Portal 2 Review Part 2/2: The Negative Review

Any motion picture–such as 2001:A Space Odyssey; Demon Seed; Silent Running or Forbidden Planet–or Star Wars–in which the most identifiable, likeable characters are robots, is a film without people. And that is a film that’s shallow, that cannot uplift or enrich in any genuine sense, because it is a film without soul, without a core. It is merely a diversion, a cheap entertainment, a quick fix with sugar-water, intended to distract, divert and keep an audience from coming to grips with itself.” — Harlan Ellison

It is probably safe to say at this point that everyone loves Portal 2. Just look at Metacritic, just look at the sales charts, just look at what anyone, anywhere is saying about it. So what’s even the point of different publications hiring different reviewers anymore? →  Read the rest

Portal 2 Review Part 1/2: The Positive Review

The first Portal seemed so undeserving of its success. It was essentially a Half-Life 2 mod similar to Research And Development only with a new gameplay gimmick. The story was only added later in the playtesting phase because players were getting bored with room after room of puzzles. Since the developers didn’t have time to model and animate characters a disembodied voice was created from the same disembodied voice that appears in both Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2. The end result was barely marketed at all and distributed merely as a small bonus bundled with other “real” games. By all rights, Portal should have been enjoyed for what it was and forgotten afterwards, along with every other short puzzle game. But it wasn’t. Everyone loved the final product, puzzles, storyline, dialog, and all. →  Read the rest

Portal 2, and Three Reasons Why I Don’t Like Sequels

This isn’t about how I don’t like Portal 2. Tomorrow (or perhaps earlier?) will be a historic day in my life. Not just because I’ll be playing Portal 2, but because it will be the first time in I-don’t-know-how-many years that I’ll actually play a game on its launch date. I barely ever pay full price for games anymore, much less preorder them. With that said, I don’t think I need to go into further detail how extremely excited I am for Portal 2.

I want to emphasize that fact so that the rest of this post isn’t misinterpreted as being critical of Portal, or any specific game. The release of Portal 2 however works well as an opportunity to discuss sequels in general, and why I almost always dislike them. →  Read the rest

Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl Non-Review

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl has been a game I’ve declined to review. There are some things I’m just not comfortable casting judgment on. A review implies that the reviewer has authority over the game, an intellectual superiority. I can tell you what I think about Stalker, but Stalker is a complex game full of loose ends; it calls upon a creative power within its players to piece them together. What I think about it is constantly changing the more I play and the more I learn. Any review of the game will say much more about the reviewer than the game itself. This is my non-review. It’s just what I think right now.

I’m going to go ahead and say that I like Stalker–a lot. It’s one of my favorite games ever and I still can’t stop talking about. →  Read the rest

Review – AquaNox 2: Revelation

The bottom of the ocean is a lot like space–both are dark and mysterious, both require special equipment in order for us to survive, and both appear as a peaceful shade of blue from our viewpoint. There are, however, some sharp differences between them. No one really goes to space (at least not outside of Earth’s orbit), whereas many people spend lots of their time living underwater. One reason for this is the fact that there isn’t much of anything in space. Every single book, movie, or videogame set in space is forced to make up a bunch of stuff to fill its multi-light-year spanning void. Unless you want to use the Moon as a setting (such as in Moonbase Alpha or the film Moon) then making up a bunch of fantasy stuff is really your only option.

 →  Read the rest

Ken Levine’s Secret Notepad of BioShock Ideas

  • BioShock — A city under the ocean (not Atlantis) is populated by murderous psychopaths. Everyone here also has superpowers. A little girl and her dozen twin sisters wander around needing to be rescued. Andrew Ryan talks to you about why his city is so great. After you kill everyone in the city the moral of the story is that killing children is bad. (Chance to prove that videogames can have moral messages just like movies?) I think this game could give people a lot to think about, like how it’s dangerous to give everyone in a city inherently destructive superpowers.
  • BioShock Infinite–A city in the sky is populated by an evil Tea Party analog (to prevent moral ambiguity make sure their eyes burn and they roar like monsters so there’s no confusion over who the bad guys are).
 →  Read the rest

Extra Lives Review

Tom Bissell’s latest work, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, doesn’t include much discussion on the subject of why video games matter. This has very little weight on the text itself, but I think every reader should be aware of that fact before opening a copy. Extra Lives is about Bissell’s fascination with videogames and videogame developers, and about his own experiences playing games. The basic point of the book is, well, I can’t really say. Any central thesis has gone far over my head because as far as my reading comprehension extends I couldn’t find any real point to the book. Each chapter is tied to the others by the fact that it’s about videogames. Videogames: that’s basically the point of the book.

