Author: Jed Pressgrove

Biased Notes Vol. 3: Far Cry 5

by Jed Pressgrove

You can read my review of Far Cry 5 here.

1. The artificial intelligence in this game can be quite bad; many times enemies won’t see you if you’re in their line of sight. But it’s the AI of your allies that can be comically terrible. Early on, I destroyed a truck which started a fire, and my ally proceeded to run into the fire and call for help before falling to the ground. My ally would also frequently block doorways that I needed to walk through. My quick solution? Shoot them in the head, walk over their prostrate body, and revive them. It’s funny (and pathetic) that a big-budget title in 2018 would inspire me to do such a thing, when a game as old as Final Fantasy VI (1994) featured characters who would get out of your way.

2. The best part of Far Cry 5 is avoiding roads altogether and trying to drive, at top speed, through woods and hills. The arcade charm of this activity cannot be denied: the shrubbery and small trees that you can knock out of the way look like cheap assets from Cruisin’ USA. Driving in this manner recalls the classic rural pastime of being a fool in the middle of nowhere, and if you don’t collide with too many big trees or dive into gullies and water, it saves time when going from point A to point B.

3. Far Cry 5 has a so-called open world, but it can be hard to remember that during the scripted sequences. The cycle goes like this: once you build up a certain amount of “Resistance Points” in one of the game’s three territories, the villainous leader of the territory sends a group of hunters to knock you out and bring you in. You can’t stop this capture, which leads to a crappy mini level. What’s ridiculous is that this contrivance occurs multiple times for each territory. You would think that instead of waiting for someone to blow up cult property after cult property and kill cult member after cult member, the main villains would have hunters on your ass the whole time. Not to mention that the “Resistance Points” concept panders to trendy political audiences. At this point, “resistance” is nothing more than a code word for people who want to appear hip and active between bouts of retweeting media figureheads who have dollar signs in their eyes.

4. As far as I know, Far Cry 5 marks the second time in two years that a big-budget game has featured a black Christian minister who seems all too comfortable with violence (Mafia III did it back in 2016). This choice of character is sort of a super stereotype, as it suggests the inherent violent nature of black men wins out even among the leaders of a religion that bases itself on the nonviolent example of Jesus Christ. Ignoring race for a moment, such a character could also inspire a variation on the lyrics of that idiotic Eminem song: “Will the real Christian please stand up?”


Octahedron Review — Sexed-Up Mechanics

by Jed Pressgrove

Whereas the overrated Celeste is more interested in death and whining than creative expression, Octahedron can’t get no satisfaction with its basic idea of a hero creating temporary platforms to reach new heights. From level to level, developer Demimonde obsessively introduces wrinkles to his game, showcasing a thirst for change that recalls the passion of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.

In Octahedron, the primary goal of every level is to reach the exit. You play as a blockheaded protagonist whose only power is to form platforms that disappear after a second or two. This premise somewhat recalls the 1986 classic Solomon’s Key, but Demimonde delivers a more urgent experience. To the textures and beats of a trance and house soundtrack, you can slide your temporary platforms to the left or right before they dissipate, allowing you to access the farthest corners of the game’s neon tunnels. All the while, you must keep count: initially, you can only create two platforms before needing to touch a permanent platform in order to recharge your precious ability.

The journey keeps morphing via a neverending well of rules, contraptions, and enemies. In one level, Demimonde gives you the allowance of 50 platforms that you can call into being before needing to land on solid ground, but this freedom comes with the price of having to navigate a maze of electrified walls while dodging the lasers of a stationary sentry whose counterclockwise rotations evoke a disco ball gone mad sniper. In another level, you can only create one platform at a time, unless you grab plus-sign power-ups in midair to add to your capacity.

Octahedron has no shortage of environmental puzzles that arrive with no detailed tutorial; Demimonde asks your lust for experimentation to match his. Thankfully, the ideas are as intuitive as they are stimulating, from pipes that suck you into different parts of levels to platforms that pop in and out of existence based on how far you move to the left or right. The affair becomes more complex when you gain the ability to conjure a second type of platform that shoots destructive beams from its bottom. This dominating power comes in handy when you must, say, deal with platforms that turn into bat-like pests once you get high enough above them.

