WRD Weekly Roundup: Dark Souls, Superhot

Hey everyone! As you may have guessed from the existence of this blog, I happen to play a lot of video games in my free time (I know, shocking). While I usually invest my time in more recent titles, since my heart cannot be whole unless I am constantly a part of the online discussion I hate so much, there are drought periods where new releases cease and I’m forced through teary eyes to actually play some of my atrociously large backlog. I usually don’t go on to write anything about these less relevant games since I don’t tend to find the motivation when that game isn’t being rigourously gutted by The Discourse™. However, I still have thoughts on these games that I’d like to share outside of the usual 140-character tweet limit. And so the Weekly Roundup was born – your one-stop shop for all my random thoughts and general brain activity concerning video games over the course of the prior seven days. I am aware that this is a wholly unoriginal concept, but if it keeps me writing, I think I’ll try and stick with it. Forgive me if I miss some weeks here or there, but you have to sympathise with my arduous plight: I am very lazy most of the time. Anyway, on with the stream of consciousness!

A week ago today, I decided to pick up this tiny little game I’m sure you’ve never heard of called Dark Souls. I already own Souls on PS4 but I’ve never actually gotten around to fully beating the game, managing as far as Seath the Scaleless before throwing in the towel out of frustration (side note: Grand Archives is a bullshit area for dumb assholes and I hate it). However, I find myself constantly restarting the game, testing out different character builds or paths, because the game is so much damn fun to play and replay. There’s an incredible satisfaction to navigating areas that gave you so much grief once almost effortlessly. Dark Souls is all about trying and retrying, perfecting your craft with each run through, so there’s no wonder the game has garnered such a dedicated and longstanding fanbase.

Since I enjoy playing the game so much, it made sense for me to buy it on my Nintendo Switch, since that meant I could conquer Anor Londo on the train home a couple days later (which I fucking did by the way, eat shit Gwyndolin). However, what I wasn’t anticipating was the fact that I’ve committed to this playthrough more than any of my other ones. I’m certain this has a lot to do with the Switch’s portability, meaning I can rise from my calm slumber, climb out of bed, saunter over to my docked Switch as the early morning sun lightly brushes my skin, before immediately jumping back into bed and booting up Souls. 8am Souls sessions have become my new normal which is both bizarre and amazing, but it means I’ve been able to enjoy this game all over again. Tragically, I wasn’t able to beat Ornstein and Smough on my first try this time around, which is a shame because that fight is straight up broken and yes I am prepared to die on that hill, Souls fans.

This isn’t the only Souls game I’ve been enjoying this week, however. Dark Souls 2 is another game I’ve never gotten around to playing properly. However, that’s come less from being intimidated, and more so due to sheer disinterest. I didn’t really get on with DS2 the last time I played it, concluding that the game seemed to enjoy chucking a whole lot of unfair garbage in front of you before anything resembling the tightly designed experience of its predecessor. I’ve returned to it out of curiousity more than anything else, and playing DS1 and DS2 has been quite the time. I’m enjoying them both a lot, though the latter comes with a lot more caveats. While Dark Souls 2 does abandon the interconnectedness of old, the level design isn’t necessarily bad. However, it does commit the cardinal sin of being forgettable, and it made me think about the importance of memorable level design, especially as it contributes to the boss fight that caps it all off. I swear, I really struggle to remember the bosses I’ve already fought in DS2, not because they’re bad fights per se, but rather they’re a bookend to a fairly uninteresting buildup, so the payoff doesn’t really land. The gargoyles in Dark Souls aren’t the most mechanically interesting fight, but I remember them because they felt like the perfect escalation to cap off Undead Burg. The entire level has this constant sense of ascension, climbing higher and higher until you reach this boss fight atop a huge cathedral. When you beat them and scale the bell tower, you feel like a god surveying their creations. Meanwhile, Quelaag is a great ending for Blighttown since reaching her boss arena feels like clambering deeper than ever into a disgusting, hellish nightmare (plus, the fight is fun, which helps). Dark Souls 2 simply never gave me that sense of finality to a level its predecessor managed.

