Troll and I

Loaded Questions Vol. 2

Loaded Questions is a new weekly feature at Game Bias. If you have a question you would like to submit, please email it to pressgrove84@yahoo.com 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 may be edited for clarity.

Question 1

Taylor Vaughn: What games handle religion/religious belief (either real or fictional) in an interesting way as part of the gameplay (rather than just a theme)?

Jed Pressgrove: There are three main examples that come to mind (from weakest to strongest): The Shivah, Proteus, and Earthbound.

The Shivah is a 2006 point-and-click adventure in which you play as Russell Stone, a Jewish Rabbi who has lost hope and made questionable decisions regarding his congregation. He becomes a detective of sorts when he learns that a former member of his synagogue has been murdered. As in many other point-and-click adventures, you engage in dialogue as the protagonist, and when it’s your turn to respond to a character, the game gives you a few optional lines, one of which is always labeled a “Rabbinical response.” Although I like what developer Dave Gilbert was going for here, this element, which results in a rhetorical question from Stone if I recall correctly, often comes off as contrived or merely amusing. Do note, however, that many critics went ga-ga over Mass Effect’s stilted dialogue choices, as if they were innovative rather than reductive, when it was released in 2007. The Shivah’s handling of this approach was superior to Mass Effect’s.

Many critics see Proteus as a “walking simulator” or “first-person walker” or “non-game.” These are childish labels that trivialize the spiritual daringness of the game, which uses walking and flying to situate the idea of being a Christian disciple and lover of creation in a mythical context (Proteus was the name of a Greek sea god). People frequently recall the main section of Proteus in which you interact with different forms of life on an island. But at the beginning of Proteus, you’re literally walking on water, just as Peter wanted to do with Jesus in the Gospels, before you get to the island. After you start traversing the island, you can eventually move time forward and experience all four major seasons. During the final season, you ascend to the heavens, which, in terms of play, is a major departure from the walking and running you’ve grown accustomed to. It’s an ending of joy that evokes the concept of eternal salvation.

Last but not least, Earthbound’s climax involves a worldwide prayer to defeat an enemy who seems unbeatable. As Paula, the lone female hero of the main party, you could always pray during battle for a random effect, in the game’s joking way. Thus, I never prayed as Paula because of the unpredictability. But when you reach the final battle, you throw everything you can at Giygas, the final boss, and he just keeps surviving and growing more dangerous. The first few times I fought Giygas, I failed because I assumed I could beat him through normal attacks. Then, during one session, it hit me: why not try praying with Paula? It was the only thing I hadn’t tried in previous attempts.

Initially, prayer only does a little damage to Giygas, but as you perform the action round after round, the game cuts to other places of the world where characters you had met sense that they need to pray as well, and the damage steadily increases. By the final time you pray, you’re inflicting massive damage to Giygas, who fades away. Through this unique take on turn-based combat, Earthbound suggests that spiritual unity can help humanity overcome its worst fears and obstacles.

Question 2

Jim Bevan: Has your opinion changed on any games that you were initially very positive or negative towards?

Jed Pressgrove: Yes. The best example of either case was my experience with Final Fantasy Tactics many years ago before I left home for college (I’m 33, for those keeping score). I remember trying to get into it twice and quitting out of frustration both times. Although I started playing turn-based RPGs at around the age of 7, I wasn’t as familiar with the turn-based tactical genre, and Tactics is unrelenting if you don’t think more defensively. I thought it was a miserable excuse for a Final Fantasy game. Thankfully, I tried it a third time and was blown away by everything you could do. I liked it so much that despite getting stuck at the save point right before you face Wiegraf/Belias (I didn’t have the right party to win the fight), I started the entire game over (a loss of 20+ hours) just to properly prepare myself for the Wiegraf/Belias fight. Beating that boss was a great feeling when it finally happened.

Question 3

Ian Mossner: What do you think about the timing of your reviews? For example, Kingdom Come: Deliverance recently got a patch. What if you had reviewed the game after the patch? Your review would have been entirely different.

Another example: upon release, Dragon Ball FighterZ was unfinished, but now that certain elements have been added, if you were to review it, the criticism of it being unfinished could not be repeated by you.

Another example: in your review of Iconoclasts, you mention a dialogue segment where soldiers engage in “locker room” talk, but that segment has been entirely changed based on my recent playthrough. So people who play it now will not experience what you did.

So I guess my question is how important is timing in your reviews?

Jed Pressgrove: It can be important because it can give me the opportunity to show my values as a critic and human being. One of my beliefs is that if you’re going to sell a physical or digital thing, it should be finished. Bottom line, end of story. I don’t care if you’re talking about a car, a song, a shirt, whatever. I grew up in a poor working-class family, so I know how precious money can be. People should finish their work before selling it to anyone. Otherwise, it’s a ripoff, and it shows me that you, as a creator, have little respect for yourself, other people, and the state of the working class.