Like many other platformers, Octahedron offers items to collect for a perfect performance. Unlike the case with Fez or Celeste, the collecting here feels orgasmic rather than constipated. Flowers bust out of light bulbs that you smash with your gliding platforms. Secret areas illuminate when you dare to go to precarious inches of the levels. Sometimes you pass the literal boundaries of stages. The fluidity and restlessness of Demimonde’s game is gasp-worthy.

Biased Notes Vol. 2: Rayman Legends

by Jed Pressgrove

1. If I had to sum up why I lost interest in Rayman Legends, I’d only need two words: cruise control. Playing the game feels too effortless, and even when there is a twist (like when you must rotate a big platform maze to reach an item), there is little room for creativity — it’s as if everything is predestined. It’s not like a Kirby platformer, which is typically easy but gives you plenty of powers to experiment with.

2. As easygoing as Rayman Legends is, it doesn’t feel “smooth.” There is an awkward pause before you run and after you throw a punch. I felt fundamentally disconnected from the avatar.

3. Rayman comes off as a wannabe video-game mascot. Just like Mario and Sonic, he throws a peace sign. As in Mario 64, you jump into paintings to start levels. The game’s overly celebratory tone and scratch cards seem designed to convince people that they’re playing something special rather than a well-animated rehash of other things.

4. Why do some games even bother pretending that they have secrets? When you find a “secret area” in Rayman Legends, you hear a specific tone, as if to congratulate you on a job well done. In reality, the areas in question seem like little stations you’re supposed to stop at as you chug along on the track.

5. Rayman Legends doesn’t commit to its neatest concept: an assist character that you call upon to open up paths in a level. I was excited to use this character at the beginning of the game, partly because it made me wonder how the proceedings might evolve around this concept. Soon this character was nowhere to be found. Most of the levels I played didn’t involve the very dynamic that interested me in the first place. Rayman Legends is like a musician that hooks you with a distinct melody or unusual time signature before coasting on covers like an amateur.

Loaded Questions Vol. 1

Loaded Questions is a new weekly feature at Game Bias. If you have a question you would like to submit, please email it to or tweet it to @jedpressfate. Questions can cover anything closely or tangentially related to video games or art, including but not limited to criticism, culture, and politics. Questions will be edited for clarity.

Question 1

Cesar Marquez: Hi Jed. Recently, I read your review of Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy. It was great, but I am curious about your complete opinion of game developers like Bennett Foddy, Toby Fox, and David OReilly. In your review, why did you say, “If there’s anything the indie gaming world needs to get over, it’s these guys”?

Jed Pressgrove: I wrote that line because these independent developers would like to think they’re above the big-budget norm and that they have something clever to say, but in reality, their commentary is superficial and insufferable.

To expand a bit more on Foddy, let’s take a closer look at how he views difficulty in video games. In my review of Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, I highlighted some of Foddy’s in-game comments on difficulty. At one point, he said obstacles in games are largely “fake,” and one of his reasons was that you can overcome most obstacles “just by spending enough time.” But how is this not true for Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy or its major influence Sexy Hiking? You have to spend enough time, or practice, to advance in either of these games. So if you want a unique experience with obstacles in games, Foddy isn’t the answer. Foddy should take note of games that challenge players to think about context and meaning rather than practice mechanics, such as Liz Ryerson’s Problem Attic and Will O’Neill’s Little Red Lie.

Toby Fox’s Undertale (which I reviewed here) is another game that wants you to think its obstacles are different, yet Undertale is as repetitive as any turn-based RPG. The only significant difference (beyond Undertale’s amateurish use of bullet-avoidance action) is that you can either kill or not kill enemies during battle. Fox seems to believe this binary option lends his game a moral dimension that we should care about, and if you play the game more than once (I didn’t), you can see how killing or not killing might affect the game’s world. However, other games, such as the Fallout series, have allowed audiences to see the ramifications of their decisions to kill or not kill, and they don’t ask you to play them multiple times to experience the consequences. Games like Fallout also don’t ask you patronizing questions like “Is killing things really necessary?”

