Chandler, Arizona, United States

There's an old saying. If you don't want someone to join a crowd, you ask them, "If everyone were jumping off of a cliff, would you?" Well, I have. So my answer would be "Yes". True story.
Profile continued . . .


Friday, April 11, 2014

this entry brought to you by glasser, "shape"

5. The Walking Dead (2012) For some reason, when 2012 was coming to an end, people seemed surprised when The Walking Dead started being talked about in game of the year discussions. It was no surprise to me. When I had completed episode one I told my wife, "unless something goes horribly wrong in the next four episodes, this is already the best game of the year"-- and the first episode was easily the least in the series. There was a trick the first episode did that was extremely effective-- two friends are being attacked by zombies and you only have time to save one. The repercussions were dramatic and gut-wrenching, but it was a stunt that if pulled too often would rob it of its punch. The first episode relied too heavily on inspecting items in your inventory, too much on traditional adventure game tropes (and leads to one hilariously dopy moment where an otherwise strong character doesn't know how to change the batteries in a radio). These were wisely ditched in the following episodes, leaving the game to a perfect pace, and the most well realized human characters I've seen in a game, with the only exception being my number 1 choice. And the choices, all of them, no matter how small, are all incredibly intensified because of the setting. There are the more harrowing ones, of course-- do you let a friend die even though he's begging you to let him, or do you prop him up and drag him along because you never leave anyone behind? How do you react when you find out you have been betrayed? But proves how well its telling its story when even small decisions, like who gets to eat the last of your scraps, and whether you confront a man who dares question your parenting skills or not, evoke incredibly strong reactions from the player. The Walking Dead is not perfect-- it runs poorly on the Xbox, there are save game bugs on the PC version, and the action sequences are awkward at best. But it's an unflinching tale of humanity surviving, and while I've never read the comic and love the television show despite its criticisms, I find Telltale's game to be one of the best games ever at making you feel human that I've ever played. It stays grounded, without ever going over-the-top; where most games can't end without a loud, explosive confrontation with a boss, the climax of the story makes you judge your own morality, especially as it pertains to the little girl you've taken under your wing-- it is a quiet, entirely unsettling encounter that, like all of the episodes, left me emotionally drained.

4. Bioshock Infinite (2013) I absolutely loved the original Bioshock, and it both it and Infinite were on the list for the longest time, but I ultimately considered having them both in my top 40. The two have the same name in common, of course, have similar themes, have similar gameplay setups (the right trigger shoots and the left trigger uses your powers). Yet despite that so many people have said Infinite is essentially a retelling of the original, I see them as completely different games, with completely different metaphors about life. The original Bioshock geniusly broke the fourth wall; you spend the entire game doing what you're told in the way you do every other game, because you have no options. Often times in a video game when a mission is incongruous, I'll ask "why am I doing this, exactly?" And then I dismiss the question-- I'm doing this because it is a game, and if I do not do whatever the task is at hand I will just be sitting there. But Bioshock brilliantly answers the question "why am I doing this?" by forcing you, the audience, to confront the question. Its a brilliant meta concept about gaming in general, but also of life. Why does anyone do anything? What is free will? Do we feel like there are options, that we're really doing things, or are we just walking down a corridor, taking advantage of the things that pop in front of us? Sublime, that. But Bioshock Infinite, with its gorgeous utopia in the sky that we witness and become a part of the downfall of, asks so many more questions. If we have all opportunities to do all things that can be done, why do we do the things we do? Do we lie to ourselves about who we really are, and why we do things? What is love worth, really? And not just the movie love of a gorgeous guy and his gorgeous love interest, but the love human beings have for one another? Isn't it worth everything? And perhaps above all else, what is fatherhood? Is it the exact same love that any parent would have? Or is it specific? Or, perhaps most damningly... is fatherhood necessary? Why are so many of our fathers absent, or if present, horrible, judging, damaging things in our lives? Bioshock Infinite received near universal appraisal upon its release, but in the weeks that followed a lot of critiques came out, and I ultimately agreed with every single one of them. Bioshock Infinite treats racism as if both sides are always equal (and ignores the quantum theory implication that Booker and Elizabeth made the underclassmen the way they are), it portrays brutal violence that is totally unnecessary, and the only input the player has on the environment is to blow everything away. All these things are totally true, and completely worth pointing out. But I honestly don't care. No other game-- literally none, not even the three games I preferred more than this-- has asked this many deep, profound questions of its audience. Bioshock infinite is a game with many, many layers, and that does nothing to mention the mind-bending sci-fi story that's wrapped around it, and the sheer joy of the combat mechanics that I genuinely couldn't get enough of, playing it once on normal and then starting it up again a day later to play on hard. Also, Elizabeth is the first Disney Princess I actually want to be best friends with.