Here’s one tricky part: what is “finished”? With video games, if the game is in an alpha or beta stage, it’s unfinished. I’m against playing and reviewing early-access titles for this reason. I don’t want to pay for or play anything unfinished, and I don’t want to encourage other people to do it, either, because early access is a bullshit trend that needs to stop.

Although Kingdom Come: Deliverance wasn’t an early-access game on the day of its release, it might as well have been. I can forgive a glitch here and there. I can forgive some imperfections (though I can and will criticize those imperfections). But if just about every part of your game suggests that you didn’t put in the work to release the game in a state that wouldn’t rip off someone, you’re just as bad as the early-access grifters, and your game more than likely looks and plays like crap. And honestly, even though you mention a new patch in your question, I’m still not convinced my review would be that different. There was a patch for the PS4 version before my review was published, and the game still suffered from everything I mentioned in the review. That team of developers is so inept that I have no faith in the game.

But let’s assume Kingdom Come: Deliverance wasn’t the biggest technical failure that I played since last year’s abominable Troll and I. My review would have focused more on the game’s story and attention to realism. Based on what I could gather through my glitch- and bug-ridden experience, the game was still nothing to write home about on any front. From this angle, timing may not matter as far as whether I like the overall game or not, but it would certainly affect the thrust of my essay. Perhaps my review of Kingdom Come: Deliverance would have been more cultural or political in nature.

I haven’t played Dragon Ball FighterZ, so I can’t comment on it specifically. I will say that the trend for fighting games to be “live services” is annoying. The fighting game community never shuts up about tiers and unfairness, so as long as the cycle of player whining and patching continues, who knows what fighting games will look like. At the same time, I have played well more than 100 fighting games, so I can often spot a substandard example of the genre when I play it, even when it receives frequent patches, like Street Fighter V. With this in mind, timing of reviews might be less important for certain genres.

Your example of Iconoclasts is interesting and presents a different kind of potential dilemma. Changed dialogue can change one’s interpretation of a game’s theme or message. So timing in such a case could be extremely critical. Fortunately, that scene you’re referring to in Iconoclasts, if it is indeed different (I haven’t been able to confirm it yet due to my busy schedule), doesn’t play a significant role in my overall interpretation of the game. I just thought it was a fascinating scene that deserved to be mentioned in a largely descriptive sentence.

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Game Bias’ 10 Worst Video Games of 2017 and Play-Instead List

by Jed Pressgrove

Although 2017 has nothing on 2015 in terms of its overall share of terrible games, several works this year showed a special hatred for rural folk and places. This trend shelters the political egos of fools that think people who live outside of cities are largely deranged, clueless, and hopeless. The biggest monsters in one’s mind will always be the biggest monsters in one’s world, regardless of the diversity that spans all of humankind.

You’ll notice I’m doing something different this year with the list. For each of these reprehensible choices, I will suggest a game you should play instead. The catch is I’m only going to recommend alternatives that are far from perfect but nonetheless do more than enough things right to rise above the following junk.

1. Resident Evil 7

Many in the gaming world said this embarrassingly unoriginal sequel was a return to great horror for the Resident Evil series (note: Resident Evil has always been more corny than disturbing). More than one reason can explain why this questionable claim was made: virtual-reality hype; the bizarre sentiment that a first-person perspective is automatically revolutionary; and a conscious or unconscious feeling that we all should be very frightened of people who live in the country. Resident Evil 7 has sexist and racist ideas, too — just more crap often accepted as classic horror.

(See full review of Resident Evil 7 here.)

Play Instead: Prey

Like Resident Evil 7, Prey is a first-person shooter influenced by horror movies, but Prey has a less discriminatory perspective on humanity and, in stark contrast to the dull inventory of its urban-snob counterpart, features one of the most inventive weapons of the year: the Gloo Cannon.

2. Doki Doki Literature Club!

Dear Dan Salvato,

I realize you think portraying girls as out-of-control lunatics somehow subverts anime, manga, and dating cliches. Unfortunately, horror movies have been portraying the female sex in this way for decades. Back to the drawing board.

Sincerely,

Game Developers’ Favorite Critic

(See full review of Doki Doki Literature Club! here.)

Play Instead: Little Nightmares

While Little Nightmares doesn’t try to reject conventions or go meta like Doki Doki Literature Club!, it earns its tension more honestly with technically exquisite imagery.

3. Troll and I

The bugginess of Troll and I is what horrible legends are made of. Publisher Maximum Games should go to confession, if not to prison, for the monstrous sin of releasing this poor excuse for a game.

(See full of review of Troll and I here.)

Play Instead: Destiny 2

Destiny 2 waters down the very idea of shooting a target and trying out new firearms, treating almost every gun as an opportunity to make consumers feel comfortable and smooth. The jumping in the game feels like something out of a rejected Nintendo Entertainment System platformer. And its ramblings about Light make its morality more superficial than that of Star Wars. But at least the product works.