David OReilly is different than Foddy and Fox in that he emphasizes the experiences of random things rather than obstacles. But he is very much like Foddy and Fox when it comes to trying to prove his cleverness. His last game, Everything (see my review here), uncritically employs audio of philosopher Alan Watts. OReilly never dares to directly question Watts’ sayings. This lack of philosophical rigor complements the game’s absurd vision of trees, animals, rocks, and other things. Maybe OReilly’s whimsical approach is funny to some people, but as with Foddy and Fox, his humor doesn’t reveal any wisdom or truth.

Question 2

Anthony Navarro: How is Splasher any different from other linear platformers?

I picked it up due to what you’ve written about it. The game is a lot less strict in punishment, and it just doesn’t demand tight timing like other games in its subgenre (the physics might be a bit too loose in some cases). I also think it does a better job setting up its fiction compared to Celeste (do they ever explain why Madeline can air-dash?).

But I don’t really see much space for creativity in its level design. It’s very much a pure execution test like Celeste. I didn’t find many scenarios where there was an option to choose between inks. I still enjoyed the game a lot more than Celeste, but I’m not seeing any of the creative expression that you mentioned. Am I missing something?

Jed Pressgrove: I’m not sure if you’re missing something or if we simply play the game differently. I’ll just share what I find interesting about the game.

For those who have not played Splasher, the game is meant to be played at a fast pace, and the protagonist can shoot three different types of liquid: water, red ink, and yellow ink. These liquids have different effects on enemies. Water can outright eliminate certain enemies, red ink can stop enemies in place, and yellow ink can propel them into deadly traps.

I really like the fact that you don’t have to switch weapons to spray different types of liquid. Each spray is linked to a different button, so as you barrel through one of the stages, you can dynamically use the different liquids in whatever way you want. During one segment, you might want to shoot an armored ground foe with red ink to give you enough time to kill two airborne enemies with water. Or if there are traps nearby, maybe you want to propel all of the enemies to their death with yellow ink. The key is making sure you hit the right button in the middle of your run. All of this makes Splasher different than Celeste, which doesn’t emphasize offense, much less dynamic options for kineticism.

On platforming specifically, Splasher is also different than Celeste. Whereas Celeste demands you to take very specific actions to progress, many death-defying leaps in Splasher can be made with a regular jump, with the red ink (which allows the protagonist to attach himself to surfaces), or with the yellow ink (which allows the protagonist to bounce himself off surfaces). There are also many cases where you have to scale walls, so you must choose whether to do so by running up the wall via red ink, bouncing up the wall with yellow ink, or a combination of both. Also, given that these methods result in different splashes of color, Splasher has a messier aesthetic than Celeste, which speaks to the former’s greater level of freedom.

So in the end, what makes Splasher stand out among platformers is its messiness. The stages literally get messy as you spray the liquids, and if you’re trying to hightail it through a gauntlet but your fingers don’t keep up with how you want to express yourself, you will likely find yourself in a mess. That’s why I would compare Splasher to Dr. Seuss’ best book, Oh Say Can You Say? The goal of reading a sentence aloud or completing a platforming level might be straightforward, but once you try to do these things faster and faster, the results can be very humorous (and embarrassing).

Question 3

Daniel Cánovas: For a top 10 or top 20 list, do you think it makes sense to include both longer games (RPGs, management games) and shorter games (platformers, action-adventure games) given that they have different approaches to gameplay immediacy?

Also, when do you think it is justified for a game to be long?

Jed Pressgrove: If we’re talking about a top 10 or 20 “greatest games” list, I believe it’s fine to include longer and shorter games. Both long and short games can be great, and some games, whether they’re long or short, achieve greater things than others. I’ll also say that unlike many people, I don’t mind comparing different things. Comparisons are about differences as much as they are about similarities. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “apples and oranges.” I hate that phrase because it absurdly implies we can’t compare two types of fruit and that similarities should always take precedence. The saying illustrates a defeatist, uncreative, and close-minded perspective.

