Tom Chick

The astonishing cluelessness of The Crew 2

, | Game reviews

The Crew 2 is a real surprise. Not at all what I expected. It’s actually astonishing. Maybe even breathtaking. It seems completely, utterly, stupenduously, jaw-droppingly unaware of why I played The Crew. It flagrantly violates the conventional wisdom that videogame sequels are better because game design is an iterative process. Design something, improve on it for the sequel, repeat. But The Crew 2 doesn’t feel the least bit iterative. It simply can’t compare to The Crew. It’s as if it never even heard of it. It’s not just one step forward, two steps back. It’s not even no steps forward, two steps back. It’s popping the clutch when you didn’t know the car was in reverse and plunging over a cliff. It is one of the worst open-world games I’ve played, and easily the worst caRPG I’ve ever played.

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The best games of 2018 (so far!)

, | Features

Top ten first half of 2018

The year is only half over and it speaks volumes that when I sit down to make a list of my favorite ten games so far, there’s no room for Into the Breach, Subnautica, or Vermintide 2, all of which are brilliant in ways I haven’t fully explored yet. I mean, seriously, what kind of list doesn’t include any of those games?

After the jump, that kind of list Continue reading →

Is epic-length fantasy epic Deadhouse Gates the second of ten or the last of two?

, | Book reviews

You don’t read Deadhouse Gates to read Deadhouse Gates. You read it because you just read Gardens of the Moon and you’re about to read, uh…hold on, let me go look up the next book. Memories of Ice. You read it because you’re reading Steven Erikson’s bloated drawn-out Malazan series and this is the second book of, good lord, ten? There are ten of these?

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Best thing you’ll see all week: The Rider

, | Movie reviews

I wear glasses. I would not survive in the wild. I would be one of the last to see a predator coming. My weak eyes would be culled from the genetic pool. Humanity would be stronger for it. But that’s not how humanity works, at any level. Whether it’s the near-sighted, the simple-minded, the infirm, the sickly, or even the completely shattered, our capacity for empathy compels us to value all human life. The religious traditions that knitted this into our civilization fall away, yet we still feel it keenly. It is a fundamental part of humanity. We believe more in being alive than being strong.

Chloe Zhao’s The Rider is a laconic yet lyrical expression of this idea, found in the barren expanse of South Dakota, among people who have the audacity to sit on top of a thousand pounds of brutish flesh that don’t want to be sat on. It bears a structural similarity to Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. Mickey Rourke’s character, beset by age, injury, and exhaustion, can no longer do what he’s been doing all his life. His resolution is tragic and perhaps relatable, but facile. Might as well jump, The Wrestler eventually concludes.

The Rider knows the question of survival isn’t that simple. You can contrast the two movies by their relationship to staples. They’re the opening in The Rider and a turning point in The Wrestler, but each making a point about the limitations of the flesh. Both movies are about entertainers who wrestle brute strength into submission as a form of showmanship. But whereas The Wrestler belongs in the world of contrived stagecraft, The Rider situates itself alongside a very different world, an older world, a world that lives in the land, with a relationship to history and nature. The scene of Brady extending his hand to a panicked horse, a gesture combining empathy and dominion, puts him in a tradition going back through the Comanche, the Spaniards, the Mongols, the Macedonians, all of whom built empires on the backs of their powerful horses. But we don’t do empires anymore, at least not with cavalry. Horses, like cowboys, are a relic.

Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds, a vicious sneer at the lack of empathy among the rich, uses horses as a metaphor. Actual horses are barely in the movie. But Zhao, who obviously appreciates the seemingly indomitable power of these beasts, isn’t interested in metaphors. She’s interested in truths. Before I saw The Rider, the only thing I knew about it was that it starred Rodrigo Santoro, who I’ve seen most recently as Thandie Newton’s cowboy love interest in Westworld. Or so I thought from looking at the poster. Boy, did I feel silly. To understand Zhao’s lack of interest in metaphors, to understand her approach to the usual trappings of moviemaking, acting, and even storytelling, to understand that The Rider is about inveterate truths that define humanity, you need look no further than the cast list.

Best thing you’ll see since Poltergeist: Hereditary

, | Movie reviews

Whenever a teacher is giving a lecture in a movie, you can bet the subject of the lecture is relevant to the movie. No writer or director worth his salt is going to have someone droning on in front of a class about something irrelevant. Here is the opportunity to invoke something erudite from literature or physics or biology. But during the couple of classroom scenes in Hereditary, I didn’t quite understand what writer/director Ari Aster was getting at with specific references to Greek tragedies. He had yet to show me what he was doing.

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Is Cultist Simulator for you? Take this quiz and find out!

, | Game reviews

Please read these four selections from Cultist Simulator. After you read them, there will be a short quiz.

“It enters the world one limb at a time, questing like a serpent, cawing like a crow, throbbing like a vein. It will cuddle close against my leg, if I let it, and afterwards I will have to dispose of my shoes.”

“In the forest where the moon couldn’t go, the boughs of the trees were woven together like bandages or lovers.”

“His face is creased by so many wrinkles that his features lie buried amid shadowy pockets of skin. Still, the dwarf’s well-practiced habits have left telltale tracks of a welcoming rictus across his visage.”

“In the display cases of the impossible museum, I always see an apple white as snow and hard as marble. A golden beetle in a stern box. A coy geometry awaiting my touch. A black envelope bursting with spring. A brass opera-box for instruments of record and measure. A storm in a tin. I always wake before I see the aisle’s end.”

And now for the quiz: Continue reading →

Are the exotic new dangers of Pathfinder: Mummy’s Mask worth the hassle?

, | Game reviews

It’s been a while since I’ve rooted around in an actual Pathfinder Adventure Card Game box. Four and a half years, to be exact. Oh, I’ve played plenty since then. Obsidian’s videogame version is a spot-on transliteration that’s arguably better than the tabletop version for how it streamlines out all the fussing with cards, and dice, and rules exceptions, and cards, and cards, and table space, and more cards, and cards that have to be kept just so, and cards, and looking up the rules, and also a whole bunch of cards. On the PC, all that stuff purrs quietly under the hood while you flip virtual cards, and huck virtual dice, and level up your characters as smoothly as if you were playing Diablo.

I say this videogame version is arguably better. But the operative word is “arguably”. Continue reading →

Descent heir Overload has been released and I’ve got a very bad feeling

, | Games

I’m honestly about to barf. Like, sitting here with my head between my knees in a cold sweat. But I just couldn’t stop myself. I just couldn’t. I kept going even as I felt it balling up in the pit of my stomach and then rising up my gorge. I couldn’t stop.

Revival Production’s Overload is so smooth and glorious in VR, much more than pretty much any dedicated VR game I’ve tried. If the barfing happens, it will have been worth it. By the way, it’s also pretty darn awesome in non-VR. Here’s about an hour of me babbling enthusiastically while playing.