Batman: Arkham Origins

It’s scarily easy to make Batman look pathetic.

What’s this fall’s most-anticipated new TV show directed exclusively at nerds? Well, probably the new The Flash show, thanks to its devotion to comic-book style storytelling and reliance on sexy young men as major characters.

But that’s sort of irrelevant right now, since in a clear second place, we get Gotham, another DC universe adaptation, although how much of an adaptation it really is is sort of in doubt. Originally it was supposed to be a cop show based around increasingly more outlandish and supernormal criminals, who would of course be cadet Batman villains, but then it became apparent that this wouldn’t have wide enough appeal, and it became straight up Smallville with Batman instead of Superman.

I mention Gotham because it’s only the second Batman prequel to come out in a year – the other is highly successful video game and Grand Theft Auto V’s lone, audacious competitor, Batman: Arkham Oranges.

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Deus Ex: The Fall

A bit more of a conventional review today, folks…insofar as that term can be applied to several pages of discourse on a glorified expansion pack for a cult video game, prepared eleven months after anyone anywhere cared.

That said, let’s talk about that cult video game. Deus Ex, a 2000 RPG game, is the Gone With The Wind of video games. For ages it’s been frequently cited as one of the capital-letter Best Ever, and it features broad entertainment in perennial genres mixed with some seriously deep ruminations and excellent character development. For all that, though, it isn’t popular with modern audiences at all because of how mired it is in the bygone age when it was made.

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Metro: Last Light

Metro: Last Light is the sequel to the stellar indie game Metro 2033. 2k33 was a very intelligent game, with an excellent premise for an action-horror FPS: The game took place twenty years or so after a nuclear holocaust, where the survivors had managed to seal themselves inside the vast and labyrinthine Moscow Metro system. For a while, things were okay – subway stations turned into villages, tunnels into trade routes, and so on – but then hideous mutant creatures started appearing (I guess no post-nuclear game can escape the influence of the Fallout series, which is sorta sad because I always enjoy harder sci-fi in games). You control Artyom (You’ll be safe with “ar-CHOM”) an unassuming, fresh-faced kid who leaves his station for the first time, and goes on an expedition through both the Metro and the blasted, sterile landscape above as he finds a way to deal with the supernatural mutants once and for all.

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BioShock Infinite

DISCLAIMER: It’s no secret that this blog doesn’t get very high viewership, or that writing down my rambling and snarky thoughts on these works of art is more for my benefit than anyone else’s. As a consequence, please note that this will go on for much longer than normal.

And once more with feeling – your playing experience will be very much spoiled by this review. If you just came here for a yea or nay, you should play the game, by all means – you’ll probably enjoy at least some parts of it.

References within references within references…this was fun to make.

It’s impossible to talk about BioShock Infinite without talking about its lineage. The game is the sequel to 2007’s BioShock, one of the best known and most influential games in history. BioShock is a true work of art, and unlike some other games which share that distinction it’s also a really fun game in its own right.

 

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Dead Space 3

yearlateds3

2008’s Dead Space was a self-proclaimed love letter to the sci-fi horror genre, and was one of the last specimens of a dying breed: The AAA-developed horror title.

Jim Sterling of the Escapist has gone over this in more depth than I care to, but I’ll sum it up: Because horror games have a niche market, big distributors and developers are less willing to take a chance on them over products with a wider appeal. Thus, horror games are usually the province of smaller developers. This has led to some big successes for startup companies, like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender: Source and Outlast. The drawback to this is we’ve lost the grand, theatrical style of horror games that we got until the beginning of the previous console generation; F.E.A.R., Resident Evil, Metro 2033…the list goes on.

Yes, major developers, we’ve all seen Aliens – we know that the logical progression for a horror franchise is to make it more action and character focused. The problem is that when you do that, it stops being a horror game and just becomes an action game with the lights turned off. All the franchises I mentioned above have neglected their horror roots in favor of becoming more generic shooters…except for Dead Space. The third and latest game in that franchise makes a decent attempt to stay a horror game, but commits a few unforgivable sins in the process.

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Far Cry 3

For those of you just tuning in, my Assassin’s Creed 3 review had me notice several similarities in that game to FarCry 3 – similarities which I attributed to the two games being developed by the same studio, and released within a month pf each other. I haven’t been the first to see this, and I also won’t be the first to say that the latter game, and today’s subject, fares much better for its stint in the Ubisoft mixing bowl than ACIII did.

I haven’t played the previous installments in the FarCry franchise – in fact, my only previous experience with it has been a riff session with some friends of the Uwe Boll movie – so I went into it dry, not knowing what to expect outside of the accounts from reviewers, which praised the game for the joy that it brought to exploration, but didn’t like the near-complete lack of any story or structure to the game’s world.

This problem has been mitigated, but it still remains. There’s a whole lot of things to do in the game, and they‘re all satisfying and make for a coherent flow of gameplay, but quite a few of them don’t have any real incentive. The reason FarCry 3 is such a great game, though, is because of how effortlessly it manages to combine this varied gameplay with a tight, deconstructive and well-scripted story.

