Reviews for October/November/December

These are the last few reviews I published at PopMatters for 2014. I do feel I’m getting better at the practice.

Gods Will Be Watching

I really did want to like Gods Will Be Watching. Of course, what person doesn’t want to play a game they wont like. It’s more than that, though. I have a penchant for gravitating towards works of a philosophical bent. Early on we get that the game is about making hard choices in impossible situations and the sacrifices that have to be made. I soldiered through to the end. I know other reviewers that gave up during the second scene and I don’t blame them one bit. Gods Will Be Watching becomes such a deeper work in the following scenes and all the scenes after the near impossible first two are so much easier. It’s so sad. By the end it’s not just about sacrifices and Utilitarianism, but an exploration of Nietzschean metaphysics.

The titles of most disappointing game is usually reserved for a AAA game with massive amounts of hype, but I think this retroactively became my most disappointing game of the year. It’s also a game that needs much more writing about it despite its failure. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is in the new year. Wish me luck.

The Walking Dead Season 2 episode 5

The Walking Dead Season Two ends. I’m still trying to figure out how to review episodic games. The Walking Dead is only my third attempt after Cognition and The Wolf Among Us. In both cases I note how difficult it is to consider the ending. If you’ve been playing up the game up until now, what good is reviewing the ending. Yet, the episodic reviews are like a journey in of themselves. You don’t know where you are going to end up when you review each episode. It also means having to come up with a new angle for each review without becoming repetitive. The episodic format also doesn’t lend itself to explorations given how much they rely on hanging plot threads and dramatic tension to keep going. You can’t spoil that in a review.

With more episodic adventure games on the horizon, Telltale and otherwise, I’m going to try some new approaches in the coming year. I have one or two ideas that I’m going to ask my editor about, if it be okay to try out. At one point Senpai Nick Capozzoli offered to chat on the topic of episodic reviews. Gonna have to take him up on that at some point.

80 Days

It’s set up like a mobile game and functions like a mobile game, but I can’t play 80 Days like a mobile game. Either I sit down to focus on it or no go. Writing the review for this one was equally hard. I like it, hell I might even love the game, but formatting my feelings and observations into words is a difficult thing. Because I like it I want to get people excited about it so they will go and play it. The easiest way to do that is to reveal stories about your own journey and part of the possibility space. That is both word count inflating and more that a little fanficy. I had the same problem with Crusader Kings II. How else to explain this game and convey what makes its so special without writing alternative history?

I eventually hammered it out into something I like. Maybe I should have gone off the beaten path with this one. Expressed the game as a review in a completely different format. Or as Mark Filipowitch called it, an Eric Swain review: a review that talks about something else and only later on remembers it’s about a game. That too would have been time consuming, but perhaps more fruitful.

A Golden Wake

Games like A Golden Wake are why I want to throttle anyone who says commercial games are limited and can only be about X, Y and Z, so come on over to the weird space. Often this is aimed at First Person Shooters or Action/Adventure games with lots of killing. Always, ALWAYS overlooked is the humble adventure game. You know those games with story, more concerned with the player acting out a role like in a stage play where parts of the script are missing. These games can put the player into anyone’s shoes and the best part is that it’s the same amount of work to create no matter what those shoes are. You can be an investigator or the straight man in a comedy as is often the case. Or like with A Golden Wake you could be the main star of a character drama. But no. Commercial, therefore ignore.

A Golden Wake falls into that nebulous zone between commercial mainstream and hipster indie. It doesn’t get its due from the mainstream press who have to focus on the biggest of the big, nor from the smaller indie and itch.io focused smaller publications. All of Wadjet Eye games fall in here. I have yet to play a bad game from that publisher. Not all are sublime, but they are at least solidly good. However, no matter what they always get overlooked by the critical community. Which is really sad, because I think adventure games are better poised than most genres to expand the types of stories that can be told.

Unrest

I backed Unrest on Kickstarter. Mainly it was because it was going to be set in ancient India. The new setting alone was enough to get me interested. The end result doesn’t focus on the game’s India-ness so much as just let it exist. I’m pretty sure an Indian could point out subtle things about the culture going on that I’d never get. It was also labled an RPG, which I state in the review is probably a mistake.

This review was a pain to write, resulting in numerous drafts and almost as much time shuffling paragraphs, sentences and ideas around to get them into a coherent order as I spent writing all of it. One paragraph ending up getting cut completely, but became the basic outline to my post on the game a few weeks back. A post I had to rush to get a deadline and meet a length requirement otherwise it could have ended up double the length if not more. Games that spawn a lot of thoughts are good. This was a lesson in limiting which ones you include. Reviews are not supposed to be comprehensive.

***

Mostly I’ve been writing capital R reviews only for PopMatters. Thinking I may post such reviews for other games I’ve played that PopMatters already has one for here. It will keep me writing and get further experience in the format. I’ve done it before where there have been accidents of scheduling. It’s my own site and there’s no rule I can’t. Not like there could be one, just something I never thought to do.

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