Gaming Omnivore Art Gallery

One of my goals for 2020 was to keep pushing forward and continuing to progress in not only my writing ability(hey, it could happen…) and also to experiment with new ideas and formats on my blog site. For today’s post I wanted to highlight some of the captivating visuals found in games I’ve played over this past console generation.

The quality and complexity of game visuals is light years from the simple pixelated images produced in the early days of gaming, like the Atari 2600 or even the NES a handful of years later. Video games have also grown more complex and capable of not only providing an interesting gameplay experience, they can tell stories on par with any Hollywood film and can instantly transport players anywhere from real-world locations, distant planets, or places we could only otherwise see in our own imaginations. Video games have in more recent years finally become accepted and recognized, Roger Ebert notwithstanding, as an artistic medium similar to music or movies, with many games featuring the same level of production as many films. Games are more than able to convey ideas and emotions to match other mediums and today I’m going to showcase some of wonderful visuals found within them.

One of the options featured in a vast number of games this past console generation is Photo Mode which allows you to briefly suspend play and not only take a snapshot of everything on screen, but also giving some rudimentary camera controls or filter options to further color the mood of your digital playground. This comes as a nod of recognition to the painstaking level of detail and effort put in to create such impressive world. It’s become almost an afterthought in most open-world games like Horizon: Zero Dawn or Assassin’s Creed(nearly every Ubisoft game, actually) and is frequently the reason I feel I’m not progressing through many areas of the game as I find myself stopping every so often to jump into Photo Mode and save a quick picture. Here’s a guided tour of five pieces that I love, along with the feeling that comes to mind when viewing them. Please remember to stay behind the velvet rope…

Control

Mystique – The feeling of being inexplicably drawn to somewhere or something and the determination to discover the secrets behind it. We see Jesse as she cautiously ventures down an ever-changing corridor towards a carousel horse that serves as an Item of Power. I also love how the shot brings to mind the film Blade Runner as you can see the carousel horse in the background bears a striking similarity to a unicorn.

Gris

Hardship – Her voice taken away as a result of a traumatic experience, our heroine makes her way across a broken world, devoid of color. We also see the progress of her healing journey through the implementation of colors and as a metaphor for the challenges one may face in life. I love the use of beautiful watercolors in this piece.

Layers of Fear

Obsession – Here we observe an example of the sometimes too fine line between genius and insanity. Our artist has found themselves caught in-between the vision of the mind and the ability of the hands and the ensuing struggle to create. This can also be a manifestation of the artist’s internal struggles as well.

Death Stranding

Death – Sam nears the end of his destination, his journey has been on a personal as well as physical level as he courageously faces death itself trapped between the plane of the living and dead. The ominous BT whale in this sublime, otherworldly shot serves as the Grim Reaper; awaiting us all at the end of our lives.

Far Cry 5

Serenity – Seeing this shot leaves me with a peaceful, calming feeling as I can just about smell the mountain air or the warmth of the sunlight reflecting off the water below the falls. This can represent the tranquility for some in simplicity of life and being in touch with nature as we gaze upon its majestic beauty.

This concludes the tour for now! I kind of like the idea of showincasing different shots and a short description of the feelings accompanying it. This is more or less what I’ve used my Instagram account for as I primarily post screenshots of random games I’ve played. There’s many more screenshots I’ve taken in games that are better than anything I’ve ever photographed in real life. What are some games that feature worlds that you can completely lose yourself in? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Games of the Year 2019