It's like... some sort of life.... it's an... EXTRA Life!?!?!!!

Is it a good or a bad book? →  Read the rest

Review – SSX Tricky

In the early days of the GameCube one of the first games I made sure to get was SSX Tricky. It was awesome and I played it endlessly until I had mastered every single trick of every single character on every single course. Eventually I got bored of it because, well, it stopped being fun after doing the same “über trick” for the umptillionth time. It burned out my brain and I couldn’t take it any longer. From whatever was left of those brain cells lingered a memory of an incredible experience. Sometimes SSX Tricky would wander back into my daydreams and I would reminisce about how much fun I had. So you know what I did? I decided that nine years later it was time to play it again.

The game hasn’t changed much in nine years, other than the size of the TV I played it on. →  Read the rest

Art Can Never Be Games

Everyone loves discussing why games are or aren’t art. Even I can’t help it. The subject is just too hard to pass up. It exists just so intellectual jerkoffs can spill ink (do people even spill ink anymore?) over it and feel good. This is why I’m not going to write about it anymore. Instead, I’m going to write about “games can never be art.” And no, I didn’t quite contradict myself there. I’m not going to write about whether or not games can be art. I’m going to write about the literal sentence “games can never be art.”

I have a major problem with this statement. Not with the logical implications of what it’s trying to communicate, but rather the structure of the statement itself. Why not say “Art can never be games?” →  Read the rest

Someday we’ll all look back at this and laugh

If you’re reading this blog then there’s a fairly decent chance that you’ve heard about Roger Ebert, his loud and controversial opinion about videogames, and its latest iteration which was posted last Friday. I told myself that I’m above falling into that cyclical argument, but the bait is too tempting for me to resist any longer. In case you actually had a life over the weekend, allow me to catch you up on the crux of his argument: videogames can never be art.

If you find that above statement infuriating and wish to express that rage via typing words in a box on a website, then the recommended course of action is for you to click your way over to Ebert’s blog and do exactly that. Ebert personally reads every single comment that gets posted and delights in watching the comment count tick upwards. →  Read the rest

Guess the Game by its Metacritic Excerpt

Us game bloggers talk a lot about games and play a lot of games but rarely make games ourselves. Well here’s one I just thought of. Below are several portions of reviews excerpted by Metacritic. The goal is to correctly identify the game it’s about.

These are all critically and commercially successful games everyone’s familiar with, so if you know enough about games to be reading this blog then none of these should be unknown to you. Also, don’t restrict yourself to using a game only once. Have fun guessing!

Tutorial: Highlight the gray areas to get the name of the game linking to its Metacritic page.

Armored Princess Review: Part III

When I initially conceived of the idea of writing episodic reviews I planned on concluding the series when I had also finished the game. Well I haven’t finished Armored Princess yet, but it’s also been almost two months since I posted part one of this review. I think the time has come to wrap this up. Actually it’s probably way past time. But better late than never I suppose.

Anyway, I spent part one and part two talking about different individual aspects of the game, so I’ll finish this by summarizing my feelings of the game as a whole.

– Part III: The End is Another Beginning –

This is the kind of game that I enjoy playing for reasons completely unrelated to any of the gameplay or presentation that I’ve mentioned so far. →  Read the rest

Review – Torchlight

Torchlight should be branded with a warning. The game is pornographic, it’s number porn and clicking porn with a Tolkienesque fantasy fetish thrown into the mix. After loading the game there is a brief introduction to set the scene, and immediately the player begins clicking madly on everything moving.

