Essay

The Video Game of the Year as Chosen by my Dog, Cordy

IMG_20181203_084456_691Cordy has appeared here and there on this blog before, she’s an incomparably sweet english shepherd whose greatest tragedy is that while  she’s impossibly soft and sweet, she hates cuddling. Generally, she likes to be within arm’s reach.

There’s one exception to that though. She gets very worried and affectionate when I have a video game controller in my hand and I’m expressing any kind of frustration. I played three games this year, the heavy hitters that everyone is discussing for the nebulous accolade of GotY, so I’m going to offer up my pick for the award by way of Cordy’s emotional support as I played each one.

Red Dead Redemption 2

I shared my early frustrations with this game a few weeks ago. While temptation loomed for me to put it aside, between a friend’s encouragement and an early fascination with the story of this band of outlaws, I persisted. I’m pretty close to being done with the main story, and I’ve loved it. I’ll put it up there alongside Fistful of Dollars and Tombstone as one of my favorite stories of the Wild West I’ve ever encountered.

Cordy’s concern for me was repeated and consistent even through my playtime last night. Controlling Arthur Morgan continues to be a slow, blocky experience. The terror of shootouts is increased mainly due to my knowing that I need to compensate for that blockiness in dealing with the hordes of enemies. Cordy continues to have to jump up on the couch, put her paw on my hand and look at me with those big eyes of hers as if to say: hooman, why are you still holding this device that makes you angry?

giphy-1I’m still holding it, 100% because of that story. It’s a tremendous story, and Rockstar has really matured in nuance and messaging since the heavy handed days of spoof and corny parody in the GTA series. This is nuanced, and handles issues of our country’s culture and history with race, class, law and order with a deft artfulness that I respect immensely. Without doubt, my favorite moment was taking on a task for a destitute man to go to his house that had been seized by the bank and recover his gun, pocketwatch, and ledger from his work. You discover the ledger is of runaway slaves he recaptured or killed, and when you return to him, your character tosses them on the fire. The man cries it’s his legacy. Arthur Morgan says his legacy deserves to be pissed on.

Yes, the world is beautiful, and full of things to hunt, games to play, hustles to run- but those controls. I don’t veer off the path of the main and stranger missions because wading in any further is a frustrating and tiresome chore of an experience. RDR2 is an accomplishment to be sure, but I remain firmly in the stance that in accomplishing this feat it isn’t a fun game. It takes 3rd Place.

Spider-Man

FB_IMG_1536543852306I loved the Batman Arkham series, so when the announcement was made that a new  open world Spider-Man game would be coming from Insomniac, with an Arkham inspired combat system, I preordered my copy so fast that I forgot about said preorder two years later when it came out and I ended up with two copies of the game.

Cordy had to console me through my early frustrations with slipping back into Arkham mode. I got good enough at the Arkham games that I’d sometimes challenge myself to fight off groups of thugs using only counters. The slight change Spider-Man made to this equation is that this counter system is only a dodge. While it’s absolutely necessary to nail those dodges, you won’t win a fight on those alone, and the timing for them is slightly different and requires a little more manual input than Batman did (you can’t only dodge, you need to dodge in the right direction too).

FB_IMG_1536433095698The story was fantastic in this game, but it was good for a comic book story. I want to double back and state that the story told in RDR2 is an incredible story without qualifiers. Still, this is about the game as a whole, and within a couple days of playing, Cordy had much less consoling to do even as I progressed to 100% and Platinum this game (first time I’ve done that with any game in years). This is why Spidey takes 2nd Place.

God of War

god-of-war-ps4-dragonI mentioned that Rockstar showed an incredible maturity with its storytelling and messaging in RDR2. While Spider-Man may have told a good story within the limitations of a comic book story and world, it was much more fun and fluid to play, and very quickly became a sort of second nature for me to have my Spider-Man leaping about and dismantling large groups of enemies without issue, even on the hardest difficulties.

However, all of the above accomplishments shared between Spider-Man and RDR2 are present in God of War. I went back to GoW a second time months after release because its story stuck with me that much. I get the sense that as much as I love RDR2‘s story, the gameplay will be too much of a sticking point for me to ever want to revisit it. God of War has incredible gameplay just like Spider-Man, but whereas Spider-Man eventually lost its fangs because I got its systems down God of War remains challenging. Familiarity and comfort with its gameplay does not a master make. The game demands you pay attention, react swiftly, and remains challenging even at normal difficulties despite your comfort with it.

5af1eb496f396.imageCordy was on active duty making sure I was all right from end to end both times I played through GoW this year, a game which is much more than the sum of its parts.  It tells a story of fatherhood, facing the sins of ones past, and owning our inner natures that is tremendous and transcendent- especially in consideration of the series’ prior installments that were rage and gore porn (and in certain parts, just porn-porn). RDR2 may be getting all the hype, and I may be the lone voice on this one, but God of War‘s achievement was the bar to measure all games against this year, and close as the other two titles came, I think God of War takes home the gold.

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