3. Red Dead Redemption (2010) I've always loved Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series, but I've always found them to be horribly inconsistent, in both pace and tone. It's something the Saints Row series nailed, by going strictly toward the ridiculous. And when I voice this concern to people, they always say "Well, that's Grand Theft Auto," that the game wouldn't be the same if it weren't for the fact that it's all over the place. My response is always this: "Red Dead Redemption", which, holy shit, is nearly perfect. Like Grand Theft Auto it has its moments of brilliant parody and levity, but unlike Grand Theft Auto, it never feels out of place or ridiculous. Its easier to stay morally consistent as well, since the world is so spread out and you have to travel by horse instead of car, you never accidentally murder people you don't intend to, and when you do decide to go on a murder spree and in the next cutscene come off as a decent fellow, the setting feels more flexible to allow for it. Despite that things are so much more spread out, there was something about Red Dead's gorgeous, natural environments, I never felt dismayed to have to travel from one point to another. While I of course took advantage of the fast travel system, I would often just ride to a destination on my own because it felt so vibrant. Spotting animals I had yet to hunt, seeing random events I could get involved in, breaking horses just because it was so much fun to do, I never felt a rush to get anywhere, which is a feeling Grand Theft Auto, for me, never quite fully nailed-- driving from place to place in that series always feels more perfunctory, a way to enjoy the game's radio stations. But unlike any of the character in a GTA, Red Dead's hero is the perfect balance of a likable, tragic character who is also a badass, and feels so lived in. In a brilliant twist, the game's climax is followed by another hour of falling action, sweetly tying up loose ends and letting us say goodbye to beloved characters. And that epilogue is so amazing, it frustrates when they release games like Grand Theft Auto 5 that sometimes rise to that level, but too often fall flat.

2. Portal 2 (2011) Somehow, I managed to miss out on all the spoilers for the original Portal. It was this stealth release that no one was expecting, thought to be this tech demo that came with Orange Box, which, upon coming out, everyone was talking about how great Half Life Episode 2 was. The next day, however, people were murmuring, "You know, you should check out this Portal game." The Internet geek culture glommed onto it, and Portal memes exploded. Still, going into it over a year later, I managed to only know that the cake was a lie, and that at some point I would come across a cube with a heart on it. I didn't even know the computer AI-- GLaDOS-- was actively trying to kill you; I assumed she was merely nonplussed as to whether I lived or died. The puzzles, based entirely around the concept of being place one portal in one place and a second in another place and being able to walk from one through to the other regardless of how far apart they are opened up and entirely new way of thinking about approaching a video game, leading to frustrated time spent racking your brain over a solution that would lead to forehead slapping when the realization the answer was "oh yeah, I have a gun that shoots portals in my hand" the whole time. The sequel expanded on that concept perfectly, with new ways to interact the world (gels that made you bounce, gels that made you speed up), leading to just enough complexities and wrinkles in the formula so that it wasn't a mere retread without overly complicating things. The first game was perfectly written, and genuinely one of the funniest games ever, with one of the most memorable characters ever, GLaDOS, passive aggressively taunting you the entire time. Its sequel, introducing only a few more characters, was equally hilarious, still filled with the dry antagonism of GLaDOS (who comes off not as a disinterested sociopath like in the first game, but a burned ex-lover), but this time loaded with Wheatley, who is best described as a personality sphere based on a bumbling version of his voice, Stephen Fry, and the show-stoppingly hilarious Cave Johnson, played perfectly by J. K. Simmons, and if ever there was a character more quotable that the lovably misanthropic GLaDOS, he would be it. The co-op multiplayer, allowing for four portals to be played with, by the way, was easily my favorite multiplayer of the generation, offering mind-bendingly genius puzzles and more hilarious GLaDOS-isms. The co-op mode was so good I played through it twice, then went online with random partners to help out because I couldn't get enough.

with love from CRS @ 4:10 PM 


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