PopMatters reviews

Fallout 3 - review

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Hey, remember that gray little RPG Bethesda dropped on us last Halloween? The one with the wasteland, the super mutants, and the rusty locker full of GOTY awards? Well, I've reviewed it for PopMatters, and here's an excerpt:

How do we fairly assess an unquestionably excellent game that succeeds far more than it fails, even when those “failures” are largely related to execution? How many points do we deduct for quest bugs? How many do we credit for mastery of audiovisual aesthetics? Can we assign numerical value to a game’s emotional power and to the intensity and resonance of the experience it offers? When so few games reach these heights, how bothered should I be by the formulaic sameness of Fallout 3‘s interiors or the awkward compromise of its combat system?

Of course it's quite possible to assign a score to Fallout 3, and I did. The wisdom of doing so, however, remains an open question.

You can read the full review here. Thanks to Mike Schiller, my editor at PopMatters, for giving me the time I needed to finish and reflect on the game.


The Art of the Video Game - review

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One sure way to confirm the popular culture appeal of pretty much anything these days is the appearance of a coffee table book on the subject. Video games are no exception, and while many books do a terrific job of presenting the artwork of individual games - my favorite is the gorgeous Ōkami: Official Complete Works - only a few have appeared which cover a broad array of games from a variety of publishers.

The latest is The Art of the Video Game by Josh Jenish, and I've written a short review of it for the Moving Pixels blog over at PopMatters.

If you're looking for good writing about video games, you'll find plenty of it at Moving Pixels, by the way. Mike Schiller writes/edits the site under the PopMatters umbrella, L.B. Jeffries is a regular contributor, and you can't go wrong with either. PopMatters is one of the oldest and best online magazines devoted to cultural criticism, and I always feel priviledged to publish reviews there.

The Art of the Video Game review.


Fable II - review

Fable2_Artwork6 My review of Fable II has been posted over at PopMatters. I've been rather devoted to Mr. Molyneux's playable tale of late, and I've enjoyed pausing to consider a game more carefully than I typically do. I'll return with one more Fable II essay after Thanksgiving before moving on to other ludonarrative adventures. In the meantime, here's a snippet from the review:

We often call games “stylish” because of their distinctive visuals or offbeat approach, but Fable II‘s charismatic personality permeates the entire gameplay experience. From its storybook narrator (voiced by the inimitable Zoe Wanamaker) to its lush anachronistic blend of medieval, renaissance, and 18th-century environments, the game weaves together its disparate locations, characters, and stories more effectively than any game I have ever played.

You can read the full review here. And, yes, I gave it my first "10." Happy gaming!


Best golf game...ever?

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With a splendiferous triad of "F" games descending on us this month - Fable 2, Far Cry 2, and Fallout 3 - chances are you haven't been thinking much about EA sports games lately, and who could blame you? The annual release ritual of Madden, NBA Live, NHL, NCAA and FIFA can easily dull the senses, especially when it seems each new iteration brings less and less to the table.

But wake up somnabulant sports game fans! Tiger Woods is here to remind us that EA can occassionally hit the ball squarely on the screws and boom one past the fairway sandtrap. In fact (strap yourself in for burst of hyperbole) Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 may be the most fully-realized sports game EA has ever made.

Here's a snippet from my PopMatters review:

Dating back to its roots as World Tour Golf, I have played nearly every annual iteration, and year after year I find myself thinking the same thoughts: these games are slick and well-produced, but essentially soulless. They’re full of pizzazz, but feel cold. They lack the spirit of the real game, which is a problem for a series that purports to deliver a realistic simulation of golf.

So when this year’s edition, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09, arrived at my door, I expected more of the same. But a funny thing happened on the way to the clubhouse. Walking off the 18th green after a scintillating match-play duel with Vijay Singh at the nasty/gorgeous TPC Sawgrass, it hit me. This is the golf game I have been waiting for. This is the best Tiger Woods game I’ve ever played. This may quite possibly be the best golf game ever made.

You can read the full review here.

Hey EA, next year how about throwing in that course designer we keep asking for. Jack Nicklaus Signature Edition had one back in 1992. I'm just saying.


