Some Displeased Rambling on Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

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I have a very bad habit of impulsively buying things. It’s something I’m not very proud of doing, but it’s an irrational impulse that I’ve never been able to master. If I had to guess, I would say it is something that draws from the concept of “shopping therapy” as well as a childhood fear that if I don’t immediately possess something, it will disappear and I will never see it again (a fear borne out time and again by reality, alas).

My latest unfortunate acquisition has been Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, the followup to Machinegames’ surprise 2014 hit Wolfenstein: The New Order. I originally wasn’t even planning on buying this game, but seeing some gameplay videos shortly after release tripped a few circuit breakers in my mind, eventually resulting in me being out a serious chunk of change for yet another video game. At the time I bought it, I rationalized my decision by arguing that, just as Wolfenstein: The New Order (which this article will abbreviate to TNO) had proven to be far more interesting than the initial sales pitch made it out to be, the same would hold true for The New Colossus (henceforth abbreviated to TNC).

Naturally, fate made me a liar once again.

Before I begin, I would recommend that everyone reading this first take a look at my original review for Wolfenstein: The New Order on Ferretbrain right here. I want to jump right into the discussion of this game without having to explain a lot of background, and that review covers both the premise of the Wolfenstein series as the whole, the concept of TNO in particular, and elaborates on why I found the game so intriguing. I also happen to think it’s a decent game review, so go ahead and give it a skim; I’ll be waiting right here.

All done? Then let’s begin.

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Losing the Thread: Death of the Outsider and the future of Dishonored

Dishonored Death of the Outsider - Box Art

To fall out of love.

It is an tragedy of life that we all have to experience. Because the universe is not a static system where all is beautiful and good forever, every one of us will have to grapple with this at some point in our lives. People change, relationships evolve, and creators always take their creations in directions not everyone agrees with. That last one, built around the tricky relationship between creators, their works, and their fans, may only occupy a minor place on the great scale of heartbreaks, but it stings all the same. As fans, we read, watch, or play and become immersed. We discuss the elements and themes of a work, we use it as inspiration for stories and creations of our own, or simply take comfort in it and use it as a way to examine our own lives. It’s a strange sort of relationship; we can deeply love a creative work and worship its creator from afar, but the creator can only be aware of this relationship on a vague, theoretical level. As a result, when a creator decides to take their work in a different direction, it can feel like a one-sided betrayal, a sudden shock that reveals that the connection between a fan and the work was more tenuous than imagined. It is of course churlish to demand that creators always respond to the whims of their fans, but as I said, it stings all the same.

Now, being an intense dork of long standing, I’ve had my share of “breakups” over the years. I drifted away from Star Trek as the franchise ran out of steam in the twilight of the Berman/Braga years and the new creative leads did things I didn’t agree with. Something similar happened with my love for Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, but as I came late to that franchise my feelings towards it are a bit different. Recently, I’ve been having a great deal of difficulty processing my feelings about Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, the latest and possibly final installment of the Dishonored series of games, that was released back in September. While the game is fun to play on the technical level, it also carries over a lot of the problems I had with Dishonored 2 while also introducing even greater ones of its own. (Fair warning, in order to talk about this game properly, I will be spoiling everything about the Dishonored series.)

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Spooktober Special: You Are Empty

You Are Empty - Cover

Fun fact: The first thing that drew me to this game was not “why does this man have no face,” but rather “why is he wearing a Civil War uniform?”

I’ve been going back and forth about discussing this game for a long while now. Part of the reason for this is the fact that I’ve drifted away playing and discussing flawed games that have hidden merits; access to Steam and digital downloads has decidedly shifted my tastes more towards the mainstream. Additionally, when talking about You Are Empty simply as a game, I don’t think there’s much I can add to this sympathetic review an acquaintance of mine did several years ago. However, the Halloween season and my work with the Wolfhound Empire review project have rekindled my interest in Soviet esoterica, so I’ve decided to revisit this game and talk about why I still dig into it at this time of year.

Just to get the basics out of the way, You Are Empty is a horror-themed first-person-shooter, released in 2007 (2006 in Russia), that was developed by Mandel Artplains, a small Ukrainian developer that dissolved after the game was released. The plot is very basic; it’s sometime in the early 1950s in the Soviet Union, and you are a faceless guard. After an ordinary day of guarding, you get hit by a truck and are knocked unconscious. During your convalescence, the world goes a bit 28 Days Later, and when you wake up you have to shoot and bludgeon your way around an unnamed city to figure out what happened.

