Sunday, December 8, 2019

Life is Strange 2: a (second) very short review

I know, I know, I was talking about Life is Strange 2 just two months ago. But I hadn't finished it then.

So you get to hear about it again.

Life is Strange 2, from Dontnod Entertainment, is an episodic, story-based game which features a high degree of player choice in determining the outcome of the game. But, as opposed to the simple "choose your own adventure" games that you might be familiar with from previous decades, Life is Strange 2 features player choices that are complex, thought-provoking, and eventful. You'll find yourself thinking about the choices that you made for quite some time afterward.

As an episodic game, Life is Strange 2 is delivered over time, in multiple parts, rather than arriving in your consciousness all at once; this is a deliberate practice by the game designers, to encourage you to take some time in between playing sessions, to reflect on the game as it's occurred so far, and to anticipate what lies ahead.

Which is a very interesting idea!

There are 6 total episodes, because you have to consider The Amazing Adventures of Captain Spirit as part of the overall game, and you're missing out if you only play Episodes 1-5 without also playing Captain Spirit.

Episode 5, with the ending (actually, with all 7 endings, though unless you go through multiple replays you'll only get one ending experience), just arrived last Wednesday.

Rather unlike my typical behavior, I was so eager to have the ending that I immediately downloaded the final episode and played through it over the weekend.

I was so eager, in fact, that I rather rushed through the episode and missed some of the more interesting parts (for example, I only partially explored the drop-out colony of Away and its inhabitants).

These, sadly, are hard and stressful times that we live in.

Perhaps times are always hard and stressful?

But let's stop and think for a bit about the various topics that Life is Strange 2, which is A GAME, AFTER ALL, asks us to consider:

  • Single-parent Households
  • Parental Separation
  • Parental Abandonment
  • Bullying
  • Domestic Violence
  • Gun Violence
  • Police Brutality
  • Homelessness
  • Foster Care
  • Alcohol Abuse
  • Drug Trafficking
  • Runaways
  • Relationships
  • Teen Suicide
  • Religious Cults
  • PTSD
  • Gender Identity
  • Conversion Therapy
  • Body Image
  • Piercing and Tatooing
  • STDs
  • Physical Injuries and Permanent Physical Disability
  • Veterans Affairs
  • Racial Prejudice
  • Disenfranchisement
  • Immigration Policy
  • Vigilante Militias
  • Prison

This is a heavy, heavy list, obviously.

The designers of the game are aware of this. They have a separate section of their website where they offer resources to people who are struggling with problems like these.

And struggling with the topics is a fairly common result, at least judging from the reviews I've read.

I'm not eager to replay Life is Strange 2. I got the ending that (I think) I wanted to get, and I feel like it was very appropriate for me, given the choices I made during the game.

Yet even though I feel like I'm "done with" the game, I'm really, really glad that I took the time to play it.

Nothing like an experience that makes you think.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

They spent a LOT of money on lawyers...

... and I don't think the world was really a better place as a result.

The Trespasser: a very short review

I certainly hope that Tana French writes one hundred more books, for I am certainly going to read them all.

The Trespasser is the sixth of the Dublin Murder Squad books.

Like the others, it features plenty of gritty Dublin city streets, plenty of vivid and fascinating characters, an intricate story which has its roots deep in the past, and a collection of hard-nosed, underpaid, over-worked, diligent Dublin Murder Squad detectives trying to figure the whole thing out.

Many people felt that The Trespasser was French's strongest effort so far.

I can't point to a single flaw; every page is perfect. I read it deeply and thirstily, craving each new page, lingering over each phrase and detail.

And yet, somehow, it was not my personal favorite. It didn't have the lyricism of In the Woods; it didn't have the horror of The Likeness or Faithful Place; it didn't have the mysticism and spirituality of Broken Harbor or The Secret Place.

In place of those elements it brought a raw power driven by the pace and pressure of our modern times, coupled with a deep and affecting portrayal of the reality of gender issues, inequality, and bullying in the workplace.

All of those topics are timely and urgent, and I'm very glad I read The Trespasser.