The answer to your second question is simple. A game’s long length is justified when one doesn’t see a need for major editing, whether due to monotony, irrelevance, and/or incoherence. Of course, this point involves subjectivity, and it only gets more subjective when you introduce a multiplayer element. For example, perhaps you don’t mind a game being “too long” if that means you get to spend more time playing with a friend. At the same time, this positive feeling might say more about your friendship than it does about the game.

Biased Notes Vol. 1: A Way Out

by Jed Pressgrove

You can read my full review of A Way Out here.

1. Video games tend to demonstrate the usefulness of a shotgun at close range. Real shotguns are indeed scarily devastating up close. But a lot of developers seem to assume the shotgun can’t put someone down at a distance, even though the actual weapon can still be a force to be reckoned with at 50 yards (and in some cases, 100 yards or more). A Way Out doesn’t hold this absurd assumption, and I find that interesting given that the game’s focus isn’t shooting. This is not to say I was particularly impressed by the shootouts in A Way Out from a kinetic or mechanical standpoint. The game’s gunfights are part of director Josef Fares’ larger goal to deepen the bond between players, and this emotional purpose makes the climactic battle that much more affecting.

2. Although Fares’ first game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was great overall, it did feature one extremely tired and stereotypical idea: the spider woman. A Way Out has its own cringe-worthy flaw. At one point in the game, you visit a trailer park. For the most part, the residents of the park are depicted as everyday people, but an optional little story at the location involves a man cheating on his woman. This man’s name is Cletus, and that silly name, along with his dialogue (“I gots to go”), indicates that Fares, as much of a humanist as he generally is, is not above resorting to a lazy caricature for a laugh. Some might wonder why I didn’t mention this scenario in my review, as I have taken other games, such as Resident Evil 7 and Mafia III, to task for using obvious stereotypes. Here’s my explanation: while games like Resident Evil 7 and Mafia III rely on stereotypes to exploit fears and prejudices that people may have, A Way Out simply slips up during one moment that some people may not even see. That the stereotype in question is, like me, a rural white man doesn’t change this point.

3. A Way Out features the best game within a game since The Mercenaries (from Resident Evil 4): Grenade Brothers. This gem could warrant its own review. It’s essentially a strange volleyball game that is reminiscent of Pong from a visual standpoint. Unlike volleyball, there is a wall behind you, and you can legally deflect the ball off the wall. You can also volley to yourself as many times as you want before sending the ball over the net. I was immediately taken by the concept (side note: my friend on the couch didn’t stand a chance against me). Perhaps more significantly, this competition foreshadowed the 180-degree turn toward the end of the game.

4. If you like movies, Fares’ pulpy but moralistic approach in A Way Out is reminiscent of Samuel Fuller’s work. Moreover, the game’s emphasis on masculinity brings to mind directors like Sam Peckinpah and David Ayer.

Games and Guns: A Game Bias Special Report

by Jed Pressgrove

Here at Game Bias, we take games, as well as biases, very seriously. Not to be outdone by U.S. President Donald Trump, we also take the association between games, guns, and real-life violence very seriously, despite the fact that Trump seemingly took those things very seriously first, well before the publication of this article.

People might look to 90-second videos and scientific studies for guidance on the connection between games and guns, and that’s fine. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people or even incredibly stupid people. It just means they’re people without firsthand knowledge of how games and guns can spontaneously intersect.

Lucky lucky you, I happen to have such knowledge to share. It’s time for you to listen to me.

Last year I had an accident. I stepped on my PlayStation 4 controller, rendering it inoperable in key ways. To make matters worse, I was in the middle of playing a game for a review that was near deadline, so I had to shell out $60 for another PlayStation 4 controller right then and there.

Not a happy occasion, as you can imagine. I hated the fact that Sony would make such a sensitive controller, and I hated the fact that Sony would sell extra controllers for $60. Additionally, I hated the fact that I hated these facts, as the hatred ended up making me fairly bitter about the whole situation.

I did the only thing I knew that could make me feel better: I went back to the woods where I grew up to fire holes in the broken PlayStation 4 controller with my Ruger .357 revolver. Here is select documentation of that cathartic event, starting with the controller’s placement into a gap of a dead tree:






As you can see, when games and guns collide, you can have one helluva mess.

