Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stepping Away From The Big Reviews

I love making comics. I enjoy obsessively playing video games. I like writing so much, I often have a stupid grin on my face while I'm typing at my computer. And I relish any opportunity to discuss video games.

So why did the prospect of writing another in-depth review of a video game derail my motivation so much that I had to take a lengthy hiatus from my creative endeavors?

Perhaps it's my straight-forward approach to the subject matter. I set out to avoid the snarky writing that's a staple of the internet era. As a result, I wrote reviews that were devoid of much excitement. I don't regret taking my reviews seriously, but maybe it was too much against my nature.

I always struggled with the level of information I included when drafting a simple game analysis. I know it's not my job to explain every feature in a game, but was I giving enough info to justify why I love or hate it so much? Do I need to spell out every aspect of a funky new multiplayer mode if I'm just going to dismiss the addition with a written shrug? I'm naturally long-winded in my writing; brevity is something I've awkwardly attempted to juggle for years, usually failing spectacularly. These reviews brought out the worst case of rambling I've contracted in a long while. For every sentence of information I added, I felt I needed two more to be consistently thorough in my reporting. This caused a seemingly endless loop of revisions to rearrange earlier paragraphs now that I had decided to expand on concepts I had already touched upon.

This process dragged out the writing process so much that it became the main source of delays in my comics. I could play a video game, be inspired for a comic idea, draw the full comic and then... it would sit there. The process of arranging my thoughts into a complete and somewhat-concise review sometimes took longer than all the other steps combined. Often the looming dread of having to organize my thoughts would be enough to stutter my creative impulses, to make me not even want to play games. It just had to stop. I had to stop.

So that's where I stopped. But I miss the comics. I started drawing Those Games We Play as a way to fuse my passions of playing games and making comics. And I'm going to return to making the comics, and they'll remain  focused on games like they always have been. But the full length reviews are out. I'm sticking with the 3-4 sentence blurb reviews that accompany the comic strip, but none of the over-long blog types. That's definitely not to say I'm out of the rambling-blog business, far from it! I have a lot of video game related topics to passionately babble on about. Especially with the Next Generation of consoles arriving next week. I want to reflect back upon the last few years of gaming, about lessons learned, about changes to my gaming habits, and about my hopes for a bright, glimmering future. From time to time I may even write something that essentially an in-depth review, but only when I'm emotionally invested in the subject and not just because it's my routine.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Video Game Review - Star Trek (2013)

Although I enjoy the movies, and was a big fan of the Deep Space Nine television series, I don't really have much experience with Star Trek video games. I played Legacy on the 360 a few years ago, and found it to be rather dull, with sluggish, awkward space navigation. I also have faded memories of shooting geometric shapes vaguely resembling Klingon Birds of Prey in a Star Trek game on my parents' Vectrex. That was the game with the giant Space Sombrero, right? Regardless, I didn't bring much enthusiasm with me to this creatively-titled new Star Trek game.

Licensed games are always at their worst when they tie into a movie, as they're usually locked into a production schedule to match the film's release date. You'd be hard pressed to find such a game that couldn't greatly benefit from a few more months of work. But here's a game that could have used a trip back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Video Game Review - Bioshock Infinite

The original Bioshock was an amazing game. It was incredibly immersive and had plot twists that left me speechless. The creepy atmosphere was so well-crafted that my horror-movie-loving girlfriend refused to be in the room while I played it because Rapture's residents freaked her out with their insane ramblings. The sequel focused more on the action rather than the story, which was a wise decision as trying to recapture the original game's uniqueness would have been folly. Bioshock is back, but with a new setting, and a chance to strike a new chord in gaming history.

