Capsule Hotel


Grand Theft Auto V

Critics have already voiced their dismay over the violent types of play enabled by the Grand Theft Auto games, but behind that criticism lies a selective memory of the idea of play. We forget that play is cruel. Left unsupervised, children are just as likely to maim cats with firecrackers as build forts out of cushions.
Grand Theft Auto V is the most elaborate playground for consequence-free cruelty ever devised, and appropriately takes place in Los Angeles, or a collage of its landscape remixed for short attention spans. But the illusion is shockingly convincing – so much so, in fact, that if you live in Los Angeles, playing the game may seem like speeding through a lucid dream. And when you put down the controller and get back into your real car, don’t be surprised if you experience waves of déjà vu and the strange urge to accelerate onto the sidewalk.
This sensation of persistent unreality is just a tech demo of our inexorable future. Video games, as William Gibson recognized, are symptoms of our desire to live in simpler worlds, and if a developer can construct a simulation of a major American city with such fidelity in only five years – albeit at great cost and with the tedious dedication of a medieval monk – what hope is left for reality? Just as Grand Theft Auto discards useless stretches of real geography, it also cuts away at the excess fabric of life’s experiences: work, traffic, conscience, love, death.
It’s not surprising that the game has provoked an existential crisis in some reviewers, although this, too, is a case of selective memory. If the simulation seems to lack meaning, it is due only to excessive fidelity to the original.
Maybe they’ll fix that in the next version.
—NM
(Xbox 360/PS3, $59.99)
Oct 14

Grand Theft Auto V

Critics have already voiced their dismay over the violent types of play enabled by the Grand Theft Auto games, but behind that criticism lies a selective memory of the idea of play. We forget that play is cruel. Left unsupervised, children are just as likely to maim cats with firecrackers as build forts out of cushions.

Grand Theft Auto V is the most elaborate playground for consequence-free cruelty ever devised, and appropriately takes place in Los Angeles, or a collage of its landscape remixed for short attention spans. But the illusion is shockingly convincing – so much so, in fact, that if you live in Los Angeles, playing the game may seem like speeding through a lucid dream. And when you put down the controller and get back into your real car, don’t be surprised if you experience waves of déjà vu and the strange urge to accelerate onto the sidewalk.

This sensation of persistent unreality is just a tech demo of our inexorable future. Video games, as William Gibson recognized, are symptoms of our desire to live in simpler worlds, and if a developer can construct a simulation of a major American city with such fidelity in only five years – albeit at great cost and with the tedious dedication of a medieval monk – what hope is left for reality? Just as Grand Theft Auto discards useless stretches of real geography, it also cuts away at the excess fabric of life’s experiences: work, traffic, conscience, love, death.

It’s not surprising that the game has provoked an existential crisis in some reviewers, although this, too, is a case of selective memory. If the simulation seems to lack meaning, it is due only to excessive fidelity to the original.

Maybe they’ll fix that in the next version.

NM

(Xbox 360/PS3, $59.99)


Teleglitch: Die More Edition

This is less a game and more an object lesson in the law of karma, with guns. 
At first it seems so simple: Teleglitch hates you and wants you to die. And while that may be true, it has more than murder on its mind – it wants you to kill yourself. And you oblige it.
Every time you misjudge how many shots it will take to fend off a wave of mutants before they descend upon you, or blow yourself to pieces with your own nail bomb, or forget that your avatar is right handed and you flail pointlessly at the zombie now feasting on what was your left arm, you chose the actions that inevitably doomed you.
As the black vaults around you close in and the blocky text shares one last insight, you think to yourself:
"I screwed up. I thought I knew what I was doing, but I was wrong. It was my fault."
In that fleeting moment you knew the Truth.
The setting: derivative, the graphics: primitive, the miserable painful pointless deaths: repetitive. So what is it that draws you back in for one more pointless try? Unlike its roguelike ancestors that rely on the whim of the random number generator, Teleglitch: Die More Edition is not cruelly arbitrary. It creates a remarkable sense of connection between cause and effect – a feeling, so rare in life, that your choices are directly responsible for their consequences. 
—DLB
(PC/Mac/Linux, $12.99 direct)
Oct 7

Teleglitch: Die More Edition

This is less a game and more an object lesson in the law of karma, with guns. 

