Tom Chick

Project Cars 3: shame and loathing at 1,190 horsepower

, | Game diaries

Are Rivals events like New York Times crossword puzzles?  Is Saturday the day for sadistic challenges?  Why else would I be driving Project Cars 3’s most powerful car in the rain?  Why else would I be hydroplaning in a car so absurdly overpowered that it doesn’t even have a name?  Why else would I have done what I did to finish this challenge?  Why else would I sink to these depths of shame and loathing?

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Sovereign Edition of Sunless Skies still MIA

, | Games

Sunless Skies is a great game. Some are saying it’s literally the greatest game of 2019. Developer Failbetter Games has been working on an update, called the Sovereign Edition, which includes an overhaul of character progression, a reworking of some of the endgame areas, and a not inconsiderable amount of new content. The update was announced on October 19, 2019 and scheduled for an August or September 2020 release alongside the console port of the game.

After the announcement, there was no word until September 16, 2020, when Failbetter conceded that console ports are “more complex than they expected” so they didn’t have a release date anymore. Then on December 2nd, they said the Sovereign Edition had been submitted for certification (since it was also going to coincide with the console release). This tends to take a couple of weeks, tops.

Unless something goes wrong. Which we can infer from Failbetter’s silence for another two months. Today, Failbetter conceded the Sovereign Edition is “still seeing some challenging performance problems” and they still don’t have a release date to announce.

Project Cars 3: how not to make a car

, | Game diaries

It might surprise you to know this, but I’m no car expert.  Everything I know about cars I Googled and then forgot ten minutes later.  When I go to the mechanic, I make a great show of nodding sagely while he explains in detail why he’ll be charging $742.18 to my credit card.  He might as well be speaking Klingon.  

However, I do know physics, common sense, and today’s rivals event in Project Cars 3.  I also know the ongoing weekly rivals event that will be in effect for two more interminable days.  From these things, I have some advice to offer the supposed experts who make fancy cars.  Because right now, they’re Doing It Wrong.  So I’m going to tell them how to make their fancy cars work better.

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Project Cars 3: top ten reasons I didn’t get a better lap time today

, | Game diaries

Today’s daily event was a lap around Donington Park, which is a real-world track in Leicestershire, England.  The track is named after a nearby castle, which I probably climbed around on while playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.  The car is called a Caterham. I’ll have more to say about it shortly.  There will be cussing.  My best lap time, after using all 20 available attempts, was 1 minute and 38.589 seconds.  As of this writing, that puts me in the silver ranking at 132nd place.

Following are ten reasons I’m not in 131st or better place.

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Raiders of Scythia overhauls the tired worker placement engine

, | Games

This isn’t really a review of Raiders of Scythia because there’s a pandemic going. That means I’m pretty much limited to solitaire gaming until vaccines are rolled out widely enough to cover “people who really want to get back to playing boardgames with their friends”. That’s a lower priority than, say, front-line health care workers, teachers, and grocery store employees. But it’s a higher priority than hermits, firewatchers, and seamen doing multi-year tours of duty on nuclear submarines. So, fingers crossed. Until then, there are a ton of games I can’t review, much less play.

But this is a short analysis of why I think Raiders of Scythia is so good, including why it’s better than worker placement games in general, and why it’s better than its predecessor, Raiders of the North Sea, in specific. I’ll spend about fifteen minutes explaining why I like it so much, and then run through a solitaire game so you can see how it plays. Also, there will be some Bible talk.

Project Cars 3: a month of Rivals mode

, | Game diaries

One of the multiplayer modes in Project Cars 3 is called Rivals.  It consists of month-long seasons.  Each month, there is a single event which you can drive as often as you like to improve your standing.  There are also rotating weekly events and daily events, each with a limited number of attempts.  When each event closes, you win points based on how you placed on the leaderboard.  Those points accumulate over the course of the season.  At the end of the season, everybody’s ranked and wins experience points based on how well they did.  And, of course, you’re earning experience points along the way just by driving the events.  However you choose to play, you’re always making progress in Project Cars 3.  If you drive, you advance.

But what if I let Project Cars 3 have a turn at the wheel?

