The art of reviewing: The plot
Posted on Sunday, December 2 2007 @ 08:49:51 Eastern
Yeah, I talk a lot about reviews in my blog. Hey, it's what this site is mainly about, isn't it? So I figure that if any of you are interested, I might as well talk about how I personally deal with the different aspects of a game when I'm to review it.
So, one thing you might notice is that I am usually (but not always, of course) much more sparse about the plot than most other reviews of similar length. I'm talking about how I might find it good or bad, or generally just working within game context, but I'm almost never talking about the actual plot specifics, not even the opening scenes. This is a deliberate move on my part.
The main reason seems obvious, but it isn't necessarily: Plot spoilers. It seems obvious that we want to avoid plot spoilers, but it's certainly possible to discuss the plot more, isn't it? I mean, movie reviewers and book reviewers pretty much -has- to discuss the plot (well, unless the movie is meant to be a well-choreographed Hong Kong action or something like that.), only leaving off the end. But I still maintain that I hardly ever even go into the opening in anything but general terms, because... Well, because the plot is in many cases the reward for the challenge you've just got through. Most games that has a plot at all will usually have a cut-scene after each boss (or extra hard level). It's seldom the center stage of the game, but if it does have a plot at all, a "thank you for playing" screen as the entire ending doesn't cut it anymore. I know I feel cheated if that's all I get after playing.
So if I tell you too much about the plot, I feel like I'm essentially giving you the reward before you even started the game. Why would I do that to you? Why should I do that to you? I think the best I can do is to tell you how important the plot is to the game, and how well it then progresses, preferably without telling any specifics. Suikoden V, for instance had voice acting, but the main story contain lots of "text only" cut-scenes that also takes up a lot of unnecessary loading time for no good reason. Before ever mentioning the actual plot itself, I can tell you that this is not a good reward for a console RPG. If you decide to use voice acting at all, it should be in just about every main plot cut-scene, all the way through. And it shouldn't be taking up precious loading time to initiate either, especially not when taking place in the same room you've just walked around in. See, you still have no idea what the story itself is about, do you?
Of course, if I hardly ever mention the plot, it can of course be harder for you to figure out why I'm enjoying it or not. You'll need to have played plenty of the same games I have to start getting a more specific picture of what I get out of a plot. But then again, I'm not so sure that it's necessarily a bad thing. I think it's easier to agree on what constitutes good gameplay within a defined genre (for example, most platform game fans will definitely enjoy Super Mario Galaxy) rather than a good plot, so trying to oversell the latter has a much bigger chance of biting you in the ass. The plot is a reward, but the reward means nothing unless the challenge to getting it is so completely boring/broken/useless that you'll throw your controller at the TV before you're getting halfway through the level. And I think we can agree it's more important if I tell you how good the odds are of that happening.
And then there is the question of telling whether or not the plot is "surprising". I actually said as much and even gave an example in my review of Psychonauts, because I felt the game warranted it. I'm not sure I did the right thing, though, Telling someone that this game's plot is "surprising" seems to me to be a guarantee that half the surprise is gone already, because you'll be "expecting the unexpected" when you start playing it yourself.
The reason I did what I did with Psychonauts is that the plot is tied together so deeply with the gameplay. See, without that setting, the game would be much more boring, and the often less-than-accurate controls would become an order of magnitude more annoying. The game was intentionally set up to have the setting and the plot explain and enrichen what would otherwise be fine, if not at all great platform gameplay. I found it hard to explain this in any other way than putting up that example, but feel free to suggest to me other ways I could have handled this.
You might of course disagree with my decisions on how I discuss a game's plot. That's fine. But I think we should all be more concious about how we attack this aspect of the game, because it is in fact easy to spoil the experience for the gamer if you don't care about whether or not you're revealing something that should be revealed in the game itself.
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A small victory
Posted on Tuesday, November 20 2007 @ 02:46:13 Eastern
So... When I was the tender age of 12 or thereabouts, my uncle introduced me to the concept of First Person Shooters, with the hottest new game in the PC world: Wolfenstein 3D. And it didn't take. In fact, it did much the opposite. And throughout the next 8 years or so, my sporadic reaquaintances - Doom 2, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake 1 and 2; all thanks to my FPS-happy cousin - only reinforced this feeling. And for a reason I bet many of you can identify with: Fear.
See, the one thing I really hate about that kind of game is that they used to fricking scare me. A lot. And that was when I played them on Godmode. Heck, even turning off the monsters in Doom 2 still made me uncomfortable roaming their levels. That's some deep-seated fear ****. I really, really hated the way I could be turning around and the entire screen would be filled with the face of some ugly bastard trying his best to kill me.
