LISA Session 02 Review

Actually two half-hours

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Why I played it:

A game that actually puts up a challenge surrounded by a crapsack world with party members who are actually pretty cool makes for one of the best RPGs I've ever played - at the outset at least, here's hoping the final boss doesn't turn out to be a giant sperm monster.

How it works:

Due to the nonlinearity of video games, my experiences will differ from yours, and expecting our playthroughs to be the same is a fool's mentality. So take everything I say in every video game review with a flask full of whiskey, and not salt, as salt doesn't help forget the pain.

Brad finds himself wandering the Mojave Wasteland with his newfound buddies he picked up along the way: a mage who you could have killed, an old man with a gun, and a wrestler who beats people with his head. The Gang ends up in a few locales, making liberal use of a tent they found way back when (walking three minutes round trip) for its generous full party restore, seeing as health is scarce and the enemies do more damage than No Man's Sky did to Sean Murray (waiting for this reference to crawl out of the hospital and commit suicide).

Along the way they come across your typical mooks - a bunch of assholes who want to pick a fight with The Gang for no reason, in addition to some neat ones, like a hideous blob-man which made The Gang piss themselves as they used up all their health potions, and a five-man-band which introduced the sage wisdom that the competition will quickly make mincemeat out of you if you aren't prepared. So The Gang always tries to prepare - preparing for scrolling off the screen and falling off an instant death cliff, preparing by having as much health as you can bear, and preparing by doing its best to not die within the hour-long stretches where there are no more save spots.

The Wasteland gives you some degree of freedom, letting you explore in areas like a bum town, a mountainous biome, and a long stretch of land, and not all stretches of land are created equal, especially not one with a sign saying "Keep out: strong men only". Ain't nobody going to call that bluff, and I ain't a strong man, so I turned around before I got my ass whipped. The mountains needed a motorbike to cross, and I ain't got one. The bum town was friendly - I fell on a man and his friend gave me perfume. And I used that up at an instant, thank you, seeing as my buddies are like tissue paper and they needed a full heal.

And there's nothing scarier than being a group of little boys in a powerful world, faced off with the prospect of fighting 24 drug addicts in an abandoned warehouse, and few things more relieving than understand that they just wanted to give you drugs. Joy, they call it - free invulnerability, and what Brad here is addicted to. Better grab it while you can - it ain't sold in shops.

The music I can't describe. I haven't familiarised myself with it. I like it, the same way I did Hotline Miami's. A fucked-up amalgamation of whatever trash cans they can bang on, plus the last great vocalists of a mans-only society, all making a genre something like if you had vaporwave in the big band era. Something with that description is worth checking out on merit alone.

What I felt:

When I was fighting that big mutherfakkin piece of shit blob of a man, I felt a twinge of concern for the safety of my party which I don't believe I've ever felt in an RPG. Death is cheap in most games, seeing as you respawn either a minute behind, or when you do die there's a save point right before the fight that you can whore out and never be concerned about dying except as a minor annoyance. But when you have a game where the save points explode after you use them, and they can be literally an hour apart from each other, there is some serious incentive to not die you fucking scrublord!

If you want to know how serious this game is, and you do want to know because my prose is like a furry massaging your thighs, I actually had to use items - and not just the shitty ones like the herbs and spices which heal you and the KFC secret formula which cures your poison. I had to use full heals and party revives multiple times in that blob fight alone, and losing wasn't an option when an hour's worth of progress was on the line. Big props to LISA for actually challenging me, and bigger props to pissing off the casual reviewers who said it was too difficult.

I felt like I was actually being appreciated as somebody who bothered to learn about video games - we're talking about a man who janks up the difficulty to the highest as a physical tic, and sometimes that isn't enough. Mass effect was a bit easy, and Deus Ex would have been a decent challenge if it wasn't for the AI's godly aim combined with instant-kill headshots. This isn't a /v/ thread about difficulty in games, but you get the idea that games that are supposedly hard are only such to people who aren't as experienced in video games, which is a bit like having a masters degree in theology; you're only appreciated by people within that clique, but it's a fucking big clique, so maybe it isn't such a waste of time.

Difficulty, as Dunkey has so brilliantly put it (and I'll suck his dick until he makes more analysis videos), is about making the game legitimately challenging without limiting gameplay options as a result. While it's true that Halo may be harder on the highest difficulty, you're stuck into using the Plasma Pistol, which is fucking SHIT (so he says). It's a bit like both Deus Ex games - you're stuck using simpler tactics like pimping your Sniper Rifle to all hell, or to getting a bunch of headshots with the Assault Rifle, or just spamming your grenades until everything dies, because the other tactics just aren't as viable. They're still fun games, but the frustrations are still there, and all that time you're stuck wondering if you should downgrade to a lower difficulty.

And the interesting thing about LISA is that, after the first battle, you're given the choice to go into pain mode, and it's always pain, isn't it? You can't call it hard mode in this game, because you might not believe it, despite the next five minutes of gameplay making those beliefs fall off a cliff. It has to be pain, because that's what the game has built it's name on, eh? And in keeping with that mentality, you can't downgrade. So if you find yourself scrubbier than a baby fresh out of the womb, you're out of luck.

Dunkey also said that games with a single difficulty with room to grow built into that difficulty can be considered an "objective" experience, seeing as you're never second-guessing yourself or wondering if the game would be more fun if you chose something else. And this relates to LISA because once you choose to ascend to a higher pain of difficulty (and the game strongly encourages you to do so, otherwise it might think you're a pansy, but it won't say as such because that wouldn't be persuasive), you can't arbitrarily decide to change it if you don't like it.

