Death of the Critic

May 2017

Superpowers and Storytelling

Written by: Tom Blaich

avengers_2


We love our superpowered heroes. Flight, strength, laser beams and more in the hands of people just like us. And the more powerful that they can be, the better. But as our heroes cross the limits of humanity, it adds more and more complications to how the story fits together, and how we, as an audience, can relate. When you start looking at superpowers, the very laws that govern our reality start to break down, and writers have to deal with the way in which this affects the plot. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are multiple characters capable of warping all of reality to their whim, unkillable monsters, stones that embody pure power, literal gods, and extradimensional entities that rule over time itself. Yet so many of these reality breaking characters play by the rules of our normal universe.

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The Backlog - Devil Daggers

Written by: Tom Blaich

devil_daggers


I have a confession to make. Like many of you reading this, I have a list of games that I’ve been meaning play for years. I have way too many games on Steam, and a stack of cases sitting next to my TV. Close to five hundred games now. Maybe more. It makes me feel guilty. I haven’t touched 90% of them in one way or another. I need to fix that. So this week, I dug deep into my backlog and pulled out a game. I want to play all of them; I’ve just never had the chance. Now’s the time.

When I talk about games, the idea of complexity frequently comes up. The complexity of a game’s systems or story or characters often directly correlates to the level of quality that we assign to that game. As consumers, we want a game that we can sink our teeth into, pour dozens of hours of our time into as we get to know the characters and slowly master the systems. Then we can just leave it by the wayside while we find the next open world RPG to obsess over for a few months. It is why we love games like
Dark Souls, ARMA, Counter-Strike, and DOTA.

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Music with a Message

Written by: Tom Blaich

Everybody_Album_Cover


If you read a lot of writing about music, you will start to notice a common criticism crop up over and over again: that the song or album is shallow. It is particularly relevant when that project has a message that it is trying to convey. So, what separates an album that communicates its message well versus one that is shallow, even if both of them are trying to deal with the same level of subject matter: racism, sexism, violence, or more.

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Why Did I Watch That? - The Three Musketeers

Written by: Tom Blaich

three_musketeers_poster


I watched a bad movie today. It is sort of a guilty pleasure of mine. Watching bad movies that is. I revel in the terrible plots, paper-thin characters, cheesy effects, and wooden acting. It fuels me. I love them in a way that I can’t quite describe, or feel about bad games or music. To me, bad films deserve to be recognized, talked about, and maybe occasionally ridiculed. This one is no exception.

Paul W.S. Anderson movies all kind of look the same at a certain point, no matter the subject matter. Lots of gratuitous slow-mo, lots of unnecessary and poorly implemented CGI, and lots of Mila Jovovich being unnecessarily sexy when it is completely uncalled for, and more than a little badass. So giving him
The Three Musketeers p[property to play with, an iconic story of the heroes of France, is more than a little disappointing to see. What’s more, giving the role of D’Artagnan to the baby-faced Logan Lerman is questionable.

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Tokenism

Written by: Tom Blaich

As a follow-up to our discussion on the Noble Savage, I wanted to take the time to talk about the delicate issue of tokenism in contemporary media or literature. Put simply, Tokenism is the idea of diversity being included for show, of including minority characters in minor roles such that a single minority character has to represent the entirety of their group.

In less malicious contexts, this can take the shape of something that you might see on a brochure, a “multicultural” group of people that are diverse in appearance only. These characters are not allowed to express themselves in a way that would significantly differentiate them from the norm (read: white and straight). It is a way for studios to brag about embracing diversity without actually doing anything of substance.
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Product Placement: Realism vs. Marketing

Written by: Tom Blaich

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It is a familiar experience for anyone who has watched a movie or binged a TV show: the main character will be talking, walking down a busy street and in the background, we will see storefronts plastered with ads for the same few companies, Coke or Taco Bell or some other massive corporation. Often, these ads don’t even stick out, fading to the background much like they do in our everyday life (which might itself serve as some accidental commentary about the massive marketing pushes we are subjected to).

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The Backlog - Risk of Rain

Written by: Tom Blaich

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I have a confession to make. Like many of you reading this, I have a list of games that I’ve been meaning play for years. I have way too many games on Steam, and a stack of cases sitting next to my TV. Close to five hundred games now. Maybe more. It makes me feel guilty. I haven’t touched 90% of them in one way or another. I need to fix that. So this week, I dug deep into my
backlog and pulled out a game. I want to play all of them; I’ve just never had the chance. Now’s the time.

