The New Yorker is the closest thing to literature in magazines: that's not news. But would the writers over the years treat video games as they treat any other popular art? Though the search engine took some getting used to, I finally found Elizabeth Kolbert's piece on "Ultima Online" from 2001. It was beautifully and meticulously written, but it just did not seem to take any joy in the beauty of the game or the gaming experience itself. Is this a pattern? In December, I will continue this search through The New Yorker archives for words about video gamesto let you know if they're written with condescension or with the same adulation and appreciation that you get from a New Yorker writer, when, say, you're reading a pop music piece about Keren Ann.
Shadow of the Colossus
Forget the Tom Wolfe crap about Masters of the Universe. They weren't walking here in Manhattan. In fact, forget the old toys and the old TV show. Shadow of the Colossus reveals the real MOTUs. They're big; they're ugly, and one even looks like Dick Cheney if he were made of stone (his heart actually may be). You're the puny braveheart trying to get the gods to revive your young maiden friend. You ride a stallion through some of the most beautiful environs ever to be seen on the PS2 and you beat up on 16 monolithic behemoths with a sword, a bow . . . and a prayer. Everything here is tastefully and carefully rendered, and there's not a lot of bad writing to bog down the story (which is told well by the graphics alone). Overall, Shadow of the Colossus is sheer panorama; it's adventure; it's exotic music; it's the zen of gaming mixed with the art of war.
Spartan Total Warrior
Developer: Creative Assembly
While Colossus is cinematic in a Days of Heaven meets Kurosawa, Spartan Total Warrior is the "Lord of the Rings" battle scenes meets HBO's "Rome" (without, unfortunately, the rampant sex). As the ultimate Spartan, you war against everything from the Hydra to the Minotaur as you move from hero to legend. (And haven't you always wanted to be a legend? Me, I'm happy to be a hermit.) What's really staggering here are the battles. You'll see 160 fighters onscreen at once, which is as awesome as games get these days. Still, there are problems, the primary one being the targeting of enemies. It's too often not exact enough. However, if you're waiting for that crosstown bus that comes 45 minutes late, don't take it out the driver, the 311 operator or even with a note Bloomberg (who won't answer you). Take it out on the gladiators and barbarians. It's very satisfying.
Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday is milquetoast compared to Blitz: The League, and so is Green Bay Packer Jerry Kramer's brutal "Instant Replay." The thing that those two offerings have that Blitz doesn't, sadly, is a compelling, decently-written story. While the game play in the satirical Blitz is humorous, it's complex enough. In fact, with repetitive cutscenes during gameplay, it can be banal. Now, here's a game that thrives on the idea of titillation: Cheerleaders as whores and violence on the field as the golden rule. While the violence often works as good satire, the cheerleaders as ho's thing falls apart just like the story. When THE HELL are we going to get great writing AS A STANDARD in video games?
The girl's gonna have a ball: that's what's great about Metroid Prime Pinball, the pinball game for the DS that stars sci-fi icon Samus Aran, who's morphed into a ball and into our hearts for decades. Here's a synapse-splitting game with lots of different playfields, the right ball physics and appearances by Samus (battling bosses galore between levels.) If you crave pinball in a world that just doesn't have enough pinball machines in bars anymore, then you'll love this one.
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