Category Archives: Consumer Reviews

I don’t really believe in rating games, but my employer does. The reviews you see here will be stripped of their numeric scores and more consumerist tendencies, however, because poor person though I am, I believe the commercial imperative of games is holding back a great deal of innovation.

/soapbox

“Namjon yeobi”: ‘Analogue: A Hate Story’

Indie game dev Christine Love is a Trekker. I know this because half our conversations on Twitter seem to revolve around Lt. Worf, but also because part of Digital: A Love Story consists of a snarky retrospective in which a BBS poster named “Tiberius” (strangely not one of the Shakespearean AIs the game revolves around– or is he?) waxes nostalgic for Captain Kirk’s, um… unique brand of diplomacy.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that Love’s latest work, Analogue: A Hate Story (sequel to Digital), bears no small similarity to the TOS episode “For The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”, about a generation ship which has reverted back to a superstitious and hierarchical society. In this episode, Kirk, Spock and McCoy stumble upon the Yonada, whose captive population are controlled by “obedience devices” to prevent them from learning of or discussing the true nature of the ship. Why is never really explained, although the AI in question (“the Oracle”, another name which reappears in Digital) seems to have driven the ship off course as well, so we can probably project a little about its reasons.

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‘Bastion': Texture, Character and Song

Reposted from PopMatters Multimedia Reviews.

For the past few years now Xbox Live Arcade has used their “Summer of Arcade” promotion to introduce gamers to strong, uniquely conceived work from the indie scene. 2008’s Braid sparked an undeniable change in how mass audiences saw “art” games, which (along with thatgamecompany’s Flower) became chief arguing pieces for and against Roger Ebert “can games ever be art?” debate. 2010’s Limbo followed up this act by referencing the Gothic tradition of silent cinema and leaving a strong aesthetic impression–as well as speculations whether 2D, sidescrolling platformers featuring big-headed man-children were the flavor du jour of this console generation’s indies.

2011’s Bastion, the debut title of Supergiant Games, proves that at least one of those above elements is optional. Its protagonist is still superdeformed and quiet as a mouse, but we’ve swapped side-scrolling for isometric action-RPG gameplay, and traded in Braid‘s big blocks of text and Limbo‘s semiotics sans language for a memorable, chatty narrator and plenty of item descriptions and backstory. In doing so, Bastion becomes far larger than either of those games, not simply by providing a strong narrative, but giving us characters to care about.

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‘Child of Eden': A Fairy Tale Flight for the Post-Human

Reposted from PopMatters Multimedia Reviews.

Child of Eden, the latest from former Sega developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Rez, Lumines), can be most superficially described as a rail shooter in which music and color play a central role. There is a vague storyline about rescuing a damsel in distress, but relegating Lumi to the mere role of a damsel seems to write off the bulk of what the game is doing here, as she is more the embodiment of an idea–or even a god in the machine–rather than a macguffin on which the plot turns. Put simply, what storyline presents itself through scatterings of text about the resurrection of Lumi from within Eden’s corrupted archives is secondary to the grander narrative Child of Eden tells about the ascendency of life itself.

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“Portal 2: Cooperative Testing Initiative” is the superior of its single-player cousin.

Reposted from PopMatters Multimedia Reviews.

Note: this contains spoilers for the single-player campaign.

Confession: I am a chronic loner. As, I suspect, many game reviewers are. I would go so far to say that game journalism significantly selects against social individuals, as most journalism indeed does–something about sitting down and devoting 10 to 50 hours on a $60 toy does not strike me as compatible with a vibrantly extroverted lifestyle. Not that there is anything wrong with that, mind you. At any rate, it’d be hypocritical of me to criticize. Still, to be quite frank, it’s beyond me why multiplayer has become the celebrated commonality of gaming experience that it has. But maybe that’s just the social outcast in me talking.

All right. Now that the entire internet is aware that I have no friends, let’s get to the business of talking about Portal 2‘s cooperative mode. For the task I enlisted the companionship of fellow podcaster and blogmate Nick Dinicola (of Utter Miscellany), and despite a few setbacks involving mic problems and work schedules, we were able to complete it within two play sessions. Frustration and exhilaration ensued, both I must assume to be intentional, so I can safely say that it is a veritable truckload of fun whether or not you are a co-op player by nature.

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Space Jihadists: Mass Effect 2’s DLC “Arrival” Just Keeps Digging Its Hole Deeper

Reposted from PopMatters Moving Pixels.

Note: This article contains spoilers for the “Arrival” DLC.

