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Posts Tagged ‘new york videogame critics circle’

After some serious discussion, our esteemed critics have named the following games as official New York Videogame Critics Circle Awards Nominees. The Awards will take place on February 11, 2014 at NYU/Poly’s Pfizer Auditorium in Brooklyn. Stay tuned for how you can get free tickets.

And a hearty congratulations to all of our worthy nominees!

Big Apple Award for Best Game 

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Ubisoft)

BioShock Infinite (2K Games)

Gone Home (The Fullbright Company)

Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar Games)

Kentucky Route Zero (Cardboard Computer)

Ni No Kuni (Namco Bandai)

Super Mario 3D World (Nintendo)

The Last of Us (Sony)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo)

Tomb Raider (Square Enix)

Herman Melville Award for Best Writing in a Game

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Ubisoft)

BioShock Infinite (2K Games)

Device 6 (Simogo)

Gone Home (The Fullbright Company)

Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar Games)

Kentucky Route Zero (Cardboard Computer)

The Last of Us (Sony)

The Stanley Parable (Davey Wreden and William Pugh)

Battery Park Award for Best Handheld Console Game 

Animal Crossing: New Leaf  (Nintendo 3DS)

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl (Nintendo 3DS)

Fire Emblem: Awakening (Nintendo 3DS)

Guacamelee! (PlayStation Vita)

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies (Nintendo 3DS)

Pokemon X/Y  (Nintendo 3DS)

Spelunky (PlayStation Vita)

Tearaway  (PlayStation Vita)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS)

Tin Pan Alley Award for Best Music in a Game 

Animal Crossing: New Leaf (Nintendo)

BitTrip Runner 2 (Gaijin)

BioShock Infinite (2K Games)

Contrast (Sony)

Grand Theft Auto V (2K Games)

Rocksmith 2014 (Ubisoft)

Ridiculous Fishing (Vlambeer)

Saints Row IV (Deep Silver)

The Last of Us (Sony)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo)

The A Train Award for Best Mobile/iOS Game

Device 6 (Simogo)

Icycle: On Thin Ice (Damp Gnat)

Plants vs. Zombies 2 (PopCap)

Rayman Fiesta Run (Ubisoft)

Ridiculous Fishing (Vlambeer)

Rymdkapsel (Grapefrukt)

Type:Rider (Cosmografik)

Year Walk (Simogo)

Off Broadway Award for Best Indie Game 

Antichamber (Alexander Bruce)

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (Starbreeze/505 Games)

Gone Home (The Fullbright Company)

Killer Queen Arcade (SortaSoft)

Porpentine’s Twine Compilation (Porpentine)

Papers, Please (Lucas Pope)

Rogue Legacy (Cellar Door)

The Stanley Parable (Davey Wreden and William Pugh)

Towerfall (Matt Thorson)

Statue of Liberty Award for Best World 

Los Santos: Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar Games)

Columbia: BioShock Infinite (2K Games)

The Caribbean: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Ubisoft)

Your Town: Animal Crossing: New Leaf (Nintendo)

The Greenbriar Home: Gone Home (The Fullbright Company)

Salt Lake City: Last of Us (Sony)

The White House: Saints Row IV (Deep Silver)

Great White Way Award for Best Overall Acting (Combines Male and 
Female Acting) 

Courtney Draper – Elizabeth – Bioshock Infinite (2K Games)

Ellen Page – Beyond: Two Souls (Sony)

Jay Klaitz – Lester – Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar Games)

Kevan Brighting – Narrator – The Stanley Parable (Davey Wreden and William Pugh)

Sarah Grayson -Sam – Gone Home (The Fullbright Company).