4. Outlast 2

Games can be understandably critical of religion (see The Binding of Isaac and Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia), but Outlast 2 hatefully portrays people of faith in incomprehensible, psychotic terms. The game’s shallowness is particularly noticeable given that the protagonist, despite having gone to a Catholic school, shares no clear opinion on matters of providence and religiosity. And of course, all of this madness is possible due to backward rural savages, including women who think murdering their children is righteous. What a shocker.

(See full review of Outlast 2 here.)

Play Instead: Stranger Things

This free mobile game, evocative of NES and SNES games, is little more than a nostalgic way to market a supernatural television show, yet it’s still more inventive and less reliant on trial-and-error challenges than Outlast 2.

5. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

This first-person shooter recreates adolescent 1990s ultraviolence, but it’s also a kind of political commentary that paints idiotic ideas, such as anonymous KKK members walking around in a Nazi-dominated society, as profound. Don’t be fooled by the blaxploitation stereotype, the naked pregnant woman gunning down bad guys, or the half-baked portrayal of a half-Jewish protagonist: this game upholds the indestructible white-hero formula with a degree of stupidity that must be seen to be believed. You certainly have the right to buy into the notion that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus functions as some cathartic, telling spectacle, but you’re going to wake up the next day with the same level of insight into the world, and you can’t just shoot the troubles away.

(See full review of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus here.)

Play Instead: The Surge

Both The Surge and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus involve a hero leaving a wheelchair thanks to advanced technology. The difference is The Surge understands that competition, not phony-baloney heroism, drives the culture of capitalism, and that’s something we have to resist.

6. Night in the Woods

In a society where the gap between the rich and the poor seems to grow as we speak, the treatment of the privileged millennial protagonist in Night in the Woods is especially insulting. With a smart-ass vibe, developer Infinite Fall allows Mae Borowski, the central figure of the game, to go hog-wild in a deceptive depiction of a working-class community and attempts to pass off this story as indicative of something real. It’s one thing to examine an obviously flawed character; it’s another thing to try to make someone believe that almost everyone around the punk would ultimately put up with her. The implication of the grave-digging sequence — that no one would care about a boy’s corpse being defiled — shows a disgusting level of incoherent “progressive” cynicism.

(See full review of Night in the Woods here.)

Play Instead: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Imperfect protagonist: Chloe Frazer > Mae Borowski. Believable outraged friend: Nadine Ross > Bea Santello.

7. South Park: The Fractured But Whole

If this game represents the satire of our time, may Jonathan Swift rise from the grave to mock us. South Park: The Fractured But Whole’s cowardly, trite approach to comedy is immediately apparent. The opening tries to make fun of the political framing of the Zack Snyder film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the attempt falls flat because a superhero movie, of all things, has more to say about the current disarray of the United States than South Park creator Trey Parker, who helped direct and write this game. Even if you ignore the recycled shit jokes and lazy racial humor, this RPG fails to be engaging. As in the 2014 predecessor South Park: The Stick of Truth, exploration is a bore because the environment is too familiar and standardized. And if the combat in The Stick of Truth was an uninspired take on Super Mario RPG, the battles in The Fractured But Whole suggest an idiot’s perspective on tile-based tactics.

Play Instead: Dujanah

Jack King-Spooner has made far better games than Dujanah (Beeswing, Will You Ever Return? 2, Sluggish Morss: A Delicate Time in History). Yet the fictional arcade within it alone is more clever than The Fractured But Whole, with experiences that effectively lampoon pop hits (such as F-Zero) and even a decent juvenile spoof called “Pie or Anus.”

8. Valkyria Revolution

If nothing else, Valkyria Revolution proves that a game can’t make a serious statement with flippant dialogue and incessant loading that destroys the drama and pacing of a story. This disaster by Media.Vision offers another lesson, too: if you forget video-game history, you’re unlikely to surpass or even match superior work. For anyone who has experienced the measured real-time action of the 1990s games Secret of Mana and Secret of Evermore, Valkyria Revolution’s cruise-control approach to battle is unacceptable.

(See full review of Valkyria Revolution here.)

Play Instead: Cosmic Star Heroine

This independent RPG knows history better than Valkyria Revolution. Developer Zeboyd Games acknowledges its influences and builds on them, delivering one of the most fascinating takes on turn-based combat this year.

9. Everything

David OReilly continues to pretend like he has a grasp on the nature of existence in Everything. And just like they did when OReilly released Mountain in 2014, some people continue to eat it up because they think whimsy equals wit and insight.

(See full review of Everything here.)

Play Instead: ATV Renegades

ATV Renegades shows that being down to earth, and making people laugh in the process, is underrated.

10. Tekken 7

No pop game confirms the sorry conservative state of fighting games more than Tekken 7. Namco’s allegiance to Capcom is obvious in the camerawork, the “new” mechanics, and the inclusion of boring bad-guy Akuma.

(See full review of Tekken 7 here.)

Play Instead: Arms

Leave it to Nintendo to try something distinct within the fighting-game genre. Even if the game isn’t always fair or focused, its weirdness is offset by how uniquely it articulates the importance of footwork and orthodox/southpaw dynamics.