Spring Reading List 2014 3


Just like last year, we thought we’d get Spring good and going by ask­ing the Ontological Geek staff to list and talk about some games.  This year, the prompt dif­fer­ent some­what.

1. The Underappreciated Gem: Talk about a game which received neg­a­tive or lit­tle crit­i­cal atten­tion which you think deserves a sec­ond look.

2. The Overhyped Garbage: Conversely, name and talk about a game which received pos­i­tive reviews and crit­i­cal atten­tion but isn’t actu­al­ly any good — a game either over­hyped or over­an­a­lyzed when it’s just not worth that.

3. The Current Game: What are you play­ing the most of right now, and why?

Here, in no par­tic­u­lar order, are our answers:

Aaron Gotzon

Underappreciated Gem: Final Fantasy XIII

Whatever hap­pened to Final Fantasy?  Once it was a ven­er­a­ble warhorse, stal­wart defend­er of the mighty JPRG, cor­ner­stone genre of gam­ing in the 1990s.  Now the acclaimed series has been reduced to a joke, an exer­cise in rig­or­ous self-mockery, almost uni­ver­sal­ly regard­ed with dis­trust and dis­ap­point­ment.  As much, or more, of a shade of its for­mer self as Auron turned out to be, as anti­thet­i­cal to its most cel­e­brat­ed entries as AVALANCHE was to Shin-Ra, as out-of-touch with its for­mer fan­base as Kefka was with his san­i­ty.  As…well, you get the idea: it sucks now.

Many gamers point to the release of Final Fantasy XIII as the moment in which the veil was lift­ed.  Final Fantasy XII arguably had its share of prob­lems, but the main charge that could be levied against the twelfth install­ment is that it was just plain weird.  Hardly a sear­ing indict­ment, but Final Fantasy XIII took things to a whole new level of con­tro­ver­sial, what with its laugh­ably baf­fling story (“Fal’Cie turn peo­ple into L’Cie and give them a Focus to ful­fill which depend­ing on the out­come will turn them into either Crystals Forever, or anoth­er type of crea­ture called a C’ieth” – WTF), its depress­ing­ly empty world, shod­dy plot­ting, relent­less lin­ear­i­ty, and stripped-down button-masher of a bat­tle sys­tem.

Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are true.  But, as soon as I bought my PS3 in 2010, the first thing I did was drive 30 miles to my friend’s house to bor­row the game.  I played it all the way through, then bought a copy for myself, then took that copy over to anoth­er friend’s house to play it with him.

The game has end­less flaws which we could spend the entire roundup pick­ing apart if we want­ed to, and I’m not going to argue that point or try to defend the game crit­i­cal­ly.  Sadly, it may well have been the writ­ing on the wall for Final Fantasy.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed it.  I found some­thing, I don’t know, gen­uine in how bare-bones the expe­ri­ence was, sort of the essen­tial Final Fantasy expe­ri­ence dis­tilled down to its basal com­po­nents for exam­i­na­tion, and I can’t help but think that that’s what our friends at Square-Enix might have been aim­ing to accom­plish.

Or maybe I just got a major kick out of see­ing Alexander being sum­moned in HD for the first time, who knows.

Overhyped Garbage: BioShock Infinite

 Confession time: I liked BioShock Infinite.  Still do.  Might even crack the suck­er back open (with the reverse-side box art dis­played proud­ly, of course) to play it again this spring.  Hell, I’ve pub­li­cal­ly praised it before on this very web­site.

That said, I don’t think it’s that great of a game, and I cer­tain­ly don’t think it deserves the atten­tion and con­ver­sa­tion it con­tin­ues to receive.

Of course it got glow­ing praise from the rubber-stamp com­mu­ni­ty when it first came out.  Okay, that’s a given.  But the games-crit cir­cuit con­tin­ues, as of the second-to-latest post on Critical Distance, to pro­lif­er­ate the same three argu­ments over and over again: (1.) its box art sucks, (2.) it’s real­ly frig­gin’ vio­lent, and (3.) it’s pret­ty misog­y­nis­tic, if not open­ly regres­sive.

