In the playoffs, every story line is ex post facto, with the process graded after the fact by whatever the outcome was. You know the stories. A team with a first‐round bye is refreshed and full of energy if they blow out their opponents (often as big favorites at home), but rusty and lost their timing if they lose to their opponents, who don’t have anybody believing in them but themselves. It’s one of the laziest bits of analysis you’ll see about sports.
I think so many things about the Mass Effect series, far too many to corral into a focused thought. I know because I’ve tried to write this review several times already and I have nothing to show for it except thirty paragraphs of ramblings.
My brain lies to me sometimes. Because I’d loved Mass Effect, and because Mass Effect 2 changed several of the things I’d loved about the first game, I convinced myself that the sequel wasn’t quite as good. It had been a year and a half since I’d touched either game, so after I finished Mass Effect 3 I decided to go back to the very beginning and do a marathon playthrough with a fresh character. Not only would it be a plot refresher, but it’d let me undo all of the dumb mistakes I made in games one and two that I ended up having to pay for in game three.
I’m a tough man to write video games for. Any triple‐A title released for a major console is the result of so much craftsmanship from so many talented people, such that you can find genuinely good things to say about even the mediocre ones.
Why do I want a game to have long‐lasting impact? Why does it have to be profound to me after I’m done with it? I played the original Infamous for at least fifteen hours — doesn’t that say more about its quality than whatever I feel about it eighteen months later?
[H]ad The National not spent money the way that it did […] Peter Richmond wouldn’t have had the chance to go to a Cubs game with Bill Murray and then hang out with Fleetwood Mac afterward. Which would have meant that we wouldn’t have had the great scene several months later when Murray showed up in the New York offices to see Peter. Not long before that, a guy not many people liked had been fired, and Murray wandered into the daily editorial meeting, propped his flip‐flops up on the table, and asked, “Show of hands. How many people thought [blank] was an asshole?” The world would be a poorer place without that moment.
If you’re wondering how to reconcile the high mark to the left with the paragraphs of red ink below, let me explain. L.A. Noire is a very good game that wears all its faults on the outside.
It boasts several major achievements. The first is MotionScan, the facial animation technology that represents the boldest effort yet to bridge video games’ Uncanny Valley of facial expressions. The game’s interrogations are meant to put the technology front and center, asking the player to read these facial cues to sift truth from lies.
The best way to think about the old NFL collective bargaining agreement is as a beautiful magic cloak. It allowed the owners a kind of charmed invisibility when it came to collusion, to artificially controlling competition, to inhibiting player movement, to making their costs certain, and generally suppressing every free market principle. The fact that they had the consent of players via collective bargaining created a non‐statutory labor exemption — it gave the owners legal cover for the socialistic anti‐competitive way they operate. […] The owners, almost incomprehensibly, voluntarily stripped off their magic cloak and ripped it to shreds, when they opted out of the CBA and demanded $1 billion in concessions from players. They tore up their cloak because, they said, their share of $9.4 billion in revenue wasn’t enough to support them in the style to which they’ve become accustomed.
I don’t know what I see when I watch football. It must be something insane, because I should not enjoy it as much as I do. I must be seeing something so personal and so universal that understanding this question would tell me everything I need to know about who I am, and maybe I don’t want that to happen. But perhaps it’s simply this: Football allows the intellectual part of my brain to evolve, but it allows the emotional part to remain unchanged. It has a liberal cerebellum and a reactionary heart. And this is all I want from everything, all the time, always.
To express my feelings for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, I had to track down a sentence Roger Ebert wrote: “Learning the difference between good movies and skillful ones is an early step in becoming a moviegoer.” In the last few years, I’ve started to notice the “skillful video game” trend: a game that’s got all the polish in the world but isn’t any fun to play.
In fact, here’s my review of the entire Assassin’s Creed series: each game gets worse even as it gets more skillful. It was plain to see, for instance, that the series of carefully‐planned, oh‐shit‐here’s‐my‐chance assassinations in Assassin’s Creed had been rejiggered for the sequel; it became a series of extemporaneous situations that seemed to reward lack of planning. (“Who is this guy? Why I am I killing him? Screw it; I’ll just run up and fire my pistol.”) But it also fixed so much of what was wrong with that first game and gave me a gorgeous depiction of Renaissance Italy to freerun around. I was satisfied.
“Stephen King once wrote that nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations. They’re antithetical to the poetry of fear. In a horror story, the victim keeps asking, ‘Why?’ But there can be no explanation, and there shouldn’t be one. The unanswered mystery is what stays with us the longest, and it’s what we’ll remember in the end.”
That’s the voiceover that begins Alan Wake, a game that borrows more than a little from King’s oeuvre. The game was written by Sam Lake, who also wrote the stories for the Max Payne series, but I fear he’s taken the wrong message from King’s words, and purposefully set out to write a story that makes no sense. That’s not quite the same thing.
The Zero Punctuation review of Alpha Protocol fails to convey just how awful the core gameplay is. It feels like they wanted to adapt the Unreal Engine in the same way that BioWare did for Mass Effect, but got only halfway there before they needed to ship.
Yahtzee does mention, however, one of my other frustrations: the game fails to convey the consequences of possible actions. Twenty minutes in, you find yourself standing in front of a computer terminal at the headquarters of the titular agency. The game offers you the option to hack the terminal. A guard is standing right next to it.