Reviews for June/July/August

The summer months are slow and that apparently makes me slow. Anyway here are the reviews I actually managed to finish writing.

1954 Alcatraz

When in doubt and bored with the game, make the review interesting. Daedelic Entertainment and I have a running thing with their published adventure games. I keep reviewing them and, so far, with a single exception they keep disappointing me. 1954: Alcatraz is no exception to the pattern. There’s only so many times you can say a game is a bland, puzzle intensive adventure game that exercises all of the worst design attributes that killed the genre so long ago. So I decided to engage in a little creative writing along side it. This lead to some really bad old slang and very poor attempts at beat poetry.

Thankfully no one cared to get up in arms about it. Though really those are the best games to experiment with the review format. If it works, yay. If not, meh.

The Walking Dead Season 2 episode 3

After a rocky start and a damn good follow up, I felt that episode 3 finally reached the heights of the previous season. The Walking Dead has decidedly strayed even further from its point-and-click routes moving more and more towards interactive fiction. I noted elsewhere that there is only a single item puzzle in the entire episode and it’s only technically an item puzzle. For this episode, it was the structure that did it for me. Pitting the group against an actual antagonist is a first for the video game and interesting enough on its own, but the execution and the repeated verses of scenes really put this one over the top.

We didn’t really do episodic reviews at PopMatters before I took the reigns of Telltale’s franchises. It is kind of a difficult prospect. On the one hand you don’t want to keep repeating yourself as to certain aspects of the game and likewise you don’t want to turn it into a straight recap. I’ve been taking a few cues from television reviews and if nothing else doing so helped get me over the ‘what do I say this time’ hump.

Tesla Effect

I had completely forgotten about this Kickstarter game. I knew nothing about the Tex Murphy franchise other than it was an FMV point-and-click adventure game. But then a message appeared in my inbox asking if I wanted a review copy. Of course I did. The opening really got me excited for the experience and the first few hours were a joy to try out this new format of HD real life video. But as time wore on it succumbed to more and more of the old school adventure game bullshit. I figured the devs would have the sense of what to bring and what to overhaul in the update.

It was another boilerplate game with the same problems review so out came the dusty creative writing skills again. This time seeped in hard boiled detective noir instead of beat poetry. Don’t know why I decided to personify Tesla Effect as a client wanting advice, but I did. I am interested in the format though. So if a game could come along and do it justice I’d be much appreciative.

Murdered, Soul Suspect

I’m noticing a theme with my reviews. This time it’s with a AAA 3D adventure game. I really like Murdered: Soul Suspect and I wish a few of the lesser design decisions had made the cutting room floor. It’s not going to wow anybody, but this is a damn good example of big studio gamecraft excellence. There are a lot of small design decision that I wish found their way into more games. And I didn’t manage to fit this into the review proper, but the mystery is a damn good one. Everything is logical, as it can be given the supernatural setup, and has a surprise twist ending I didn’t see coming. It’s the kind of game that deserves more attention than it got, but isn’t the game one would champion from the rooftops until it got it. It falls between the cracks and probably will never get the level of recognition it deserves.

The Wolf Among Us episode 5

And so The Wolf Among Us comes to a close. Despite it being an episodic game, the consensus is that it should not be played as such. This is more in the Netflix style of episodes than the weekly TV show. I liked its ending more than most. I cannot say how much of my liking the comic source material has to do with that, but there it is. I put a lot of effort into this review. Rewrote it several times. At this point I ignored any and all pretense towards trying to evaluate specifics and went for the philosophical holistic read of the game.

The Walking Dead Season 2 episode 4

Another Telltale review. I told you the summer months were slow. It interesting to hear all the reactions to the latest season of the The Walking Dead and how many lines get crossed in what people think of each episode. In particular, it seems Rowan Kaiser and myself can’t agree on a single one. I think this is the weakest episode of this season. It just retreads too much group and the shocking moments aren’t shocking anymore. It has become plot without pathos. That’s not to say there aren’t great moments and a high quality of writing, but overall it just wasn’t up to snuff.

There was a controversy about Sarah’s death and I’ll have more to say about that later when the podcast on this episode comes out. Sufficed to say in the review I filed that under “trying to top themselves through body count.”

It strange how art affects us. I’m a little happy that a Telltale episode disappointed me. It reasserts my critical acumen or at least convinces me that I’m not just giving them a pass for doing what other developers wont try.

***

I’ve still got a bunch of reviews in the storehouse that I’ve got to get writing. It’s something about August. I go through a minor existential crisis every time and end up getting like no work done. It kind of sucks.

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