Category: Video Games

review
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Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3

Verdict: 89/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

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.

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review
Infamous 2

Infamous 2

Verdict: 67/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

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?

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review
L. A. Noire

L. A. Noire

Verdict: 79/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

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.

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review
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Verdict: 55/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

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.

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Alan Wake

Alan Wake

Verdict: 61/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

“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.

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review
Alpha Protocol

Alpha Protocol

Verdict: 61/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

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.

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review
Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain

Verdict: 87/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

A couple years ago, I stumbled upon a game called Masq. It’s a simple game with the art style of a comic book — a bunch of still frames with no sound — but each choice you make affects the final outcome in significant ways. I played at least four times and never had the same ending twice.

I’d forgotten about Masq until I played Heavy Rain. They’re both interactive dramas (a sparsely‐populated genre, to say the least), but the new PS3 offering aims to meld the forking plotlines of Masq with the atmosphere and immersion of high‐tech games.

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review
Bioshock 2

Bioshock 2

Verdict: 83/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

For most sequels (though Mass Effect 2 is a notable exception), my expectations are largely diminished — even when the original is one of my favorite games of all time.

That’s why I was satisfied with Bioshock 2, even though it’s not as good as the first. The gameplay improvements (dual‐wielding weapons and plasmids!) are much appreciated. The setting and backstory are solid; it was nice to see how Rapture’s other half lived, and how the city’s class stratification laid the grounds for a collectivist counter‐movement.

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Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2

Verdict: 82/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

On one hand, it boasts a story of comparable quality and a leap forward in combat gameplay. It easily warrants more than one playthrough.

On the other hand… must they excise so much of what makes a game an RPG? I’m speaking mostly about the level system, looting, item customization, and a handful of other things that were completely retooled from the previous Mass Effect.

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review
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Verdict: 95/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

You don’t need me to tell you how good this game is; the rest of the gaming world got there first. I don’t know if any one game can be a “system‐seller” — but if you already own a PS3, it’s inexcusable not to own Uncharted 2.

It’s not just good; it’s unusually, surprisingly good. It’s unusual for a game to be this much better than its prequel. It’s unusual for a game to make such large graphical leaps over its prequel on same‐generation hardware.

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