Skip to main content

A Grab Bag of Game Impressions

I should have been asleep already, but as usual, nocturnal waking dreams and ideas have conspired to plunge me into another pet project for a brief time. Part of it has wound up bringing me here to spill some of this thought overflow onto paper (virtual as it may be). And of course, the whole thing is concerned with games. As usual.

Scoring Borderlands

I’ve come to the conclusion that I really, really like the Borderlands 2 soundtrack. I am a bit of a soundtrack buff as it is, with a collection of original scores for a variety of TV shows, films and video games of varying obscurity that I’ve found particularly stirring in my time. Being a fairly gaudy shooter-looter, Borderlands 2 is not the sort of game that you would expect to have a sophisticated musical palette, but it’s one of the best game soundtracks I’ve heard this year. It also introduced me to the audio stylings of Jesper Kyd, who wrote a goodly number of its tracks (along with Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan). Apparently Jesper is quite The Man among video game musicians, though I have never gotten into any of the games he has previously scored.

Tonight, after finally deciding that I needed to spend some time at The Googles to see if there was an official Borderlands 2 soundtrack album available (spoilers: there is!), I found this article by Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku Australia which felt like it had been written by me. Because you see, Kirk’s favorite piece from the game’s soundtrack is also my favorite piece. And since he was complaining that said piece isn’t on the official soundtrack, I got a little worried.

Fortunately, composer Jesper Kyd came to the rescue by posting the track on his website, as well as an extended cut of “Sanctuary”, the theme tune of the city by the same name in Borderlands 2 — which just so happens to be my other favorite song of the game. Jesper has combined an organic Bluegrass sort of style (which immediately reminded me of Greg Edmonson’s Western-style score for the Firefly TV series, incidentally) with a variety of electronic soundscapes that combine in all the right ways. Seriously, when I first heard the opening guitar licks of Jesper’s “Sanctuary”, I thought I was hearing Edmonson’s “Leaving”, except with a much deeper range. And that’s a good thing. Apparently some have likened his style to that of the ’80s band Bastion, which I had never heard of, so maybe I should look into that.

This is normally where I’d post samples of those two Jesper Kyd tracks, but he’s got them on his own site, so just go there to hear them. (They even play nicely on iOS devices.)

Sadly, neither Jesper’s extended cut of “Ice” nor the slightly shorter version on the official soundtrack contains quite all of the airy, almost haunting tones of the song’s main melody — sounding as if you’re hearing them in a dream — that play from time to time as you explore the interstitial wastelands of Pandora. As such, I sought out a full PC filerip of the game’s soundtrack and finally found it therein (it’s identified in the game files as Track141).

Dishonorable Mention

In other game-related news (because really, what other kind is there on this blog?), GameStop is again running another weekend promotion promising extra credit for select trade-ins, and this got me thinking about whether I wanted to take advantage of it in order to buy Dishonored. For months before this game’s release last week, every time I walked into a GameStop, the employees there pressured me to preorder Dishonored and were stunned to learn that I wasn’t interested.

I remember seeing a few screen grabs of Dishonored when it was first announced. It looked unique, but also uniquely uninteresting to my particular tastes. I mostly prefer my science fiction set in the future rather than the past, even an imagined past. But when the game finally came out just last week and its review scores were uncannily aligned from publication to publication — and aligned in the 90% range, to be more specific — I started to wonder if maybe this was something I should check into. I mean, anything getting nearly universal acclaim has to have something going for it.

At first I settled for just putting Dishonored on my Christmas list, but when GameStop’s promotion came up, I started doing more research. If you’re not worried about having stuff spoiled for you, a good way to get a feel for whether you’re going to like a game without actually playing it is to check out its “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube. Basically, those are just videos where gamers record themselves playing a game, usually with some amount of commentary thrown in. Often they serve as walkthroughs or guides, though other times it’s just random blokes playing games that they’re not always very good at. (And to think I used to make these kinds of recordings myself in the ’90s, though they were audio only back then. Seems I was ahead of my time. Too bad I couldn’t monetize “views” of old cassette tapes.)

Anyway, I started watching this series of “Let’s Play Dishonored” videos and I came to a startling conclusion. The game still doesn’t interest me. I mean it looks gorgeous, but wow. I couldn’t help but be hit with a stunning feeling of utter apathy while watching everything that was happening. It kind of looked like BioShock crossed with a first-person Assassin’s Creed. I don’t like Assassin’s Creed at all, and although I admire Ken Levine and love Irrational Games’ work, I never fell in love with BioShock the way I did with System Shock. Again, I chalk it up to the setting.

Even if Dishonored was set on System Shock 2’s starship Von Braun, I would still have a bunch of problems with the truly hackneyed story filled with hackneyed elements purloined from the local Hackneyed Plot Devices shop. Oppressive government, voiceless hero framed for murder, kidnapped child, yada yada. If this were a book or a film I would have not even the basest hint of an urge to look at it. Not to mention the fact that many of the game’s voice actors sounded about as interested in reading their lines as I was in playing this game. And that lipsync! I seem to remember NOLF 2 having better lipsync back in 2002. I felt like I was watching a dubbed Kung Fu movie.

Apparently I’m not the only person who wasn’t thrilled with Dishonored (or in my case, at least a video playthrough of it), to which the guys from Penny Arcade can personally attest. They even did a comic poking fun at the game’s mishmash of story and setting elements, which are truly all over the place.

In the end, if nothing else, my continued disinterest in this game at least saves me 60 bucks, so that’s always a plus.

Frankly, I am much more tempted to pick up Doom 3: BFG Edition, which releases this week. Call me a gimboid if you must, but I am a huge Doom fan and I adored the third entry in the franchise (as proof, check my review of it waaaaayyyy back here). Even though I could fire this game up on my PC at any time, in practice I won’t anymore, and actually having a console version of Doom 3 that’s of comparable visual quality would make playing it a lot more accessible.

And it looks like I’m still going to pick up that Forza Horizon preorder. I tried to convince myself not to — the insane $50 season pass that they’ll be offering over and above the $60 price tag of the game itself is just crass enough to make me want to skip the game altogether — but in the end, after playing the Horizon demo, I just can’t let it go. It’s honestly quite derivative, plays a lot like Need For Speed: Pro Street and features the really, really annoying voice of some chick who talks in your ear through what sounds like a telephone bandpass the entire time, but I can’t help it: at my core I’m a car wonk and I love this shit. Plus, the ’77 Trans Am Special Edition is a confirmed car. Into my Xbox it goes!

With that, I think I’ve spewed enough randomness, so good night.