It’s a Call of Duty or GTA.  It’s a “AAA” block­buster pop­corn dude­bro game, which, as cer­tain sober voic­es have con­tend­ed, places it in a genre which deserves lit­tle inten­tion­al con­sid­er­a­tion.  It seems to me that because the first install­ment of BioShock (no, before you ask, BioShock 2 does not count) made a bunch of ref­er­ences to Ayn Rand, that we crit­ics suf­fered under the col­lec­tive delu­sion that Infinite was a game that was sup­posed to make some Grand Political or Moral Statement, and it’s time we shed our­selves of that fan­ta­sy.

At the end of the day, it’s a “blow shit up and save the princess from a tower” game.  Elizabeth is lit­er­al­ly locked up in a lit­er­al tower.  It’s a Mario game in which you tear people’s heads off.  Of course, games like these do set pro­gres­sive sto­ry­telling back about two decades, and one might be right­ly con­cerned about why they con­tin­ue to per­sist in the zeit­geist at all, and why so many folks seem to enjoy them.

That is a con­ver­sa­tion that needs to be had, and I’m glad to see that we’re hav­ing it.  What con­cerns me is that I sense pro­gres­sive games writ­ers (me includ­ed) have been search­ing in vain for a whole year now, look­ing for some infin­i­tes­i­mal nugget of redeem­ing, last­ing social or polit­i­cal value in Infinite, and that the rea­son we’ve come up empty is that (by design or by mis­take) there was noth­ing there to begin with.

Current Game: Hearthstone

World of Warcraft has failed to woo me.  For some rea­son the prospect of traips­ing about the coun­try­side to bring the high priest­ess seven sheep tongues hasn’t lured me in so far, and the thing is, I’m very sur­prised that it hasn’t.

Blizzard, even post-apocalypse (“apoc­a­lypse” here defined as “Activision”), has near­ly always man­aged to cre­ate just the right cock­tail of progress and chal­lenge to guar­an­tee my nigh-unwavering atten­tion for months at a time.  Hearthstone is no excep­tion.

My friend and col­league Hannah has described it as “arcade Magic,” and I think that’s pret­ty apt.  It’s basi­cal­ly a super-fast-paced, pared-down ver­sion of The Gathering with famil­iar Warcraft faces.  Some have argued it’s pay-to-win dri­v­el, but my expe­ri­ence has led me to believe that one can spend absolute­ly noth­ing on the game and win sat­is­fy­ing and engag­ing ranked match­es con­sis­tent­ly.  Provided you play your cards right (I’m HILARIOUS), you can cir­cum­vent the effects of leg­endary min­ions which require much more time and money than I’m will­ing to invest in acquir­ing.

I won’t waste too much time explain­ing my per­son­al strate­gies or cur­rent attach­ment to the game, because I already bored poor Oscar half to death geek­ing out about it in our first pod­cast.  If you’d like to chal­lenge me some­time, though, I play in the “Americas” region under the BattleTag Zertoss#1892.  See you on the bat­tle­field!

Hannah DuVoix

Underappreciated Gem: The Bouncer

When you think Square Enix, you prob­a­bly think Final Fantasy, bizarrely-dressed peo­ple beat­ing up strange crea­tures with swords, guns, and mag­ics, and weird hair. But at the dawn of the PS2, Square (before the merg­er with Enix, mind) released my per­son­al favorite action RPG before the genre had even fully devel­oped. Mixing a Final Fantasy script (to sum­ma­rize: Cloud has to res­cue Aeris/th from Shinra. Panther-ladies, robots, leather-clad mad­men, and space ships ensue) with an RPG-brawler that thought­ful­ly made the most of the PS2’s pressure-sensitive con­troller design. In short, The Bouncer showed great promise and a rev­o­lu­tion­ary poten­tial direc­tion for Square’s flag­ship series that, trag­i­cal­ly, was for­sak­en.

The Bouncer could almost a be Final Fantasy game if you gave the pro­tag­o­nists weapons. We have a party of three char­ac­ters, Squal- er, I mean Sion, Volt, a for­mer body­guard of the CEO of said mega­corp, and Kou, who is mys­te­ri­ous. The three are bounc­ers at a bar called Fate, and are called to action when Sion’s girl­friend is kid­napped by the Mikado group. Make your jokes now, o ye fans of Gilbert and Sullivan.