At first it seems so simple: Teleglitch hates you and wants you to die. And while that may be true, it has more than murder on its mind – it wants you to kill yourself. And you oblige it.

Every time you misjudge how many shots it will take to fend off a wave of mutants before they descend upon you, or blow yourself to pieces with your own nail bomb, or forget that your avatar is right handed and you flail pointlessly at the zombie now feasting on what was your left arm, you chose the actions that inevitably doomed you.

As the black vaults around you close in and the blocky text shares one last insight, you think to yourself:

"I screwed up. I thought I knew what I was doing, but I was wrong. It was my fault."

In that fleeting moment you knew the Truth.

The setting: derivative, the graphics: primitive, the miserable painful pointless deaths: repetitive. So what is it that draws you back in for one more pointless try? Unlike its roguelike ancestors that rely on the whim of the random number generator, Teleglitch: Die More Edition is not cruelly arbitrary. It creates a remarkable sense of connection between cause and effect – a feeling, so rare in life, that your choices are directly responsible for their consequences. 

DLB

(PC/Mac/Linux, $12.99 direct)


Gone Home

Horror, as a genre, lives in the anticipation that small transgressions will lead to terrible, unending punishments. Gone Home leads you to believe that you will suffer the sins of the prodigal child. After returning home from gadding about in Europe in 1995, you find the house empty, the family having disintegrated due to your neglect. And the creaky floorboards behind you suggest that you may not be alone–
But don’t get too excited. As John Carpenter once pointed out, most people consider horror to be only a single step above pornography – including, I suspect, the authors of this game. For a time they expertly balance two parallel plots – the bittersweet story of your sister’s Sapphic awakening, and the slow revelation of great-uncle Oscar’s terrible secret. But in the end – and at the moment of greatest anticipation – poor Oscar is abandoned. You’ve been duped, you see: horror was a hedge, a way to keep the people in the cheap seats entertained through a coming-of-age story that unfolds predictably and ends outlandishly.
For its haunting evocation of 90’s subcultures and teenage angst, Gone Home is certainly worth the player’s time – particularly if the player is of a certain age – but I wonder what rough beast might have been emerged had the authors’ snobbery been left at the door. There is a moment in the middle of the game when you discover a door to a hidden cellar in Oscar’s dank basement. The music stops, the lights go out, and you are afraid. Despite all this, you press onward, certain that your curiosity will be terribly punished.
But there is nothing behind the door.
—NM
(PC/Mac, $19.99 on Steam)
Sep 28

Gone Home

Horror, as a genre, lives in the anticipation that small transgressions will lead to terrible, unending punishments. Gone Home leads you to believe that you will suffer the sins of the prodigal child. After returning home from gadding about in Europe in 1995, you find the house empty, the family having disintegrated due to your neglect. And the creaky floorboards behind you suggest that you may not be alone–

But don’t get too excited. As John Carpenter once pointed out, most people consider horror to be only a single step above pornography – including, I suspect, the authors of this game. For a time they expertly balance two parallel plots – the bittersweet story of your sister’s Sapphic awakening, and the slow revelation of great-uncle Oscar’s terrible secret. But in the end – and at the moment of greatest anticipation – poor Oscar is abandoned. You’ve been duped, you see: horror was a hedge, a way to keep the people in the cheap seats entertained through a coming-of-age story that unfolds predictably and ends outlandishly.