In what seems obligatory for anyone with a gaming-related channel or site, I’ve finally created my list of ten favorite games of 2019. After what seemed like hours of discussion and lists, not to mention the countless hours of playing research, I was able to devise a definitive list of favorites released in 2019…until I change my mind anyway. I know of many out there that felt underwhelmed with the year’s offering of games, but I feel this year has still been a great one. No, we didn’t get near masterpieces like in 2017 with Breath of the Wild or Mario Odyssey or with God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018, but there’s still been a sizable crop of quality games. What I have found so interesting this year is the fact there hasn’t been the one game held above all the others as the unanimous choice for Game of the Year. If you were to read/watch/listen to any one of the vast sea of GOTY pieces online, you would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely close to a consensus on which game was “best”. Each and every game nominated for end of the year awards has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, which I find fascinating as some of the most memorable games may be the ones whose flaws merely add to their uniqueness and charm. Someone may favor a game like Control, while the next person found a game like The Outer Worlds to be the most engrossing experience this year; a third individual may have generated their greatest enjoyment of the year in the created chaos of Untitled Goose Game. I’d also like to point out before beginning that while lists like this are fun for the sake of discussion, they are completely subjective with no right or wrong answers. My list contains the games that have provided either a completely memorable experience, pure gameplay joy, or a mix of both. First off, I have a few games that for me fell just outside of my ten favorites, but greatly enjoyed nonetheless.

My 5 Runners-up

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Super Mario Maker 2

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair

My Friend Pedro

Blazing Chrome

And now my 10 favorite games of 2019….

10. Tetris 99

9. Ape Out

8. The Outer Worlds

7. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

6. Control

5. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

4. Luigi’s Mansion 3

3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

2. Resident Evil 2

1. Death Stranding

And there we have it, my 10 favorite games of 2019. What are your favorites from 2019? Let me know in the comments or provide feedback as to how my list could have been better. We’re in the final few days of what was a pretty productive year and I still have just a little bit more to accomplish blog-wise before celebrating the new year. I plan on following up my games of the year post with another collection of some of my gaming memories from the past year as well as all the games I played for the first time throughout 2019. Thanks for reading!

Gaming Thoughts – Death Stranding

So last night…after 60 hours of gameplay I finished my playthrough of Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima’s first game since parting ways with Konami back in 2015. The umm…discourse surrounding the game have been fairly mixed as the game itself is showing to be quite divisive, as Kojima games tend to be in general. I’ll admit I have been fairly reticent to chime in(much) on the discussion surrounding the game as so much tends to be completely subjective, and also the fact that there are so many facets and aspects of the game that I find myself quickly spiraling into a semi-coherent ramble(just ask my wife…). For today’s post, I’m not going to delve too much into the general reception of the game but have decided to focus primarily on my three main takeaways from the unique experience presented by this game. For the sake of spoilers and the overall Kojima-ness of the game’s near bewildering storyline and the many, many metaphors contained within I have also decided not to tackle too much of the story other than just the basics.

Death Stranding takes place in an America that has been nearly destroyed by a cataclysmic event known as the Death Stranding in which the worlds of the living and the dead have converged with the remnants of humanity hidden below the surface in fortified bunkers as otherworldly creatures known as BTs or Beached Things which are unable to be seen by the naked eye and plague the land above ground. With the country fractured(METAPHOR ALERT) and in disarray Sam Porter Bridges, played by Norman Reedus is employed in reuniting the country via the Chiral Network, a sort of internet. To complicate matters any type of precipitation, known as Timefall causes any organic material to rapidly age and decay, including humans. This brings into the game an element of item deterioration, including the very boots you wear.

Sam is equipped with an Odradek a spider-like apparatus that sits over his shoulder used as a scanner along with the most-memed aspect of Death Stranding – the BB or Bridge Baby, which is carried in a glass “womb” that Sam carries on his chest as BBs are able to detect the invisible BTs. One of the central themes of the game is death and the afterlife along with the space, or beaches as they’re referred to in the game serving as the space that separates the living and dead.

The World

I love the rugged terrain and moody atmosphere

The America that Kojima Productions has created is nothing short of astounding, the rugged rocky terrain with stretches of grassy expanse is simply breathtaking. There’s also the snowy beauty of mountain ranges with marshy lowlands in the valleys below. Several areas feature a barren, rusty, Mars-like landscape you must traverse. One order may ask you to transport supplies to a settlement on the very edge of the map, while the next may direct you to retrieve items that had been lost in an ambush. Upon completing the deliveries, Sam is then able to connect the location to the larger country via the Chiral Network forming another “strand” along the way. You can also undertake additional deliveries which upon completion assist in strengthening your connection level up to 5 stars.

