Racing isn’t just about speed. Speed is the goal, sure. But the important part is knowing when to relinquish speed. The important part is figuring out when and how much to slow down. It’s hardly surprising most racing videogames downplay this part. In most videogames, you mash down the accelerator, feel the exhilaration, and have a win! But what’s distinct about Project Cars 3 — at least among consumer-friendly racing games — is that it downplays speed. It emphasizes precision, consistency, calculation, practice. Project Cars 3 has plenty of speed, but that’s not what it’s about. Instead, it’s a game based on driving well. And it’s about more than that. It’s ultimately about something too few racing games know how to express.Continue reading →
One of my favorite boardgame designs is Troyes. Although it relies on dice, it’s not about chasing sixes. Normally, dice games are all about seeing how many high numbers you can roll. Over the course of the game, you have to work through the peaks and valleys of sixes and ones, which feels more like following the course of a river than actually planning anything. Luck pulls the game, but your strategy is an oar you can use to splash around in the water. Troyes is different for how it’s never about seeing how many high numbers you can roll. In Troyes, a one can be just as welcome as a six.
Under Falling Skies works on this same principle.Continue reading →
I kept waiting. At some point, it was going to do something to disappoint me. There was going to be some misstep or oversight or shortcut, something that wasn’t fully developed or that should have been cut. Something that didn’t seem to fit. Something weak or wrong. But Immortals Fenyx Rising is one of those rare games that never let me down. Not once. Every time I played, I ended up smiling at its insight, confidence, charm, and humor.Continue reading →
Speed is a cheap vulgar thrill. It has none of the tension or innate drama of torque. You cannot savor speed the way you can savor the interaction of traction and mass. Speed wants nothing to do with the earth. It wants to leave it. But torque wants to defeat it, to prevail over it, to wrestle with it and throw it down and then tear loose from it to declare the victory of forward motion. Torque is determined to triumph. Torque is a battle. Torque grapples and struggles. Speed was barely even here.
That’s the premise of Snowrunner, and Mudrunner before it, and Spintires before that, all games about trucks wrestling with bad roads. Videogames have been letting us go fast for as long as they’ve been around. But the unique contribution of the Spintires line, which has its fullest expression in Snowrunner, is its intimacy with the ground. If you’ve ever driven a manual transmission, you know what I’m talking about.Continue reading →
I was done. I was finished with head-to-head card battling. So little has changed since Richard Garfield invented it with Magic: The Gathering back in 1973 or thereabouts. Build up mana, spend it to bring out cards with an attack and defense value, tap the cards to attack, win when you’ve done 20 points of damage to the other guy. All these decades later, so little has changed. Consider Hearthstone, a gleaming nugget of integrated game design and business model, polished nearly to the point of featurelessness.
Sure, there have been variations and even innovation. I’ve recently enjoyed Faeria for how it situates the action on a board built by the players as the match unfolds. Pretty clever. But even that only goes so far. If I’m going to match attack and block values, I need something more. And no game has enough something more to keep me interested.
Until now.Continue reading →
It’s been an, uh, interesting year for rally games. Dirt 5, which was already kind of superfluous given the amount of content in Dirt 4, took a new direction…and then drove right into a ditch. WRC9 continued that series’ remarkable campaign mode, which shifts the traditional caRPG structure from RP’ing as your favorite car to RP’ing as a rally team that’s not necessarily concerned with any specific car. But what’s been most interesting this year is a joyous and seemingly tiny rally racing game unlike any other.Continue reading →
It would be easy to fire up Code Vein, run around some of the early game areas, and conclude that it’s a Dark Souls soul in an anime body (amply bosomed ladies and androgynous boys with spiky coifs and freakishly large eyes). You wouldn’t be wrong. But to appreciate Code Vein, you have to wrap your head around something that’s initially confusing. Obtuse, even. Certainly not like anything I’ve ever seen. It’s not going to be easy to understand, and before you fully comprehend it, you might have decided to just return to whatever other Dark Souls clone you prefer. Its inscrutability in Code Vein won’t stop you.
But it’s the main reason I’ll be playing this weird little thing long after I would have given up if it were just a Dark Souls clone.Continue reading →
To appreciate Desperados III, you have to understand that videogame time is not linear. Videogame time allows you to rewind and try again. Over and over, if necessary, until you get it right. In most games, I’ve seen this as a failure, on my part and on the part of the design. I already played this bit and it didn’t work out, so why would I want to replay it? Why would I want to replay it over and over?Continue reading →
One of the greatest feats of engineering is holding back oceans. Also the oldest feat of engineering. Check out the first page of the Bible if you don’t believe me. It was the earliest bit of business God had to do before getting around to the stuff in the rest of the pages. This is also the premise of the Creeper World games. Divide the land from the waters. Hold back an ocean. Tame it, in fact.