No species save humanity seems exempt from being a “racial spokesman” in the Mass Effect franchise, a problem when each species tends to get painted with a broad brush and rarely permitted to overcome that characterization. The asari are defined by their sexuality. The krogan are savages. The quarians are gypsies. The volus are Jews. But onto the batarians Mass Effect‘s writers have granted the special distinction of space Arabs, whose narrative role seems to consist almost entirely on their depiction as religious and/or political extremists who hate humanity and the American-dominated Alliance Navy in particular with bombastic fervor.

This has been evident in the games since their introduction in the “Bring Down the Sky” DLC, where their codex entry first appears alongside a mission which has Shepard recapture a hijacked plane asteroid from terrorists attempting to ram it into the World Trade Center a human-colonized planet. In doing so we’re repeatedly waylaid by the caveat, “not all batarians are like this.” But all the ones we see are.

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“Time4Cat”: Of Time, Perception and Fatality

Reposted from PopMatters Multimedia Reviews.

As inevitable as the pun may be, there’s something about the little flash game, Time4Cat, that is, itself, rather timely. Having just relocated myself for graduate school and spending inordinate amounts of time unpacking, assembling furniture, commuting, attending orientation, attending classes, doing readings, going to a day job, it feels like there’s not enough time for anything this month. For many student-aged gamers, I’m sure it feels much the same way. And therein lies the charm of Time4Cat.

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Limbo: A Little Physics Platformer of the Gothic Tradition

Reposted from PopMatters Multimedia Reviews.

There are a few games we can look to as strong aesthetic experiences– games which strike us visually and tonally on the level of a good film or painting. Independent Danish studio PlayDead’s Limbo can definitely be counted among these. Everything about this title, from its stark, nostalgic opening title card to its Gaussian glowing lights, shallow focus and rich shadows, brings to mind some lost F.W. Murnau film. There’s something about Limbo, in tone as well as texture, that just screams its German expressionist roots: the anxiety, the ambivalence, and grim atmosphere are all palpable from the first screen, and follow the player through every puzzle and its harrowing descent into the dark.

‘Limbo,’ like ‘purgatory,’ arrives in our shared mythological lexicon via Catholicism, as a place where dead technicalities go. Although sometimes treated as the edge of Hell, it’s often viewed as a sort of neutral place, often lifeless, and far from comfortable. People who wind up in Limbo aren’t generally evil, but they aren’t godly in the conventional Catholic sense, either. It’s this role, as a morally-ambivalent inbetween space, that makes Limbo a fond subject in storytelling in both the literal and metaphorical sense– it’s a place for uncertainty and negotiation of the self, the rationalization of the unpleasant. And there are plenty of unpleasant things in Limbo, just as much as it is beautiful.

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Alexander Ocias’s “Loved”: Identity, Subjugation and Confrontation

Reposted from PopMatters Multimedia Reviews.

When it comes down to it, Loved has very little to do with that particular emotion at all. But it has everything to do with control, guilt and abuse done in the name of it. Follow the game’s unnamed, ungendered narrator and your player avatar will come to harm; disobey, and the game hurls insults and destroys your path as much as it can. Disobey it enough, and it starts to play the victim. “I loved you,” it intones, hoping that you won’t leave. But if you do stay, you’ll be trapped.

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Dragon Age II: Making the Case for “Quality” Games

Reposted from PopMatters Multimedia Reviews.

At this point, I am uncertain there is anything I can really say about Dragon Age II that isn’t found half-buried in my deluge of running commentary to my friends made over the course of my two playthroughs. It’s fantastic, it’s horrible. It’s brilliant, it’s ridiculous. This is the best thing I’ve ever played. I want my money back.

It isn’t particularly often that I feel a game should be forgiven for its monstrous shortcomings, but if one did, it would be this one. For that reason I am going to ask that you take any criticism here with a grain of salt, as this really is one of the most awe-inspiring play experiences I’ve had in some time– but not at all for the conventional list of reasons.

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LittleBigPlanet 2 is Democratized Play for Rich People’s Kids

Reposted from Popmatters Multimedia Reviews.

At this point there is very little effusive praise I could throw LittleBigPlanet 2‘s way that would be new, so let’s attempt to do without it. If you are at all familiar with the franchise it should come as no surprise that UK devs Media Molecule’s latest work is a polished, A-lister piece of work that earns top marks in all the areas that it should: it has great visuals, the music is memorable, it’s accessible across age groups and demographics, it’s creative, it’s different, and it’s fun.

It’s also a rather halfbaked experience if you’re poor.

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