But whereas with other French novels I sat around for weeks afterwards, allowing them to linger in my mind, feeling unwilling to start the next because I didn't want the previous one to be over, I didn't feel that way this time.

Interestingly, French's latest novel, The Witch Elm, is not a Dublin Murder Squad book.

Maybe she feels the same way I do.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Plague Tale: Innocence: a very short review

I finished the final boss battle, and the ending scenes, of A Plague Tale: Innocence on this rainy Sunday afternoon.

The grey, leaden, dull skies outside my window were a perfect accompaniment to the dark story of this vivid, engrossing game.

As A Plague Tale begins, our brother-and-sister protagonists, Amicia and Hugo, have just been tragically and horribly orphaned by the Inquisition.

On the run in the Dark Ages of Medieval France, Amicia and Hugo have one thrilling adventure after another, meeting up with a rag-tag collection of shopkeeper's children, craftsmen's apprentices, and street urchins along the way.

The villains are evil, the challenges are entertaining, and the overall pacing of the game is superbly paced and delivered.

The game has a nice balance of combat, crafting, sneaking, puzzle-solving, and just generally wandering along through the story and enjoying it.

The artwork is magnificent, full of detailed touches that are quite immersive.

And the rats! Oh! The rats!

A Plague Tale: Innocence is definitely not for everyone; there's quite a high "ick" factor that takes a fair amount of willingness to work through. But it was right in my wheelhouse and I thoroughly enjoyed helping Amicia and Hugo through their time of trials.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Sabato Rodia, 60 years later

One of my strong childhood memories is of visiting the bizarrely-beautiful Watts Towers, in South Central L.A.; they were the perfect fascination for an 11-year-old boy.

Now here comes a nice article on seashells, and on Sabato Rodia, and on how we humans relate to coastlines around the world: The Symbolic Seashell.

That’s when he turned to the sea for salvation. Over the next three decades, Rodia hauled some 10,000 seashells from the coast to his property, where he built a whimsical fantasy of concrete walls, arches, and towers that soared to over 30 meters. He studded the structure with the shells, as well as with broken tools, plastic toys, glass bottles, pieces of tile, and thousands of other found objects.

"...these shells, they travel..."

Indeed.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

I love Polygon's list of the 100 best games of the 2010s

If you have any interest in modern video-gaming, you'll love The 100 best games of the decade (2010-2019)

They gave Journey too much credit, gave Portal 2 too little credit, and the game I'm playing now isn't even on the list.

And really, Far Cry 3 didn't make it onto the list at all? (good to leave FC 4 and FC 5 off the list, though!)

The thing about lists like this is: are they interesting? This list definitely is, mostly because the Polygon editors do a nice job of summarizing why they thought a particular game deserved your interest. So overall I'd agree they succeeded; it's a very solid list.

The biggest surprise of the list, to me, was Kentucky Route Zero. I gave this a pass 5 years ago, but maybe I should go back and give it another look? It's interesting to look at Metacritic's results on KRZ, which show an enormous distribution of scores.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Mistress of the Art of Death: a very short review

When I was recently at the ever-amazing Powell's City of Books, one of my selections was Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death.

Although it's quite expertly-crafted and very well-executed, Mistress of the Art of Death is also very much all over the map.

Is it a historical novel? A murder mystery? A romance?

Yes, to all three. The depiction of England during the time of the Crusades is quite vivid, and makes an entertaining backdrop to the foreground story of a serial killer terrorizing Cambridge with a string of gruesome murders.

And our heroine is quite an inventive character, a young woman from the ancient Italian city of Salerno. She is medically-trained and speaks several languages, and is known as a Mistress of the Art of Death because she got her medical training at a school which practiced autopsies, a quite rare approach at the time, at least in western medicine.

I'm not sure how interested I was in the romance.

And I'm not sure that 12th-century England is all that appealing a place to spend my idle reading hours.

But overall I liked Mistress of the Art of Death quite a lot.

I see that Franklin has written a number of additional books; perhaps I'll give them a try!