If this isn’t a God game, I don’t know what is.Continue reading →
The two pillars of cyberpunk in popular culture (i.e. you don’t have to read a book or watch anime) are Blade Runner and The Matrix. These hold up and inform everything else. For instance, cyberpunk in recent popular media like Westworld and Altered Carbon. Aside from being set in dystopian futures, what do these all have in common? What makes them cyberpunk? Setting aside the genre’s roots in William Gibson’s spot-on Chandler-esque sci-fi prose, what is cyberpunk all about? I would say identity in the face of advanced technology. What sets apart the human and the virtual. Blade Runner (both the original and the superlative sequel), The Matrix, Westworld, and Altered Carbon all explore the themes of who we are in a world where reality is so readily manipulated, where the digital and the incarnate intersect, where neural implants infiltrate human consciousness and human consciousness infiltrates cyberspace. “What is my consciousness?” cyberpunk asks. “Where is my mind?” it wonders. Ontology and even epistemology. In a secular world, they are the high-tech takes on what used to be theological issues.
Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t interested in any of this.Continue reading →
Dirt 5 is the kind of game where your award after a race is paid in Dirt Dollars. Not US dollars, not Euros, not krugerrands, not bearer bonds, but Dirt Dollars. It’s the sort of game where you unlock stickers you can buy with your Dirt Dollars and then stick them on your car. Do you like stickers? Dirt 5 thinks you like stickers.
It’s the kind of game where voice actors adopt a forced casual mien to pretend to do a podcast that you have to listen to between races. Yes, a podcast. Idle chatter and bad jokes. They’re worse than DJ Atomica, and there are multiple of them. I’m trying to pick a race or buy a car and they won’t shut up with their podcast chatter. It’s worse than bad music, which I already turned off.Continue reading →
One of my favorite solitaire boardgames is Dan Verssen’s Hornet Leader, which is the original game in the Leader series when it was published by GMT in 1991, and also the pinnacle of the Leader series when it was revised and reprinted by Dan Verssen Games in 2010. The Leader series has gone in various directions during its 30-year history, and it’s mostly gone off the rails in the last ten years. Speaking of, I recently broke out Sherman Leader, which takes the action from jets to tanks. It’s an iteration of Tiger Leader from 2015, but as you might infer from the title of Sherman Leader, you play as the good guys. As near as I can tell, the two games are identical aside from the changed names and artwork. Basically, Sherman Leader is a de-Godwinned reskin of Tiger Leader.Continue reading →
In Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, you have to play as a Viking named Eivor, which is pronounced “AY-vore”. Eivor is a flaccidly drawn Mary Sue of badassery whose flimsy characterization consists of machismo and shit poetry. The male voice sounds uninterested. The female voice is hoarse and forced. Take your pick. You can even swap freely as you play. It matters that little.Continue reading →
Watch Dogs Legion is exactly what I want in my open-world games, and I know this because State of Decay was exactly what I wanted in my open-world games. I don’t need someone writing a story about a character doing character things, because good writing in open-world games is rare and meaningful writing is almost non-existent. So load me up with a team of dynamically generated characters and let me let them make my own story. This is what Watch Dogs: Legion intends.
Sadly, it’s not what Watch Dogs: Legion actually does.Continue reading →
[Editor’s note: Among the many things that I found deeply confusing in the 70s was the commercial for Life cereal. Two boys are given a bowl of Life cereal and told it’s healthy. Of course, they want no part of it. They’d rather have Sugar Pops or Froot Loops. But then one of the boys gets the bright idea to give the cereal to Mikey, because “he hates everything”. The other boy enthusiastically agrees.
I do not understand their reasoning. Why would they give it to Mikey if he’s just going to hate it? What do they hope to accomplish? I know what the commercial is trying to accomplish. It’s trying to sell viewers on the idea that Life cereal is so good that even kids who hate everything will like it. But I don’t understand the character motivation of the two boys. The fundamental premise of the commercial, the inciting event for the dramatic reveal, is flawed. Nonsensical, in fact.
I bring this up because it explains why I told Bruce Geryk that Hades was “not for him”. It’s not because Hades isn’t good. It is. It’s excellent. But I told Bruce Geryk that Hades wasn’t for him because I’m not someone who would foist off a bowl of Life cereal on some kid who hates all cereal. I would no more tell Bruce Geryk to play Hades than I would give Mikey a bowl of Sugar Pops or Froot Loops, much less Life.
But Bruce Geryk, ever the surly contrarian, ignored my comment about Hades being “not for him”. What’s more, he didn’t just play it; he played it a lot. He emailed me about it a lot. He even wanted to review it, which accounts for what you’re about to read. So while I’m still deeply confused about the choice the boys make in the Life cereal commercial, I can at last understand their surprise and delight by the end of the commercial: “He likes it! Hey, Bruce!”]Continue reading →