Random Friday: Payback, killer robots, and cults

I threw this design together in a fit of whimsy, and it’s by far my most-downloaded. From Need for Speed: Payback. 

Need for Speed: Payback is getting a lot of hate, but it’s still fun.

The lines they gave the poor actors are often over-the-top corny. Or just plain ridiculous. Or both. The characters largely come across as egotistical douchebags–even the chick.  The story doesn’t entirely make sense. The card system pisses people off.

And I’m still playing the hell out of it.

I read a few very negative reviews, and the impression that I came away with was that I really shouldn’t rely on reviews for racing games, because I never seem to agree with half the complaints.

So, I’ll address a couple of them.

  1. There’s no strategy involved, it’s just “save some boost for the end of the race” every time.
    Given that the races range from sprints to drag to drift, that doesn’t even make sense. But maybe they just meant sprints. So far, I actually feel like I’m relying less on boost-to-the-finish-line than I have in other games. I like to hang out in second or third place to get a sense of what my opponents will do/what the course is like. Then, about halfway through, I move up to first and stay there. Doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s my typical strategy. The only race that I had a frustrating amount of trouble with (so far) was toward the end of the Big Sister run, when I had to win a sprint in a drag car. I failed that one over and over again, until I tried a different strategy completely. And then I won. So, there’s that.
  2. The card system is stupid.
    Yeah, it really is, from a gear-head standpoint. But it works ok, and I’m guessing they were angling more toward arcade-style here so that they didn’t scare off people who aren’t interested in micro-managing every last little thing. (Of course, there are plenty of games that manage to cater to both, so…)

    It’s usually pretty easy to buy or roll cards that fit what I need for a particular car. You can focus on what you need for that build (drift, drag, etc.) and get the car’s rating where you want it to be, and then rely on live tuning to get the car handling the way you want. Yes, your options during live tuning are limited, but they’re targeted for the car’s purpose, and they help. A lot. I spent an hour running through twisty mountain roads with my drift car until I had it exactly where I wanted it. And it wasn’t a boring hour, either. I pulled off some awesome moves and wiped out in ways both spectacular and hilarious. For a while, I forgot there was a point. I was having too much fun experimenting with ridiculous tuning combinations.

The big chase and heist scenes, where you flip between characters/cars for different phases, are completely over the top and a lot of fun. There were times when I was trying to calculate and execute precisely the right move to create a pileup of bad guys, and there were times when I felt like I was careening wildly from one place to the next, relying mostly on reflexes and luck to see me through. The result is that the big action scenes don’t feel predictable or repetitive. The script might be, but the driving feels spontaneous. Which is really what counts, as far as I’m concerned.

Need for Speed: Payback feels like an insane action movie that’s fun but not particularly logical, and so far, that works for me.

For those of you worried about the rise of the machines, this isn’t going to help.

Atlas the robot can not only jump between obstacles of varying height, he can do backflips now. Yeah, backflips. Can you do a backflip? I sure as hell can’t. It’s freaky to watch, and incredibly cool. Worrying about killer robots isn’t just for sci-fi nerds anymore. We might want to think about how we’ll welcome our new mechanical overlords in the future.

I’m pretty firmly against making them look like people, though, because it’s freaky as hell. Wired has an interesting article about Hiroshi Ishiguro and his work, and after contemplating Atlas’ acrobatics and the weirdly human-but-not-human androids, I’m firmly on the side of robots = yes, androids = no. And a big hell no to replicants, while we’re at it. When it comes time to fight back, we don’t want a Terminator situation on our hands.

Those Xbox One X enhancements? Yes, they really do make a difference.

Check out these shots from KOTOR.

KOTOR at 720
KOTOR at 1080
KOTOR at 4k

The difference between 720 & 1080 feels huge, and though the jump from 1080 to 4k feels less huge, there’s still a noticeable difference. Wandering around in 4k, everything is clear and sharp.

Thus far, nothing about the Xbox One X has made me regret spending the money. Granted, someone who had already made the jump to the S (which I never did) might feel a little differently about it. If you’re on a pre-S Xbox, I’d recommend checking out the X. The improved load times and the enhancements are making me happy that I made the leap, and nothing’s pissed me off yet.

AHS: Cult is over, and hoo-boy, did things get messy.

*Spoilers ahead.

Ok, seriously–did anyone, at any point, actually think that Ally was drinking the kool aid? Of course not. Not after what Ivy and Kai and Winter did to her. I’m not willing to go out on a limb and say that she was completely sane, but she wasn’t the kind of crazy that would have made her more susceptible to Kai. She was cold, calculating, ruthless, manipulating, and she obviously had a plan. We just didn’t know what that plan was, exactly.

As reveals go, finding out that Ally was working with the FBI wasn’t a big or particularly surprising one. It makes sense, from her point of view. If Ally wanted to go back to anything resembling a normal life, she needed to be free of suspicion. Working with the government was the best way to score a get-out-of-legal-trouble-free card.

In retrospect, it’s also pretty obvious that the FBI connection was hidden so that it could provide cover for the real reveal (say that ten times fast). Inmate Kai was up to his old tricks, with his own gang (yes, Kai, it’s a gang) and a prison guard in his pocket. Kai threatens Ally via phone, concocts an escape plan, and waltzes out of prison like it was a bed & breakfast.

For a while there, I had to wonder if AHS was going to end by making a point about the power of the patriarchy, exposing it as violent and corrupt while also portraying it as pervasive and unbeatable. It’s not a bad parable if you look at the whole arc as a warning. Unfortunately, I suspect that the people who most needed the lesson would be the same people whose only takeaway would be something along the lines of, “Dudes rule, chicks are weak.” Or, in Kai’s words, “[Women] need to shut up, know their place, and make me a goddamn sandwich.”

In your dreams, asshole. I have to admit… after hearing that, watching Beverly blow his brains out was particularly satisfying. Oh, yeah, Ally had Kai’s number. She got to the security guard herself and covered her bases, so when Kai showed up to kill her, he was actually powerless. Impotent, as it were. The gun was no threat, Ally got to show  strength in front of the television cameras (you know, where it matters… insert eye roll here), and Beverly got to bring the hammer down.

This is AHS, though, and we’re left with the impression that Ally has created her own cult and resurrected SCUM, and that’s probably not going to end well, either. At least, not for everyone.

This wasn’t the best season of AHS, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. I’d easily peg it above Freak Show or Roanoke. The lack of supernatural influences this time around was a good move, but only because this season’s creepiness was solidly built on a foundation of, “This not only could happen, something like it might be happening right now.” As over the top as it sometimes got, there was always an uneasy thread of what if running through it that kept us from becoming complacent. All in all, this season was a solid entry, and it’ll be interesting to see what comes next.

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