One of my favorite things about sto­ries in games is the propen­si­ty the medi­um has, not only for branch­ing sto­ry­lines, but for the reveal­ing of dif­fer­ent infor­ma­tion on sub­se­quent playthroughs. I cred­it The Bouncer as the first time I’d ever seen this done. For you see, unlike other games that allow you to choose a char­ac­ter and fol­low hir path, The Bouncer lets you choose your char­ac­ter mul­ti­ple times through­out the story as the party splits up or gets into fights. This gives a unique way of get­ting to know the char­ac­ters, and adds vari­ety to a story pro­gres­sion which is, I con­fess, a bit rail­roady.

The Bouncer’s one flaw, I feel, was that it was too short. Dwarfed by even your aver­age Final Fantasy game, all three legs of The Bouncer can be com­plet­ed in less than thir­ty hours eas­i­ly. Revolutionary and excit­ing as the com­bat was, its com­plex­i­ty was sti­fled by the short nar­ra­tive. But, as with so many of my favorite games, I love The Bouncer for what it rep­re­sents, what it could have been. The seeds of great­ness are there, and were its for­mu­la returned to and expand­ed upon, I feel as though Square Enix could poten­tial­ly revive the Final Fantasy series. Strong words, you say? Well, go play The Bouncer and tell me I’m wrong!

Overhyped Garbage: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I’ve been almost as incon­sis­tent in my feel­ings toward Skyrim as I’ve been sure that Fallout: New Vegas is the best game ever, ever. For all its good qual­i­ties (and I’m not deny­ing them here), Bethesda’s most recent single-player time sink has just never been able to enrap­ture me the way its older sib­ling Morrowind did. And now I’m pret­ty sure I know why.

The Elder Scrolls series was forged in a dif­fer­ent era from our own. These were the days of prop­er Adventure Games, com­plete with Adventure Game Logic. It was in this era that the influ­ence of the Dungeons and the Dragons was most vis­i­ble. I am by no means a pen and paper RPG expert, hav­ing played a grand total of four ses­sions of any in my life, but I am versed in the core con­cepts and mechan­ics. In this case, the con­cept in ques­tions is the Character Sheet. Virtually every RPG that’s ever been released has some form of char­ac­ter screen, stat screen, what have you, and all of them draw from D&D in this.

The first three Elder Scrolls games draw so heav­i­ly from their D&D roots  you can almost hear the dice rolling every time you take a swing (Arena and Daggerfall, the first two in the series, even have you fill out lit­er­al char­ac­ter sheet forms in tra­di­tion­al style). Morrowind, though it cloud­ed the process some­what, still con­front­ed you with a menu that boiled the PC down to a series of skills and val­ues, and clever manip­u­la­tion of the spell­mak­ing skill per­mit­ted game-breaking lev­els of skill/value manip­u­la­tion (I’m look­ing at you, Scroll of Icarian Flight!). These games knew what they were and were proud of their lin­eage. Skyrim, how­ev­er, seems a bit ashamed.

The biggest change made to Skyrim was the change to more “action-focused” game­play. Skyrim feels rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent because, at heart, it’s more a third-person action-stabby game than an adven­ture sim­u­la­tion suite, as pre­vi­ous titles had been. The spell­mak­ing was removed, a high enough acro­bat­ics skill would not let you soar through the heav­ens like Superman, and over all the game was more ground­ed in the world itself than the num­bers behind it. Had this been the first game in a bold new IP from a Tripe‑A devel­op­er (hah, like that’s even a thing these days), my opin­ion would prob­a­bly be quite dif­fer­ent. But instead, Skyrim’s aban­don­ment of what made the Elder Scrolls games so won­drous in the first place ren­ders it just anoth­er mas­sive open-world fan­ta­sy game where you can kill drag­ons with the power of your voice.