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Assassin’s Creed 3

*Native american gibberish*

The Assassin’s Creed series follows the ancient conspiracy between the Knights Templar (bad guys) and the Assassins (good guys), as their intricate, shadowy, and Greek mythology-based plots converge around the protagonist, Percy Jackson – I mean, Desmond – who uses ill-defined technology to relive the memories of his ancestors through the medium of open-world, stealth-heavy RPGs.

The series is probably the perfect cross-section of how the notoriously fickle triple-A gaming industry has changed over the past console generation. The first game, a 2007 trip to the 12th century Middle East, was praised for its unique concept and excellent design, which was enough to overshadow its lackluster gameplay and confusing story. The sequel came out in late 2009, and iterated on the original concept by moving the time period to the more recognizable Renaissance-era Italy, while also shoring up the gameplay issues and having a more coherent and basic plot.

And then the critical and financial success of the series started to cause problems. I’ll say up front that I’m perfectly fine with supplemental material for sprawling franchises like this – providing more information or gameplay for fans who want it while not being necessary for the casual player’s enjoyment of the central games.

From what I can tell, Ubisoft have the first aspect down pat, but are still struggling a bit with the second. Between numbers 2 and 3 we’ve had no less than six tie-in games, with a seventh released alongside the latter (most of which contain pivotal story elements, and none of which I’ve played), in addition to a slew of novels, comic books, short films, and other mounds of Styrofoam packing peanuts, surrounding a package – the real, serious, numbered games – that I actually quite enjoy. (more…)

Black Mesa

It’s not Half-Life’s birthday – Blocky Scientist doesn’t get a candle.

It says a lot about video games as both an art form and a medium in general that Black Mesa, fan remake of landmark first-person shooter Half-Life, was even thought of, much less made. In Hollywood, remakes have never really been popular, even in the drought of intellectual property that has afflicted the film industry in the past decade – the logic usually being “How much could you change the original while still repeating it?” from an artistic standpoint, and “Why would people pay to see this when they could just get the original?” from the marketing side.

In video game territory, though, remakes are a near-necessity at this point. The trend of shunning backwards compatibility will continue into the next decade (I’m exclusively a PC gamer, in case you didn’t know), so remaking old video games for newer formats is the only way anyone without an obsolete system can play them – and since games more often than not sell themselves on looks, updating the game’s visuals is practically a necessity. I will try to focus solely on the changes to Black Mesa, rather than rehashing the original.

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Spec Ops: The Line

No pictures in this one, folks - replaying the game was enough of a chore, taking screenshots was just too much.

No pictures in this one, folks – replaying the game was enough of a chore, taking screenshots was just too much.

Some of my favorite works, in any medium, are those that deconstruct, examine, and lampshade their chosen forms of art: People like Jasper Fforde, Terry Pratchett, Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino have based their entire careers on works like this, and deserve every bit of acclaim they get for it.

Spec Ops: The Line, Yager Games’ landmark opus, may seem like one of those on the surface, but it’s another animal entirely. There are dozens of differences between it and the creations of the other artists I mentioned, but there’s one that overshadows the rest, and it leads to most of the game’s successes and failures:

Pratchett, Tarantino, and so on – they love books and movies, and the ones they make themselves are playfully satirical, but still affectionate. Spec Ops, though, hates video games. It hates video games with a passion, one that is comparable to the likes of a vengeful computer hates the hapless human scientists it invariably turns against. And since, by necessity, you’re a player of video games if you’re playing Spec Ops, the game hates you.

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Quantum Conundrum

In any dimension, cupcakes are delicious.

In any dimension, cupcakes are delicious.

As my about page says, I try to stay impartial when it comes to being a fan of specific developers or production companies – I’m only a fan of good entertainment, and there have been far too many surprise hits and big-budget flops to always expect good or bad products from a single team.

That said, I am a gigantic fan of overgrown indie game developer Valve Software. Honestly, it’s hard not to be – just take a look at their track record. We have Half-Life, a pair of top-notch, industry-shattering action shooters whose third installment has a gigantic fan community despite never having been announced; Team Fortress 2, a huge simulated economy system that happens to have a comedic and fluid multiplayer FPS attached to it; Left 4 Dead, one of the few games that manages to balance horror and cooperative multiplayer; and, of course, Portal, a darkly comedic puzzle game that the notoriously caustic Yahtzee Croshaw has called “the earthly embodiment of Christ”.

Said second coming was masterminded by a team of former students, who were hired personally by Valve’s famously Santa-like CEO, Gabe Newell. The creative heart of this team was Kim Swift, a former advanced physics student who has an affinity for deconstructing the laws of time and space, which brings a palpable creative spark to the games she makes, as can be seen from both Portal and the subject of today’s review, Quantum Conundrum.

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