Stefan Rhodri – Drippy – Ni No Kuni  (Namco Bandai)

Steven Ogg – Trevor – Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar Games)

Troy Baker – Joel – Last of Us (Sony)

The Central Park Children’s Zoo Awards for Best Kids Game 

Animal Crossing: New Leaf (Nintendo)

Disney Infinity (Disney Interactive)

LegoCity Undercover (Traveler’s Tales, WBIE)

Lego Marvel Super Heroes (Traveler’s Tales, WBIE)

Skylanders: Swap Force (Activision)

Super Mario 3D World (Nintendo)

Tearaway (Sony)

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by Harold Goldberg

Recently, CNET’s Jeff Bakalar and I had a conversation about a piece I wrote about Rockstar Games’ Sam Houser for Playboy magazine. Jeff was really kind to have me on, and his opener was akin to “That’s a hard interview to get. How did you get the interview?” I did my best to explain why, but since I’m better with the written word, here’s a bit more for journalists and those others interested in the process.

It was early in the new year when I began thinking about contacting Rockstar Games for a story about Sam Houser. Sam and I had a couple of fine, long conversations which resulted in two chapters in All Your Base Are Belong to Us, a narrative history of videogames I wrote a couple of years ago. Although we had corresponded via email since then, we hadn’t talked or seen each other since. We’d tried to have a get together upstate, where we both have houses fairly near each other. But Sam was always busy with work.

When Rockstar said the interview might be a possibility, I began to think of the right home for a profile. At first, I thought about the New York Times, where I’m a contributor. They indicated they had something in the works about Rockstar, so I looked elsewhere. I thought about contacts I had at the country’s more well-regarded and literary magazines. Yet, even in this day and age, the editors there at these magazines do not know games well, or well enough.

I thought of the better online sites, particularly Polygon. But I remember that when I was invited to apply for a job there, I suggested that I could bring Rockstar stories and a Sam Houser piece to the fold. I never heard back from Polygon at all. (I still quite enjoy what Polygon doing, however, especially those stories written by our members, Russ Frushtick, Chris Plante and Samit Sakar.)

I suggested the story in an email to Playboy, just a paragraph or two of how a story might unfold. For a while, I didn’t hear back. So I began to consider other options, maybe The Atlantic, maybe The New Yorker, maybe the Times of London. But when he responded, Jason Buhrmester responded with enthusiasm and, most importantly, understanding.

I chose Playboy because my editor isn’t just a brilliant editor. He knows games and games history. He understands them and appreciates them as a form of popular art. He’s also part of a team that is bringing back extraordinary writing and topics to the articles portion of the magazine. Ai Wei Wei. Marshall McLuhan. T.C. Boyle. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a magazine with content like that?

But would Rockstar itself go for a story in Playboy? I was happy to hear they trusted me and would be willing to work with me again. Ultimately, they said they were fine with any magazine that would understand what they were trying to do. And they were fine with letting me do a long profile of Sam. There were no deals made. No questions would be off the table. I could ask anything I wanted to ask.

Sam didn’t want to be photographed. That was all right with me; it would have no impact on the story. And I understood completely; I don’t like to be photographed, either.

The primary unknown was timing. Rockstar was in the midst of crunch time with Grand Theft Auto V. Sam was traveling back and forth to Scotland, the location of their Rockstar North studio, to help out with the finishing touches of the game.

The last time I spoke to Sam coincided with the release of Red Dead Redemption, the story-filled western that may be my favorite Rockstar game (the music is part of that, as our Robert Gordon explained so well recently). That particular long talk didn’t happen until the game launched, and that was right up against my book deadline – hard up against it. My editor, at one point, suggested that I drop the chapters. I couldn’t have that. The book would have been incomplete without the Rockstar story. We delayed my deadline, and just when the Witching Hour was nigh, the company came through.

It was the same this time. We originally planned for the piece to coincide with the release of GTA V in September. I told Playboy that if the interview happened by August 15, I could make their drop dead deadline and write the piece in four days. It would’ve been exhausting, but I believed I could have done it – as long as they paid for transcribing.

But by the time Sam was able to sit down in late August, that deadline had passed.

I now would have more time to hone the piece. Since I’m never quite satisfied with anything I write, I was happy to have the extra time.

Sam, who rode his bike in to the office that day as he always does, was enthusiastic and honest (as you can see by reading the piece). What I felt is that the conversation was like the theory-filled “My Dinner With Andre” film by director Louis Malle. I’m no Wallace Shawn, but Sam is like Andre Gregory in that he has thought so carefully about our human foibles, the culture of games and popular culture in general.