Current Game: The Sims 3

The Sims has long been an obses­sion of my sister’s, and I’d spent years alter­na­tive­ly rolling my eyes at her guilty plea­sure and being slight­ly unset­tled by tales of her malev­o­lence in the lives of her sims. I’m a bit of a late adopter of the fran­chise, but I find myself mes­mer­ized by it. What lit­tle time I’ve had for gam­ing these past few weeks has been eaten up by this new and won­drous beast.

As I play The Sims 3, a tool which lets me live a sat­is­fy­ing life that, cir­cum­stan­tial­ly, is only just out of my reach, I find myself unsure whether it is a good thing, a wor­thy use of my time, or whether it’s a prob­lem­at­ic pas­time. Don’t mis­un­der­stand me; gone is the con­tempt I once had for what I under­stood to be a me sim­u­la­tor, a sur­ro­gate life device. I get it now. It’s very sat­is­fy­ing in its own way to make your sims do things, and with so many expan­sions cur­rent­ly avail­able the pos­si­bil­i­ties are approach­ing infi­nite. Whereas I go to Mass Effect to be Commander-fucking-Shepard, I go to The Sims to be Hannah-fucking-DuVoix. I get to live my life sans the bull­shit, which is pret­ty cool and I can see why peo­ple like liv­ing with­out bull­shit. By the same token, though, while I go to games to live anoth­er life, I find myself going to The Sims to live the same life I do now. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but it is a bit pecu­liar.

Jim Ralph

Underappreciated Gem: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

I’ve prob­a­bly men­tioned it around here at some stage before, so it may not be a sur­prise to reg­u­lar read­ers, but oh my sweet Jesus I fuck­ing love the Legacy of Kain series, par­tic­u­lar­ly LoK: Soul Reaver. I mean… wow. To be fair, it’s hard­ly obscure and was pret­ty well received on release, end­ing up along with its sequel on Sony’s “Greatest Hits” list. But while reviews of the game were large­ly pos­i­tive, many games of Soul Reaver’s era sadly pre-date the wide­spread, in-depth and above all smart crit­i­cism which the gam­ing world is now able to pro­vide. I want to read huge great essays on Amy Hennig’s beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten and per­formed script, on the sprawl­ing, ruinous Gothic land­scape, on the time-twisting Mobius Strip of a plot, on the cycli­cal themes of friend/enemy, nature/architecture, life/death, horizontal/vertical spaces. On top of all that the game was bloody bril­liant, one of the first to real­ly por­tray an effec­tive open world and tech­no­log­i­cal­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary in its use of in-play load­ing to avoid the dread­ed down­time of load­ing screens. How many games since 1999 have jumped on those band­wag­ons?

Overhyped Garbage: Dragon Age: Origins

I played through the whole of the first Dragon Age. I’m sure I did. At least I think I’m sure I did. I remem­ber some gener­ic elven and dwarf folks, a bit of ten­sion between some reli­gious and some mag­i­cal folks. Some… demons maybe? Dragons? Were there drag­ons? I think I might have start­ed mix­ing the mem­o­ries up with Oblivion and Skyrim. I can’t be too down on Dragon Age because I know I didn’t hate it. It’s much worse than that. I noth­ing it. Recollections con­jure no inter­est, no emo­tion, no indi­vid­ual moments of bril­liance or spec­tac­u­lar fail­ure. I know many, cer­tain­ly among the boys and girls of OntoGeek, have great affec­tion for the game but I can find noth­ing but a vague sense of it being a thing that hap­pened.

Current Game: God of War: Ascension

Ostensibly I’m most of the way through God of War: Ascension just now. I say osten­si­bly because I haven’t played it in about a month and prob­a­bly won’t be return­ing. It was ok while it last­ed, but being a fan of the series I can’t over­look the fact that the magic has gone. It’s like mak­ing that meal you’ve made so many times before, all the ingre­di­ents are right, you’ve put them all in the right order, mixed appro­pri­ate­ly and pre-heated the oven but some­how, and it’s so hard to say how, it’s come out tast­ing like warmed shite. The only legit­i­mate objec­tive crit­i­cism I can levy is that the cam­era, at times, does some very silly things, but that isn’t the real prob­lem here. It just doesn’t feel right, and in God of War the feel­ing of the play, the raw, battering-ram vis­cer­al­i­ty of inhab­it­ing Kratos, is the heart of the thing. Ascension feels coun­ter­feit; it’s God of War in name but not soul.

