To me, the hallmark of a good work of fiction is the feeling of emptiness I feel when I complete it. Being severed from a well-constructed fantasy should induce a moment of existential panic in even the most stoic of men. By that metric, Bastion, a video game from Supergiant Games currently on offer for a mere $15, has one of the best stories I’ve encountered in at least a year.
Mass Effect 3 has been one of the most eagerly-awaited games of 2012 by a long shot. The first two games are among the most beloved sci-fi action-RPGs of all time, and expectations for the third installment were running high. Luckily for fans, the finale to this epic trilogy manages to meet most of the expectations.
If you played the original Borderlands and liked it enough to do a second playthrough, there is no point in reading this review past the next sentence. Borderlands 2 is worth its cost at $60; it has everything the original has, plus a real plot and an almost seamless co-op multiplayer experience.
One of my earliest memories as a gamer is from the age of 10, playing XCOM: Terror From The Deep (1996). I didn’t own the game — some neighbors did — but when I’d finished my chores (and sometimes when I hadn’t), I’d bike over to their house and hijack their computer for as long as was socially acceptable (and sometimes longer) to fight the alien invasion.
It’s rare to come across a proper stealth game these days — by which I mean it is so rare that it’s hard to know if what I consider good stealth games are even stealth games at all. Maybe it’s the stealth genre that I dislike, and I just happen to enjoy a couple games that call themselves stealth games.
When I was 10 years old, my favorite game in the world was SimCity 2000. I was fanatical about it — I spent whole weekends planning out city blocks on sheets of graphing paper and testing them to see which was the most efficient. I spent so many hours on the simulation that it’s possible it sowed the seeds of my political leanings.
Typically when I write a video game review, my focus is on answering the question, “Should you buy this, and if so, for how much?” This framework works fairly well for video games, but not as well for books or movies or music or the Mona Lisa. Some things you don’t review so much as you critique. You can judge a work’s creative merit, but trying to translate that merit into dollars and cents is futile.
Ever since I started reviewing for The Tech, I’ve found myself liking new game releases less and less. And this change has made me wonder: does reviewing a game as you play it lessen the experience? Or am I growing into a person who doesn’t like video games? Or is it neither, and today’s games are just not as exciting and fun as games of old were? I stayed up at night, searching for my gamer soul, hoping that Far Cry 3 was indeed boring and I wasn’t evolving into some ghastly sort of — shudder — non-gamer.
First person shooters have always been one of my favorite genres of video game. I grew up at a time when computing technology was just starting to meet the challenge of inexpensively rendering a shooter. As a kid, I was weaned on a generation of post-Doom titles, like Quake II, Counter Strike, and Team Fortress Classic, and for a time, the mere improvement of hardware was enough to keep the genre exciting. Each iteration of the first person shooter produced higher and higher graphical quality, and I didn’t spend much time lamenting that the gameplay and plot of Crysis was not many steps beyond that of Goldeneye 007.
I have something of a love-hate relationship with the 4X (eXplore/eXpand/eXploit/eXterminate) genre. The typical 4X game is an uneasy marriage of amazing strategic depth, the grandeur of empire, and tedious micromanagement. As a consequence I find myself in a cycle where I develop a desire to play a 4X game, binge for some period of time, and then quit the genre for months after getting burned out navigating menus.
There’s a feeling in the pit of my stomach when I reach the end of a really good book. It’s hard for me to describe it to another person unless they too have felt it before — it’s like emptiness, a dull pain, a longing for the story to continue. It’s a shock to the system, a natural psychological response to having the environment and characters that you’ve immersed yourself in suddenly ripped away. It’s an absolutely horrible sensation and if, in the future, I forbid my children from going to school and decide that they should remain illiterate for all of their days, you won’t have to look further than this paragraph to know my motive.
“I’m sorry guys, it’s not good,” says a man in glasses and a button-down shirt, hesitance in his voice. He’s seated next to a woman holding a clipboard, her head tilted in sympathy at the receivers of this ‘not-good’ news. They are addressing our main characters, arranged on a couch facing them: a husband, a wife, and a small child who happens to be the unwitting subject of the conversation.