Way of the Passive Fist Review — Countering Monotony

by Jed Pressgrove

Whether the game is Double Dragon or Castle Crashers, the appeal of the 2D beat ’em up has remained the same for decades: clobbering gangs of adversaries with one’s fists, feet, and weapons. Way of the Passive Fist doesn’t subvert this approach so much as change the focus from offense to defense, requiring the player to anticipate and react to every single attack from foes. While this shift comes with the contrivance of bad guys attacking the hero one at a time, developer Household Games brings an unforeseen type of intensity to the genre with its greater emphasis on hand-eye coordination.

As beat-’em-up custom dictates, you walk from right to left in Way of the Passive Fist, and the scrolling only stops when the game sends a group of enemies for you to dispatch. But unlike the usual routine, you can’t proactively punch your targets into submission. Instead, you must tire your opponents out with parries and/or dodges before shoving them to the ground. As in rhythm games, there are degrees of timing here. If you barely counter an attack within the window of opportunity, you lose a slight bit of health. If your timing is good or “perfect,” you not only keep all of your health but also increase a combo meter that, once filled to certain levels, can allow you to perform a single offensive move, such as a body slam that hurts nearby foes in addition to the one being slammed.

This combo dynamic, in addition to encouraging an aesthetically appealing type of play, reveals the unique strategic identity of Way of the Passive Fist. Since you gain experience points (which unlock new abilities) the faster you defeat your opposition, the best strategy is to build defensive combos to unleash techniques that topple multiple enemies. This goal is easier to state than execute, as enemies have a variety of attacks to throw off your timing. The game starts off simple with its lessons: parry slow punches, dodge grappling moves, and catch projectiles to throw them back at their sources. After you advance to later stages, your defense must account for more complicated patterns, such as double projectiles and six-hit combinations. One mistake — from a missed dodge to an unnecessary parry — resets the combo meter. Way of the Passive Fist pushes for restraint, careful observation, and accuracy within a genre that usually rewards spamming and aggression.

To a large degree, Household Games mixes up the obstacles enough to keep you alert throughout Way of the Passive Fist. As you fight faster opponents later in the game, it can be jarring when an earlier, slower kind of threat returns to the fray, as sudden decreases in speed can disrupt your regular rhythm. Initially, the game also introduces environmental factors to compromise your comfort during battle. For example, in one early stage, you have to fight in sand storms that make it harder to see your adversaries’ nonverbal cues, which are critical when it comes to knowing what kind of counter you need to perform.

To its detriment, the game largely abandons environmental dangers about halfway through. There are 10 levels in Way of the Passive Fist, and each one has numerous waves of baddies, so a greater variety of traps and distractions could have reduced the repetitiveness of the proceedings. The final boss is disappointing as well: his pattern is too predictable, and he conveniently places himself in front of you after you fill up your combo meter by blocking his combinations. Despite these shortcomings, redirecting momentum as a defender in Way of the Passive Fist is a distinctive kinetic pleasure in a gaming world full of copiers and clones.

Flinthook Review — Randomly Passable

by Jed Pressgrove

Flinthook has some of the ingredients for a good 2D action game: an engaging set of mechanics, a compendium of interesting foes, and a rousing soundtrack. These strengths are sadly counterbalanced by poor fundamental design from developer Tribute, making Flinthook little more than a curious footnote in an oversaturated market of wannabe pixelated classics that treat randomly generated levels as the Gospel.

The kinetic possibilities of Flinthood are impressive, going well beyond the grappling-hook dynamic referenced in the game’s title. To survive, the player must creatively integrate the protagonist’s abilities (hooking, jumping, shooting, slowing down time) to dismantle and avoid ever-changing obstacles. Using the grappling hook in particular is adrenaline-charging: after hooking to a diamond-shaped metal ring, the hero automatically flies toward and past the target, meaning that you have to guess where momentum will take you, lest you run into an enemy or trap.

