Apr 252013
 

WARNING: This commentary has more or less nothing to do with video games.

It was an interesting week here at LGR East in Greater Boston, one unfortunately not very productive for the business, as all of the time we’d normally spend playing and reviewing video games has been taken up with listening to continuing live coverage of the Marathon Bomber Manhunt Manqué. The good news is that this has filled me with a desire to play lots of video games again; at one particularly low point I remember thinking to myself, “Gosh, we were hard on Game of Thrones. It wasn’t so depressing really.” The bad news is that right now I have nothing to talk about other than the same shit everyone else is talking about.

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Apr 172013
 
Tomb Raider

TRIGGER WARNING: This review discusses depictions of sexual assault.

WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers for Tomb Raider.

Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider is a “reimagining” of one of gaming’s most hallowed franchises. It may be useful here to reflect on the profound ways that the preceding TR games have impacted our lives. Imagine a world where Angelina Jolie was just another reasonably well-regarded actress, and not some kind of international diplomat. Imagine theme parks without TR-branded rides. Imagine popular culture without gigantic-breasted female caricatures. OK, the last one really is difficult to imagine, although we suspect such things might have existed prior to the invention of Lara Croft.

Can we be real for a moment? If the Tomb Raider franchise had much going for it in terms of gameplay, the price of admission for the thinking gamer was being constantly embarrassed by the base appeal to hetero-boy titillation embodied (literally) in Lara Croft. Certainly it was a price we were unwilling to pay; this is the first TR game we’ve played, and we approached the title with no little trepidation. Why reboot a series that’s been totally played out, not just in one medium but several, with a main character who practically invites a whole episode of Feminist Frequency devoted entirely to her problematic? Senseless nostalgia, brainless money-squeezing, yet another example of the “crisis of originality” in American popular culture!

So yeah, the game is actually really…good.

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Apr 052013
 
Infinite cover art

WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers for Bioshock: Infinite, although possibly only in other dimensions.

Bioshock: Infinite is a “more is more” expansion of the Bioshock template, this time moved from an underwater city to a city that floats in the sky. Infinite inherits the strengths and shortcomings of its predecessors, but also makes some adjustments in level design and pacing that make the overall experience more satisfying.

More challenging, though, is Infinite’s complex plotting. The original Bioshock famously integrated philosophical concerns into a first-person shooter–quite an accomplishment considering that the FPS is the least philosophical (read: most dumb) gaming genre. Left Gamer Review, ever vigilant, thought many of Bioshock’s accolades were a bit excessive. The game’s critique of Ayn Rand was not particularly sophisticated, albeit well more sophisticated than Rand deserves. Much more interesting was the way that Bioshock told its story. The game hinges on a mid-game twist, handled so deftly, that it wasn’t until Spec Ops: The Line that we would encounter something comparably mind-bending.

Infinite has few philosophical aspirations, save for some wouldn’t-it-be-weird-if musings about parallel universes and quantum physics. These all collapse into a finale that is a bigger and louder ride than anything in the previous games, yet leaves one with the inescapable fear that it might not have made the slightest bit of sense.

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Apr 032013
 
Mario Goomba stomp

First of three parts.

The knee-jerk reaction of gamers to any suggestion of a link between video game violence and actual violence is to strenuously deny that such a link exists–which is basically correct (as most knee-jerk reactions are, their low place in rhetoric notwithstanding). Gamers are rightfully fed up with media-hungry charlatan “experts” like Jack Thompson and Carole Lieberman–not to mention (far more dangerous) political opportunists like Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper and the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre. Or in somewhat more peppery language:

Video games, like rock music in an earlier age, is perfectly suited as a political punching bag for ritual post-disaster “discussion”: basically every young person likes them, but the old fucks that comprise the political class don’t, so it’s a great way for the people who decide basically everything to blame things on the people who decide basically nothing.

This is quoted from my piece on the Newtown mass shooting, the bleak pessimism of which is perhaps offset by the fact that it was entirely accurate.

The increasingly articulate resistance of gamers to America’s perennial morality police is a welcome development, but I don’t think that this exhausts the questions raised by violence in games. As I go on to say in the piece just quoted, “Some games deal with violence intelligently; some decadently; and some without much reflection at all. That all merits scrutiny….” So, let’s scrutinize.

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Apr 012013
 

Metal Gear Rising: RevengeanceKonami’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance [sic] starts off on a bad look, introducing in the very title what is arguably the most useless portmanteau word ever devised in the English language. “Revenge” and “vengeance” are, after all, synonyms, so the combination scarcely expresses anything new, does it? It’s the morphological equivalent of a mash-up of a Britney Spears track with a “live” performance of the same track. This kind of thing does not amuse the crew at Left Gamer Review, although we did graduate high school before the “school reform” craze took hold, and thus underwent an exposure to books that is hard to live down.

MGR is the ninth major title in the now-legendary Metal Gear series, which debuted in 1987 [sic!] and deserves much of the credit for introducing stealth into the video game mainstream. Especially since Metal Gear Solid 2 blew past the limits of what people thought was possible on the PS2, the games have been renowned for their technical excellence–and their strikingly baroque plotting. MGR, for its part, breaks almost completely with the stealth framework of the Solid subseries, while following–albeit more modestly–in the tradition of technical strength and story strangeness. The result is a fine, anodyne action game soaked in a narrative oddly harmonic with its unfortunate title: an over-complicated expression of a rudimentary idea.