When the transcript was done, it was almost 90 pages in length. I had far more than I needed, and could have written a story of 15,000 words. The final draft came in about 1,000 words longer than my 5,000 word limit, and I had already cut a lot. Jason kindly said it was a really difficult piece to edit because there was so much in it that was gripping. But he tightened it expertly.

Eight months after the process had begun, the story was published in Playboy’s Christmas issue. I found it somehow wonderfully ironic that New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was featured in the same issue as the one of the most important and most controversial makers of popular art – ever.

I don’t know when I’ll see Sam again. As I mentioned in the story, he does covet his privacy. But, from time to time, I’ll look at that transcript again. And I’ll probably become a bit wistful. I really wish I could share the full transcript and the audio tape with everyone. I can’t, unfortunately. But I’ve done the best I can with the story, explaining some of the heretofore unfamiliar inner workings and the candid, fascinating thought processes of an artist at the very top of his game.

Harold Goldberg is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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In which the author as music critic descends far into the often exhilarating, often mellifluous worlds of Rockstar’s carefully curated soundtracks. He may never return. But he’s happy about that.

By Robert Gordon

Rockstar has dominated this console generation in terms of open-world gameplay — not merely with two well-received entries into the Grand Theft Auto series, but also with the much-acclaimed Red Dead Redemption. We could attribute this to strong writing, good advertising and marketing. However veterans of either series know that when we talk about Rockstar, we must talk about music. In a genre that too often leaves its players adrift and lonely in an opaque universe, Rockstar has succeeded in making us feel welcome, inviting us to explore. Though many elements are to thank for this, music has been their signature – and not without reason.

Note that the “open world” is a curiously existential form. It leaves us to make our own fun through procedural storytelling. The success or failure of an open world game is ultimately dependent on how fully its players relate to the world they inhabit. The feeling of a living, breathing universe around us is important. That’s unlike a “closed-world” game, in which we are just doing something. In an open-world game we are involved in being somewhere. The experience isn’t just one of action. We want to accept the world as being consistent and responsive, to feel ourselves situated in it totally.

Here’s how sweet tunes are part of that. (more…)

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By Harold Goldberg

For a journalist like me, it was pre-launch chaos. While Microsoft and Edelman, their long-time PR agency, promises nothing like this will happen to consumers, the following is what happened to me when reviewing the Xbox One.

Full of optimism, I picked up the Xbox One last week at a demo in a Chelsea loft with a living room feel. I was so happy to get the console so early prior to its debut. But there would be a price to pay.

The demo was not about games but about how you could watch cable TV and play games at the same time. Multitasking was the watchword I kept hearing. In this new tech nirvana, I would be able to watch cable  TV and game or Skype and play or watch Netflix and play. Forza 5 was on the screen, but the game itself not demo-ed very much. No other games were shown

I asked, “Can I stand the Xbox One vertically?”

The Microsoft rep answered, “It will only stand vertically.”

“Vertically?” I asked again to be certain.

It was standing horizontally throughout the demo.

When I set the box up at home, I couldn’t get online for hours and hours. Getting online is a prerequisite because an update had to be downloaded to get Xbox One to play games.

I kept putting in my WiFi password, and the system kept rejecting it. I contacted the Edelman PR person because one odd message said my router couldn’t interface with Microsoft servers. After six hours of waiting, worrying that something was wrong with my networking hardware because that’s what the error messages indicated, I finally downloaded the update.

The Microsoft people did eventually check in, about an hour after I was able to connect for myself. I had asked via email if servers were down and whether this caused the problem. The Microsoft rep didn’t answer that.

Though the download helped, many apps still weren’t working. But this was a work in progress. I was trying to roll with it.

As the days passed, there were more updates, and apps like Netflix began to work. So did SkyDrive, which allows for posting clips of my gaming to social media sites.

An Edelman rep wrote to say Microsoft would check in at 3 p.m. on Wednesday to ask how I was fairing with the new console. I said I was busy writing a story, but that I would talk to the person. Then, he followed up to say Microsoft might be late.

