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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Telltale’s Game of Thrones and DONTNOD’s Life is Strange.

I am contemplating whether or not to kick someone off a 700 foot wall. An hour earlier I was just trying to decide what to have for breakfast. The first takes place in the cold north of Telltale’s Game of Thrones, the second occurs in DONTNOD’s Life is Strange, two adventure game siblings in what is now quite clearly a genre renaissance. While the deadly realm of Westeros is a far cry from the calm Pacific Northwest, the two experiences are not as removed as you might think. Both games bend genre expectations and explore their narratives while fully aware of their opportunities.

by G. Christopher Williams

8 Apr 2015

Risk of Rain fanart by
LordKaniche (DeviantArt, 2015)

To be honest, I just don’t think that Risk of Rain is much to look at. Screenshots simply don’t do the game’s aesthetics any kind of justice (hence, my decision to go with fanart for the splash image above that captures the scale of the game, if not it’s exact look). The graphics in the game are pixelated, muddy, and old fashioned, featuring a tiny little spaceman in a great big, ugly world.

However, that doesn’t mean that the choices made in the art design for this game are mistakes, though. What Risk of Rain gains at the expense of slick, stylish visuals is a sense of scale, and scale is probably the most important visual quality in conveying the game’s mood, tone, and interest to the player.

“The greatest adventure game of all time.”

I’m generally dubious about statements like this. They lack nuance, information, and are fundamentally authoritarian in their evaluation of a work. It just gets worse when such phraseology is used in the sphere of video games, a sphere that is well known for it’s penchant for hyperbole in all things. “Greatest” is a descriptor of such common standing in video game discourse it means little more than, “I had positive feelings about this for a time.” For such statements of high praise, often very little thought and appraisal goes into the subjects that they are attached to.

In 1998, that label was attached to Grim Fandango. It was a label that hung on the game long after the game itself became inaccessible to most of the gaming public, thanks to low availability and an engine that didn’t play nice with modern operating systems and processors. Yet, 1998 is an infamous year in gaming as it was packed to the gills with classics and influential titles that resonate to this day. To stand out from a crowd that included the likes of Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid, Ocarina of Time, StarCraft, Pokemon, and more means there has to be something to all of those statements. Now, thanks to the recent release of Grim Fandango Remastered, I can finally see for myself if this descriptor is true.

Let’s slaughter us a sacred cow.

The first episode of Battlefield: Hardline ends with an action scene—and a cheesy joke. Nicholas Mendoza and his partner Khai are investigating a suspect’s house when they get attacked by gunmen. Khai gets shot in the shoulder, and I hold the wound closed while fending off bad guys. They blow open the front doors, then crash through the front wall with an armored truck, but I still manage to kill them all. As S.W.A.T. teams storm the house (where were you literally five seconds ago?), they find our suspect and ask me, “Who’s this?” Mendoza gives them a smile, “Him? He does spreadsheets.” Fade to black.

It’s a callback to a line from five minutes earlier, from just before the gunmen attacked. It’s a joke that’s entirely unearned: Mendoza is pretty serious up to this point, and these two men literally just met. They haven’t had a chance to grow into any natural cop/criminal buddy banter. It’s a cheesy joke that falls flat, and it’s the exact moment when I started to like Hardline.

by Scott Juster

2 Apr 2015


Concept art for Risk of Rain (Chucklefish, 2013)

I didn’t have a chance to play Risk of Rain when it first came out, which is probably a good thing. It’s been exceedingly hard to be productive since discovering how much I like it. It has a catchy name that’s also a metaphor for the gameplay.  It’s a crisp action game with harsh consequences and randomized item drops. Most of all, it’s a game full of various timers that force you into making tough decisions.

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