The key word in describing the gameplay is traversal, the game has been labeled as “just a walking simulator” by some; the central gameplay element sounds anything but complex, Sam takes on orders(missions) at different terminals across the country and sets out to transport a myriad of items to the corresponding locations scattered about the area. “The game is just a glorified Amazon delivery person-simulator” is among the most common criticisms of the game…..I understand I may just be weird, but that’s part of the game that I find endearing – would anyone other than Hideo Kojima be crazy enough to pull something like this off? The fact that traversal is the primary gameplay element along with a generous amount of inventory management and stealth with just a sprinkling of combat into the mix. One order may ask you to transport supplies to a settlement on the very edge of the map, while the next may direct you to retrieve items that had been lost in an ambush. Upon completing the deliveries, Sam is then able to connect the location to the larger country via the Chiral Network forming another “strand” along the way. You can also undertake additional orders to build your “connection” with the settlement along your journey across the country.

From the moment I began playing the game and was placed in this gorgeous, expansive world I was compelled to keep going and to see just what lay over the next horizon. I kept thinking to myself while playing, “Ok…I’m supposed to be bored now right?”. The bulk of your travels will by made by foot, with the eventual ability to fabricate additional tools and even some vehicles. The traversal through the game across the desolate landscape has such a haunting otherworldly vibe I found myself in near disbelief at the quality of visuals in Death Stranding. While traveling there isn’t a whole lot in the way of soundtrack outside of a few ambient sounds until encountering a point in your journey which triggers one of the many licensed songs from the Icelandic band Low Roar. This generally occurs just as you venture to the top of a hill and see your destination finally lays ahead of you. The feeling of relief in just the fact that you’re completing a mission and reaching your destination became such a weird, almost intoxicating feeling. The feeling of satisfaction as you think “I’ve finally made it” is unlike anything else I’ve played in a game, with the closest example being the moment of finally defeating that giant boss in a Dark Souls game. Another aspect of the game I have also seen many others reference is the contemplative, zen-like feeling in your travels as you will spend a great deal of the game all alone. I found the game downright relaxing at times.

The music used in the game is phenomenal, with Ludvig Forssell’s original soundtrack evoking waves of emotion throughout the game, particularly in BBs Theme which is a melody patterned as a lullaby one might hum as they cradle a newborn. Just hearing BBs Theme since beating the game is enough to bring back the rush of emotions I experienced through the game. There is an impressive amount of licensed songs used in the game as well; nearly twenty songs alone from the band Low Roar, with nearly a dozen other songs used by other artists. Similar to the range of 80’s music that was placed throughout Metal Gear Solid 5. Among my favorite licensed songs are Pop Virus by Gen Hoshino which I listed in last week’s game music post and the song Death Stranding by Chvrches which essentially acts as the title track of the game. I liked Chvrches prior to playing the game, but I really have fallen in love with this song. Kojima certainly understands how effective audio is in conveying emotions and moods in any piece of art, and it is no more evident than while playing Death Stranding.

A Helping Hand

Another gameplay element central to Death Stranding in asynchronous online play that lets players leave ladders or ropes in various places not only to assist you in traversing the rugged landscape, but also to leave behind you a hand of assistance to others making their way through the game. Once an area has been connected to the Chiral Network you can begun to rebuild the country decimated by the Death Stranding. You can use gathered materials towards building paved roads or eventually zip lines(awesome!) to provide greater ease in traveling from place to place. You can build additional structures like watchtowers to survey the surrounding area or Timefall shelters to offer a brief respite from the container-ravaging rain or snow. You may find the battery of your reverse trike is running low on battery and find a generator standing just up ahead; the satisfying reward of knowing you’ve helped someone else in the lengthy journey through the world is one of the biggest achievements of the game. One any of the several boss fights, you can see the specter of other players fighting and will assist you by tossing weapons and health in your direction. This isn’t a completely new gameplay facet as this was also used in From Software’s Souls series where players could leave messages of warning or encouragement for others. The idea of “connections” and “strands” were meant to be central to the game experience as Kojima himself has stated. The landscape of America is vast and barren and has been a criticism of the game from some publications as the experience was found to be an empty and lonely, that’s precisely the point. The pervasive feelings of loneliness and detachment are at the heart of Death Stranding as Kojima stated the game was a result of the loneliness he himself feels from time to time in our current world. More than ever before we are able to communicate and connect with others around the globe, but for many there is still a missing feeling of being “connected” to those around us. Something as simple as a sign of encouragement from others can help remind us that even though we may feel all alone in this giant empty space, we aren’t. Metaphors like this aren’t hard to see, particularly given how NOT subtle many tend to be in Kojima games.

