Grow Up
Review

The brilliant clumsiness of Grow Up

There’s a blinking emoticon of a robot waving its arms around. It has the kind of joy that should be reserved for kids at a birthday party, not a loading screen. Once the bar is filled the robot appears again—now in full 3D, a red shell like a Lego brick—but this time it’s animated like a drunk who’s too inebriated to stand. When I push forward on the analog stick it’s as if my small motion has turned the entire planet under its feet. The robot’s arms flail as if reaching for a pole or an edge to cling to.…

bound1
Review

Bound makes a case for ballet in videogames

I was eight years old when I watched my first ballet performance, the Nutcracker, at an old, musty local theater. When the show ended, my mom asked if I wanted to be a ballerina, and to her surprise, I cringed. There was no way I could be a ballerina, I insisted. My body, short and stubby, could never be so lithe, yet strong. To be a ballerina, I thought, would be to somehow transcend the human body’s limits. To my childhood self, ballerinas were these inhuman, majestic creatures who, in their bending and gliding, could tell wordless stories. Ballerinas were…

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Review

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided can’t wait to be interrupted

There’s an apartment in Golem City littered with dead bodies. Normally, I’d be the one to put them there, but not this time. One of them was probably named Ana, at least according to the emails in a computer nearby. The messages are from her doctor informing her that she’s pregnant. This would normally be good news. But Golem City’s daycare was recently shut down, the doctor informs her, and infant mortality is through the roof. Without actually coming out and saying it, the doctor seems to suggest that Ana should get an abortion. Given what I’ve seen so far…

death road to canada
Review

Death Road to Canada is not sorry about eating you

The only things moldier than a zombie’s jeans are complaints about the ubiquity of zombie-themed media. And yet, like a skeleton draped with liquified cold cuts wandering through the chapped streets of Any City, USA, here I shamble. The zombie—a thinly-veiled metaphor for the monstrosity of humanity, and even more translucent excuse to commit acts of violence on human-shaped targets “guilt-free”—is worn past the point of darning. The subtlety of any pertinent commentary on race, morality, or the depths and heights of the human spirit in the face of such an insurmountable threat has long ago been cast aside. The…

No Man's Sky
Review

No Man’s Sky is a theater of processes

I remember making a mental note when I read that Sean Murray’s “favorite thing” in No Man’s Sky were the space station windows. On two separate occasions, he even went so far as to take people directly to the same window, as if it was one of the prime features of the game. “I’m going to show you the stupidest thing,” explained Murray to IGN, “A videogame window,” quickly adding “but it’s super-cool.” It seemed like a particularly odd thing for him to say. Here was Murray, the face of a game with 18 quintillion planets, a game whose selling…

i am setsuna1
Review

I Am Setsuna is cold at heart

I grew up with JRPGs, but not in the sense that most people grow up with them. My mom always played them, and I always sat perched, cross-legged in our quaint apartment, happily petting our cat and watching her exciting journeys unfold. Mostly, it was the Final Fantasy games, but sometimes we’d fit a Sonic the Hedgehog session in. My mom was only 21 when she had me. She was a single mother who simultaneously juggled raising me, going to college, and working part-time. Videogames became her only hobby—they were an escape from her stress-inducing reality. JRPGs, especially those of…

Necropolis
Review

Necropolis couldn’t entertain the dead

How’d dungeons get so big, anyway? Before fantasy games, dungeons were modest medieval cells or imprisonment-themed sex rooms. But in today’s post-D&D RPGs the dungeon might as well be the cornerstone of the universe. Any tough mazey place becomes a dungeon: labyrinths, catacombs, mines, caves, mansions, factories, and even spaceships are called dungeons if there’s someone with three health bars and a pot of gold inside. It’s understood that the Forest Temple in Ocarina of Time (1998) is a dungeon, Rise’s mind in Persona 4 (2008) is a dungeon, and Karazhan in World of Warcraft (2004) is a dungeon, though none of them…

anarcute
Review

Not even Anarcute can put a friendly face on rioting

State of Emergency (2002) seemed real dumb even to a 14-year-old kid reading its EGM cover story. A chaser to Rockstar’s monumental Grand Theft Auto III (2001), State of Emergency wanted to carry on the torch, but only for Grand Theft Auto’s chaos and edginess. It was a Crazy Taxi (1999) for rioting where you’d play as thugged-out agents of mayhem, torching bystanders, smashing property, and maiming mall cops into pools of blood and floor tiles. According to David Kushner’s book on Rockstar, Jacked (2012), a reporter from the Tacoma News Tribune called up Rockstar’s PR in May of 2001…

Abzu WhaleShark
Review

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…