Over the past week my life outside of the 'Squatch has been filled with a significant amount of bro-ness. I can't tell you why this has happened, but due to some unforeseen gravitational forces my activities have paralleled the neon-colored fuckery of a taurine-soaked, v-neck attired early-20-something white male.
For instance: my girlfriend, Megan, brought home an in-joke from her place of work that refers to Yellowstone National Park as "YOLOstone." It's because of the purported supervolcano under the park's earthen crust, and how we're all going to die whenever it erupts. If you only live once, as the acronym goes (and a supervolcano is going to kill everything) why not YOLO?
The idea made me laugh, which is probably obvious considering the header image up top. So why -- asks absolutely no one -- are the 5-Hour Energy bottles so expertly Photoshopped into the scene? Here's where the bro stuff really kicked into gear.
Last night a group of friends came over to grill. Please indulge me for the next few paragraphs -- a bit of backstory is necessary.
My guy friends and I hold a "Steak Night" every month or so wherein we cook the fuck out of beef. It's become our sacred conclave over the past year. By this point we approach the grilling of steak the way a classically trained cellist would tackle a Bach suite. We select the finest grass-fed cow products for sacrifice to my Weber One-Touch Gold 22.5 inch charcoal grill. Mesquite chunk charcoal is a must. Plebeians use gas.
After we've gorged on a meat poundage that would make Ron Swanson smile, we alienate our girlfriends by getting our jam on in the makeshift garage studio. It's OK: they dance to their own music while we're busy. Cliched low-fi indie music is played, which is to be expected when mid-to-late-20-year-olds from Portland make music.
The entire Steak Night production is bro-heavy by nature, but last night was different. Last night, someone brought 5-Hour Energy.
I've had my fair share of energy drinks in the past -- I wouldn't say I'm a fan, but I'm definitely not opposed if the need arises. However, these 5-Hour things were a bridge I refused to cross for years. An irrational fear developed when a high school friend had heart palpitations after drinking a bottle. Yet last night, at the encouragement of my bromigos, I threw a middle finger up at cautious anxiety. God dammit, I was going to stay up past 12 AM like I used to in my illustrious college days!
And so down the clear pink liquid went.
By 4 AM, three of us had been singing distorted karaoke into the PA system for five hours; low-resolution YouTube videos provided the audio and textual guidance we needed to tackle songs from The Little Mermaid to "I Will Survive" and "Gangsta's Paradise." Even Garth Brooks made the cut.
The point here is I, the least bro-y of bros, am being pushed toward a YOLO way of life. Do I embrace the change? Do I struggle?
A dystopian vision of the future comes to my mind's eye: I've succumbed. Months have passed since I abandoned my previous, pasty identity. I run with a different pack now. The deep, dry heat of July is pulsating on my massive and tanned biceps as I strip off my American Apparel tank top and toss the hat I always wear backward -- purchased at Lids a week earlier during a pilgrimage to GNC to stock-up on creatine -- to the floor of the boat. Lake Havasu is crowded, as it always is. My new friends goad me to jump off the deck of the party boat rented via my parents' credit card. I jump. My feet hit the water first as I uncurl from my cannonball front flip. It's not cold below the surface. I emerge gasping for air as the sunlight blinds me. I smile and emerge...a bro. One of the chosen.
Anyway: Spencer, Doug and Nick have a lot of actually relevant stuff to cover this week. Back to the normal programming! -- Aaron Thayer
My arm was finally twisted to grab an advance copy of Loadout. So far, I'm torn -- it would probably be fun with a group of friends, and hopefully will be when it finally releases as a F2P. However, the weapon-crafting is fairly perplexing, and it seems very difficult to build guns that are better than the default loadout. The game's core mechanic is customizing guns -- it'd behoove it to make the act satisfying rather than frustrating.
I finally beat Plants vs. Zombies for the first time while playing on my tablet. It was fun, but the remainder of the game seems like kind of a grind so I'm not sure how interesting it will remain. The shooter, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare, announced at E3, was initially repulsive, but my girlfriend suggested that she'd like to give it a try. It would be the only FPS or TPS in which she's expressed an interest. Guess I'll take the wins where I can find them.
More than anything, though, I worked hard on the new episode of Memory Card -- episode two, "Family." Now that it's launched, please give it a listen!
So, video games.
As the calendar turns from late spring to summer, so to must old rituals be observed. Today is the 21st, the longest day of the year, and the arbiter of summer. (In Japan it also means we’re in the full swing of tsuyu, the horrendously humid rainy season). And with summer comes the annual football game release season -- first NCAA Football, then Madden NFL. This week, the demo for NCAA Football 14 arrived with some fanfare. I’ve only played half of a game but that’s all I really have the taste for. I haven’t purchased one of these titles in three years, and I bought Madden NFL 13 last year and put just 10 hours or so into it. I’m not sure whether I’ve grown out of a phase or if these games have just been stuck for years, but considering the views of friends who play tons of NCAA, it’s not a promising start. Most years the demo is very representative of the final product, so that’s not good. At least my Oregon Ducks got into the demo!