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Worst thing you’ll see all week: The Little Things

, | Movie reviews

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.  A haunted older cop on the verge of retirement teams up with  a hot-tempered young detective to hunt down a creepy celebrity playing a serial killer who likes a bit of a flourish in his crime scenes.  In The Little Things, Rami Malek as Brad Pitt is as fascinating as ever, Jared Leto as Kevin Spacey is unintentionally hilarious, and Denzel is Denzel.  John Lee Hancock’s last movie, The Highwaymen, told its story from a unique angle, using a couple of seasoned actors doing their thing, in a period piece with a lot of keenly observed detail and some gratifying gun porn.  So what happened here?  Hancock’s ham-handed script and even more ham-handed direction — you couldn’t edit a car chase any worse than this movie’s excuse for a car chase — make it hard to just enjoy the cast.  It’s quite the turgid movie that doesn’t come alive until Jared Leto is onscreen, but that’s just because he’s so darn unusual.  But, hey, at least something interesting is finally happening.  I call it the Crispin Glover Effect.

The Little Things is such an aimless mish-mash of cop vs serial killer tropes that it only keeps you guessing because it’s unclear what it’s even trying to do.  Is this a buddy cop movie?  Is it a horror movie?  Is it a homicide procedural?  Is it a mystery?  A thriller?  A parody of James Patterson?  Something that Morgan Freeman passed on?  How about none of the above by virtue of all of the above?  When the Obligatory Shocking Final Twist thuds into place with all the grace of a body rolled into a shallow grave, it turns out you were watching something else entirely.  The Little Things is ultimately a story about how the police sometimes have to cover their asses because, well, they’re the police and we should really cut them some slack if they can’t be bothered to follow rules and stuff.  Hey, John Lee Hancock, try reading the room.  Or alternatively, try paying closer attention to what made David Fincher’s masterpiece tick.  Because this Seven is barely a Two.

What does Project Cars 3 have that other racing games don’t?

, | Game reviews

Racing isn’t just about speed.  Speed is the goal, sure.  But the important part is knowing when to relinquish speed.  The important part is figuring out when and how much to slow down.  It’s hardly surprising most racing videogames downplay this part.  In most videogames, you mash down the accelerator, feel the exhilaration, and have a win!  But what’s distinct about Project Cars 3 — at least among consumer-friendly racing games — is that it downplays speed.  It emphasizes precision, consistency, calculation, practice.  Project Cars 3 has plenty of speed, but that’s not what it’s about.  Instead, it’s a game based on driving well.  And it’s about more than that.  It’s ultimately about something too few racing games know how to express.

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Worst thing you’ll see since the Kavanaugh hearings: Promising Young Woman

, | Movie reviews

The premise of Emerald Fennell’s #MeToo era power fantasy is that all men are rapers.  Hardly a provocative statement these days, and certainly one women have earned the right to indulge.  But Promising Young Woman isn’t done yet.  It further supposes that they can be shamed into comeuppance.  And if that doesn’t work, by golly, things might have to get drastic!

There’s indisputable value in these reversed power fantasies, especially as they break free of their exploitative roots.  Coraline Fargeat’s lurid lovely Revenge and Jennifer Kent’s achingly poignant The Nightingale are recent examples of how women have wrested control of rapesploitation from the vulgar filmmakers who used to cash in on it.  Enter Promising Young Woman with its bubbly “I want to play, too!” approach.  But it’s facile premise that men just need to be shamed isn’t exactly thrilling, and more to the point, it’s egregiously out of touch with reality.  Brett Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court for the rest of his life, and regardless of what did or didn’t happen with Christine Blasey Ford, he outed himself as an entitled frat boy who doesn’t have the disposition to be a Supreme Court justice.  But Promising Young Woman supposes a world where his tantrums would have ended his judicial career, and if that didn’t do it, then by golly, it just takes the martyrdom of some promising young woman.  Roll the title card, which will read “The End” in a curlicue font.