It almost always feels as though they forgot these games need boss fights, and so threw them in wherever they could. You know, writing this now, I don’t think I like Dark Souls 2 as much as I initially thought. It’s still a Dark Souls game, which means the gameplay is a lot of fun, the characters you meet are intriguing and arguably more enjoyable to talk to than those of DS1, and the game is generally quite well designed, but I think I’ve managed to figure out the distinction between the two games that explains why the first instalment in the series hits me so much harder. Dark Souls feels like a truly artistic work, developed from the ground up, where every feature and mechanic culminates to create this enchanting sense of loss, loneliness and existential dread. Dark Souls 2, while possessing some genuinely interesting ideas of its own, never quite comes together the way its predecessor did. DS1 might be a bit rough around the edges, but it can be easily ignored in the face of its sheer design perfection (in its first half, at least). Dark Souls 2 simply exists to meet expectations, introducing ideas that fail to innovate the series in any meaningful way, and no amount of cool enemy designs is going to change that.

Well, I just spoke for way too fucking long about Dark Souls, so now it’s time to switch gears a tad and talk about a game that has probably been off everyone’s radar for quite some time: Superhot. We all know the gimmick: a first-person shooter where time only moves when you move (or, more accurately, time moves a little bit when you stand still, as a treat). It’s a phenomenal concept that had somehow gone untouched until 2016 when the imaginatively named SUPERHOT TEAM (yes, the all-caps is part of the brand) released this thing into the wild. The game was met with huge critical acclaim because it’s basically the Max Payne dive but forever and who wouldn’t want to play that? However, for once in my pathetic life, I’d like to be the contrarian in the room by stating outright that I do not like Superhot very much. Yes, it is undeniable that the developers implemented this high concept into reality extremely well. The game is a lot of fun to play and the action replays that show your scene play out in real time never stop being cool as heck, but where it all really starts to fall apart is the story. I fucking hate the story of Superhot.

Very rarely do I enjoy referring to a piece of artistic expression as pretentious, but never before has that word rattled around in my brain as much as it did when playing this trash. In between the shooty shooty bang bang fun levels, there are unskippable story bits where you are forced to mash the keyboard to pretend you actually socialise with epipem sometimes, or maybe you’re thrown in a jail cell while the game taunts you like an annoying sibling who knows where your phone is hidden but refuses to tell you. I guess the idea was that you buy this game anticipating a unique gameplay loop, but you discover the game is cursed or corrupted in some way. However, when the game started talking to me directly, commanding me to do things, it all just felt so obvious and came across as silly rather than genuinely frightening as I imagine it was intended. Furthermore, the whole point of metanarratives in games is to confront the player directly; you can check out games like Doki Doki Literature Club, Undertale or Pony Island for games that do this really well. The reason those games work as well as they do is because they are constantly doing things to the player that blur the line between game and reality (that’s all I can say without spoiling those experiences so go play them you coward). In those cases, the game makes a knowing distinction between your character and you, the real life human being staring at the computer screen at 4am instead of sleeping like a smart person. However, Superhot makes it clear from the start that you are not you. You play as some guy on a computer whose friend sends him the game Superhot, and so the guy plays it and it starts taking over his mind. The game constantly throws fourth-wall breaks at you, like when it tells you to quit the game, only to remove the option entirely, in a weak attempt at a gotcha. When I play Superhot, I’m not seeing a malicious program intent on seizing my soul. Rather, I see a writer at SUPERHOT TEAM desperately attempting to seem clever without earning any of it. You just get the sense that the developers are talking down to you, which makes the rather self-flagellating plot development of the player character becoming obsessed with the game (I believe the line was “I can’t stop thinking about it”) feel a bit dirty. The fact that it ends with the game asking the player to invite others to play the game, using the phrase “the most innovative game in years!” to sell it, just feels kinda gross and pathetic. I’m sure the developers of Superhot are lovely people, and it helps that they made a really.m fun video game, but that narrative just left me resentful, which I hate more than anything. I just wanna love games…that’s all I ever wanted, damnit!

Well, that’s where I’ll leave it for this week. I don’t know what kind of psychopath would read this all the way to the end, but if you somehow did, I hope you got something out of it. I want to make this a recurring segment on the blog,softly as a way for me to post mini-reviews, small thinkpieces or simply my thoughts on recent gaming news if I feel like I have something meaningful to say about it. I’ll be back next week, which should be followed as soon as possible by a review of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, releasing very soon. Have a wonderful day, and I’ll catch you later ❤