The Escapist Is…Reviews


Last week, we announced a change in format for The Escapist. Rather than packaging a few specific features together each week, we’ll be considering all of our content offerings as part of each week’s issue. That means news, reviews, videos, regular columns and webcomics will all join the feature articles as important parts of each weekly issue. To help kick off this transition, we’re offering a quick look at the types of content we produce each week.

Today we turn our editorial eye towards our reviews. The Escapist‘s text and video reviews offer an in-depth examination of the experience of actually playing each game. While feature counts and framerates are sometimes worth considering, too many videogame reviews take their lead from the publishers’ marketing departments and focus solely on a game’s external characteristics without really exploring the full experience. We’re always anxious to present reviews in as timely a manner as possible, we’d far rather be fair than first and we’re willing to take whatever time we need to ensure that our experiential opinion of a game is as solid and unbiased as possible.

Here are some excerpts from some of our most popular reviews from 2011.

American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns

image“I shoot and jump, I crush and stab/To prove that I am tough.
I pick up teeth and bottles just/To say I’ve got the stuff.
I shoot things with my Pepperpot,/But it’s just not enough.

“See, Carroll loved both words and math./To him they were a game.
How sad to see this Alice now/Delivers much the same
As every other game I play./For shame, McGee! For shame!”

Child of Eden

image“The game takes place far in the future, long after humans have made the move into space. The sum total of our knowledge has been uploaded onto archives on the internet, which is now known as Eden. Scientists are trying to recreate the consciousness of Lumi, the first human born on a space station, within Eden. It’s a trippy premise, but it makes for some wonderfully bizarre visuals. Each of Child of Eden‘s levels is a different archive, featuring different aspects of Earth. You’ll fly between giant space whales, help cells divide, chase fleeing robots, shoot locomotives, and crash through a computer core. The gameplay doesn’t change, but each archive feels utterly unique, just the same.”

Crysis 2

image“Apart from the quality of the images, what really makes it work is that you’ve got a setting that’s completely familiar to people, even if all they know of New York is what they’ve seen in movies. At the same time, the alien invasion has destroyed enough of the city to make it unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Whether you’re looking at the Manhattan skyline in flames, or wading past the severed head of the State of Liberty, the whole game is a great mix of shock and comfort. The game also offers a nice mix of indoor and outdoor action. You’ll go from shootouts in the cramped subways and offices to shootouts on the open streets and rooftops of the city. The pacing and placement of these sequences is great and you never feel like any one type of level is wearing out its welcome.”

Dragon Age 2

image“After the bombastic location-hopping in Origins, it’s refreshing to experience such a personal story and become emotionally connected to the struggles of a single community. The framed narrative of Varric regaling the Chantry Seeker Cassandra with your deeds as you accomplish them is a unique presentation that makes the player feel like you are part of the history of Kirkwall, that the myriad of tasks and sidequests you complete are important not just for Hawke but for the whole city. Finding a serial killer who gives white lilies to his victims, or making a mine safe again so the workers can return feels somehow more meaningful than ridding the world of Darkspawn just because that’s the plot dangled in front of you.”

Duke Nukem Forever

image“Playing through the campaign of Duke Nukem Forever is like witnessing an exposition of the evolution of the first-person shooter genre, with such modern tweaks as variable focus, replenishing health and close-in executions being implemented side-by-side with old school stalwarts like jumping puzzles and tediously timed boss battles. As an exercise in museum sciences, this is far more titillating than the game’s childish attempts at lasciviousness. As a game, however, it simply fails, sinking under the weight of its literal and figurative baggage.”

LittleBigPlanet 2

image“If LittleBigPlanet is known for one thing – besides its adorable star, of course – it’s the game’s robust creation tools, which are even more impressive in LBP2. Experienced designers will be thrilled by new additions like water, neon, and microchips that allow you to program objects with basic commands, while newcomers will appreciate the effort that went into the dozens of tutorials the game provides. Newbie designers may feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of possibilities LBP2‘s creation tools provide, but the joy of seeing your work come together as a playable level is difficult to overstate. Even players who swear they don’t have a creative bone in their bodies should take a crack at crafting a level; the design tools are so incredibly simple to use that even fashioning a simple environment is rewarding.”

Pokemon Black & White Versions

image“That core structure hasn’t changed, but the set pieces within it have. Instead of having just one hometown rival (who always takes the starter with an elemental type advantage over yours, the jerk), you have two – a calculating young man who tackles his journey with mathematical precision, and an absentminded girl whose father doesn’t approve of her leaving on a Pokémon adventure. The villainous team is actually a fanatical animal-rights organization who believes trainers who use Pokémon are mistreating them and that the monsters must be liberated from the humans who enslave them.”

Portal 2

image“Although the story is full of the same psychotic charm that made the original so much fun, it suffers from having too much game upon which to spread so little. As you progress from test to test, you will go on a virtual tour of Aperture’s past, traveling through the dark back-corridors of the facility as well as deep into the basement, on a tour of the company’s long history of making people suffer in the name of science. But the interaction (or lack thereof) with a succession of disembodied voices wears out its welcome well before the end, leaving the puzzle platforming gameplay and ingenious new touches to carry the weight on their own.”

Total War: Shogun 2

image“The strategic layer may be where you plan your victories, but the battlefield is where you claim them. Total War has always set a high bar for historical real-time 3D battles and Shogun 2 takes things to an entirely new level. In their better moments, the battles are as good as anything offered by Hollywood. The sights and sounds of battle are not only convincing but downright arresting. Ranks of spearmen climb up the walls of enemy fortress in the middle of the night as fire arrows arc over their heads setting the gatehouse ablaze. Meanwhile enemy musketeers scatter into the snowy forests as katana-waving samurai run them down on horseback. Oared warships inch along the coastlines, lumbering towards the enemy ships as the marines on deck prepare for boarding. Shogun 2 delivers all these moments with an incredible attention to detail.”

The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings

image“By this time, the combat feels like a snap as long as you’ve drunk the right potions and stopped spamming the Igni sign (fireball.) Effective fighting involves creative use of the Control menu, which slows time and allows you to switch signs and secondary weapons like bombs and throwing daggers. Parrying attacks and countering can feel a lot like dueling and that’s when the combat of The Witcher really sings. But there is sometimes a terrible lag between pressing a button and witnessing Geralt respond, which encourages a weird constant tapping of the keys to make sure the command goes through. For combat whose fun depends on flow, this is a monstrous error.”

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