Like I’ve said in the past, this series is more like “This fiscal quarter I played”, but we have to make due with the branding we have. Also, I use this series to give myself a snapshot of what people are playing. It helps give me a sense of perspective by showing just how diverse everyone’s playlists are.
Without this series, I’d have to do like the big sites and just assume that everyone is playing the most recent two or three AAA games to hit the shelves. But here we can see that indie and retro games are a major part of the hobby, even if they don’t show up in fancy trailers or on the front page of Steam.
With that in mind, here is what I’ve been up to…
This game made my best-of list for 2020. After that post, Paul let me know that the game had been updated since the last time I played. So I came back to see what’s changed.
I honestly can’t tell the new stuff from the old, but the game is as fun as I remember it. Tinkering with wands to make custom effects to synergizeExample: I gain fire immunity, and then I find a wand mod to make the particles leave fire trails. with your builds is still fun and interesting. Hopping around above a sea of fire and exploding barrels while hoping my levitation doesn’t run out before I find a safe place to land is tense yet vaguely comical. The rounds are short and fun; even a successful run is under an hour. The enemy types are varied so you don’t see every enemy in every round.
The crazy wand mechanics are perfect for creating absurd situations. I’ll go overboard on making a wand and then realize that I’ve just bounced a MIRV-style fireball off a wall and back into my own face. So I leap to go over the scattering projectiles, but the fireballs detonate on the ground and create an inferno so large that I don’t have a safe spot to land.
I love this balancing act between giving yourself MORE POWER and increasing the odds that you’ll kill yourself. I swear a majority of my deaths in this game have been self-inflicted.
This game has been languishing on my Steam wishlist for over a year. I saw it was 50% off in the most recent Steam sale, so I decided to finally give it a try.
The game is set in 1968. That’s just three years before I was born. So I’ve been kind of curious about how the world might feel in terms of nostalgia. It was a land before the personal computer, before cable TV, and before shopping malls ruled the retail world. America was still smoking cigarettes, still drinking out of pull-tab cans, still using fuel doped with lead, and still using black and white televisions.
Obviously THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT was the most important thing going on, with the Vietnam war coming in a close second. Those are the two big stories that grab everyone’s attention when we discuss the time period. And while both of those issues are featured prominently in Mafia III, I was more curious how the game would handle all of those other minor details regarding the time period.
The game nailed the general feel of the era, and even managed to capture a bunch of fine details I’d forgotten. The first time I jumped in a car and heard the engine trying to turn over while “dry”, I stopped and marveled. That was a sound I’d forgotten about because I haven’t heard it in decades. Then I heard a particular style of car horn that I haven’t heard since I was a small child. The game has lots of little moments like this, and I’m having fun discovering them.
Sadly, I HATE the mechanics of Mafia III. I loathe cover-shooter mechanics. As someone who fell in love with the run-n-gun mechanics of the 90s, I find stop-and-pop combat to be relentlessly tedious. Playing peek-a-boo with waves of grunts is not my idea of a good time. I can kinda tolerate it in games like Grand Theft Auto V where you can leave cover for a few seconds to change position, grab ammo, or do a melee takedown. But this game is one of those, “Stay in cover or die!” type deals, and you can catch a stray shot just popping up to shoot at the bad guys.
This frustration tends to feed on itself. I’ll be fighting at long range and I’ll get sick of waiting for my foes to poke their heads out so I can shoot them. So I jump out to close distance and wind up getting cut down in the process. Or I’ll lose an encounter in the open because the foes are bullet sponges with really good aim, and their pain animations are shorter than the player’s reload animations.
Worse, the shooting in this game is extremely lethal, so you die in just a few hitsIt’s hard to count, but it really feels like enemies can take more shots than the player.. Bad guys can even sometimes hit you around or through cover, adding a lot of randomness to the proceedings.
But Shamus, that’s more realistic!
It’s fine if you enjoy the steady pacing of this sort of whack-a-mole shooter, but let’s not pretend that realism is the goal of shooters. If you really wanted realism, you’d be playing Receiver. But you probably want to compromise some realism in favor of playability. We just disagree on where you draw that line.
More importantly, dying is such a chore. The camera lingers on your dead body for several seconds. Then (sometimes) you get a cutscene where we cut to some CIA agents in the future saying, “Wait. That can’t be how things went down! What am I missing?” Then you sit through a tedious loading screen. Then it drops you back to a checkpoint from several minutes ago.
I turned the difficulty down to “Easy” and I honestly can’t tell the difference. Protagonist Lincoln Clay is so hopelessly fragile that you need to play extremely conservatively. Which means this cover-based combat takes forever. The game has you killing thousands of people by the end, suggesting that this is supposed to be an empowering game. But the gameplay goes out of its way to make sure you never feel powerful. It’s the worst of both worlds: You have the implausible body counts that comes with a cheap power fantasy, but you never get to feel that sense of power.
Worse, I know ahead of time that this game has excruciating pacing, where you spend endless hours with these mechanics by plowing through innumerable map markers before the plot is allowed to proceed. Here the map markers aren’t Ubisoft-style “side content”, but instead are directly linked to story progress.
I wanted to stroll through the game, explore the world, and soak in the story, but the designer isn’t willing to give me a casual low-stress way to do that. I’m probably going to drop this game rather than playing until I smash my controller.
Shame. I really did love the world and the attention to detail, but this game designer is overbearing, single-minded, and way too in love with their rote shooter mechanics. In the past I’ve talked about games that end with a slog, but for me Mafia III is all slog, all the time.
I’m also playing Minecraft, but after 12 years I don’t have much new to say about the game. This is still my go-to game when I need to relax and do something to keep my hands busy while I work on an article in my head.
So what have you been playing lately?
 Example: I gain fire immunity, and then I find a wand mod to make the particles leave fire trails.
 It’s hard to count, but it really feels like enemies can take more shots than the player.
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