I eventually took to waiting by the phone for the call because Kinect, which was working well with the Xbox One’s interface, was not working with the Kinect Sports Rivals game demo I downloaded. The error message indicated that there was something on the floor that was in the way of Kinect.

There was nothing blocking the ‘sightline’ of the camera — at all.

Microsoft never checked in – at all. I’m still waiting.

That initial feeling of anxiety, of something that’s supposed to be new and glorious and special not working well out of the box, stayed with me. The early adopter elation I often feel when diving into the software wonders of a brand new console was tainted by a feeling of being punched in the stomach.

Sadly, it’s something that I’ll have to note in my reviews. I won’t be reviewing the system until after launch – until I’m certain that consumers elsewhere aren’t or are having the same problems I had with getting Xbox One to work properly.

Again, Microsoft has assured this won’t happen to average users. I’ll be watching Twitter closely to see.

And I’ll link to my first review once it’s up.

Harold Goldberg, a contributor to the New York Times, is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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As we move into the next generations of consoles and play their graphically intense games, one old school offering still stands strong, not only for its landmark gameplay, but perhaps for inspiring life itself.

By Sarah Awad

It always surprised me how effortlessly Tetris came to my friend. As I watched in the midst of play one August evening on a clunky HP, her jumpy and clumsy nature just dissipated as she seemed to become one with the game’s flow. Her focus centered, she was like Martha Graham with movements rhythmic and efficient, properly placing each block until it fell into its kinetic cascade.  I have never seen my indecisive buddy so coordinated and confident in her choices than when I see her dance through Tetris. Everything just falls into place.

Inspired, I asked for a round, thinking I was ready to tango.  But as I took my turn in front of the screen, each dropping block created an all-too-familiar uneasiness in my chest.  As the blocks fell slowly, the gears in my brain begin to turn – too quickly. A block I don’t need emerges and my plan of attack is foiled.  I jump the gun and flip the piece incorrectly. My mind races as I try for a fix. The colors pour down.  Nothing fits.  Nothing ever fits. Something is always missing. Overcome with frustration, the pressure pwn’d me.
So I let the pieces pile up into a nice rubble peak as if they are on top of me. I willingly accept defeat.  They continue to build even after the Game Over screen flashes.

I was partially shocked, but not necessarily surprised at what just happened; I was just supposed to leisurely play Tetris on my couch.  But what had just been pulled to the surface – the complex emotions – was something I have encountered many a time before. I knew its feeling all too well. It was not a good feeling, not at all.

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by Harold Goldberg

Last week, I had surgery. It was indeed a bit rough; I’m still recovering. But ever since I can remember, I’ve looked to books, music, film and games as an escape from feeling bad, from pain, not the worst pain because the worst pain means the inability to enjoy media at all, interactive or non-interactive, even at its best. As I began to return to a certain normalcy, I felt the abiding need to indulge in a game as a flight of fancy, I wanted desperately to be taken elsewhere.

Nearby was my stack of games, and the latest, Assassins’ Creed IV: Black Flag went first because I felt it would take me on a nice trip to the Caribbean. Which is want I really want. The other day I fantasized about travel around the holidays. I went so far as to try to book something. (So, caveat emptor: Watch out for the hotel/flight offers on the travel sites. Every flight seems prohibitively expensive and every hotel/flight package is just plain prohibitive. It’ll seem affordable, but they’ll have you to stuck in Dallas on a layover for 10 hours. And that is no vacation at all.)

But back to my virtual travels. I hope to experience at least a modicum awe. In my wildest dreams, I even hope to be swept away.

I’ll give it just an hour to do that.

1) The PS3 powers up. The inserted disk spins. And the game loads. Or, well, it’s supposed to. I need a 32 megabyte update. I don’t want to wait, but I’m glad the publisher is doing its best to remove bugs.

2) Really? More waiting. Turns out there’s not enough room for the nearly 1.5 gigabytes I need on the PS3. I delete games going back to 2006. Eventually, I have room.