And while FPS games are scary as hell - and don't even bring up horror survival games like Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil - it's hardly been the only arena where I've had some problems. Case in point, Ocarina of Time. I always had to pause the game before entering the boss room the first time I played this. I had to fricking muster up some courage. And that Shadow Temple? Took me 2 days to get through, no kidding. Of course, once I just actually got to the boss, that took me 5 minutes to beat, because as soon as the intro sequence is done, the worst was over as far as I was concerned. Yeah, it's weird.
And I have beaten both that and the other Zelda games, even though I still need a little break before some of the bosses. But it's not until now that I finally bought an FPS game. Of course, another thing about that genre is that they by and large are PC games, and I by and large am a console player. And most of them are first and foremost intended for multiplayer, while I pretty much go with single-player games.
But on the other, Metroid Prime 3 is hardly your average FPS game, and I think that's part of why I chose it for my test experiment. So far, I must admit that it does contain those elements that I used to find too frightening to be fun. But I'm overcoming it. I'm actually overcoming it. Of course, it does help that it's such a ****ing brilliant game that is only partially about shooting monsters. I'll come back to that when it's reviewing time. But for now, make no mistake, I still get scared, especially from entering the big rooms, because that's where there's usually some monster swarming going on. So there is something to overcome.
And as someone with at least a passing knowledge of the Metroid universe, let me tell you this: Walking inside some narrow corridors containing metroids in some sort of suspended stasis that you just -know- you're going to release by cutting off an important power surge that's at the end of these corridors, meaning you know you're going to have to fight the bastards that actually want to suck out your life at brain level (thereby filling all the screen)... You'll more than likely just laugh it off, but in my mind, that kind of foreshadowing is almost akin to something á la the Cthulu mythos.
But I think I'll see if I can borrow the first two games from a pal of mine. And after that... Well, who knows? I'll probably never play a game like Eternal Darkness, but there might be some other single-player-friendly FPS game out there for me.
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Jak and Jak 2
Posted on Wednesday, September 12 2007 @ 21:38:21 Eastern
Now, unlike other older games I've reviewed, Jak and Daxter, and Jak 2 are recently bought and played, and I have, also recently, become a bit uncomfortable with fully reviewing such games. I usually buy such games for the nostalgia factor, or in this case, because I first bought the third game in the series and wanted to have the whole trilogy. In other words, it's a slightly different reason than usual that I bought these games, and therefore, it's hard to talk about it the way I talk about a game I bought simply because I hoped it was good.
In any case, if you haven't yet played them yourself, they are actually still not bad. The first game is rather like Mario 64, except you're collecting power cells instead of stars, you die more easily, and the levels are interconnected to each other, meaning that you can walk from the starting point to the end point without once making the screen go black even for a split of a second (though there are also a few teleporters around, thankfully).
Jakk 2 is quite different, and much more reliant on a plot and missions, most of it taking place in a city so big you'll frequently get lost in it. You also get guns, and you'll do more driving, in quite a few different manners.
So, well, while especially the first game shows its age, they're still both perfectly acceptable platform games... Well, the second game is some sort of platform/racing/action game, really. Sometimes having all three in one mission. Quite like a less refined version of Jakk 3, so read my review of that to get a fairly good idea here.
And frankly, I'm really surprised that not more games have started to use auto-saving in a way that doesn't interfere with gameplay. Or having ways to ensure that while there is some loading going on, you won't really notice it, because they've done it in a clever way so you don't ever have to go offscreen.
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Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon
Posted on Friday, January 5 2007 @ 08:40:10 Eastern
Just popping in to say I can't remember this game well enough to make a full review out of it. I remember it being slightly entertaining, but also very annoying at some parts, especially some of the minigames (the don't let the balloon pop game is HA... read more...
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Claryfying my reviews
Posted on Friday, September 22 2006 @ 09:29:24 Eastern
OK, as I'm sure that those of you that have read my stuff - and it seems there are a few of you - have noticed, most of my reviews are of games that are several years old. So, if you wonder how that affects my recently written reviews, I'll tell you ... read more...
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Reviewing most of my games
Posted on Tuesday, September 19 2006 @ 19:20:29 Eastern
OK, so I have just joined this place as a member, and I have the intention of eventually putting up a review of all the games I own, with a couple of exceptions. Sometimes it's because I haven't played the game enough because it's really a multiplaye... read more...
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