Bill Coberly

Underappreciated Gem: 

The orig­i­nal Assassin’s Creed is far from per­fect, but I had to play back through parts of it the other day for a project, and was struck by how much bet­ter it is than I remem­bered.  There are prob­lems, of course: repet­i­tive mis­sion struc­tures, a clum­sy com­bat sys­tem, a bizarrely anachro­nis­tic American accent.  But it’s well-structured, sur­pris­ing­ly well-written, and, per­haps above all else, it has focus.  Later Assassin’s Creed games became about doing what­ev­er the hell you want­ed in var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal­ly themed play­grounds, but Assassin’s Creed the first is about assas­si­nat­ing peo­ple.  Sure, you can go col­lect flags, but every sin­gle sid­e­quest in the game direct­ly relates to your main mis­sion: plot­ting to kill that guy over there.

You see, sid­e­quests are the devil, because they break the sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief (Commander Shepard takes time off from sav­ing the galaxy to get involved in minor mob disputes/find lost jewelry/do arche­ol­o­gy), dis­tract from what the game is about, and waste the player’s time.  Assassin’s Creed gets this.  Considering how bloat­ed later games became (Play tower defense!  Manage a villa!  Slowly pur­chase every sin­gle prop­er­ty in Rome and engage in civic beau­ti­fi­ca­tion!), it’s won­der­ful to play a game which is about some­thing, and which sticks to that theme.

Also, Assassin’s Creed allows you to climb up build­ings in medieval Damascus, and then jump off of them.

Overhyped Garbage: Braid

I kinda hate Braid.  This isn’t real­ly fair: in many respects, Braid is a pret­ty good game.  Yet Braid suf­fers from a prob­lem: in between the fair­ly neat time-manipulation/platforming puz­zles, there are these rooms where you read text, text which lays out what­ev­er plot the game is sup­posed to have.  The game would be infi­nite­ly bet­ter with­out this text, which is vague “deep” non­sense which might be about rela­tion­ships, might be about time trav­el, and might also be about the atom­ic bomb.

I’ve read worse, don’t get me wrong.  But I have lit­tle tol­er­ance for this sort of refuge in obtuse­ness, where a writer tries to use excit­ing words and sup­posed pro­fun­di­ties to hide the fact that he or she doesn’t real­ly know what he or she wants to say.  You might call this “Donnie Darko Syndrome,” if you felt like being com­bat­ive and snide.  (I often feel like being com­bat­ive and snide.)  Texts with Donnie Darko Syndrome try to make the read­er do all of the heavy lift­ing for them — by dig­ging through the text in an attempt to find mean­ing, the read­er will inad­ver­tent­ly imbue the text with more weight than it real­ly deserves.

Braid has Donnie Darko Syndrome, and the lav­ish, often uncrit­i­cal praise it received implies that many peo­ple fell for it, and that makes me sort of sad and sort of angry.  Of course, I’m also a cur­mud­geon, so maybe this doesn’t mean any­thing — maybe Braid real­ly is a beau­ti­ful, tran­scen­dent, mean­ing­ful story about much of human expe­ri­ence, and if I’d just try a lit­tle hard­er, I might find it and be for­ev­er changed.  But I kinda doubt it.

Current Game: Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm

I played a ton of Starcraft: Brood War over the last 15 years, but never played online save against peo­ple I knew.  That said, while I was hard­ly a pro­fes­sion­al play­er, I felt like I was pret­ty good at Starcraft: Brood War.  So I down­loaded Starcraft 2 the other day, now that I have a com­put­er good enough to run it.  After play­ing through the first cam­paign, I sad­dled up and went online.

I am ter­ri­ble at Starcraft 2.

Or, maybe more to the point: every­one else is great at Starcraft 2.

