My PopMatters Reviews from 2016

I haven’t written for PopMatters in quite a while. When I went to go upload post an article for them the other week I found that I no longer was able to. Most likely my permissions have been changed. Last year, I did write a number of reviews that I never got around to linking to here. I’m still going to appear on the podcast, but given my current situation with the site, this will most likely be the final roundup of written material I published on PopMatters.

SUPERHOT

I don’t have any unique insights in my review of SUPERHOT. Given that I decided to dust off my creative writing chops and give a feel for the tone of the game’s story while describing how it plays. By shifting repeatedly from the sort of objective third person writing of the reviewer into the first person experiential of the in-game character and back, I tried to evoke to the meta tendencies of the game and surreal vibe of its virtual meditations. And if you’re curious, that 10 out of 10 was supposed to be representative of the game taking over my mind, but yes, it is still a very good game.

The Walking Dead, Michonne ep 1

The Walking Dead: Michonne was the latest in Telltale’s ongoing use of its hit making franchise and so I began another series of episodic reviews. At the time, Telltale had managed to earn quite a lot of goodwill with Tales from the Borderlands, as it was a huge change of pace from the dour and relentlessly cruel tone their other games have marinated in. I was also willing to give them another shot because they were returning to The Walking Dead, the property that made them. But the question on my mind throughout the review was, do they have anything left to say with that franchise?

Shardlight

I have an odd reaction to Francisco Gonzalez’s work. I think he is a master craftsmen in puzzle design, both in their organic implementation, but also their in universe reasonableness. Yet, as I express in the Shardlight review, I feel something lacking that would allow me to evangelize this point-and-click as I have so many others in previous years. I can’t even name why I don’t feel so hot on this game as there are so many great elements in it surrounded by some of the most solid construction a point-and-click adventure game could have.

The Walking Dead, Michonne ep 2

The episode reviews continue with the middle child of The Walking Dead: Michonne miniseries. It’s a little difficult to review something you liked while playing it, but can’t quite remember much to recommend. In the end I analyzed what I thought was the culprit for my positivie feelings towards the experience of playing the second episode, the streamlined momentum. The Michonne miniseries is more of an action story than the interpersonal drama of the two seasons. There are character dynamics, but they are in service to the action movie like sensibilities of this story.

1979 Revolution, Black Friday

1979 Revolution: Black Friday is a game I wanted to like much more than I did. I was positive on the whole, but I felt certain artistic decisions let it down rather than help prop it up like I expect it thought it would. The framing device was the big one. I think was suppose to help give feedback to the choices made during the game by showing the consequences years down the line, but instead it got in the way of the story of the revolution itself. Certain aspects felt like they were in there for the need to be a game rather than the need to express to the player what the time period was like.

Kathy Rain, A Detective is Born

Kathy Rain: A Detective is Born is the other masterclass in point-and-click adventure game puzzle design. I gave a special shout out to Joel Staaf Hästö in the review for being that good. But unlike the above Shardlight, I felt the material of Kathy Rain‘s story to have that greater purpose and weight. The characterization was deeper and the revelations meant more to them and to the themes of the work itself. For some reason the image shown on the author’s page and the one used in the review itself are different. I wish they’d gone with the more evocative image used in the thumbnail instead of the dime store paperback cover look.

The Walking Dead, Michonne ep 3

The Walking Dead: Michonne finishes it’s three episode run. I asked in the first review if Telltale had anything left to say with The Walking Dead franchise. I had been holding off on answering that question definitively until this review. There were hints of them doing new things, but I didn’t know how it would all work out. The ending was really important and I felt they manged to present something new to the zombie apocalypse, mental illness, in a nuanced way that most video games fail to manage.

Fragments of Him

I like the comparison I made of Fragments of Him, calling it the most French New Wave of a video game I’ve ever played. At some point I’d like to discuss with someone the idea of Ludum Dare full releases being the French New Wave of our medium, but that is another matter. Unfortunately, it’s also the most interesting thing I could think of to say about Fragments of Him. Because the other main thought I had about it was: why is this a game? I didn’t mean in the dismissive parlance of a video game forum, but what does it use of the medium that necessitated it be a video game. It has one or two tricks, but mostly could have been an audio drama.

The Way

And my final video game review for PopMatters was The Way. I was a Kickstarter backer for this game. I don’t regret backing the game even if I ultimately didn’t like it. The Way‘s developers took inspiration from Another World and it certainly shows, but while playing, it feels like that was all surface level inspiration. A lot of the fine detailing and purpose behind why many of things were the way they were in Another World weren’t translated over or understood. Other than that, it’s an infuriatingly hard game, giving little to no feedback as to why you fail. Are you on the wrong path or just hit the button a split second too late?

***

And with that, my reviews (and other writings) for PopMatters seems to be at and end. I’ll still continue to appear on the podcast for the time being. I wrote the reviews mainly because I needed to write and the structure of a general overview helped facilitate that end. I also felt obligated to write them when I got a code from a developer.

I have a one or two codes from last year I never got around to typing up reviews for and may do so in the near future, simply to get them off my conscious. I also feel like I’ll continue to do the episodic reviews. Watching the journey of an evolving opinion still appeals to me. But otherwise, no. I think I’m done with reviews for now.

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