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Spooktober Special: House of Psychotic Women

House of Psychotic Women - Paperback Cover

With October again upon us, the time has come for the seasonal tradition of Spooktober to begin once more. This year, however, I’m going to be doing something rather different. Rather than delve into a bunch of horror-themed things, I am going to limit myself to an intensive look at just one subject. There are a number of reasons for this; I haven’t been looking for new horror movies, books, and games with the fervor of previous years, I’ve had a number of personal issues crop up that have cut into my productivity, and I’ve come to find I’m not that comfortable doing a lot of write-ups in a short space of time. I may do another review if fancy strikes me, but for now this will be the main event.

Fortunately for you guys, I’ve found a real treat: the book House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films, by the Canadian film writer Kier-La Janisse.

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(Repost) Entering a Radiant State, Part II

And now, the final part of our discussion of Radiant State, along with a small capstone for our discussion of the Wolfhound Empire trilogy as a whole. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Michal for caving in to my nagging and giving these books a try, as well as suggesting we do this collaborative review in the first place. If any of you out there are inspired to give these books a try, feel free to share your own thoughts about them in the comments below.

As for our final discussion, we narrow in on the final antagonist of the trilogy and discuss the ways he both does and does not conform to the image and personality of Josef Stalin. As someone with a more-than-casual interest in the life and memory of Stalin, I locked on to the “Kantor/Rizhin is Stalin” idea fairly early on, to the point of giving me a case of tunnel vision. It’s always good to have someone outside your head to give you some perspective.

One Last Sketch

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Stalin, Stalin, wherefore art thou Stalin?

Part I

Alasdair: But even the Lodka cannot outrun Rizhin forever. As Lom searches the abandoned Lodka for Chazia’s secret archive, he is followed inside by Rizhin’s police agents, tasked by the President-Commander with demolishing the building. Despite the best efforts of the vyrdalak sisters, they succeed in their mission, and the Lodka, the final landmark of old Mirgorod, goes up in flames. And yet there is something curious about this event. In spite of the destruction of centuries worth of police files and confiscated artifacts, the novel emphatically describes the Lodka’s demise as “a good thing.” The immolation of the Lodka is another in the trilogy’s endless series of historical breaks, but it is one with a double meaning. On the one hand, it severs the last link Rizhin’s Mirgorod has with the Mirgorod of the Novozhd, the Mirgorod we were introduced to…

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(Repost) Entering a Radiant State, Part I

At long last, me and Michal Wojcik have returned to discuss the final installment of Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Empire books, 2015’s Radiant State. Once again, the book opens with a radical break from the previous volume, with both a six-year timeskip and a Vlast that has been transformed from the crumbly half-magical tsarist-Soviet hybrid we know from the first two books into a radical science-fictional vision of Stalinist hyper-modernism. Please enjoy the first half of our review, in which we plumb the depths of Papa Rizhin’s New Vlast. (Fair warning: this may actually be the biggest installment of our review series to date. Suffice to say, I have a lot of opinions about Stalinism.)

One Last Sketch

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There is only the future

At long last, we’re down to the last volume in Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Empire trilogy, 2015’s Radiant State, and Alasdair Czyrnyj’s back for another round of discussion.

Six years have passed since Truth and Fear and the Vlast is a very different place; the nuclear shenanigans have spirited away the multi-future seed of the Pollandore and changed its fundamental nature, but have also sealed the stone archangel within the borders of the endless forest along with its new aspect in Maroussia Shaumian. Forest and Vlast are now fundamentally alienated both in space and in time; the slow struggle between angel and forest continues to play out but the rest of world is left to the designs of Papa Rizhin, the Vlast’s newly-minted dictator. And his desires are to force the Vlast into a rapid, impossible technological leap that will make humankind oust the stone…

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The Underworld Inside Her Head – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

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Back in 2012, I was on a forum looking at a thread discussing the lackluster sales of Prototype 2, the somewhat disappointing sequel to one of my absolute favorite sandbox games. In the course of the discussion, one poster opined that the ultimate problem with the game was that it was a member of a dying breed: the “AA game.” These were games that fit in an intermediate stage between giant franchises like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed and tiny games pushed out by small studios; too big and mechanically complex to safely self-fund, but too esoteric or dense to turn into a money-printing machine. While these sorts of games had been the bread-and-butter of a lot of publishers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they began to disappear as more publishers moved to a blockbuster-based business model and the indie scene exploded. For myself, I have no idea if “AA game” is anything more than a journalist’s buzzword, but I have found it useful in describing the sorts of games I like: a bit flashy, but with something interesting going on under the hood.

Recently, the legend of the “AA game” has been revived in the gaming  press with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, developed and self-published by British developer Ninja Theory and released earlier this August. I’m not that familiar with Ninja Theory, mostly because their previous games have tended to be in genres I don’t have much interest in. However, enough buzz blew up around the game in my usual haunts that I decided to plunk down $30 and have a look. What I found was…surprising, to say the least.

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