The Curious Expedition

The Curious Expedition is a disturbing portrait of the colonial mind

I could think of any number of better titles for The Curious Expedition. Here’s a few: Colonialism Simulator 1900; Literal Tomb Raider; Uncharted 5: The White Man’s Burden. Virtually anything seems better than the title the game actually has. You do embark on an expedition every time you play it—an adventure into foreign jungles on the other side of the world, where priceless treasures, golden pyramids, and possibly dinosaurs lie in wait. But “curious” seems like an incredibly inappropriate word for what you end up doing there. You will almost always encounter a tribe of “natives”—language and culture unspecified, because…

Red Dead Redemption

From the magazine: Red Dead Redemption, Reviewed

This article first appeared in Kill Screen’s relaunched magazine, Issue 9, which you can buy right now!  Header illustration by Christopher Black /// In 2003, HBO released And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, a lavish TV movie about a Mexican revolutionary who makes a deal with Hollywood to film, and star in, his own battle. Antonio Banderas plays Pancho Villa full of preening swagger, yet a strange kind of naivete—the naivete of someone already trying on the gilded robes of myth, already saving a parking spot on Olympus, boasting like Beowulf before the fact. The battle does not go as he…


Against Crafting

Some videogames exist solely to allow us to make things: Minecraft (2009), LittleBigPlanet (2008), Super Mario Maker (2015). Many more games—too many more games—ask us to make things for no good reason. Crafting systems were once grafted-on additions to games already engorged with an excess of “features.” They have evolved; they have expanded; they have become sentient. They need to be stopped. This is a manifesto against them. I. Crafting is boring, because it’s never more than a form of waiting Crafting is spreadsheet management, data entry, Dilbert on a Monday as he looks for ways to use a stapler…


Don’t hesitate to dive into Abzû

When I try to picture what the ocean depths must have looked like near England’s Jurassic Coast, 300 million years ago, I picture something like Van Gogh’s Starry Night (1889). I picture a space of stillness but also turbulent life, things moving ceaselessly in the restless dark; I picture everything swirling, vortices upon vortices. What I picture undoubtedly derives from my encounters with what seems to have been the region’s primary resident: the ammonite, a snail-like prehistoric shellfish with a shell in the shape of a swirl. Ammonites were everywhere in this place. If you look hard enough, you can…


In Defense of the 3D Platformer

Let me say it up front: the new Ratchet and Clank remake is magnificent. It also feels extremely strange, as though it hails from a parallel universe that isn’t quite our own. In this universe, the 3D platformer is ascendant. Good games are defined by everything it has in abundance: by the quality of their move upgrades; the length of their long jumps; the theming of their worlds; the cackling of their villains. Every game is legally required to have a fire level. Every game conveys the same set of values—duty, honor, the heroism of the ordinary, the sacrifice of…


Why videogames love Alice in Wonderland

The bed is on the ceiling. The faucet is dripping up. A fish floats above you, bleating sonorous pun-filled pronouncements: “The sweet scent of bile hangs like a condemned man.” In the center of the room is a tiny door; on the table, a potion. “I’m constantly observing my declining behavior as if through a looking glass,” the protagonist mutters to himself. I think you might know what happens next. Why do videogames love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)? Again and again they return to it as a reference point, regardless of genre, regardless of style. What I just described…


The Cave as Canvas: A Review of Far Cry Primal

Those who remember Banjo-Tooie (2000) with great fondness, as I do, may remember the ceaseless, bitter conflict between the Unga Bungas and the Oogle Boogles. The Unga Bungas are a warlike people, barely more than sentient beards with clubs; they get very mad when you try to sneak into their cave and routinely administer “big beatings.” The Oogle Boogles, by contrast, are meek and civilized, aspiring not to rule Terrydactyland but to “share” its primeval abundance. Banjo and Kazooie find the Oogle Boogles starving to death in a dark cave, blockaded by their tyrannical rivals. They are clearly the weaker…

Far Cry Primal

Far Cry Primal is more gathering, less hunting

“Upgradeable huts.” “Your game progression can be checked in your personal cave.” “Gather green leaves. To heal tiger wound.” These are some of the phrases I’ve encountered in my time with Far Cry Primal, and they encapsulate a fundamental disjunction that seems to define it. On the one hand, this is a serious and gorgeously realized caveman simulator, a playable diorama: a Far Cry in which every club, arrow, and spear must be crafted; in which darkness is a threat that only fire can abate; in which the formation of a rudimentary society feels, from a narrative perspective, like a matter…


Rocket League blasts into the world of esports

This article is part of a collaboration with iQ by Intel. The easy-to-learn “cars playing soccer” game brings the spectator-friendly accessibility of traditional sports to the technological world of competitive gaming. Anyone who’s had to suffer through watching a friend or significant other play “just one more round” of a videogame will readily admit that most titles aren’t such thrilling spectator sports. While slaying enemies in Halo 5 is exciting for the shooter, it’s a snooze-fest for any player without a controller in hand. One game, however, seems to have cracked that code. Psyonix’s Rocket League not only pulls spectators into the action, it achieves the sought-after…