A Tale of Two Reviews

I’ve written two reviews in the past week for PopMatters. One on Jonas Kyratzes’ The Sea Will Claim Everything and the other on Borderlands 2. I could make a grand connecting statement like this being the true blue indie verses the AAA goliath, but really they’re just two games I played that I noticed reviews hadn’t been written for yet. Though I wont deny there were a lot of opposites in both my opinion and writing the reviews.

I’m not going to compare them. I’m going to take them as their own individual elements and let you draw your own conclusions. Consider this getting two posts for the click of one.

The Sea Will Claim Everything

I was given a review copy of this just before Nightmare Mode closed down for restructuring. I actually had a review scheduled for posting there before they shut down and hasn’t seen the light of day yet. This was supposed to be the subject of my next post there, but that got left out in the wind. Now I felt guilty having this game on hand from an artist hard up for both money and attention. I got a copy for free and lost my platform with which to evangelize should I like it. I thought if nothing else I could at least help with my blog, so I played it. Thankfully my editor at PopMatters is always willing to help indies out and said he’d be delighted to publish a review on it.

It took five straight days of writing and editing to get it in its current form and I still don’t really like it. I just don’t feel I was able to convey what I feel about it properly in around 800 words. My biggest problem with it was I was never able to talk about the art of the game properly. And I just thought of a line while writing this that I wish I had put in the review.

The problem with the art style is that it doesn’t work in screenshots; it only works while playing the game. Yes, they are still images in the game, but it is the act of doing things, listening to the music and otherwise existing in the world that the art come alive. It functions to facilitate the emotional and thematic resonance of the game.

Why couldn’t I think of that earlier? Actually that goes on further to help me come to terms with my appreciation of the game. I really like it. It’s like The Sea Will Claim Everything was especially crafted just for me. It hits too many of my buttons when it comes to creative works not to be that it’s uncanny. But that’s while playing it or thinking on the philosophical implications of it. In think of the game as a whole it doesn’t work as well for me. I think that might be because it is a game that works much better whilst existing in it than it does as a memory after the fact. As it’s a game set in the Land of Dreams, that just makes it more brilliant to me.

The more realizations I have about it the more I regret scoring it as I did. I gave it an 8, because that’s what my reflection of it was at the time. I sort of regret it as it’s a game that I keep think of. Maybe I should have given it a 9. A small difference numerically, but it is a big jump artistically (in as much as these things can be assigned numbers at all). On the other hand, I remember that ending and the very unsubtle, in-your-face nature of it that thrusts the message and theme at you. Jonas has written an inspired defense against subtlety that I can appreciate, but then I have judge the work on its own merits. Then again I did compare it to Candide, which kind of belies then notion that such a technique isn’t a part of the value of the work.

See. See this right here is why it’s so good. This is a game I just want to pick apart to like a man dismantling his pocket watch to see how all the gears and springs fit together. I pick over every little detail. I want to see the underlying craft and technique of the work and how it facilitates the experience. I want to critique the hell out of this thing at some point.

I hope I got some people to buy it because of my words.

Borderlands 2

This review was very easy to write and took less than half an hour. My descriptions and opinions just came much more easily, possibly because they were much more pedestrian.

This one got more comments than anything of mine had gotten recently, so I figure I do better by responding to some of the points they brought up than just meandering about how I wrote it. Though I will say that this is an object lesson in assuming things about another writer on the internet.

It took you almost two months to give a crappy review. Maybe you should have played the first game and paid more attention to the dialog in the second one to know who the characters were.

I wasn’t slated to write this review. In fact, no one was. We never received a review copy. It took two months because I played the game in my own time. It’s only later when I became curious as to what PopMatter’s review said that I found we hadn’t written one. I asked my editor and he said he’d take it. As for paying attention, that’s a point I ran out of space to bring up. I paid as much attention as the foley allowed me to. The sound effects are great, but the sound mixing leaves a lot to be desired. Explosions and shootouts would garble entire sentences. And these messages would trigger with no warning while you’re doing something and you’d miss it. Also, knowing about the characters doesn’t mean I care about them. Also, another problem is that the game will never just get to the point. I will end up having to do a number of little tasks that have no relevance on anything before I get to do the part of the story mission that is actually part of the plot.

I can’t believe I actually read this review. What a waste of time…..just like the time it took you to write it. Shameful excuse for a review. Rather don’t put your ideas on the internet…..it makes you look clueless.

Feeling’s mutual.

The next three quotes are the same comment.

I see the frustration from this review and I have to agree with your critics. I read the review twice, and after thinking about it for some time I have to say that I think while some of your points were accurate, many are just simply not the case. First of all, borderlands is unique not because of dialogue, graphics, story or guns. It is unique because it is an online, 4 player co op, shooter/RPG.

Good thing, because I didn’t say any of those things were particularly¬†unique.

I’ve played games for 15 years and never seen a game that fits all those genres. Second of all, the Skills you acquire and incredibly diverse enemy AI you face makes it not only a challenge but keeps the experience new and fun. Thirdly, it seems from your article that you played this game single player only. It should be noted that as a single player game this is not a worthwhile story or product, but gearbox knows that and has made it very clear that this game is much more fun, enthralling, and team oriented the more people you have with you.