It’s the only sport I’ve ever felt like learn­ing to play.  In between shifts at the restau­rant I have been found look­ing up and mem­o­riz­ing build orders that morph into dif­fer­ent strate­gies.  I have been watch­ing replays of famous match­es.  I fol­low a twit­ter account which offers help­ful tips.  I have won pre­cise­ly three games of Starcraft 2 against real peo­ple, yet I keep play­ing.

Send help.

Owen Vince

Underappreciated Gem: Command & Conquer: Red Alert

I don’t think – by any mar­gin – that this game was ever neg­a­tive­ly received, but it has reced­ed a lit­tle, because we’re all now so fancy and flash with mod­ern gam­ing sys­tems. But it’s not so much the game I’m inter­est­ed in, as the mode of play­ing it. I’m talk­ing about Command & Conquer: Red Alert. A game that – block­i­ly, chirpi­ly – offered us an alter­na­tive his­to­ry in which Hitler had been assas­si­nat­ed with a hand­shake (no, real­ly!), and in which slight­ly bemused actors sat around in starched uni­forms per­form­ing mis­sion brief­ing FMVs for your delight. What was great about C&C: RA was its co-operative mul­ti­play­er. Do you remem­ber? In order to join ranks with a friend, you had to use the PlayStation’s odd lit­tle device that enabled two con­soles to be hooked up with two TVs. It was real­ly like play­ing Battleships. I have such strong mem­o­ries of sit­ting with a friend in front of these lit­tle, boxy TV sets and chuck­ling glee­ful­ly as we dealt dam­age and tank rolled the allies into obliv­ion (a sounder strat­e­gy there never was). Because wireless/online play is just so obvi­ous now (but I don’t both­er with it, per­son­al­ly), I think we for­get the lengths we used to go to in order to play with friends.

Overhyped Garbage: Metal Gear Solid

Perhaps I can’t offer any­thing con­crete here, except a gen­er­al dis­taste regard­ing cer­tain things I’ve played, or a cold­ness to par­tic­u­lar games that I’m hon­est­ly not inter­est­ed in touch­ing. So, for exam­ple, I’ve always felt, as hard as I may oth­er­wise try, that Metal Gear Solid – as a series – is some­thing lumpen and stran­gled and just dull that I just don’t get. I did half enjoy the first PlayStation game, but on watch­ing friends play later ver­sions, or when I’ve bor­rowed later ver­sions myself, I was sim­ply bored by it. Which is a shame, because I want­ed to like it.

Current Game: Far Crys 2&3, The Promised Land, TRIHAYWBFRFYH 

A few things, but in bro­ken episodes and not very con­sis­tent­ly. I tend to either play games too much, or not at all. I’ve been crack­ling and whoop­ing my way through Far Cry 2 and 3, because I picked both up sec­ond hand for next to noth­ing. While “2” is per­haps rusti­er and more monot­o­nous in the long run, it has this cyn­i­cal, extreme­ly dubi­ous under­bel­ly that – with its spare sto­ry­telling and drum music and sim­ple, thug­gish vio­lence – it achieves in a way that “3”, with all the stops pulled out, sim­ply can’t achieve. “3” is fun, but so dense­ly attempt­ing to enter­tain you that I keep retreat­ing back to “2”. But then I become jaded and every­thing is awful, so I go back to “3” and pad­dle around for a bit in the warm sea.

Also, I’ve been play­ing “The Promised Land” — which I’ve writ­ten about, so that’ll be on the site soon -, which is a pro­ce­dur­al walk­ing sim­u­la­tor, a pil­grim­age “game”. It’s very quirky and paired down in a way that I find beau­ti­ful. Also, I’ve been play­ing TRIHAYWBFRFYH – a game which, last­ing twen­ty min­utes, sees you exist in the final moments before the world ends. As an ambient/electronic music fan, the music is just haunt­ing and ele­gant and well worth a lis­ten to on its own, by Connor Sherlock, here: http://​con​nor​sh​er​lock​.band​camp​.com/.

