The doldrums of the early months of the year have allowed for some catch up to games I didn’t have time for. Both for my own personal enjoyment and as for reviews. In fact all but one of the games I reviewed were from the very end of last year that the 3 reviews a week schedule wouldn’t allow for. Ok, that’s not entirely honest. I was swamped and couldn’t play them until PopMatters went on break.
All critics have their ideas about how reviews should go, but over the years I’m less inclined to give it and instead put my money where my mouth is and put my ideas into practice. Combine that with a sense of experimentation and trying out what works and you can see the vague evolution my reviews have been taking. I feel like I’ve hit some sort of stride in these last few months with regards to form, even knocking one or two out of the park.
The Novelist is a game I’ll want to look closer at some later point in time. It’s essentially a choose your own adventure book set in 3D space. And thanks to it being about non-conventional subject matter for a video game I feel this is one of my better reviews thanks to its observations. One idea of what a review should be is a precise description of the work to evoke what the work is about and what the experience is like. I trended more that form with this one and I think it worked given the game’s own literary tendencies.
I hate coming off harsh on indie games. But Redshirts attempts are deconstructing a tired worldview and ends up replicating it. I usually don’t put my own specific play experiences in reviews because I feel they come off a bit narcissistic, but I feel the one I used in this review was well warranted to make my point about its limited options and outcomes. I also feel I harped upon the cynicism aspect of the game a bit too much and might have come off repetitive, but again I’m not sure there wasn’t much more to say about the game.
We like episodic games at PopMatters. Not just because they tend to be very good, but because it allows us to get multiple reviews for the price of a single game. And that’s a big bonus when you are struggling to fill the days. The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 1 was also the review where you can see the beganning of the trend that Mark Filipowich summed up nicely with this tweet saying, “I’m fond of my FFXIII-3 review. Totally Swained it(Swain v.to review in a manner unrecognizable by common review standards).”
I start by addressing the content of the game itself, but soon shift into a discussion of its placement in the larger context of Telltale’s The Walking Dead as a whole, especially given how high the critical assessment of the first season was. One could see it as a continuation of my Telltale columns that I posted around the time.
Full disclosure: I backed Broken Age on Kickstarter. The review was a difficult nut to crack, but it was a simple matter once I grabbed onto the opening framing metaphor of the opening screen showing the two divided halves of the story. It seemed to encapsulate everything Broken Age was about. Both in the internal narrative, the external narrative of the adventure game genre itself and the fact the game was split into two parts. It also helped the format of the review, itself split into two parts between given the context in which to critique it and then the evaluation of the game itself. That structure was so important to getting this review right.
And this is the review where I think I may have completely gone off the edge. Often after finishing a game I’ll go back and see what our review had to say. I did that for The Wolf Among Us and found we hadn’t done one for episode 1. (I have ended up writing a review about a game more than once this way.) So this gets to be a combined review. I also spend more than half of it talking about anything, but the content of the game, instead writing diatribes on context, asides about characters and a repeat on episodic structures. I was down on the review when I submitted it, but upon rereading it, I don’t think it came out too badly.
Originally I wanted to try and be more precise with what I said about a game. Then it evolved into evoking for the reader what it was like to play it and then what the game was about. Now I seem to be more interested in contextualizing the game into its larger ecosystem. I have no idea where I’ll be in two months time.