Here’s where we get into assuming territory. I did play it co-op all the way through. My friends were right there beside me on the couch. Thank god, because I couldn’t drive those damn donkey carts at all. And during the better-designed side quests we were getting our combo attack on.

Also, yes the enemy AI was diverse, but not in the way that makes you play differently. Shoot, shoot, special ability, shoot some more, grenade, shoot, loot the corpses.

Lastly, with 4 people free roaming all over the zone at once it admittedly makes it hard to develop a meaningful story and complex quest lines, but if you listen to the echos you can easily peice it all together.

To say borderlands 2 is just another streamlined shooter with nothin to offer but cartoon graphics and some funny lines is, I’m sorry, simply not fact.

I mentioned why listening to things in this game is a difficult proposition at times. And I will quote my review on this: “By then, I had managed to piece together who everyone was and what the main conflict was about. But it was too late.” I know what was going on now, I didn’t for the first 10 hours because of busywork and poor sound mixing.

I never said it was fact. It’s opinion.

“But, I know what I’ll do,” you say. “I’ll put words into people’s mouths so that I can strawman my way through a review about a game that I really didn’t pay any attention to while I played it which technically makes me completely unqualified to comment on said game, PLUS I can give it an uninformed low score so I can seem unique in a flood of critics who loved it, AND claim some hipster cred for myself and then everyone will love me and I’ll feel like less of a disappointment to my overcritical parents.”

This one has a legitimate point about he review. I’m sorry, I know he didn’t mean to, but he does. I made the stylistic choice to do like it was a psudo-conversation because it would have been too boring otherwise. Borderlands 2 just isn’t that interesting to write about. It would have ended up being a bullet point list otherwise.

As for the score. Uninformed? No. Low score? No.

It’s not a low score. It’s not a high score. A 5 is right in the fucking middle. Look at the score rubric literally 2 inches to your left. A 5 means average. That’s what Borderlands 2 was to me, average, run-of-the-mill, standard fare, nothing wrong with it, but nothing special about it either. Will I get hipster cred? I think we both know the answer to that is no. I knew it ahead of time and you knew it before you wrote your comment. I’m going to get hate and bile for writing this and I’m okay with that. I said what I believed. If I didn’t say it well, that’s another matter. One you didn’t bring up.

Oh and on the subject on strawmen. From the review: “Borderlands 2 isn’t about the story.” From the comment literally above yours: “First of all, borderlands is unique not because of dialogue, graphics, story or guns.”

From the review: “But the world is different. It’s colorful and cartoony,” you say. “It’s also got a sense of humor.” The title of a Forbes piece: “Borderlands 2’s Greatest Weapon: Humor.” From the Wall Street Journal’s good writing on the game: “The colorfully, cartoonish art style emphasizes just how comically oversized everything in this game is, from the steroidal proportions of one player character’s deltoid muscles to the gargantuan acid and lava-spewing beasts that dwarf you entirely.”

From the review: “The game changes when you level up and get new abilities and can tweak your characters with the right guns, shields, and relics to match.” From IGN’s review: “Love to collect loot, level up a hero and shoot guys in the face? Then get Borderlands 2 right now.”

From the review: “So, you’re saying it’s a bad game?” From the comment you just wrote: “PLUS I can give it an uninformed low score so I can seem unique in a flood of critics who loved it…”

These aren’t the words of a strawman; these are things that have been said. Hell, most of them aren’t opinion, but merely descriptions of the game without assertion to their quality. The whole purpose of them was not to make fun of people, but to connect otherwise disparate paragraphs.

And finally:

This is the result of English majors taking a break while working at McDonalds. Please hurry up with my fries and stop trying to review games you have no business reviewing.

Never worked at a McDonalds. Worked at a deli once. Although I find it weird you wouldn’t want someone whose studied writing and criticism to write a critique. Number one thing editors look for in a reviewer is someone who knows how to write.

Alright, that’s enough catharsis. In all seriousness, I just don’t care. Most of the time people say “I don’t care” they mean it with spite and venom to hurt the person they say it to like they aren’t worth their time or consideration, when really I just don’t care. Borderlands 2 was never on my radar as a game I wanted to play. I fell into it. It’s quality, success or failure have no impact on my life, my hopes or expectations for the game. I’m disappointed in the game, but not for myself. I didn’t buy. My friend bought it because he wanted to play a co-op game. He wanted a reason to come over to my house and play a game on the couch. I’m just sorry it was this one.

I wasn’t playing it for me. I wasn’t playing it for work. I wasn’t playing it for the experience. I was playing it for the guy sitting next to me, who had spent $60 on it. I don’t care about Borderlands 2. If it suddenly disappeared from reality I wouldn’t bat an eye, but likewise its continued existence doesn’t bother me. I don’t like it, but in that vein I don’t dislike it either. It’s just there. It doesn’t bring anything negative into this world, but should it vanish the world wouldn’t lose much of anything either. In my eyes it’s a net 0. That’s what I mean when I say I don’t care.

It’s forgettable entertainment that I probably wont remember, unless someone else keeps bringing it up. If anyone wants to debate me on the merits of Borderlands 2, come on in, I’m game. I’m not going to go out of my way to argue about it. It doesn’t inspire enough of anything for me to bother.

Like I said in the review. It was something designed to wile away the time and if that’s what you want or like in your media, more power to you. Enjoy.

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