3) Dang. Really? More waiting? There’s a rotating triangle on the screen, not even any artwork as in GTA V to watch and muse upon as I wait. I wonder how long this data transfer will take. This is like waiting for a delayed plane. It lasts just 15 minutes. But it’s too long for me.

4) Surprised at the quickness of it, I’m immediately thrown into action on the high seas. I’m asked to the grab the ship’s wheel as attack is nigh. But my pirate character seems daunted by the mere fact of walking. His gait is slow as if he’s in a daze (or like me after the operation). Some pirate yells, “Grab the damn wheel.” I’m trying.

5) They want me to shoot some tall ships with cannonballs and oil-filled barrels. It’s not exactly the fog of war. I stop my ship not far from a cove and wait for the enemy to come to me. I don’t feel impending doom. I feel a sense of fun. That’s good; that’s right. Fun.

6) After the ships are sunk, I’m sunk, too, thrown off into the roiling water, perhaps to drown. As I breathe in the killing ocean, there’s a scene within a bedroom, featuring a beauty named Caroline. My character tells her may be gone on the high seas for two years. Two years? Women waited that long back in the day? When something like that happened to me in real life, and the wait was two months, I got a frosty, “You want me to wait?” And that was the end of that. But Caroline says she’ll wait.

7) I’m back to consciousness in the water. I hit the surface and breathe. Night turns to day and my swimming is like a ghost’s swimming. It looks like the water is going through me as a paddle, like I’m oddly translucent.

8) The tropical fish near the shore don’t flee from me, even when I swim over them. These are bold fish. Shouldn’t they rush away? Or was it different back then in the time of pirates? Yet I almost feel the warmth of a beach drenched in sun as I swim in to shore. That’s good. That’s like a vacation. That’s what I need.

9) Rich man, poor man. I’m just a penniless cretin. I meet a well-off, wounded assassin who lies near to me on the sand. We don’t get along as he seems to want me to save him for little reward. We have words. I chase him through the jungle.

10) Oh, the jungle! The beauty. It reminds me of a tropical trail, of walking high up to the water source on the Caribbean island of Nevis a few years back. In the game, there’s a thin, rushing waterfall and cove water so blue, it’s like clear blue sky, heavenly. I feel I can breathe deeply as I stop to admire the world around me. I peer at big blue morphos butterflies which are indigenous to a neo-tropical areas such as this.

11) I’m a ghost again. I seem to walk like a wraith through the giant leaves of tropical plants, never so much as moving them as the slightest breeze might. It’s an open world game. This kind of thing happens in open world games. But still, it took me out of that key moment of fantasy.

12) I fail in catching up to the assassin, a few times. The idea, I gather a few minutes later, is pretty much to run straight without much movement from side to side. Forget finding a quicker way to the human prey. Just follow his steps.

13) When I do meet him, I parry a blow from his sword. He falls and I kill him. I don his clothes (which weirdly fit exactly right, like Paul Smith has made them by hand). And I become him – a lowly pirate turned into a somewhat feared and respected assassin.

14) I search around for loot and secret things. There’s a lot here. But I want to move forward in the adventure. I only take a few dollars from one treasure chest.

15) I perch from an outcropping near another waterfall. Torturing pirates gather below. They try to shake down a merchant they’ve captured. Perhaps it was due to my New York Times reading and the proximity of that to game play. But his cries and the pirates’ torture remind me of yesterday’s story about young gang rapists in India. In any case, I feel empathy for the merchant and make my way to save the person.

16) I use stealth and hide in the grass. None of the pirates seems to be able to find me, and that doesn’t seem real at all. But it’s a game trope, and I’m happy enough that I get them before they get me.

17) The mewling merchant wants me to take him to Havana on a ship he owns. He’s overfed and shifty-eyed, doesn’t like looking me straight on. I can’t trust him, just as I can’t trust anyone else. Havana. There, in Cuba, I might find more beauty. A venturesome trip through the danger-filled  neo-tropics will now commence. I might even have it in me to utter a “Yo Ho Ho.” Or two.