Geometry Wars 2 - review

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If you still haven't hurled yourself into the maelstrom that is Geometry Wars 2, here's one last push to get you off the fence. PopMatters has posted my review of the game, and here's a snippet:

Geometry Wars 2 exhibits one principle of superior game design that dates back to the early arcade era and links to its spiritual predecessor, Robotron 2084. Great games ramp up their difficulty just enough to entice you to improve your skills, but not enough to permanently discourage you. This is a difficult balance to strike, but Geometry Wars 2 nails it perfectly. The game encourages you to keep trying, and this repetition is bound to make even weak players feel they are making progress. On the other hand, allowing a novice to observe an expert playing the game can result in one of two outcomes: a slack-jawed look of utter awe, or the novice screaming in terror and fleeing the room. This game eventually gets very, very hard.

You can read the full review here.


Baseball Mogul 2009 - review

Bb2k9pbp My relentless and largely unsuccessful campaign to convert all my readers to baseball sim players continues undeterred. ;-) PopMatters has posted my review of Baseball Mogul 2009. Here's a snippet:

For computer/console baseball fans, these are surely the best of times. With titles like Out of the Park Baseball 9, MLB 08: The Show, PureSim Baseball, and the grossly underrated MLB Power Pros, there’s a baseball game for everybody - sim fan, arcade fan, online league fan, and hardcore stat cruncher. In just the last two years, 14 different baseball games have appeared for computers and various consoles. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.

You can read the full review here.


Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time - review

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My review of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time has been posted at PopMatters. Here's a snippet:

Over the years, Nintendo has managed to successfully leverage Pokémon‘s wide popularity by merging the franchise’s iconic aesthetic with other gameplay systems. Sometimes this has worked very well (Pokémon Puzzle League); other times, not so well (Pokémon Dash).

Explorers of Time and Explorers of Darkness continue this series of odd bedfellows by uniting the Pokémon universe with one of the oldest and most brutally difficult game genres, the roguelike. Developed by Chunsoft, makers of the Mystery Dungeon series for over 15 years, these games attempt to apply a bright, sparkly Pokémon coat of paint to a stout and unyielding gameplay mechanic that has frustrated and delighted gamers since the ASCII days of Rogue and Nethack.

Is it a happy marriage? You can read the full review here.


The World Ends With You - review

Theworldendswithyouds My review of The World Ends With You has been posted at PopMatters. Here's a snippet:

Of all video game genres, RPGs would seem the most conducive to powerful storytelling. All too often, they are not. JRPGs, in particular, have become mired in threadbare plot mechanics and recycled characters. The World Ends With You is different. No grinding. No random battles. No interminable cutscenes. The game even rewards you with a stat boost for turning off the system and taking a few days off.

You can read the full review here.

You may also be interested in two other views on the game from a couple of Brainy Gamer blog pals. Chris Dahlen reviewed TWEWY for The Onion's AV Club and liked it as much as me. Richard Terrell over at Critical-Gaming found the game unnecessarily complex with poor mechanics. More proof that RPG beauty is in the eye of the role-player. :-)

Chris Dahlen's review at The Onion's AV Club
Richard Terrell's analysis "Mechanics and Abstractions" at Critical-Gaming


Scratching the game review itch

Logopopmatters_6 When I started The Brainy Gamer way back in '74 - shortly after Nixon resigned as I recall - I promised that the blog wouldn't be another game review site, and I've tried to make good on that. Sure, I've posted impressions of games like Aquaria, No More Heroes and yesterday's essay on Ōkami, but these were intended more as critiques, examining or contextualizing certain aspects of the games I found interesting.

I do occasionally get the itch to review a game, however, in a way that might be useful to someone thinking about whether or not to purchase or play it. So when I heard that PopMatters was looking for a game reviewer to add to their staff of writers, I applied, and they hired me. When I say "hired" I mean they welcomed me aboard with a smile, a virtual handshake, and no pay, of course. :-) They will send me free games to review, however, which is very nice.

As a writer, PopMatters appeals to me for the very reasons I explored the other day in my post about the undervalued role of the enthusiast in academia. From PopMatters' "About" page:

PopMatters cultivates smart writers from the world-at-large. Our staff ranges from the multiple-degreed and/or well traveled, to young writers of high caliber, to 'seasoned' folks who punch the 9-5 clock, regardless of what type of degree, if any, they may hold. PopMatters recognizes that creative, compassionate intellectuals reside in all levels of society, in all types of societies, and we value their ability to provide intelligent, entertaining cultural criticism in the form of thoughtful, magazine-style essays.

I'm delighted to be part of this effort to produce informed reviews and engaging criticism devoted to popular culture. I'll be contributing one or two reviews per month, and you can find my first piece - a review of Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds - here.