For its haunting evocation of 90’s subcultures and teenage angst, Gone Home is certainly worth the player’s time – particularly if the player is of a certain age – but I wonder what rough beast might have been emerged had the authors’ snobbery been left at the door. There is a moment in the middle of the game when you discover a door to a hidden cellar in Oscar’s dank basement. The music stops, the lights go out, and you are afraid. Despite all this, you press onward, certain that your curiosity will be terribly punished.

But there is nothing behind the door.

—NM

(PC/Mac, $19.99 on Steam)


Dear Esther

It is immeasurably disappointing to encounter a lovely, elliptical piece of writing only to discover on the last page that it was all about a car wreck.
That is essentially the problem with the epistolary walkabout Dear Esther, and yet despite that misstep — and also an inexplicable metaphor involving a baby and a vacuum, and a spelunking episode that overstays its welcome — I still would not hesitate to recommend it. As a throwback to the 19th century idea of narrative landscaping, it works brilliantly. A lonely ramble under northern light, haunted by tantalizing hints of habitation.
There is a passage involving a fleet of paper boats that miraculously eludes cliché, and will remain with you.
—NM
(PC/Mac, $9.99 on Steam)
Apr 20

Dear Esther

It is immeasurably disappointing to encounter a lovely, elliptical piece of writing only to discover on the last page that it was all about a car wreck.

That is essentially the problem with the epistolary walkabout Dear Esther, and yet despite that misstep — and also an inexplicable metaphor involving a baby and a vacuum, and a spelunking episode that overstays its welcome — I still would not hesitate to recommend it. As a throwback to the 19th century idea of narrative landscaping, it works brilliantly. A lonely ramble under northern light, haunted by tantalizing hints of habitation.

There is a passage involving a fleet of paper boats that miraculously eludes cliché, and will remain with you.

—NM

(PC/Mac, $9.99 on Steam)


30 Flights of Loving

An overpraised follow-up to 2008’s exhilarating Gravity Bone, 30 Flights of Loving discards nearly everything that was pleasurable about its predecessor, relying instead on techniques awkwardly appropriated from the cinema. You wander through jumbled memories of a heist gone wrong, strung together inelegantly with jump cuts — which at first are indistinguishable from glitches — and never quite find anything interesting to do before time and space shift around you.
Despite some enchanting moments — peeling an orange on a hot summer’s evening, a drunken vision of wedding guests rising up into the sky — 30 Flights of Loving just doesn’t work as a game, nor as a movie either. Call it what it is: a B-side, a jazzy riff on Wong Kar-wai, Terry Gilliam, and Saul Bass that noodles around, then peters out. 
The end credits are embedded as exhibitions within an art museum, which rides the line between tongue-in-cheek and outright presumptuous.
—NM
(PC/Mac, $4.99 on Steam or $5 direct from Blendo Games)
Apr 2

30 Flights of Loving

An overpraised follow-up to 2008’s exhilarating Gravity Bone, 30 Flights of Loving discards nearly everything that was pleasurable about its predecessor, relying instead on techniques awkwardly appropriated from the cinema. You wander through jumbled memories of a heist gone wrong, strung together inelegantly with jump cuts — which at first are indistinguishable from glitches — and never quite find anything interesting to do before time and space shift around you.

Despite some enchanting moments — peeling an orange on a hot summer’s evening, a drunken vision of wedding guests rising up into the sky — 30 Flights of Loving just doesn’t work as a game, nor as a movie either. Call it what it is: a B-side, a jazzy riff on Wong Kar-wai, Terry Gilliam, and Saul Bass that noodles around, then peters out. 

The end credits are embedded as exhibitions within an art museum, which rides the line between tongue-in-cheek and outright presumptuous.

