Transistor

Transistor is gorgeous to behold. Every visual element—from the city and its citizens to the cut scenes and menus—exhibits an impressive mastery of graphic design. The palette alone bears mentioning: In the same way that elaborately beautiful counterpoint in a fugue might motivate a person to take up music appreciation, Transistor fosters an inexplicable urge to study color theory.

All of which makes it the prettiest game I never care to play again.

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Sony at E3 2015: My Top Three Most Anticipated PS4 Games

For the past three years, every time E3 has rolled around, I’ve been sick and had to stay home from work.

No, I’m serious. It’s not what you think. I’ve simply had the good fortune to have had head colds and bronchitis at precisely the right time each year, allowing me to lounge about my living room for days watching live streams of all the latest AAA offerings.

Sadly, this year, I’m in good health. :/

That’s not to say I can’t still catch the occasional broadcast between meetings and after work. Last night, I watched Sony’s E3 Press Conference (most of it, anyway; see below). From what I saw, 2016 is shaping up to be an awesome year for the PS4.

Here are the top three PlayStation 4 titles I’ll be looking forward to…

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CounterSpy

CounterSpy is a fun little gem of a game from indie studio Dynamighty that draws on a rich stylistic history of espionage in 1960’s cinema. It starts with excellent graphic design inspired by the likes of Saul Bass, then layers on a cool, “spy jazz” soundtrack that would have made Mancini proud. Add some fun, light gameplay combining side-scrolling action with simple stealth mechanics and you have an experience that will have you longing for the simpler times of cold war espionage.

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Burial at Sea Episode 2, Part 1

I finally sat down last week to start playing Burial at Sea Episode 2. Again. I’m starting on round three, now that I think of it, but this is it! Third time’s a charm! Definitely going to finish this time!

The reasons for my many restarts aren’t important. What matters to me is the perspective I’ve gained through this exercise in repetition. Developing a critical, objective eye is difficult. When you love a genre or series, you run this risk of letting enthusiasm blind you to its faults. Re-reading, re-watching, and re-playing all help to temper that enthusiasm with cool, dispassionate objectivity.

Playing through the opening to Episode 2 multiple times has done just that. My first time through I was too starry-eyed to see anything clearly. It was fun, but it was like being a fat little boy in a candy shop (and, for the record, I’ve actually been a fat little boy in a candy shop, so I speak from experience). I was thoroughly “engaged”, but it wasn’t, shall we say, “healthy”.

Burial at Sea Episode 2 is an enjoyable game, but so far, it’s not without significant flaws, one of which may be Elizabeth herself.

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“Never Alone” Never Quite Achieves Its Potential

Never Alone held exciting prospects for me, partially because I’ve enjoyed indigenous folklore as long as I can remember.

When I was a kid back in the seventies, the small, country school I attended had a library tucked along one wall of its gymnasium/cafeteria. Amidst the usual assortment of grade-school texts, the library also offered stories on microfilm. Each film was accompanied by an audio tape that provided narration, music and sound effects.

African folktales were my favorite. I recall one in particular that depicted masked demons dancing out of a forest at night. Now, our school was bordered by a forest. This scene terrified me. I’m pretty sure it gave me nightmares.

In short, I loved it. I watched it over and over again.

So when I heard about Never Alone, it brought back fond memories of fantastic stories full of strange creatures and unlikely heroes. Sadly, while the game is visually appealing, Never Alone never quite lives up to its promise or potential.

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Rapture Revisited Part 10: A Dark and Brutal Symphony

Best. Ending. Ever.

Okay, I’m biased. Maybe it wasn’t quite the best ending, but it was easily one of my favorites. BioShock advanced the state of the art of game design, prompting deep reflection on the notions of agency and control.

Not everyone sees it that way. Opinions vary widely amongst players, some of whom were disappointed with BioShock’s narrative twist and what it said about their choices. In fact, to call them “choices” at all is to step into the discussion on an openly contested point: Many players and critics alike hold that any perceived sense of control in the game is an illusion.

BioShock has its flaws, but a lack of agency isn’t one of them. The control it offers is very real and reasonable, though individual presumptions about games—and narrative games in particular—might make it seem otherwise.

To see how this might be true, we need to put agency and control in proper perspective. It would help if we could move away from comparisons between games and films or novels and instead consider a more apt basis for comparison: orchestral music.

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