With the announcement of the now 3D sequel, there is no time like the present to jump back into Risk of Rain, Happo’s side-scrolling roguelike. You take control of one of a cast of high-powered characters, each with their own special attributes, from the simple Commando, to the quick and lethal Huntress, or the careful Sniper. And while it is technically a roguelike, the levels themselves follow a predictable format. Every one of the first four levels is a choice between two separate maps, each with two, slightly different, versions. So if you play half a dozen games or so, you’ve seen all of the level variety that there is to see.

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Anatomy of a Scene - Jarhead

Written by: Tom Blaich

Jarhead_Swofford


This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.

Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless.

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Why Did I Watch That? – DOOM

Written by: Tom Blaich

Doom-Gallery-10


I watched a bad movie today. It is sort of a guilty pleasure of mine. Watching bad movies that is. I revel in the terrible plots, paper-thin characters, cheesy effects, and wooden acting. It fuels me.
I love them in a way that I can’t quite describe, or feel about bad games or music. To me, bad films deserve to be recognized, talked about, and maybe occasionally ridiculed. This one is no exception.

DOOM is not a good movie by any means, and I’m not here to argue that fact. What I am here to argue is that you should definitely sit down and watch it, if only for one scene in the near two-hour long feature. Where we hop into the brain of Karl Urban for a first-person shooter-esque sequence that has us gunning down demons and tearing through the demented bowls of the Mars facility. It may look a little less than great, especially more than ten years after its release, but that doesn’t make it any less goddamn cool.

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Everybody - Review

Written by: Tom Blaich

Everybody_Album_Cover


I’ve always thought that
Logic had an incredible amount of talent in some aspects of his music. His technical ability is high, and his beats and production have always been top notch. But unfortunately, he has consistently been held back by his lyrics, and that is only emphasized in his newest release of Everybody. With this, his penultimate album, he is trying to become more conceptual, explore topics and areas that he thinks others have left ignored. It is an album about love and acceptance, about pride in oneself and in one’s people, about the way in which we all belong in this big world, and about the wrongs that we commit and how we shouldn’t.

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Prey - Review

Written by: Tom Blaich

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I loved the original
Prey, as there was something about the science-fiction shooter that just clicked with me. It was weird, wacky, and broke new ground with its gameplay mechanics while at the same time being something very familiar. And while the reboot is something completely different, separated entirely from the original title, it does evoke many of those same feelings within me.

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Male Gaze

Written by: Tom Blaich

When we talk about the depiction of sex and sexuality, frequently the idea of the “Male Gaze” comes up, mostly in regard to female characters and their depiction. At its heart, it’s a rather simple concept, but it can reveal a lot about the intended audience of a piece and of who made it. The Male Gaze is how a scene is portrayed specifically to be attractive to a heterosexual, male audience. It’s designed to appeal to men, and it is evidenced through the difference in depictions of straight male characters, straight female characters, and lesbian female characters and their relationships in media.
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Bethesda's Review Policy

Written by: Tom Blaich

Much has already been said about Bethesda’s decision last year to stop sending out early review copies of their games to let “everyone, including those in the media, experience our games at the same time.” It is bad for many people, like those behind large websites, but most importantly it affects the consumers and how much information they have when they go to the store to pick out a product. It does actually benefit one other group besides Bethesda: small sites like ours that would never receive these copies in the first place. I’m not a fan of this policy by any means, but it allows me to sit on the same playing field as a writer for IGN, Polygon, Kotaku, or others.

When
Dishonored 2 came out, I got it the same day that everyone else did. I was able to play through it twice that weekend, and four days later I published my review. I managed to beat a lot of major publications to press (due in part to my ability to focus on one review instead of many things at once), and while being able to do this did benefit our site, letting us see a tangible traffic boost from it, it had no way for me to help those people that wanted to buy the game on launch day.

We don’t get many pre-release copies of games at this point. Most of our reviews come one to two weeks after a game has launched, and are aimed at the smaller group of players who are waiting to buy a game. But a large portion of a game’s sales happen launch or in the week following, and we cannot help these people. Traditionally, this is where larger outlets have been able to come in with Day One or pre-release reviews based off of early copies provided by the publisher. This lets Day One purchasers make informed decisions about how to spend their money and if the new game is worth it.

