Reviews for March/April/May

I stopped writing PopMatters columns back in March for a number of reason, all of which have to do with being super busy trying to get technical things to work and those things refusing to. I really want to get back to writing again instead of staring at code sheets, but at least I kept up with the reviews at any rate.

Shadowrun, Dragonfall

I love Shadowrun: Dragonfall. When I finished the game I exclaimed on twitter that I hoped I wouldn’t even up being hyperbolic when I say it is the front runner for my game of the year. Two months later and it is still in serious contention. I noted in the review that so far the Shadowrun Returns games remind me of the Baldur’s Gate franchise given their narrative arcs. It’s an idea that I wish I could have gone into more detail and I still may.  A full look at the idea is going to require spoilers and not really fit for a review.

In rereading the review, other than one or two things I think I managed to explain myself pretty well. One or two minor typos, most of which I find get inserted in editing I find. Still I think it works as a whole. Really hard to work out that balance.

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 2

It is simultaneously frustrating and fun to write reviews on episodic games. On the one hand you have to keep finding new things to say about what is fundamentally the same game, but also you get become more focused in your analysis in trying distill what makes this episode tick. With The Walking Dead s2e2 you have 7 prior pieces to work with. Quite a few people have been down on Season 2 overall, but like with season 2 of The Wire I feel that might have to do with something different being done and it running against expectations. The first season was a series of connected, yet independent arcs, while I feel season 2 is a singular work broken up. That difference may be the problem for most people.

The score got left off the review for some reason, if that matters at all. Probably for the best. I thought it was better than the first and that’s all you really need to understand. The specifics are what matter and this case I focus on Clementine’s character and her interaction with others, especially her dialogue with Carver. The real highlight of the episode.

The Room Two

I reviewed the original The Room last year and came away from it really positive. The game worked as a tactile touch based puzzle game. However, I really pulled back on the continuation. The Room Two isn’t a sequel as it is part two. Thinking like that the game makes sense as it builds upon the first. The Room Two isn’t one room, but a series of rooms. It makes sense, but it doesn’t work as well as the first game.

I thought I did a good job writing the review itself, but senpai Nick Capozzoli knocked that down pointing out I don’t explain the game itself all to well. I wrote with assumption the player had played the first one as I spent most of the time comparing the differences instead of explaining what it was. The language was nice, but did I convey what it was?

The String Arcade

Like I say in the review, I don’t know much about music. No critic, no matter how well read and experienced can be versed in everything. But, I was given a copy of The String Arcade album and since PopMatters technically is a music site, and it deserves whatever attention I could give it. The music is really nice, but not something I’d just listen to in the background. It’s the kind of piece that need to be paid attention to.

The Wolf Among Us episode 3

I actually asked someone to read over The Wolf Among Us episode 3 review before I sent it in because I thought I had something with it, but I couldn’t tell anymore. And after some minor fixing up I got a piece that is less like a review and more like a basic pamphlet on legal ethics and morality 101. The issue isn’t in an arbitrary good/evil binary, but how it is used in various situations. I think any more than any other game this year The Wolf Among Us is proving how much presentation of ideas matters.

When it doesn’t matter as much because people have already bought the game it’s nice to be ale to stretch one’s fingers.

Moebius, Empire Rising

Moebius: Empire Rising is a game that I’m surprised got as much attention as it did. That’s the doldrums for you. It’s nice that an unconventional game got attention and an adventure game at that, but did it really have to be this one. It’s not very good, but it’s entertainingly bad enough that I gave it a passing grade at the very least. Most didn’t comment on that aspect of it and I don’t blame them. The Room and Plan 9 from Outer Space aren’t for everyone either. Especially if you aren’t in the exact right frame of mind.

Though given its release I’m really disappointed that this is the game that got everyone’s attention. Jane Jenson’s name may be attached, but I’m dubious as to how earned her reputation is. It seems to be based solely on the original Gabriel Knight as none of her recent efforts have been well liked.

The Blackwell Epiphany

I bought the whole catalog of Wadjet Eye published games a while ago and only played two. Then I was on tap to get the final installment of the Blackwell series and now was as good a time as any to get through the whole series. Point-and-click adventure games are coming out all the time now and it disappoints me that Moebius gets all the mainstream attention while masters of the craft like Dave Gilbert are left to the genre circles. Everything I’ve played of their studio’s output (both in developing their own and publishing others) has been great. The Blackwell Epiphany is no exception.

It closes out a series I may not have been with long, but it one I really felt close to at the end. I like that he ended it instead of making up new serialized adventures to just to pad it out. I may not have liked the ending, I felt it lacking and yet because of that I thought it was an appropriate send off. The review was hell to write though.

***

While most people write them off I’ve been making a concerted effort to get good at this practice. I’m with Nick Capozzoli on this. Reviews are worth people’s time, it’s just no one is willing to put the work in or are too scared to. Score culture and all that. But there is a place for holistic criticism, in fact I’d argue that it’s even more important to do that and get a solid foundation on which to get more specific.

If I wanted I could do the easy thing and pound out a basic category style review like it was out of the early 00s, but I’m trying to put in the work and hone the skills to do it right. The thing is not to go too far in the other direction and end up not writing a review at all. Sometimes I hit that balance, sometimes I miss it, but I’m working on it.

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