In this time of reflection and end of year lists, I’m going to take a moment to reflect instead on the games I wrote reviews for in the past two months. I’m doing it early because PopMatters is on hiatus until the new year and the rest of the reviews I have lined up will go up then.
What is there left to say about the PSN downloadable title Rain? No, seriously what is there left to say. I was struggling to fill out the word count on this one. On a purely aesthetics level, the game is a wonder to look at. The level design and art direction are evocative and lovely to look at, but beyond the striking look of the work, I feel at a loss to further explore it. It’s a strange paradox where it looks like it should be talked about, but I fail to find anything to say.
Beyond: Two Souls was a game I didn’t think I was going to like, but then I did. Somewhere in the hype machine David Cage learned to speak in a way that turns most people off his game and makes them predispositioned to tearing them apart rather than allowing them to take the piece for what it is. It’s this disposition I feel that causes people to react far more harshly towards it than they might have had it come from a different developer and a different studio. But then it wouldn’t be Beyond without Cage. For such a polarizing game, I remain on the like side of the scale, but remained utterly baffled by some of the artistic decisions made in its creation. If the comments are to be believed then I am getting better at my review writing.
I’ve tried a couple of different things over the course of my writing reviews for PopMatters, a few experiments as it were. None were more experimental than my attempt with The Stanley Parable. This was the game that seem to give every reviewer license to get creative and bring out their inner British narrator. Most were simply exercises in trying to convey the sense of tone while writing a normal review. I decided to go a different route. As The Stanley Parable deconstructs the notion of the video game and The Stanley Parable demo deconstructs what we know of the video game demo, I seemed to have tried with The Stanley Parable review to deconstruct the video game review. I use tidbits from the game to form the basis of the abstract rational behind consumer reviews and muster the basic tone of the game.
In the end it was a pieced together thing from 4 false starts and other random paragraphs assembled into the shape of a video game review. I am really proud of this one. In case you’re wondering, I went to my D&D dice bag, got out a 10-sided die and rolled it for the score. It landed on 8, so the game got an 8.
Lily Looking Through was another game that I would describe as delightful, but I rate it higher than Rain, because it is doing some interesting design concepts. It doesn’t feel like it is going through the motions of a paint by numbers creative endeavor. It’s more like ‘child’s first adventure game.’ Many of the puzzles are based on concepts learned in pre-school or are easily grasped by children. It is completely wordless and has a genuine spark of inspiration behind it. This is why I don’t really subscribe to hold fast truisms. It is a delightful game, but I don’t use it as a back handed description. It knows what it wants to be and does it admirably. If nothing else as a critic or designer you should try it out and expand your mind a little further on what can be accomplished with a more limited tool set of conveying information to the player.
This review of Knock Knock is a specific lesson in what not to do with a review. Knock Knock is such a different playing game with so many pieces that have to come together to get the basic understanding of what is going on. There are no quick terms to delineate understanding. It doesn’t ape any recognizable traditions or have a strong narrative throughway to hang an explanation of the game. Unfortunately, my lack of understanding about the more nuanced pieces lead to me over explaining other sections. This is what caused me to remark on twitter, ‘Do not teach the player how to play the game in a review. That is the game’s job.’ I feel like my attempt was too mechanical and trying to explain how all the pieces functioned instead of how the game felt, which in Knock Knock’s case is far more important.
Poor advocacy is my biggest fear regarding a review. There’s nothing more disheartening than turning people off of what is a great experience. In that case it isn’t the game’s fault or it’s marketing, but me and my slow brain, unable to think of the right way to phrase it. It took a long while for me to describe Crusader Kings II to my own satisfaction. With smaller indie game with fewer advocates or maybe just one, the onus is greater to get it right. I hate it when I mess up like I fear I did here.
Episodic gaming is becoming more and more prevalent. I can think of six off of the top of my head in this year alone, where last year it was only one. I may have spent more time expounding on the concept in the Steve Jackson’s Sorcery Episode 2 review than was perhaps necessary, but most of my points on the game as a whole can be found back in my review of episode 1. My feelings on series hasn’t changed. The presentation has simply added more than I thought could be added. It went in new directions and kept the experience as a whole fresh. What more could anyone ask for? Faster releases I suppose, but you take them when they come. Halfway there now.
Another review I’m not quite happy with. The Shivah is a mystery game and a short one at that. This probably caused me to hold too much back than was good for a proper exploration of the game. With some games you can outright say how it is going to end without ruining the experience. With some genre’s it really is about the moment to moment experience. Mysteries do require the audience to be in the dark. It’s in their very nature. Add in a mystery where the main focus is the player actually solving it through puzzles and you’ve cut off quite a bit of material to latch on to. I don’t think I came up with the right balance. I liked the direction I took it in even if I didn’t feel qualified enough to speak on Wadjet Eye Game’s full gameography and where The Shivah fits in. I’m still working my way through their catalog.