The problem, as it was seen by Bethesda, was that sometimes these reviews would turn out to be negative. Instead of taking this like the criticism that it is and improving their games, they shut it down, only letting people who would talk positively about the game (read: YouTube and Twitch channels) have access to games before launch. It is deceptive, and it presents a very real concern about publishers being able to manipulate the message before and after launch. But what is actually strange is that some applaud Bethesda’s decision.

Over the last few years, games writers have caught a lot of flak, and some people see Bethesda’s decision as an affront to the side that they dislike and not to themselves as consumers. It helps that the titles that Bethesda has published since this policy has been put in place (
DOOM, Dishonored 2) have turned out to be really good titles. But even with this relative confidence in the overall quality of games that Bethesda has put out, we should be able to weigh our options before we spend money on a game.

With decisions like these, Bethesda has proven that they just want your money, and the fact that they actually make good games seem to be less of a concern for them. No matter how many free things they give to streamers, or cool videos they put out, this is the cold hard truth behind their decision-making process, and in a way, it feels scummier than the blatant money grabs of publishers like EA or Activision, who are at least completely honest about wanting all of your money.

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Tommy_Tom

Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.



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The Backlog – S.T.A.L.K.E.R. : Clear Sky

Written by: Tom Blaich

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I have a confession to make. Like many of you reading this, I have a list of games that I’ve been meaning play for years. I have way too many games on Steam, and a stack of cases sitting next to my TV. Close to five hundred games now. Maybe more. It makes me feel guilty. I haven’t touched 90% of them in one way or another. I need to fix that. So this week, I dug deep into my
backlog and pulled out a game. I want to play all of them; I’ve just never had the chance. Now’s the time.

There always been a big deal made out of hard games. To play and beat one was to somehow prove that you are better than more “normal” players, who somehow couldn’t handle the difficulty. The oft derided “casual” gamers speak to this phenomenon. Every time that someone picks up a copy of
Dark Souls, a forum user somewhere tells you to “git gud”. But often the games that we idolize for their difficulty really aren’t that hard. S.T.A.L.K.E.R is.

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Living Life Down the Barrel of a Gun

Written by: Tom Blaich

DOOM_Factory


For all of the broad range of experiences that games can offer to us, the actual ways in which we are allowed to interact with them is rather limited. Most game screens look remarkably similar from a UI point of view. There is some sort of health bar, possibly a map or objective indicator in one corner, maybe a crosshair in the center of the screen, but invariably, the bottom right corner of the screen is almost always taken up by a gun. There are a few games that don’t follow this, but in the mainstream, first-person games that don’t shove a gun into your hands are the vast minority. And if your hands are filled with a gun, they have a knife, or a sword, or a bow, your weapon is offscreen, waiting to be pulled up with a single button press, aching to strike out at someone.

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Why Did I Watch That - Punisher: War Zone

Written by: Tom Blaich

Punisher_Poster


I watched a bad movie today. It is sort of a guilty pleasure of mine. Watching bad movies that is. I revel in the terrible plots, paper-thin characters, cheesy effects, and wooden acting. It fuels me.
I love them in a way that I can’t quite describe, or feel about bad games or music. To me, bad films deserve to be recognized, talked about, and maybe occasionally ridiculed. This one is no exception.

Capturing the feel of a comic book accurately is really the goal of every comic book movie. The first
Punisher didn’t really do a good job at this, but they ended up making what is (in my opinion) a decent action movie. With Warzone, they did a much better job at capturing the dark, violent lunacy of the comic books, but it turns out that it looks really damn weird when translated to action on screen instead of stylized on the pages of a comic book.

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Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 - Review

Written by: Tom Blaich

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Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3
has one thing going for it. The world isn’t engaging, the characters are lackluster, the story is cookie cutter, but you have a rifle, and an uncanny ability to shoot people in the face from very far away. And that is what you do. Start a mission, mark targets, and snipe people. Wash, rinse, and repeat. It isn’t a bad system so much as it is a well-trodden and forgettable one, but luckily the novelty of shooting people in the face with high-powered rifles from hundreds of meters away lasted a while for me.

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