VIDEOGAME REVIEW: Psychonauts

Psychonauts’s box art reminds us that it comes “from the mind of Tim Schafer,” whose design credits include Adventure classics like Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, and Grim Fandango. So it should come as no surprise that Psychonauts shows promise with its Adventure trappings and interesting premise, but is held back by unrefined platforming and an undercooked plot.

Continue reading

VIDEOGAME REVIEW: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the latest installment in the adventures of Nathan Drake, the star of the treasure hunting pulp adventure series. With a new creative director at the helm, is Drake’s newest adventure worth partaking, or should it have remained lost to antiquity?

Continue reading

COMPILATION REVIEW: Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection

Uncharted Collection Review

For a person who never owned a PlayStation 3, the first years of the PlayStation 4’s life have been an opportunity to experience some of the best-received exclusives for that console. From The Last of Us Remastered to an update of Journey to the recently announced port of Valkyria Chronicles, an entire generation of great Sony-exclusive games is being made available once again. One of the most noteworthy exclusives, the Uncharted series, has received the remaster treatment as well, and with all three games on one disc no less. However, it is difficult not to come away from Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection with a feeling that the entire trilogy barely transcends run-of-the-mill shooter status and, given that you can now buy all three original games for less than half the price of The Nathan Drake Collection, the compilation fails to justify its price tag.

For the uninitiated, the Uncharted series is a pastiche of pulp treasure-hunting adventure tales, a contemporary equivalent of Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels, but owing as much to that series as Indiana Jones owes to King Solomon’s Mines and its copycats. But Uncharted stands out from its predecessors through its irreverence; imagine if George Lucas delegated the Raiders script to Joss Whedon to get an idea of Uncharted’s tone. What unfolds is the story of Nathan Drake, would-be descendant of famous explorer Francis Drake, and the adventures he has cover shooting and wall climbing his way across the world, assisted by a group of spunky companions in a quest for the treasures of antiquity.

If that sounds like a rollicking good time to you, think again, because all three Uncharted games fail to be entertaining or engaging to different degrees.

Continue reading

FEATURE: The Commonwealth of Mary Suesetts: How Unfettered Choice Cheapens Fallout 4

Hubris Comics 1

Hubris Comics in post-war Boston

Deep in the ruins of post-war Boston, The Sole Survivor creeps into what remains of Hubris Comics. Somehow, even after two hundred years of looting, neglect, and decay, the pathetic shambles is still recognizable as a store. Cash registers line one wall, some with pre-war paper currency still in their drawers (these are promptly looted).  In the Manager’s Office, she finds a safe and picks the lock, finding it filled with money and ammunition. The rest of the store is filled with burned comics and the paraphernalia of pre-war geekdom. The familiar growl and shuffle of a feral ghoul echoes through the room. The Survivor pulls out her Combat Shotgun; fully customized with an advanced receiver, a long ported and shielded barrel,  a recoil recompensating stock, and a quick eject mag, it is a fearsome weapon, more than a match for any run-of-the-mill ghoul found in the Commonwealth Wasteland.

The Survivor moves through the sales floor and into the offices, dispatching ghouls as they appear. When she comes across a locked door, she picks it. When she comes across a protected computer, she hacks it. Finally, on the top floor, she finds a television studio protected by a Glowing One, an especially powerful ghoul. Pulling out her Laser Musket, also fully modded to peak efficiency, the Survivor sneaks up behind her prey, cranks the Laser Musket to maximum power, takes aim for the ghoul’s head, and fires. Its head explodes and it falls to the ground, dead with a single shot, leaving the top floor of Hubris Comics and its loot free to be taken.

Continue reading

VIDEOGAME REVIEW: Yoshi’s Woolly World

Yoshi's Woolly World Review

Yoshi’s Woolly World is a game caught between two disparate progenitors: The egg-throwing adventure-lite Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, and the arts-and-crafts adventure-lite Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Drawing from the best and bypassing the worst of both, Woolly World finds its identity as a knit-wool derivative of the side-scrolling action/platformers it is inspired by, albeit one that manages to capture the essence of what made those games fun to begin with.

Continue reading

FEATURE: The Women of Arkham: A Feminist Critique of the Arkham Series – Introduction & Minor Female Characters

Batgirl 41 Variant

This possible cover for Batgirl #41 drummed up some controversy recently. Its depiction of Batgirl being menaced by the Joker proved disturbing to some, though less to others. The latter group felt that there was nothing wrong with the cover, that a heroine who can never be threatened is boring, that it’s sexist if a woman can never be harmed because she is a woman, and furthermore that putting Batgirl up on an untouchable pedestal would reduce her to the status she held in the television series, where she was barred—by executive mandate!—from ever being in danger and could only “fight” by performing ridiculous high kicks.

