Tag Archives: videogames

Half-Life 2: Episode Two (2007)

For all its grimness and despair, for all the death and malice that finally creep past City 17’s anonymous citizenry and zero in on Gordon Freeman’s closest friends, Half-Life 2: Episode Two is attempting a celebration. It’s an insiders-only affair, a product created by and for those with such boundless affinity for the franchise that it is comfortable risking moments more brazenly comic and outright tragic than any found in the rest of the series. It’s “fan service” to its core, not just trotting out easy references and beloved characters expecting us to cheer in mere recognition, but also using its established toolkit and bond with the audience to strengthen and stretch its universe’s connective tissue. Simply, this is Half-Life at its most comfortable with just being Half-Life, and for every lateral step that entails, it also allows for some leaps forward and maybe even a little self-reflection. Even the original Half-Life‘s nuked microwave casserole returns as the crux of an antagonistic relationship.

Valve’s employment of this insular fan club shorthand is, for better and for worse, a result of its full embrace of the serialized storytelling required by the episode format. Continue reading

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Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

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 A deserving masterpiece is at once subversive and straightforward, a fable about not always trusting fables.

Shadow of the Colossus is, at least in part, the story of a man’s hubris flying in the face of natural order. I take this to heart while writing this, because talking about any other “important” videogame before it feels like going against the grain just for the sake of it. How can you discuss this medium without first tackling the game that explicitly asks what’s so damn appealing about killing things in an expensive-looking simulator? And yet, I fear that by writing about Shadow of the Colossus too early, I’ll have nowhere to go but down.

For a game laced with both heady and popular influences (let’s get Moby-Dick, Miyazaki, the loneliest bits of Zelda, and the Troy McClure classic David Versus Super-Goliath out of the way), Shadow of the Colossus never feels like mere pop-culture amalgamation or a round of post-modern spot-the-references. It’s almost suspiciously pure, so stripped-down in storytelling and aesthetic that it feels more likely to have sprung from Greek myth or Bible stories than the powerful processors of a mid-aughts Sony Entertainment. Amazingly, the game maintains the familiarly repetitive, objective-based structure of most action-adventure titles, but not once alters course or complicates it with new elements; hell, even Ico had you improve your weapon a few times. If there’s one Fumito Ueda lesson I’m glad to see rippling through the industry, it’s that words like “complication,” “backstory,” and “length” are not at all synonymous with “depth” or “feeling.” Continue reading

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