The game’s aiming system is a head-scratcher, though. As in Contra, you aim and move with the same stick, but Contra never felt this clunky. At times, I would aim up, and the character would end up shooting at a diagonal angle. Given the difficulty of the game, these puzzling moments of inaccuracy are unacceptable. The aiming problem is at its most irritating when you intend to grapple onto a specific ring but instead connect with another nearby ring, resulting in damage or death. Although the game does give you the option to lock the protagonist in place and aim (like Contra III: The Alien Wars), you have to earn and equip a perk to even use this basic ability — a pointless bureaucratic nuisance that is indicative of the modern action game’s awkward obsession with RPG/adventure elements.

The personality of the various enemies might make you forgive the issues with the control. You fight everything from suicide-bomber ostriches to squeaking puffer creatures that expand and shoot spikes upon death to teleporting, rocket-launching menaces who suggest a gene splice of a lizard and mangy cat. The bosses are real barnburners, too, requiring patience and precision as you hook yourself away from multiple types of projectiles and trap-ridden floors. While the prospect of offing all of these adversaries is appealing and rewarding, Tribute’s insistence on arena-fight cliches, randomly generated rooms, and item collection sucks the excitement out of the game.

Following the lead of games like The Legend of Zelda and The Binding of Isaac, Flinthook traps you in certain rooms during pivotal fights with regular enemies. While such isolation can increase drama and suspense, Flinthook telegraphs so much of its danger that the action comes off as blandly constructed. For example, a humongous red exclamation point signals when random enemies are about to appear in waves. Defeat one wave, and another one begins, but as in 2016’s Doom, you can briefly see where enemies will materialize before they start attacking or moving, depriving the environments of a lived-in quality that could have conveyed a compelling sense of place. The contrived randomization suggests Tribute took the easy way out with level design, especially when you enter rooms that seem no different from previous ones.

Like the obligatory perk system, the paths to the scintillating boss fights amount to another dull excuse to include an extra layer of bureaucracy. To encounter a boss, you must collect items from a series of various ships that you select from a menu. If a boss slays you, you have to start over and wade through another series of procedurally generated ships. Tribute’s reliance on randomness is an effort to keep players from getting bored, but the experience feels like you’re forced to endure sloppily designed, unremarkable levels just to get back to the most inspired conflicts of the game. Unlike contemporaries such as The Binding of Isaac and Downwell, Flinthook shows limited evidence that randomly generated trials can make for electrifying art.

Florence Review — It’s Not About Love

by Jed Pressgrove

If you go by many articles written about Florence, you’d think it’s focused on love. These articles merely barf up the game’s marketing line. Yes, the story features a bout of puppy love that anyone who has been fooled by feelings will recognize, but more importantly, developer Mountains illustrates the maturation of its titular protagonist into a person who finds that life is as good as you make it.

Florence is a young woman who is stuck in a repetitive job and who finds talking to her mother an annoyance, given the parent’s unending curiosity about whether her daughter will find a mate. But after a bicycle accident, Florence meets Krish, a cellist. From here on in this mobile-phone game, which uses a comic-book aesthetic and a chapter-by-chapter frame, you see how Florence and Krish get closer, move in together, and, finally, fall apart.

One of the more brilliant chapters of Florence simulates the common experience of growing comfortable with someone you like. In this segment, the game presents an oval-like space where you must fit in puzzle pieces to make Florence “speak” to Krish. At first, this scene feels like an excuse to throw in a mechanical device, as even a dull mind can see how to connect a six-piece jigsaw. Then, as the “conversation” continues, six pieces turn to three, and three pieces turn to one, indicating that Florence’s reservations and nervousness have fallen to the wayside. In any other game, such a scene would be a case of a puzzle becoming inexplicably and pointlessly easy, but in Florence, it’s a deft way to convey how increasingly natural a new connection to a lover can feel.

Of course, this sort of gradual comfort characterizes relationships that may end badly, and Florence is a better game for not forgetting that. The newness of a bond can cause humans to overlook obvious imbalances that are not so obvious at first. In Florence, the lopsidedness of the affair is apparent in how much more Florence pushes Krish to realize his dreams. Another sign of the relationship’s unbalanced nature is revealed in the chapter titled “Exploration,” in which the two explore more things that are specific to Krish’s life (family, music, etc.). The irony of this chapter drips as Florence gazes at Polaroids of the experiences, with nothing but a smile on her face.