The story seems rather straightforward; the protagonist, Booker, is sent on a mission to free Elizabeth from her fairy tale imprisonment in a tower, part of the not-so-perfect society that exists in the cloud-based city of Columbia. The phrase "Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt" is intertwined in the story as much as "Would you kindly" was part of the first Bioshock. When you finally meet up with Elizabeth, you begin a rocky relationship filled with compelling conversation and useful scavenging. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about escorting Elizabeth through the increasingly violent streets: she's a boon, rather than a burden, even during combat. Not only can she pick locks and open magical "tears" to provide useful objects, she'll also find money and ammo to help you out in your time of need. And best of all, she manages to stay out of harm's way while bullets are flying. When the game separates you from her, you will definitely miss her presence.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Video Game Review - Defiance

I don't have much experience with MMOs. The most time I've spent with one is the handful of hours I had with DC Universe Online back when it launched. That game pretty much met with the expectation I had for all MMOs... constantly respawning enemies, lots of characters running around apparently directionless, and just general chaos. I didn't have high hopes for Defiance, a game I knew very little about going in. But nothing else new was launched that day, so it won my attention by default.

The game ties directly into a new show on SyFy (it always pains me to type that stupid name) that it set to launch April 15. For those keeping track, that's two weeks after the game launched. Not being able to see the show while I was playing the game made me wonder how much of the plots are similar. Are all of these characters part of the show (aside from the player-controlled "Ark Hunters" of course)? There were a couple "episode" missions with characters I know are from the show: Nolan, a bland Han Solo wannabe, and Irisa, his freaky-eyed cohort. Wikipedia says Nolan is a lawman on the show, but he sure seemed like just some treasure hunter in the game; the three of us teamed up to recover some pricey crystal. There promises to be more free episodic content, presumably with these characters, which is something I look forward to.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Video Game Review - Forza Horizon

I'm not a big fan of simulation driving games. I look for more outlandishness in my car-based gaming: arcade-style driving, taking corners at crazy sideways angles, smashing opponents out of the way, and Frenchmen surrendering as I careen into them. The Forza series is none of that, and I've always shied from the franchise because of it. I did play Forza 4, because I'd always heard about the quality of the series, so I thought perhaps it was enough to get me into a game type that always eluded my interest. I was wrong. I found it dull, and an extreme chore to play race after race. I'm just not into cars, and driving faithful recreations of them is a bland proposition. I left the game unfinished, with no desire to ever return.

So, a year later, when Forza Horizon came out, I was wary. It was touted as a more arcade-style entry to the series, but I was still haunted by the previous game that nearly broke my spirits. But, I play damn near everything, so Horizon was given a shot. And I'll be damned, I like it a lot.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Video Game Review - Gears Of War Judgment

Gears of War: Judgment is an odd beast of a game. In many ways, it feels like a rejected piece of DLC from a previous entry; too many changes to satisfy the expectations of the hardcore Gears crowd. And yet what holds back this game from greater heights is its reluctance to go far enough to leave any significant impact on the franchise.

Judgment is the story of Kilo squad: veteran Gears Baird and Cole, along with newcomers Paduk and Sofia. This story is a prequel to the rest of the series, supposedly set shortly after "Emergence Day" although you wouldn't know that just by playing. While the city isn't quite as war-torn as series regulars are used to, there's nothing really to indicate how long they've been actually fighting the Locust. Everyone seems unfazed by these monstrous creatures, and just as well-suited for battle as any of the other games. That's one of the biggest missteps of the conception of this game... its insignificant timeline makes this whole effort meaningless. Why couldn't we play an unprepared squad that encounters the very first wave of these fierce beasts? Or even give us a storyline that ends with the events that led Marcus to wind up in the jail cell that we met him in back in the original Gears?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Video Game Review - The Unfinished Swan

Whenever I find myself amazed by a video game's graphics, it's usually due to some fancypants trick with shiny particles, crazy lens flare, or near-realistic cutscenes. And yet, The Unfinished Swan manages to be constantly awe-inspiring with the simplest of graphics.

The first time I started the game, I thought it had frozen up on me. I was given this blank white screen with a tiny, nearly-unnoticeable circle in the middle. I moved both control sticks around, yet the screen stayed the same. I pressed all the face buttons, but nothing seemed to do anything. Except I could hear faint grunts from a child.