With each click the characters moan, scream, and produce other sounds juicy with stimulation. Of course it’s not the meaning of the sound they make, it’s the fact that each of these noises is calculated to be so brief and repetitious, fading in and out instantly and producing a peak at just the right tone. It elicits pleasure in the player’s brain, and without thinking he or she understands that another such buzz is only a click away. When the clicking is finished, the number action begins. →  Read the rest

Armored Princess Review: Part II

Sometime while I was busy writing about how much the PC is awesome and how much BioShock sucks I realized that I was still actively playing King’s Bounty: Armored Princess and I’m overdue in my second review installment. I’m probably about half way through the game at this point. Considering I’ve spent a total of 35 hours so far, part of my brain is telling me to play something else that I have hope of finishing; but I just keep trudging on anyway.

Part 1 was about the world of Armored Princess. It dealt with things that people tend to think don’t matter in games. Whenever a critic rambles on about inconsistent details in fantasy worlds then they can expect insane fans to blow their comment section through the roof with defamatory accusations. →  Read the rest

Why I Like Playing Games at my Desk

I like to think of myself as above silly things like console wars, but let’s face it, we all have our certain preferences. When we were kids our preferences came from the fact that our parents would only buy us one console, so whichever one we got was automatically the best. Nintendo’s exclusives were always better than Sega’s exclusives. Sony’s exclusives better than Microsoft’s. Of course if you happened to be the kid who got a Genesis or an Xbox then the reverse became true. As an adult I’m mature enough to understand that each piece of hardware has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each deserve the same amount of respect. But I’m also a human, and I have certain tastes and preferences. They aren’t based on exclusives or brand names anymore, just my personal style. →  Read the rest

Looking Back at BioShock

The release date for BioShock 2 is around the corner; the game is already available for preorder in some places. So I’m going to take this moment to look back at the first game. BioShock one was kind of a big deal when it came out, and it still is; not a lot of games make it to the high 90s on Metacritic. Michael Abbot of brainygamer.com calls it “one of the defining games of its generation.” Calling three years ago a different generation is odd, but given the speed that the videogame culture moves, it’s not unreasonable. For better or for worse the statement is hard to dispute. BioShock left a lasting impression. Journalists for non-game oriented publishers even cite it as an example of how games can be an expressive art form. →  Read the rest

Armored Princess Review: Part I

I’ve been playing King’s Bounty: Armored Princess for almost sixteen hours now. For lots of games that would mean I’m approaching the ending, or perhaps I even surpassed the ending and cycled back to the beginning for another playthrough. Such is not the case with this game, I’ve only traveled to two and a half islands out of… I’m not sure. But judging by my incomplete map I’ve only covered a small percentage of the world. This is my primary motivation for taking a break and writing a partial review. It makes no sense to me if I wait another week or month to complete the entire game and then write a review summarizing all of the dozens of hours, at least those that I can recollect. Is it unfair to judge a game I have not yet finished? →  Read the rest

Some of my Favorite Box Covers of the Decade

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001)

Resident Evil (2002)

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (2003)

Killer 7 (2005)

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (2005)

Contact (2006)

Electroplankton (2006)

Fallout 3 (2008)

Dragon Age: Origins (2009)

And this doesn’t really count as the game doesn’t even come in a box,
but Braid (2008)

Games With No Reviews I Agree With

I realize Metacritic is more than a little unpopular, but despite all of the problems produced by its aggregate scores it still functions well as a convenient index of professional reviews, which is my reason for referencing it in this post.

Gears of War 2 — I came late to the party on the Gears of War franchise, but it still had a fairly active and large fanbase that kept the hype alive and is also what eventually convinced me to play it. When I finally started playing my expectations were set especially high, and thus I was especially shocked when I discovered exactly how much I disliked everything about it. This game was such an unenjoyable experience for me that I went on to write a review of my own. →  Read the rest

Review – Tex Murphy: Under a Killing Moon

After a few minutes of playing Tex Murphy: Under a Killing Moon I realized that this was a game that I’ve always wanted to play but never knew existed until recently. I was quite late to the party since the game came out in the early 90s, back when point and click adventures were cool and “interactive movie” sounded like something futuristic and not something cheesy. It was also a time when technology didn’t quite know what to do with itself; for some reason Access Software couldn’t quite figure out how to use a keyboard and mouse to make someone move around a 2.5D world in a way that makes sense, and there are specific instances where the smooth gameplay suddenly breaks into jagged fragments.

Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to be able to load Tex Murphey in DOSBOX and travel back in time to the past’s virtual imagining of the future. →  Read the rest