Soon the puzzle-piece dialogue dynamic comes back in a negative context. Florence increasingly finds it easy to have a yelling match with Krish. When Krish moves his stuff out of her place shortly after this fight, Florence can’t seem to live without thinking of Krish.

The story moves well beyond Krish when Florence rediscovers her love of painting (ironically, this new life begins with a cheap art set that Krish gave her). Florence finds herself, so to speak, and in doing so, her perspective on life broadens. She no longer hates her job as much, though it remains monotonous. She no longer treats her mother as a nuisance, instead opening up to her. By the end of the game, the only trace of Krish is a photograph Florence puts in a box. While the piano- and cello-based soundtrack might be sappy, the message of growth, perhaps toward actual love, is unquestionably adult.

Top 4 Reasons Commentary on Kingdom Come: Deliverance Has Been Abysmal

by Jed Pressgrove

1. The Historical-Accuracy Claim

Following the lead of Kingdom Come: Deliverance director Daniel Vávra, critics and gamers are throwing around terms like “historically accurate” and “medieval life simulator.” Such absurd descriptions don’t reflect the truth but rather play into a marketing scheme, and that historians were consulted for the game is irrelevant (Hollywood filmmakers, notorious for historical inaccuracies, have consulted historians for decades). You could reject the historical-accuracy claim with a number of different points, but all you have to do is listen to the characters speak English in Kingdom Come, which takes place in 15th-century Bohemia, and realize you’re being pandered to on a basic level. Kingdom Come does achieve a degree of realism or verisimilitude, especially if you compare it to fantasy games, but that’s not historical accuracy.

2. The Tokenism vs. Erasure Debate

Contrary to popular belief, the prerelease debate about the lack of black people in Kingdom Come: Deliverance didn’t have two sides. It only had one side: stupidity. This discussion, if you could call it that, featured one argument that seemed to advocate for token black characters in the game for the sake of “historical accuracy,” a term that, as shown above, is dubious at best in this context. In this argument, I saw little concern for how black characters might be portrayed in such a game; the prevailing upshot was simply that black characters needed to be in a game that nobody had played yet. Another argument, started by Vávra, implied that no black people ever set foot in medieval Bohemia. This hypothesis is an exaggeration, and it was enough to inspire others to claim, idiotically, that no black people were in medieval Europe at all. Not only does this debate continue to distract people from the game itself, but it shows that many critics and gamers, no matter their worldview, enjoy forming reactions to games before playing them based on some half-assed political orientation — a sign of both intellectual dishonesty and deep-seated insecurity.

3. The Failure to Grasp the Connection Between Technical Expression and Style

When playing Kingdom Come on the PS4, I had not seen a game so technically inept since last year’s Troll and I, and I played dozens of new games between the releases of Troll and I and Kingdom Come. My review of Kingdom Come was met with some negative feedback that suggested it was unfair to focus on the game’s technical flaws, but how can a game be stylistically realistic if it does not technically function in a way to reinforce a sense of realism? The positive reviews of the console versions of Kingdom Come have not answered this question.

4. Game Critics Refusing to Be Game Critics

Both Waypoint and Giant Bomb declined to criticize Kingdom Come: Deliverance upon its release. To simplify, members of both publications said they didn’t want to cover the game because of Vávra’s connection to Gamergate. Taking this excuse to its logical conclusion, if critics work on the basis of whether they find creators morally objectionable, a majority of criticism would cease to exist. I find it incredibly hard to believe that no other game covered by Waypoint or Giant Bomb has ever had a developer who sympathized with some aspect of Gamergate. So I challenge Waypoint and Giant Bomb, right now, to go down the list of every game they’ve covered and prove that none of them involve artists who have said, supported, or done despicable things. If they accept this challenge, I believe both publications will find that reviewing games, not declining to review games because you find certain people deplorable, is the point of game criticism.