The former group maintains that a heroine being in peril isn’t the problem, but rather in the way the peril is portrayed. The image is suggestive of rape: Batgirl’s position is sexually provocative, chest thrust out, lips glistening, eyes wide, a single tear coming from her eye, seeming to beg the viewer for help—behavior a far cry from the independent character within the pages of the comic. The Joker is casual, but menacing, also looking at the viewer, a pistol-wielding hand draped possessively over Batgirl’s shoulder, the fingers of his other hand caressing her cheek.

Continue reading

Skyrim’s race problem: a [subtractive] design perspective

Joe Baxter-Webb did this very nice response piece to my essay that went deeper into the roots of the issue as a design problem. I definitely recommend checking it out.

@ludogogical

I’ve just been re-reading A.L. Brown’s post on the failure of Skyrim to appropriately depict racism and it really resonated with some of the things that irked me about that otherwise great game. Playing as an Argonian or Khajit (either of the game’s socially-excluded ‘beast’ races) and being welcomed by the xenophobic nationalist Stormcloaks as some sort of fabled savior really clashes with the way that NPCs of the same race are included in the game. Brown’s piece isn’t the first example I’ve seen of this complaint, but it is one of the most in-depth. I just want to info-dump a little about how this sort of thing can be tackled from a design perspective.

tumblr_lxpofxMCaQ1rn90iqo1_500

As far as I know – there’s no mod for the PC version of Skyrim to introduce more system racism. Searching for this, I found several reddit threads on the topic of how to better implement…

View original post 800 more words

FEATURE: Race in Skyrim and the American White Experience

By now many of us have heard the story of Rachel Dolezal, former president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP who, as it turns out, is actually a white suburban middle-class woman engaging in a Kirk Lazarus-esque reimagining of herself as an African-American woman. This reimagining is bizarre, if not downright offensive, to much of the United States, and perhaps the wider world. I do not bring this up to reopen a still-ugly wound but rather to suggest a behavior that has emerged in White America: Subsuming oneself so deeply in a racial culture, becoming so ingrained in its traditions and struggles that the person begins to sympathize more with that culture’s dominant race than with their actual race (here I acknowledge the dialogue that race is a societally-manufactured idea but will broach the subject no further). This sympathy is approached in a uniquely privileged white American way (and here I would like to disavow any accusations as to the motivations of Ms. Dolezal): Appropriating the appearance and culture of a race, but without a true understanding of its identity.

A white person who tries to present themselves as being of African descent, complete with restyling of their hair and darkening of their skin pigmentation, is demonstrating an alarming lack of awareness for the still-lingering memory of the minstrel show and the blackface caricatures that dominated it, a memory few black Americans are likely to dismiss so pithily. A person in such a situation is inhabiting a character, but one they will never actually be. A white person might sympathize with African-Americans, but no matter how much they might wish they were, they will never truly be African-American (or Asian-American, or Arab-American, or Indian-American, or American Indian, or any other race/nationality you may care to name). They did not grow up with the stigmas applied to skin color or stereotyped “racial signifiers” that still linger in American media and culture. They can appropriate the culture, but they cannot fully comprehend it. They can inhabit the role, but they cannot identify with it.

Which brings me to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Continue reading

FEATURE: Shoot This Guy in the Face: Quest Deconstruction in Borderlands 2

Midway along its quest to defeat Handsome Jack, the Vault Hunter protagonist of Borderlands 2 encounters a psycho with a simple request: Shoot him in the face.

Shoot This Guy in the Face 4

It’s a simple request, really.

By that point, over eight hours into the core game, the player has already shot hundreds of digital opponents in the face, often for the purposes of the game’s sometimes-shaky quest justifications. These quests include, but are not limited to: Shooting the bandits occupying Liar’s Burg; shooting a group of shirtless volleyball enthusiasts; and ending the Zaford-Hodunk blood feud by shooting one or the other clan. The face-shooting doesn’t end following “Shoot This Guy in the Face,” either; the player also has the opportunity to shoot in the face a duplicitous member of a bank robbery, the Sheriff of Lynchwood, and the voice of Hyperion propaganda machine Hunter Hellquist. These examples are but a drop in the pool of the game’s many, many sidequests, the majority of which can be summarized as “go here, shoot this guy/these guys in the face,” except for the rare times your target is female—in which cases their faces prove just as shootable. Each quest serves as a stepping stone to the game’s ultimate goal: Stopping villain Handsome Jack from harnessing a bioweapon known as “The Warrior” and destroying Pandora. This is accomplished, naturally, by shooting him in the face. The “Shoot This Guy in the Face” quest is thusly deconstructive of Borderlands 2’s content; by presenting a quest that has no narrative goal, only a ludic one, the essential shallowness of Borderlands’ quest goals are revealed—and perhaps, by extension, first-person shooter gameplay as a whole.

Continue reading

FEATURE: Journeys on the Road — Stories about a Father

In this vlog update, I perform a comparative analysis of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Season 1, and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. I argue that the protagonists of these stories, The Man, Lee, and Joel, represent the establishment of a new American archetype, which I have dubbed “The Post-Apocalyptic Everyman,” and that this archetype arose in response to our contemporary obsession with apocalyptic imagery.