The Journey

It’s only been about 24 hours since completing the game, but I can already feel the game has been an experience that will stick with me a long time. After finishing the game, there’s a feeling not of being exhausted, but more that you know you have climbed the mountain and have seen a long journey through from start to finish. While playing Death Stranding I have mentioned multiple times how it felt similar to making my way through the even lengthier storyline of Red Dead Redemption 2 in that it wasn’t the hyper-stimulating gameplay experience like playing through Doom or any number of action or FPS games, but there’s a feeling of satisfaction in seeing the resolution to your emotional investment.

It wasn’t as much of a surprise that the voice and motion capture performances in Death Stranding are nothing short of phenomenal. Norman Reedus is probably the most surprising as initially most of his lines were delivered in a low gravely tone that it sounded as if he was trying to play Solid Snake, but as the game progressed you see Sam open up a little more and displays a greater range of emotions and feel like you’re not JUST controlling Daryl from The Walking Dead. I can’t go without professing my love for Mads Mikkelsen, who I was beyond excited when I first heard he would be starring in a Hideo Kojima game. I love his movies and especially his portrayal as the evil Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the NBC show Hannibal(gone WAY too soon…); the quiet intensity he brings to the story as Cliff was excellent. Troy Baker and Lea Seydoux were great as usual as the terrorist Higgs and as Fragile. Tommie Earl Jenkins who plays Die-Hard Man was one of the best performances I have seen recently as he begins the game as seemingly just another Col. Campbell/Major Tom type to give you advice or directions or is he? By the end of the game I was nearly as attached to these wonderful characters with way-too-on-the-nose namesakes as I did to Arthur while playing Red Dead Redemption 2, but what surprised me the most was attachment to my BB. I have no nurturing instinct whatsoever but I got quite attached to the little guy. It was such a heavy “feels” moment to see Sam and BBs journey come to a close and in a way felt similar to that of Kratos and Atreus’ in God of War.

But…is Death Stranding a fun game? I personally didn’t find myself ever bored or frustrated when playing the game, I felt so enamored with this gorgeous world and the truly unique story it tells. I absolutely love this game, but I have no problem with the fact someone else may find it boring and hate it even after “actually playing the game”. My biggest critique of the game would be that the controls aren’t completely perfect, but not enough to put me off playing the game, the pacing of the game I totally understand may detract others from enjoying the game as much. I found it interesting that the game begins with you being nearly helpless and had to progress to make connections and fabricate weapons, being able to create the different powered skeletons made it immensely easier to keep Sam upright. By the final chapters of the game you feel a sense of progression in both the storyline and your abilities. I had to laugh that after the final credits you are shown your stats from your time in the game and there’s a category for Tumbles Taken which tracks just how many times you fell over due to unstable terrain or losing your balance. The OCD part of me also enjoyed how the game will force you to prepare for potential situations that may arise during your mission and will not think twice about punishing you for being careless.

