Dec 2, 2022
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Hello it’s me, Braden “ArbitraryWater” [REDACTED], your favorite player of questionable video games here to enchant you with tales of games played for charitable purposes. Some of us at Deep Listens have been doing stream stuff for a bit, between the Community Endurance Run and Extra Life, so I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to showcase what I’ve done.
Extra Life 2020: Mass Effect Andromeda
I’ve already written my thoughts on Mass Effect Andromeda, and for the most part I think I stand with what I wrote five(????) years ago. It’s a messy first draft of a BioWare game which feels like it treads the same ground as its forebears, but worse. My stream, a six hour zip through the game’s opening hours as Heathclif Ryder (followed by me playing Grimrock II to wrap things up) was a breezy, fun affair sitting in public voice chat with folks from the GB discord. For whatever it’s worth, the act of playing Andromeda is the least arduous part of the experience. The shooting is snappy and mobile enough to at least make the parts where everyone talks more tolerable. I don’t feel like I need to say much more than that.
It was probably the most straightforward of my charity streams, back when I just had a laptop, a capture card, and a series of bad ideas. As will become abundantly clear, my desire to one-up myself year-to-year has led to increasingly bad decisions.
Extra Life 2021: Hunted The Demon’s Forge
You cannot accuse me of failing to go the extra mile for my dumb stunts. Hunted: The Demon’s Forge used Gamespy for its online services; a service which has long since been discontinued. In order to play this very co-op focused video game, cooperatively, one needs to set up a fake LAN using a service like Hamachi. This is probably more work than such a thing deserves. But it was also probably an ideal game to pick with my friend Joeku, whom I’ve played many a terrible or mediocre co-op game with over the last couple years. We already played Resident Evil 6 and FEAR 3; we had to go more obscure. So why not play a forgotten 7th generation co-op shooter trying to be Fantasy Gears of War?
That might sound like a reductionist statement, but it’s 100% on the mark. Hunted feels like the median Xbox 360 game, coming out in the peak Xbox 360 year of 2011. It’s an aggressively desaturated brown and grey third person shooter with too much light bloom, waist high cover, and two grungy, moderately edgy protagonists. One of them is a bald man in heavy armor, the other is a bikini elf wearing barely anything. They quip, they gripe, and they shoot not-orcs (Norcs?) in the head and sometimes do bad melee (if you’re not playing as the elf you’re doing it wrong). If you wanted to hear Laura Bailey doing the posh accent she’d later put on display in the first season of Critical Role, there’s plenty of that. The one celebrity voice of note is Lucy Lawless as the villain, earning a paycheck. She deserves better. Pretty much everyone who worked on this game did. I've talked at length about my feelings on InXile as a developer (Wasteland 3? Pretty good! Tides of Numenera? Not good!) but this being the straw that led to the Wasteland 2 kickstarter makes a lot of sense. It's just abundantly clear this isn't the game the devs wanted to make.
The thing I’ll say about Hunted is that it’s too competent to be a complete disaster, but too bland to be memorable. A year removed from its completion, I could not tell you a single specific moment or set piece from its surprisingly lengthy runtime. The one thing which sticks out from the morass of dead simple traversal and repetitive combat arenas is the presence of optional puzzle tombs. One gets the impression that someone at InXile wanted to make something closer to a traditional dungeon crawler at some point, and this was the only thing which remained from that original idea. Not that the extra skill points and loot feel especially worthwhile, but it’s at least something better than the mid-budget, mid-execution Generic Dark Fantasy Gears the rest of the game is playing at. I’m glad we’re out of that console generation, but at least it provides an inexhaustible source of charitable chaff.
Extra Life 2022: Aliens Colonial Marines
In what may be one of my prouder achievements from this year, I tricked three other adult men into playing the entirety of Aliens Colonial Marines with me, cooperatively, for the childrens. ON MY BIRTHDAY. I need not overstate it too much, but ACM is one of those special bad games which truly lives up to its questionable reputation. There’s plenty which could be said about its long development; the number of developers who at one point or another tried to make a game called “Aliens Colonial Marines,” the legal drama surrounding Gearbox’s alleged embezzlement, etc etc. It’s fair to say the game’s development was a mess, and it shows. The AI? It bad. The guns? They bad! The storytelling? Especially bad! Even the DLC, which initially seems to Have Ideas, is very quickly revealed to be Quite Bad.
As a cooperative experience, however, ACM deserves special attention for *very clearly not being designed for co-op.* You know how the general map design of Halo and Gears became wider after they shifted from two to four players? There’s none of that here. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a game designed with one player in mind, which makes playing it with four a hilarious clusterfuck. The number of times we got stuck in door frames and in corridors deserves special mention, and will likely be a pretty big part of the “best of '' supercut I’m planning on making. But it’s also impressive how little of it works. Because of the highly scripted, setpiece-driven nature of the campaign, anyone lagging behind will get teleported with the rest of the crew immediately. This sometimes (frequently) happens even if you are only a few steps behind. Or ahead. It doesn’t really have any rhyme or reason. Oh, also being teleported revives you, if you’ve been downed.
The end result of this was a lot of running past as many stupid xenomorphs as possible, hip-firing the SMG (somehow the most consistent and accurate weapon in the game) and essentially trying to get to the next checkpoint as quickly as possible. It turned into a feat of impromptu speedrunning; a competition to break the scripting as quickly as possible so we could get it over with. The stealth mission where you have to escape the exploding xenomorphs was far less difficult once we realized one player could just kite all of them leaving the rest to sprint towards the next checkpoint. It’s deeply, deeply stupid, but at least it made for a fun cooperative experience when we weren’t getting angry at each other over things just breaking.
Do I recommend this experience? No, absolutely not. Was it the worst game I played this year? In a year where Duke Nukem Forever and Corpse Party shall haunt me, ACM was both thankfully brief and decidedly successful as a charity event. Should you play it? Fuck no. Absolutely not. Do something better with your time. We intentionally avoided using the fan mod which supposedly “fixes” some of the more egregious issues, but even with better AI and more impactful weapons I think the overall quality of the set piece design is poor. Unlike some other choice pieces of garbage I dunno if this one can be salvaged.