Harold Goldberg, a contributor to the New York Times, is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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by Harold Goldberg

There are times when the fates allow for those who are in the video game industry to change directions – and careers. Recently, I had the chance to speak with John Batter, the CEO of M-GO, a movie streaming company which launched early in the year.

I was looking forward to speaking with John Batter, not only because M-GO is innovative in that it brings recent movies to the stream quicker than, say, Netflix. For instance, The East and The Great Gatsby were up before Netflix had them.

I was looking forward to a chat with Batter because he had been working in video games prior to moving on to the new venture at M-GO. He had been at DreamWorks Interactive when CD-ROM games were popular. He had been a group general manager at Electronic Arts and helped to launch Medal of Honor: Frontline, James Bond: Agent Under Fire and Command and Conquer: Generals. And he had been a general manager at EA Mobile when Need for Speed Underground hit.

With that kind of resume I felt compelled to ask, Could the M-GO platform allow for streaming of video games? Batter answered, “The M-GO platform has been optimized for streaming linear content and that is our 100% focus today. The platform’s core technology can be utilized for streaming other types of content, including some types of games. Again, today our focus is on providing the best possible experience for movies and TV shows.”

Batter didn’t exactly say ‘no.’  He said, M-GO has the infrastructure to do deal with games. But the company is not going to stream games right now. You can’t do everything at once, that’s for sure. As an example, look beyond games to what happened when the contractor promised too much with the federal web portal for the Affordable Health Care Act signup. It didn’t work. Batter’s idea is to be concerned with what M-GO does best, and then grow from there.

But regarding games: I’m glad John Batter didn’t close the door completely.

-Harold Goldberg, a contributor to the New York Times, is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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By comparing the culture within western and eastern RPGS, the author argues that plot in role playing games hinges not on one protagonist, but upon a motley crew of characters.

by Robert Gordon

In the world of role playing games, it’s the ensemble that’s key to plot formation. Though  video game characters can be motivated through external events, I tend to understand these events through the characters themselves. In an RPG my ensemble (along with a villain, and enemies, and tertiary characters) is my party. The party frames my interpretation of the world, as they act outside of direct control. My relationships to them drives the action forward, and the challenges I face can only be met by employing their talents. It’s all for one and one for all.

The distinction between J-RPGS (Japanese RPGs, i.e. Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Persona, Fire Emblem) and W-RPGS (Fallout, Mass Effect, Dragon Age) covers many areas, but I believe that in studying the protagonist’s relationship to the party members and the compositions of the parties as a whole, we find the most telling differences. Note this  quote from BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk, via Destructoid

“The fall of the JRPG in large part is due to a lack of evolution, a lack of progression,” Zeschuk said. “They kept delivering the same thing over and over. They make the dressing better, they look prettier, but it’s still the same experience.”

The idea that western RPGs have “evolved” while JRPGs have remained stagnant, merely overhauled with expansive production budgets while ignoring fundamental questions of narrative and design, is as true as it is false.  Sadly, this argument has become common sentiment among many fan communities.

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by Jeremy Voss

Rain clearly aspires to belong in that upper tier of arty, indie console gems (think Journey, Braid, this year’s excellent Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons).  The author explains why it doesn’t achieve its goal.

I came to Rain not knowing very much about it beyond the trailer, which presented the PlayStation Network game as an Ico-ish adventure, a story of two invisible children searching for each other in a lonely, rainy world, told via platforming and environmental puzzles.  This appeals to me; this is the sort of experience I can get behind. I thought, if nothing else, this should be a lovely palate cleanser after a day-long GTA V marathon.

To me, the game’s biggest surprise is that it’s actually more of a stealth adventure game (which the developers are more than happy to admit, as per this Kotaku feature.  There are rain monsters chasing you, and you will occasionally need to sneak past them in order to go wherever it is you’re going.  The game’s novel touch is that if you are under some sort of canopy or roof, you truly turn invisible. This can make it hard to see where you are on screen, although the game tries to help you in that area with puddles in which you’ll see your splashes, or tables and chairs that you’ll knock over.

Rain often feels very much like a dream. The problem with dreams, though, is that they tend to fall apart under close scrutiny.

