Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Friday, Dec 13, 2013
Need for Speed: Rivals is more of an MMO than a simple open world game, yet it doesn't know how to be an MMO.

Another year, another Need for Speed game. It’s been interesting to watch Criterion evolve this franchise over the years, and even though their name isn’t on the most recent game, Need for Speed: Rivals, the new developer Ghost Games is made up of ex-Criterion folk. They are Criterion in all but name only. Last year they tried to take Need for Speed open world and failed miserably (and then some). This year they made a better game, but one that is still at war with itself on a fundamental level.


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Friday, Dec 6, 2013
Ghosts doesn't have the same ambition of social commentary as Modern Warfare, so it's free to blow up half the nation in the opening cut scene. Just 'cause.

The Modern Warfare trilogy delighted in destroying monuments, both the literal and figurative kind: The White House, the American suburbs, the New York coastline, the Eiffel Tower, the streets of Paris, and so on. It has been outlandish and bombastic, but in retrospect and after playing Call of Duty: Ghosts, all that iconic destruction feels weirdly restrained. It’s a bunch of bluster being corralled by the invisible walls of “realism,” and it all feels like a desperate attempt by the developer to break out of an old mold that it had set for itself. By that, I don’t meant that Infinity Ward didn’t want to make a shooter—they most certainly did—but they wanted to make a different kind of shooter than what Modern Warfare could allow. I think the “Modern Warfare” moniker limited the kind of action that could be presented because it was a title that came with certain expectations of tone and setting. Expectations that were set before Call of Duty morphed into the spectacle shooter that it is today.


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Friday, Nov 22, 2013
The extent to which a story is interactive isn’t defined by how many buttons we press, but how important each button press is.

The first conversation in Telltale’s The Walking Dead (well, the first conversation of Season 1, a soon-to-be-necessary distinction) kept its focus squarely on Lee. The conversation was meant to establish his back story and personality; it was meant to be mundane and casual in order to establish a baseline normalcy that was soon to be shattered. Working in its favor was the fact that it didn’t have to do any world building. The Walking Dead takes place in the real world, so there was no need to explain any supernatural rules (well, not at this point anyways, that doesn’t happen until the zombies show up). This first conversation didn’t need to be expansive so it was kept narrow, focused, and the game benefited from that focus.


The Wolf Among Us has a much greater challenge ahead of it. This is a story about fabled fairy tale characters living in secret in Manhattan. By its very nature, the game has to explain a lot more about its world than The Walking Dead ever did. The first conversation in this series still needs to introduce us to Bigby Wolf, but it also has to explain the complex rules and politics of this secret fantasy society.


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Friday, Nov 15, 2013
Lost Planet 3 tries to swap its antagonists with the player's allies halfway through its story. It fails, but it fails in an interesting way.

Lost Planet 3 wants to tell an Avatar-esque story and admirably dedicates itself to putting the player through a tricky emotional arc. The game wants us to change from “oil rig worker” to “environmental warrior,” and it wants that change to be genuine every step of the way. That means that we don’t play as an environmentally conscious driller in the beginning. Instead, we play as someone who just wants to make a buck. We start the game with no qualms about our destructive drilling, yet we must be willing to rebel against our friends by the end. If the believability of this arc isn’t achieved successful, the entire story falls apart.


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Friday, Nov 8, 2013
Payday 2 does everything it can to make stealth unintuitive and unattractive.

Payday 2 is a first-person shooter cooperative heist game. You and three other crooks break into banks or malls, steal money or jewelry, and then shoot through waves of cops to your escape vehicle. But that latter part is not a given. You can actually do most robberies without setting off an alarm or even firing a bullet. The mere existence of the possibility of a silent robbery is important because it gives us something to strive for other than mowing down an entire city’s police force. As a possible goal, it encourages us to delay shooting for as long as possible, but in practice, the game is completely uninterested in this alternative. Payday 2 feigns interest at first merely by acknowledging that, yes, stealth is possible, but then it does everything it can to trick new players into shooting first and asking questions later. The unfortunate truth is that Payday2 doesn’t actually want you to be stealthy.


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