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Mar 272013
 

ME3OmegaMass Effect 3 concludes with two final downloadable add-ons: Omega and Citadel. Both are engaging, fun additions, even if neither expands the story in an essential way.

Any Mass Effect DLC missions must be compared to the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC for ME2, which not only served as a bridge between ME2 and ME3, but also ME3Citadeldrew from story threads first introduced in the original Mass Effect. It also filled in some of the events around Shepard’s death and return in between ME and ME2, and built on Shepard’s relationship with Liara in a satisfying way. Skipping Shadow Broker would detract from many story points in ME3 and make Liara’s brief appearance in ME2 feel like a strange dead end.

Neither Omega nor Citadel fill in gaps the way Shadow Broker does, so if we judge them based purely on their contribution to the overall narrative, both come up lacking, even in comparison to earlier DLC releases for ME3. Leviathan, the previous DLC, added some significant Reaper backstory, and the first add-on, From Ashes, offered an additional squad-mate, Javik, whose story fills in some nice background about the Protheans, the Reapers’ penultimate foes.

However, Omega and Citadel are both nicely written stand-alone adventures. Citadel in particular is a worthy addition, and suggests that Shepherd and crew would do nicely in a sort of Ocean’s 11 in space spinoff series, in which Shepherd has to crack wise and infiltrate parties before jumping around darkened warehouses.

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Mar 092013
 

After a long and basically unsuccessful intervention in the “real world,” we at Left Gamer Review are scurrying back to the dark side of the Internet to get back to what we do best (which is not to say well): yakking about video games! Keep an eye out for the following exciting new content:

  • Our classically snarky reviews of major new titles, including Metal Gear: Revengeance [sic], Dead Space 3, and the new Tomb Raider!
  • Scintillating commentary on the PS4, OUYA, and next-gen console question!
  • Patient explaining of why video game violence ≠ shooting up the place!
  • And much, much more!

[DISCLAIMER: Promises to post new material should not be interpreted as promises to post new material.]

In the meantime, why aren’t you all watching the latest from Feminist Frequency?

Dec 212012
 

WARNING: This dialogue contains major spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line.

Just in time for the holiday happiness season, Left Gamer Review discusses one of the most depressing–and best!–games of the year.

snjoseph: Alright, so I played Spec Ops: The Line, admittedly because I suspected you were too generous in your review. But man, you were right–it’s incredible.

La-li-lu-le-leave me alone

La-li-lu-le-leave me alone

I guess I started off skeptical because when I read your review, I thought of Metal Gear Solid 2, which tries to make the same points about war/violence in games, but in a way that I found unconvincing and even somewhat cheap. (Whenever an work says, “Ooh, what does it say about you that you’re watching this?” the obvious rejoinder is, “Ooh, what does it say about you that you sold me this?”) But the way Spec Ops delivered its message was carefully thought-through and permeated the entire game.

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Dec 172012
 

President Barack ObamaIn the wake of any mass shooting, such as the hideous slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, there is always a struggle to look past the easy and obvious explanations and turn instead toward a whole bunch of bullshit. This is only becoming more difficult as America charges into the 21st century, and the concatenation of our brainless follies gets ever-more compressed, the latest catastrophe being crammed up our ass well before the last one has had the opportunity to pass from our minds.

Thus Adam Lanza, a young white guy in military gear and an assault rifle, killed 28 people (including himself) not six months after James Eagan Holmes, an assault rifle-toting young Caucasian gentleman decked in military gear, killed twelve people in Aurora, CO. And just over four months after Wade Michael Page–yet another scion of the peoples of Europe–murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI. (Now the last one was an openly racist massacre, and thus didn’t provoke a very deep discussion, since everyone already knows that America is racist, so why bore people with some shit they already know? Although the Chicago “lifestyle” magazine RedEye did produce a helpfully racist primer on good versus evil turbans.)

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Dec 102012
 

WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers for Assassin’s Creed III and completely spoils all preceding titles. It only covers the single-player game.

Assassin’s Creed, with its five–don’t let the “III” fool you–marquee titles being merely the vertebrae of a mobile game/comic book/novelization franchise empire that makes Mass Effect look compact, spins perhaps the most elaborate conspiracy theory that people (hopefully) don’t actually believe. Behind history as such, it posits, runs the ever-ongoing battle between Assassins and Templars, the secret struggle between human freedom and authoritarian control. And even that might be part of some kind of meta-conspiracy by the ancient Greek gods; these being actually, of course, the aliens who created humans to be their slaves, and apparently never quite got over the fact that we rebelled and killed them all, although really they all got killed by a massive solar flare, which by the way is going to happen again, and the only way to stop it is to go back into your DNA memories–oh yeah DNA records your memories–and figure out where your ancestors hid little trinkets that the Greek gods told them to hide so you could find them later, because they (the gods) can, like, see the future and knew that you were going to go looking for their stuff later. OK?

Left Gamer Review is sharply divided on the Assassin’s Creed Question: the West Coast staff can’t stand the series, whereas the East Coast lends it critical support. In aesthetic matters there is, as we know, only one correct answer; and we are inclined to think that it lies with the comrades who have, you know, actually fucking played the games. Ahem. Assassin’s Creed III is really a fine game, but the player is constantly nagged by the sense of missed opportunities, and ultimately comes away disappointed. It’s rather like The Godfather, Part III: if they’d just named it Mobster-Vatican Corruption Movie Sui Generis, everybody would have said, “Wow, that was pretty good!” Instead we’re all like, “Damn…what happened?”

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