Bioshock Remastered, Promise, and Emotional Torture

We’re all huge fans of the BioShock franchise here on The Slowdown, but we’ve also had our fair share of the game series. We awaited each game, lathering ourselves with collector’s editions (remember the original Big Daddy statue that would crack in half?), with nightly chats about lore and story, and even with articles written on the game here in the archives. They are some really good games. Some guy named John Lanchester once said somewhere that Bioshock “was the first game he played that had the ambitions of a novel” and I find that very damn agreeable.

It’s just that no-one in particular was looking forward to The Bioshock Collection in the traditional sense. We’re not console gamers, so they just weren’t in the view, or on the horizon. The games are bygones for Ken Levine, too, who had claimed the games took such a toll on him that he thought sequels would make him “[…] lose my mind, and my marriage.”1

We too were arguably done with these anomalously nihilistic, brutal, and taxing video games, perhaps even with additional future games in the series, the idea of which has soured somewhat with Levine’s surprise dissolution of Irrational Games as it were in 2014. With the joint release of the remastered versions of BioShock 1 and 2 on the PC, however, I have been made a fool.

I’ve been roped to care for something that was supposed to be both free and carefree.


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Gone Home and The Reality Effect

Gone Home.

Gone Home. This was The Fullbright Company’s famed “Story Exploration Video Game,”1 a game that I had been aching to witness, to dissect, and to analyse.

This, I already knew, were a Critic’s Kinda Game – one that would absolutely speak both to my ludological and narratological interests… only, the increasingly massive amount of criticism (reviews, articles, critiques, and commentaries) had begun to pile and fill up my Pocket feed, my RSS subs, and my Twitter timeline; first, to the point of my hesitation, then, to mild discomfort, and finally to a kind of destitution.

I really did feel, for a moment, ashamed of not having tackled the popular game on this website. We seemed like such a good match.

I guess you could say that I think we both owe it to each other.

Minor spoilers below.


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Payday 2, “Death Wish,” and Binary States

Over here at The Slowdown, I like and try to produce criticism on things that I enjoy, and things that I think are good. This is often (cough, preposterously) visible on the website. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t just “play” games, too.

One of these games is Payday 2, the sequel to 2011’s Payday: The Heist, a 4-person co-op cops-and-robbers FPS that came hot on the heels of the foundations laid down by Left 4 Dead. Copocalypse, anyone? Credit where credit is due: Not only are both games excellent co-op shooters, but the game’s developers, the Swedish Overkill Software, have pretty much a perfect track record of community support and management so far.

In fact, I would point @Overkill_TM out to any aspiring developer as an example of how to masterfully utilize Steam as more than just a platform for selling games; Payday 1 was well-supported enough, and Payday 2 on the PC has received a constant stream of community-oriented events, content updates, and patches1.

On the whole, I am a big Overkill fan, and a Payday one, too, and it seems many, many others are as well: With Overkill owners Starbreeze Studios signing a new 2-year, $6 million extension deal with 505 Games, it’s not surprising that Overkill have now deployed yet another update to the game.

All that aside, the all-new “Death Wish” update, however, is a curious case of a developer failing to see the forest of their core mechanics for the trees. “Death Wish” is, simply put, a mind-boggling move from the otherwise reliable studio.

Read on to find my PSA-like analysis on why.


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Video Game Criticism and the Question of S#%t

The Binding of Isaac

I had (erroneously) assumed that I would never, ever be writing about s#$t in video games, but after recently posting my conceptual/generic analysis of The Binding of Isaac, questions of merit, value/quality and meaning, as well as the overall relevance of video game criticism, emerged – chiefly at Rock, Paper Shotgun, as usual, the Mecca of Video Games that it so happens to be (props to the poster Hexagonalbolts for the tip).

A swift return to the wonderful, wonderful world of Isaac is thusly in order. Obviously, being the hotbed for argument that it inherently is thanks to its religious leanings, The Binding of Isaac has been more or less at the centre of critical attention ever since its release.

Still, the mere idea of taking Isaac, well, seriously, seemed to produce in some commenters a more intensified response yet, and indeed, many questions were asked, more arguments had, with many an opinion ranging from the honest to the ironic. The question seemed to be, isn’t it simply too much to write about Isaac like this? Here are a series of strawmen of some of the aforementioned:

  • Are video games worthy of or suitable for analysis?
  • Is The Binding of Isaac worthy of such a critique?
  • Shouldn’t video game criticism be just about play and/or quality?
  • Are any of these meanings intended? Why look for them if they aren’t?
  • Why bother?

I’m not so sure that I can come even close to answering these questions in just one article, but on the whole, the question of “Why bother?” seems to encompass the rest of them. We’ll stick to that, for the most part. The reason I’m quick to jump into the fray with an in-depth response is that I find this particular discussion, of meaning, to be relevant for video game criticism on the one hand, and separate from the “games as art(?)” discourse on the other, even if this doesn’t appear to be the case first-hand.

The one chief aim of this article, then, is to answer the question of “Why bother?” especially as it pertains to the semantic/narrative functions of video games, as well as to discuss our understanding of video game criticism (its aims, objects, uses). As mentioned, I will rather try work my way around the question of “art”, only ever dipping my toes in its waters with the intention of otherwise staying firmly ashore. (more…)

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2K Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Loves Me!

Ever since the BioShock 2 launch, 2K Games have been giving PC players high blood pressure and ulcers thanks to a laundry list of problems with the game, ranging from its Games for Windows Live integration and DirectX issues to the infamous “Rapture Metro” map pack, giving much credence to the view that the game was effectively left to rot on the platform.

To add insult to injury, this sentiment was already firmly established before the publisher’s wishy-washy approach to “The Protector Trials” and “Minerva’s Den” DLC packs, which were originally slated for – and then later announced cancelled, only to move back to production – the PC. 2K community manager Elizabeth Tobey sums up the news in a sentence: “We have resumed development on all three and they will be coming to PC.”1

Although the aforementioned – plus an additional patch – are now back in production, the only real response to this whole affair can but resemble this, especially after Irrational Games head honcho Ken Levine jumped to a profanity-laden PR save at Kotaku: “If you want to know the future of gaming, buy a PC. And pay attention. Because above all, that thing on your desk is a crystal ball.”2 (more…)

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