At least it isn’t as embarrassingly bad as Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas, which takes a similarly facile approach to its indictment of rape culture (the rapers in Black Christmas don’t even need their positions of power and privilege, because they have magical black goo).  Fennell shoots Promising Young Woman with a candy-colored enthusiasm and a lively cast.  Carey Mulligan has a grand time playing a self-assured vigilante of shame with literally no fucks to give.  It’s nice to see her flexing confidence when she so often plays frail characters pulled along by the plot.  She and Bo Burnham, towering above her at 6’5″, make quite the couple.  Burnham’s effusive charm is a real joy to watch, and it’s easy to see how he fosters the kind of trust it took to make Eighth Grade with Elise Fisher.  Otherwise, Fennell squanders several talented actors in thankless roles.  That’s how you’re going to use the wonderful Sam Richardson?

The big finale, which will be spoiled if you watch trailers, is especially ridiculous for its attempted last-minute twist, which feels like a cheat instead of a twist.  Fennell would have you believe that Carey Mulligan’s character — called Cassie, but listed in the credits as Cassandra in case you didn’t get it — was one step ahead of everyone else all along.  Which might make for a fun grrl power fantasy, but it’s not much of a contribution to any conversation about rape culture, the #MeToo movement, or even revenge thrillers.

Under Falling Skies unfortunately lives up to its name

, | Game reviews

One of my favorite boardgame designs is Troyes.  Although it relies on dice, it’s not about chasing sixes.  Normally, dice games are all about seeing how many high numbers you can roll.  Over the course of the game, you have to work through the peaks and valleys of sixes and ones, which feels more like following the course of a river than actually planning anything.  Luck pulls the game, but your strategy is an oar you can use to splash around in the water.  Troyes is different for how it’s never about seeing how many high numbers you can roll.  In Troyes, a one can be just as welcome as a six.

Under Falling Skies works on this same principle.

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Who needs a blue shell when you can fling Wreckfest’s snowball?

, | Games

The latest update for Wreckfest adds a winter track with snow on the road. Which is slippery, sure. But in a racing game like Wreckfest, slippery isn’t enough. Slippery is just the means to the end, and the end is Wreckfest’s glorious damage model. What good is losing control of your car and banging into a wall if you can’t crumple fenders, smash radiators, and twist axels? Wreckfest loves how cars break.

Which is where the giant snowballs come into play. Now cars can be crushed by giant snowballs during the demotion derby events. It’s all part of today’s free Winter Fest update.

In case a Battleship movie wasn’t enough, how about an entire TV show of Risk?

, | Games

Hasbro will not be stopped after a Battleship movie. Now they’re announcing a Risk TV series. Which will probably last for about six insufferable hours and then collapse after an acrimonious argument among friends. From the Variety story:

[Beau] Willimon (“House of Cards,” “The First”), an Academy-award nominee and avid fan of Risk, will be writing and overseeing the production of the scripted series. 

Avid Risk fan Willimon’s Academy Award nomination is for the Ides of March script he did with George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Hopefully the script will emphasize that you should never, under any circumstance, let someone grab Australia while everyone else is fighting for the larger continents.

Immortals Fenyx Rising is what happens when everything comes together perfectly

, | Game reviews

I kept waiting.  At some point, it was going to do something to disappoint me.  There was going to be some misstep or oversight or shortcut, something that wasn’t fully developed or that should have been cut.  Something that didn’t seem to fit.  Something weak or wrong.  But Immortals Fenyx Rising is one of those rare games that never let me down.  Not once.  Every time I played, I ended up smiling at its insight, confidence, charm, and humor.

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If Werner Herzog made a driving game, it would be Snowrunner

, | Game reviews

Speed is a cheap vulgar thrill.  It has none of the tension or innate drama of torque.  You cannot savor speed the way you can savor the interaction of traction and mass.  Speed wants nothing to do with the earth.  It wants to leave it.  But torque wants to defeat it, to prevail over it, to wrestle with it and throw it down and then tear loose from it to declare the victory of forward motion.  Torque is determined to triumph.  Torque is a battle.  Torque grapples and struggles.  Speed was barely even here.

That’s the premise of Snowrunner, and Mudrunner before it, and Spintires before that, all games about trucks wrestling with bad roads.  Videogames have been letting us go fast for as long as they’ve been around.  But the unique contribution of the Spintires line, which has its fullest expression in Snowrunner, is its intimacy with the ground.  If you’ve ever driven a manual transmission, you know what I’m talking about.  

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