Oscar Strik

Underappreciated Gem: Miasmata

Definitely Miasmata. Initially the game did receive some well-deserved pre­view cov­er­age because of the fact that it was a com­pli­cat­ed 3D ren­di­tion of an island ecosys­tem, made whol­ly a team of two broth­ers, no mean feat. However, upon release and after the ini­tial review cycle, the game dropped under the radar, which is a pity, as I think it is a game that is not only a huge achieve­ment for such a small team on the sur­face level — the game looks and sounds beau­ti­ful — but they also do inter­est­ing things in terms of game mechan­ics and nar­ra­tive.

What attract­ed me to it was a sus­pense­ful, but essen­tial­ly non-violent approach to hav­ing the game’s pro­tag­o­nist nav­i­gate a for­eign envi­ron­ment, and bat­tle his own grow­ing fever. The main goal is sur­vival, and to achieve that, you’ll have to map the island, stay hydrat­ed, and gath­er the plants and fungi you need to make med­i­cine for your­self. While the envi­ron­ment is chal­leng­ing enough, there’s also one other inhab­i­tant of the island that even­tu­al­ly comes after you…

I don’t want to spoil the game for you, but let’s just say that I think the game deserves some time in the spot­light, both as an impres­sive first achieve­ment, and as an engross­ing exper­i­ment with new types of game­play and nar­ra­tive. If you want to read a more in-depth analy­sis of the game’s story and spaces, I’ve writ­ten about it in the fourth issue of Five out of Ten mag­a­zine.

Overhyped Garbage: Abstention

This is a dif­fi­cult one. I can think of games that were warm­ly accept­ed by most peo­ple, but which left me rel­a­tive­ly cold. Or of games that are total­ly rep­re­hen­si­ble, but then again, those don’t usu­al­ly get uni­ver­sal acclaim. I’m afraid I’ll have to bow out of this one.

Current Game: Batman: Arkham Asylum Alpha Protocol

I’ve just fin­ished play­ing through Batman: Arkham Asylum, which was a lot of fun, sur­pris­ing­ly so. I have a bit of catch­ing up to do when it comes to super­hero fic­tion, hav­ing never real­ly been attract­ed to it as a kid or teen, and only expe­ri­enc­ing it super­fi­cial­ly, but at least this inter­pre­ta­tion of the Batman mythol­o­gy was right on the money. Extremely slick melee com­bat and pow­er­ful spa­tial nav­i­ga­tion options — my favourtie thing was glid­ing down from tow­ers using the bat­cloak — and a shlocky story that hit all the right notes. I’ll be going to Arkham City pret­ty soon.

But first, I’m div­ing into Alpha Protocol. RPGs might still be my favourite genre, and I’m inter­est­ed to see what Obsidian did in this game. I’ve heard good and bad things about this game, so I’m inter­est­ed to see what my own take will be. So far, I’m done with the Saudi Arabia and Rome-based part of this espi­onage story, and I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy­ing the con­ver­sa­tion sys­tem with its many pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive results depend­ing on your every choice. At the same time, the set­ting as it is worked out sort of leaves me cold. It adds in a lit­tle too lit­tle of that James Bond flair, while it does have its prob­lems with female char­ac­ters. You can fol­low my tweet­ed thoughts about the game via the #qwal­phapro­to­col hash­tag.

3 thoughts on “Spring Reading List 2014

  • Jim Ralph
    Jim Ralph


    (Guysguysguys! I final­ly sussed out how we throw off the yolk of Cobo-fascism. Follow my lead with sub­tle dis­par­age­ment of Dragon Age in your future writ­ings, and you too can be free of his mani­a­cal chains)

  • Robert Jackson

    Skyrim dropped a lot in the char­ac­ter devel­op­ment depart­ment, but expand­ed on the sand­box while mak­ing game­play smoother and more enjoy­able. I think we all want­ed a “north­ern” expan­sion of Oblivion with added drag­ons, but I don’t blame them for mov­ing the game in a new direc­tion. It was dif­fi­cult to get as absorbed in the char­ac­ter as ear­li­er install­ments, but the envi­ron­ment and quests did a decent job mak­ing up for it.

    But maybe that’s just me try­ing to jus­ti­fy to embarass­ing amount of my life that went into the game.

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