In terms of games that are good, in the last week-plus I’ve gotten both XCOM: Enemy Unknown (thanks, PS+!) and The Last of Us. I was the only one of our group who hadn’t played XCOM ahead of voting for GOTY last year, but trusted everyone’s views on the matter. Hearing almost the entirety of hardcore gaming-dom rave for the game helped, too. I’d planned on borrowing it from Tyler in May and then just forgot, but then PS+ saved my bacon and now I’m enjoying the sort of swift kicks in the junk that only XCOM can deliver. It’s addictive, especially once you have a gimmick you can name your characters after (mine: famous athletes). Since I’m Bad at Games®, I’m only playing on normal and non-Ironman mode…but I can see the temptation for playing it without that safety net. Considering I’m a complete newcomer to the series, I’ll leave that for a second (or third) run and get my feet wet now.
I’m very early on still in The Last of Us, but want to dig in more this weekend if time allows. The opening scenes are amazing -- I can’t believe we’re getting this level of graphic fidelity and cinematographic design out of this current generation of hardware -- eventually the gameplay opens up, but even the tutorial sections are well designed and integrated. The only problem I have is similar for Uncharted and BioShock Infinite: It’s all well and good to sneak around, and that action is really fun and a challenging puzzle to solve, but even playing on Normal a handgun is still your magic wand out of bad situations. But that’s a minor, minor gripe on what’s otherwise promising to be a great experience.
Before we dive into the core of this update, here are some briefs notes on a few games I spent some time with over the past couple weeks:
Guacamelee! is outlandish, clever, difficult and very satisfying. As best as I can tell, here’s the recipe you need.
- 1 avocado of Metroidvania design philsophy; mash it up 'til it’s smooth and buttery - 2 cups of character-action brawler controls, chopped into a complex and chunky pico de gallo - A dash of tongue-in-cheek Internet humor sprinkled liberally throughout
Combine ingredients into a mortar shaped like Manny Calavera’s skull and grind into a satisfying spread. Toss in a gallon of chili oil if hard mode is desired.
I also played most of Year Walk, which is profoundly unsettling and proof that true horror experiences can be accomplished on a phone. Even if you’re not a big horror fan, I’d strongly recommend it to anybody who’s interested in seeing how an engrossing and unsettling experience can be delivered in unique ways on a handheld device. If you’ve got a long flight ahead, plug in some noise-canceling headphones and get ready to solve some truly clever puzzles — just make sure you’re prepared for some seriously unsettling jump scares.
And while The Last of Us hasn’t grabbed me in the way I’ve hoped, I’m still making forward progress slowly but surely. After a few hours I’m still not satisfied with the combat system the game uses and its unexpected emphasis on killing other people is a little off-putting. I’m sticking with it, though, thanks to some inspired and believable performances out of its main characters.
Last but not least, I finally closed the book on Persona 4 Golden after clocking in a grand total of 100 hours over seven months of gameplay.
100 hours invested in a single game is nothing to scoff at, no matter who you are and what your lifestyle may be. But as a busy adult with a demanding career, finding even just a few hours in a week to play a game is no mean feat. It takes a seriously compelling experience to suck me in for that long. It goes without saying, then, that Persona 4 Golden is easily among the most compelling and memorable games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.
Persona 4 Golden casts you as a high-school transfer student in small-town Japan and takes place over almost an entire year — three-hundred-plus days of gameplay for you to spend as you choose. It might seem overwhelming at the game’s outset, but after as the days began to fly out the window I realized I genuinely didn’t want the game to end. Persona had a remarkable effect on me in that it drew me into its richly detailed small-town world so completely that I always felt there was more to see and do. Each character has just enough nuance and detail that there always seems to be a bit more lying underneath the surface.
It’s strange to feel nostalgia for a place that doesn’t exist, but after spending so much time in Inaba it almost began to feel authentic in its own way. That probably sounds a little crazy, but I’d say the same for the surreal world of Earthbound or the Citadel in Mass Effect — each is larger-than-life and yet filled to the brim with nuanced, considered details that combine to make these places feel genuine and human.
I’m ordering a copy of Persona 4 Arena, the sort-of sequel that plays out as a fighting game/visual novel, of all things. I’ve always been a casual fan of Arc System Works’ (Guilty Gear, BlazBlue) style of fighting game design, so I’m eager to check it out and revisit some old characters in the process.