—NM

(PC/Mac, $4.99 on Steam or $5 direct from Blendo Games)


Counter-Strike: Global Operations

You can say what you want about the vile excesses of the Modern Warfare games, but at least they reflect the reality of our times. Counter-Strike: Global Operations, on the other hand, is a throwback to a simpler age, when the good guys wore riot helmets and the bad guys wore balaclavas — that is, before Pepper Spray Cop and Pussy Riot.
It’s the latest remake of the infamous 1999 original, in which Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists chase each other through Disneyland backdrops — shooting each other to earn cash, then spending that cash on larger guns with which to shoot each other. In the middle of the game, the roles are abruptly reversed, which seems less a commentary on moral equivalence than a desperate attempt to break up the monotony.
Ignore the so-called gaming purists who compare this to a sport. With its simple-minded mechanics, dated politics, and competitive masculine posturing, Counter-Strike is closer to a backyard pickup game of Cowboys and Indians — including all of the name-calling and bickering about who shot whom.
Even if you enjoy this sort of thing, there’s nothing new to see here. Like most remakes, Global Operations is a cash grab aimed at obsessives, nostalgia seekers, and bored children.
—NM
(PC/Mac, $14.99 on Steam)
Apr 2

Counter-Strike: Global Operations

You can say what you want about the vile excesses of the Modern Warfare games, but at least they reflect the reality of our times. Counter-Strike: Global Operations, on the other hand, is a throwback to a simpler age, when the good guys wore riot helmets and the bad guys wore balaclavas — that is, before Pepper Spray Cop and Pussy Riot.

It’s the latest remake of the infamous 1999 original, in which Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists chase each other through Disneyland backdrops — shooting each other to earn cash, then spending that cash on larger guns with which to shoot each other. In the middle of the game, the roles are abruptly reversed, which seems less a commentary on moral equivalence than a desperate attempt to break up the monotony.

Ignore the so-called gaming purists who compare this to a sport. With its simple-minded mechanics, dated politics, and competitive masculine posturing, Counter-Strike is closer to a backyard pickup game of Cowboys and Indians — including all of the name-calling and bickering about who shot whom.

Even if you enjoy this sort of thing, there’s nothing new to see here. Like most remakes, Global Operations is a cash grab aimed at obsessives, nostalgia seekers, and bored children.

—NM

(PC/Mac, $14.99 on Steam)


Welcome to the Capsule Hotel

I felt compelled to create the Capsule Hotel to serve as a corrective to the school of New Games Journalism — that is, criticism via rambling personal narrative, as practiced by Rock, Paper, Shotgun among others. I grant that the personal approach was refreshing ten years ago, when the dominant critical mode discussed video games in the same way that Consumer Reports weighed the latest model of microwave. Now this kind of writing has become bloated with irrelevant therapeutic detail in place of actual criticism. Worst of all it has grown boring.
Here you will find short, incisive criticism, using Pauline Kael’s capsule reviews as a model. (While I respect the long-form seriousness of purpose represented by Polygon and Grantland, I can’t shake the feeling that writing 10,000 words about a video game is like writing an epic poem about breakfast.)
Submissions are welcomed. If you’d like to write a short review for the Capsule Hotel, please contact me with a short (1 or 2 sentence) proposal.
—NM
Apr 2

Welcome to the Capsule Hotel

I felt compelled to create the Capsule Hotel to serve as a corrective to the school of New Games Journalism — that is, criticism via rambling personal narrative, as practiced by Rock, Paper, Shotgun among others. I grant that the personal approach was refreshing ten years ago, when the dominant critical mode discussed video games in the same way that Consumer Reports weighed the latest model of microwave. Now this kind of writing has become bloated with irrelevant therapeutic detail in place of actual criticism. Worst of all it has grown boring.

Here you will find short, incisive criticism, using Pauline Kael’s capsule reviews as a model. (While I respect the long-form seriousness of purpose represented by Polygon and Grantland, I can’t shake the feeling that writing 10,000 words about a video game is like writing an epic poem about breakfast.)

Submissions are welcomed. If you’d like to write a short review for the Capsule Hotel, please contact me with a short (1 or 2 sentence) proposal.

—NM