when I last felt so attached to a racing game—but then, this isn't really a racing game at all. There are races in it, and a bunch of other challenges, too—but the way I'm playing it, it's simply a glorious escape into the Australian landscape in a variety of cars both spectacular and dumb, the likes of which I'll never drive for real. The game never nags you to head here or there to participate in this or that; markers just sit there, patiently, awaiting your attention. And everything you do, just driving from A to B or totally without a destination in mind, stacks up experience points: a little drift, a near miss, the accidental destruction of a poor old guy's picket fence. Every car handles uniquely—so far—and I really can't recall any other game that allowed me to launch a BMW Isetta off a cliff top, down onto a beach, while listening to "Also sprach Zarathustra," and basically "win" for doing so. It's spotlessly polished from its pause menus to PR stunt mayhem, a gleaming dream of what a motorsports video game can be on today's hardware. 

Also playing bits and pieces of: Pro Evolution Soccer 2017, Slain: Back from Hell, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (while reading The Last Wish), Persona 4 Golden.

Austin Walker will be back here next month.

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