And that's really interesting to me, because say that save points didn't explode in pansy mode and you could save whenever. While it would lead to a rage quit if you happened to get your shit kicked in after two hours of progress, at the same time, it provides you a hell of a lot of incentive to not get your shit kicked in. You'll find tactics that would you never use in lesser RPGs, like using all your items on a single fight, one of the best options to avoid that vicious thing, death, that, is to act like you would in real life - be desperate and do everything in your power to prevent it!

While it is annoying to have to go back to a rest stop three minutes down the line, there's a focus on keeping your health in tip-top shape that you rarely find, seeing as health is a suggestion to games where healing potions drop like blood. While Dishonoured and Bioshock gave you a lot of healing potions, you took so much damage that you had to actually sneak around and avoid damage or else you'll find your supplies swiftly drained. LISA is even tougher - if you don't want to walk back, you'll have to exhaust your supply of booze and soup, and if you aren't saving that for a random encounter then you can say goodbye to your teeth.

So we have a game where death isn't cheap, but the mechanics are built such that it makes it perfectly clear that it isn't. It doesn't come at you by surprise, because the scarcity of resources and save points are implications that your life is precious and that you must protect it. That ice cream truck and that whole cliff business may have been unfair, but it was a small blessing that they occurred immediately after you saved. That wasn't being a dick, so to say. It was being medicine. It didn't taste good, but if you didn't eat it when you have the privilege to, then you would have found yourself dying in far worse situations down the line. It takes the traditional, omnipresent mechanics of "fail until you learn something", and invokes it to prevent the player from getting even more frustrated down the line.

It's one of those effortless aspects of game design that you have to slap yourself in the face to understand just because it was so obvious.

What I learned:

Games make me hard when they too are hard.

Apparently a game filled entirely by men where the only woman in it is a child who's probably being gang raped makes for a pretty decent game despite the premise. It's almost like diversity has nothing to do with the quality of a work, and that aesthetic and story purposes take precedent over the artificial restrictions imposed by our politically correct media culture. Maybe this is just an American thing, where hundreds of years of systemic oppression have caused them to fall to the ground and profusely apologise during the 70's and nobody's brave enough to tell them to stop sucking their dick after fifty years.

It's a bit of a soapbox, I know, but it's a convenient one. It's pretty wild to think that if you were have a trans person working on a show in the 90s and 2000s, much like the fantastic Maddie Blaustein (who Tumblr tells me was the first transgender voice actor, but that's not a great source) you would have to cover that shit up because people would get scared and maybe lynch them. Nowadays you can't leave a trans person lie without using them as marketing material, saying "Look at us, we care about your struggles! Buy our shit!". It should be obvious that they don't care about transgender people at all - they're simply pinkwashing to pander to an oppressed group.

I don't know how we got to that point, to be honest. There was always a sort of "push" ever since the 60's to include people of different races, expanding to sexualities in the 90s, and now we're dealing with genders in the new 10s. And it's always felt dishonest - the reason that tokenism is a thing is that somebody's going to cry foul if you don't have at least include a black guy or a woman in your show, verisimilitude of the story be damned.

I understand how it would make zero sense for a sitcom shot in New York (like FRIENDS, embarrassingly, please watch this video) to not have any black guys, or for any show that isn't focused on male-oriented jobs to not have any women, seeing as they make up 51% of the human population (so the oppressed minority of 51%). At the same time though, it's ignorant to complain about shows that realisitically cannot contain any such minorities, such as Moonrise Kingdom being set in a 1960's New England summer camp, or most anime not featuring foreigners because Japan is 98.5% Japanese and the rest are Chinese, Korean, and Brazilian (yes, Brazilian), because that suggests that all art has an obligation to make up for cultural woes without any justification within the art's universe.

In the context of LISA, it is perfectly reasonable for a stereotyped depiction of America after an apocalypse to consist of 90% white people and to have almost no women, because 24 of the United States have over 80% white people and the rest probably got targeted by the minority-killing virus sent by the government - wait, that's Call of Duty. While I like women a lot[citation needed], I can understand why you would want to have a game about a bunch of men trying to save the last woman in the world from dying.

To put it simply, it captures the long-unfavoured virtue of pure manliness, that rough-and-tumble, honourable breed of men who pride strength, dignity, and intelligence, but never priding it above their ability to protect and nurture fellow humanity. Seeing a work that will beat you up and spit you out in an fair and just fashion until you improve itself to meet its standards is one of the most respectable thing that a piece of work can do, because it shows that it's tough enough to not have to pander down to the player like every fucking game released this decade.

It's a game about men at the outset of the apocalypse who all hate women for some reason for another, and it takes a special type of game with the courage to pull a topic like that off. It's not sexist or racist or even has anything that would be offensive to anything more than a lad with skin thinner than a tampon's strand. It's a realistic representation of both men who have been wronged by women for legitimate reasons, and men who have wronged women for bullshit ones. And I think that the reason it didn't do well compared to some other games is that it tried to sell itself to men who were both tough enough to not get scared off by its dark presentation, while still being smart enough to understand the themes it was getting at.

It was trying to sell itself to gentlemen. Some other games sold to people who wanted to be smart and yet weren't. It is a shame that for every gentleman out there, there are ten other lowest-common-common people willing to buy something else. And if you want to know how we got to the point where we felt a need to pander to every minority, it is simply because these ten other people will be more likely to buy a game if there's a chance that somebody of their race or gender or age or what have you is in there. And while LISA will gain the respect of many gentlemen for being enigmatic of what manliness is, this is a very small group indeed, and it is a shame that the world is built like that.

Total time: 01:23:51

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Greenwashing at Froghand.

Today's page was updated on October 10, 2016!

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