Death Stranding is a game that was never intended to be a conventional experience, and that’s the two key words I will use to describe the game, experience and investment. If you’re looking for something simply to hold your attention as you zone out in front of the tv, you may be utterly disappointed. In a gaming industry being more and more dominated by sequels and remakes as they provide the safest return on a publisher’s investment, one cannot deny how impressive it is that a big-budget game with such an abstract story and more non-conventional gameplay features exists. Despite there being those still insisting the contrary, video games can be art, and any artistic medium is mostly subjective. Editor-in-Chief of Game Informer Andy McNamara has stated the interesting thing about Death Stranding would be as a discussion piece and likened it to something you would see in an art gallery. I have also sadly noticed those out there defending the game and claiming that those who were critical of the same simply hadn’t played it or “just don’t get it”. Now that I’ve finished the game I will mostly likely attempt to wrap up some other games on my plate as I want to get a decent sampling of games released in 2019 before I start with my game of the year talk, which is obligatory for anyone blogging about video game it seems. I will most definitely come back to Death Stranding as I’d like to go for the platinum trophy. At this point, I would have to say Death Stranding is definitely Top Three of my favorite games of 2019. I do find it amusing however, that Kojima’s game about connecting others has proven so divine already…

Has anyone out there taken a gamble and picked up Death Stranding? If so, what did you think? Did you love it or hate it, what did you like/dislike about it? I’ve been looking for others to actually discuss the game in more nuance than simply “It’s the best game ever!” or “it’s a pretentious walking simulator!”. Feel free to leave a comment or you we can discuss on Twitter @gamingomnivore. I also included a couple tracks from the game that I’m currently in love with! Thanks for reading!

Random Gaming Music Post

As I seem to have hit a bit of a rut over the past week in terms of writing on my blog site, I decided to take a bit of a detour from my regularly scheduled content(and I use the term “content” loosely…). I’ve also spent the last couple days not feeling entirely down about anything, but don’t feel necessarily…engaged or inspired. So, for today’s post I decided to share some music from various video games that I’ve been listening to lately or just whenever I feel like reverting to something less melancholic. I’ve arranged the music in order from more somber to lighter and more upbeat as you would envision the sunrise breaking over the dark horizon…

Keep Your Rifle By Your Side – Far Cry 5

The soundtrack from Far Cry 5 has become one of my favorite video game soundtracks, with several different arrangements of the “cult songs” you hear in-game. The song Keep Your Rifle By Your Side by the band Hammock who recorded an album of alternate arrangements of the original songs featured in the game starts slow and maintains a spa-like ambience that sounds as spacious as the Montana rockies.

Legend of the Eagle Bearer – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Another track that begins slowly and then keeps a steady relaxed pace, Legend of the Eagle Bearer is the main title music and over-arching theme for Alexios or Kassandra’s epic journey through ancient Greece in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. I love the loose, slightly buzzy timber of the strings to conjure the Mediterranean vibe of the theme.

Fodlan Winds – Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Fodlan Winds is used as the main battle theme during Fire Emblem: Three Houses with an “airy” lightness in the string section that uplifts the (mostly)sober feel of the game. The entire soundtrack of Three Houses is wonderful and is one of many aspects that contribute to what may be my favorite game of 2019.

Press Play – Firewatch

I’ve always loved 80’s sounding synth-pop, so I naturally loved the song Press Play featured in the wonderful indie title Firewatch. The song is performed by fictitious 80’s band Cheap Talk and is featured early on in the game which is set in 1989. The song sounds eerily reminiscent to early Madonna – before the Pepsi Ads and Like A Prayer…

Pop Virus – Death Stranding

Hideo Kojima’s newest(and weirdest) game Death Stranding released this previous Friday and was one of the game I spent the weekend consuming. The game itself has proven quite divisive in terms of “fun” or “what the hell is it?”, but the game features some wonderful music, both licensed and original score. The catchy J-pop jam – Pop Virus by Gen Hoshino is a bit of sunshine in the gorgeous, yet desolate Death Stranding and has been one of my favorite songs to while I “play” as Norman Reedus relaxing and chugging Monster energy drinks in one of the Private Rooms.

That’s all for now, I always like seeing and hearing the pieces of music that others enjoy in their favorite games. What are some of your favorites on your “gaming playlist”? Let me know. Thanks for reading!