Here, puzzles repeat themselves constantly, which gets old very quickly – especially as the game is only about four hours long, which isn’t quite enough for the price of $15, judging from the lack of depth within the experience.  This mysterious world is full of rain monsters, to be sure, but also of ledges that can only be climbed by giving your partner a boost, and for your partner to kick down a ladder. You will also be required to push and pull objects in order to move through blocked-off areas. We’ve all done these sorts of things before, and they are executed here without any inventiveness; those ladders and ledges are the same at the end of the game as they are in the beginning. They happen in exactly the same way throughout the game, and that’s too bad. They haven’t added strategy to them, nor have they added scope.

The game is not particularly difficult, but it can be frustrating at times.  If you die, it’ll generally take place either in a stealth situation in which the puzzle is not adequately explained, or from running off a cliff (which almost always comes as a surprise, as most of the time there are invisible walls that prevent you from doing that).

More disappointing to report is that Rain is more than a little shabby graphically. It definitely does not look as good as a PS3 game should, especially this late in the console’s life cycle.  Textures are bland, and the atmosphere never quite feels as haunting or gloomy as it intends to.

I’m reluctant to talk about the game’s biggest problem, though, as I don’t want to spoil the game’s story; and yet this problem is what ultimately soured me on the game.  Essentially, there are little rain monsters and then there is The Unknown, a big rain monster, and this Unknown is the main creature that chases our protagonists through the city.  Why?  Who knows?  The game never quite explains the creature’s motivations, nor does it explain the children’s predicament.

But that’s not even what irks me most. I’m OK with narrative ambiguity as long as the experience itself is engaging.  The problem is that there are at least six false endings for this monster. You’ll trap it in a cage, or pin it under a boulder, or just flat-out kill it; and then, a few minutes later, it comes back, none the worse for wear.  It’s ridiculous; it removes any and all tension, and certainly all suspension of disbelief. It feels like cheating, like the game’s authors couldn’t quite figure out how to end the game. So they keep bringing this thing back from the dead.

And if that’s not enough to ruin a good thing, the game also puts J-Pop vocals over Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”, which (to me) feels blasphemous. Ultimately, Rain falls far short of its ambitions. For me, it never earns the emotional moments it so desperately tries to evoke.

Circle member Jeremy Voss can be found writing his thoughtful essays at Shouts from the Couch.

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By Harold Goldberg

At first, I was annoyed at the wait to load the game onto the 360. I loved looking closely at the expertly drawn character screens. But they began to repeat, and because I’ve been very much anticipating this particular installment, I was getting antsy.

I looked at the massive map in my hands and, like it was an involuntary reflex, said ‘Wow’ aloud.

I started listening to the score as the game loaded, really, closely listening, closing my eyes, and it took me to another place, calming me, relaxing me, but not so much that I couldn’t appreciate every note. That opener features a moody, worthy score by Tangerine Dream.

The prologue/tutorial in the pelting, gray snowstorm was beautiful like something out of a Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (except it’s more modern). It reminded me of being in my hometown, but I rarely had this much adrenaline going in Buffalo.
The Sopranos-inspired intro with a frustrated Michael dealing with the b.s. of psychology was dark satire, so deftly written.
Then, as Michael walks through the crazy passing parade near the beach, it’s such a wonderful hint of what’s to come into that culture.
The comedic banter between Franklin and Lamar makes that first joyride more complete.
That first red car handled better than the white sports car. I drove both about six times each.
Franklin’s Los Santos is rough and tumble. Don’t be fooled by the tidy homes. I got beat up because I pulled into the wrong driveway.
Inside Franklin’s house, his Mom’s is hilarious, but she’s a brow beater.
There are dozens of self help books on a shelf. Who knows why?
Franklin smoking pot offers up another humorous riff. He doesn’t want to be a “B” guy. He wants to be an “A” guy. I know the feeling.
The usually shy Dr. Dre shows up on DJ Pooh’s radio show!
And, if you’ve read this far, note that I have a much, much longer story to be published elsewhere. I’ll keep you posted!
Harold Goldberg is the founder of the NY Videogame Critics Circle

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