Right. Massive advance warning: this is about three and a half thousand words of two games journalists talking theory over IM. That might hugely turn you off. But I thought it was a really interesting conversation about the nature of reviews, how objectively dreadful games can be subjectively perfect, and Twin Peaks. Obviously Twin Peaks. So with the permission of The Telegraph’s Ashton Raze, if that is his real name, here goes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
[There seemed no really sensible place to splice in. So we’ll do so in the middle of a topic, which is: Destructoid’s infamously antagonistic reviews editor Jim Sterling, and people’s feelings towards him.]
Ashton: He gets regular death threats every time he writes a review. Like actual threats of death, not just on D’toid but to his personal email, PSN account, Xbox Live account etc.
Lewis: I think he’s an absolutely exceptional critic.
Ashton: It’s fucking lunacy.
Lewis: Oh, people go nuts. I actually think Jim as a critic is lost on D’toid. He’d have been perfect for – say – Crispy Gamer of old. He reminds me a lot of Tom Chick, in fact, in that he makes no allowances for what he thinks other people might think of the game. It’s “here is what I think, based on the way I approached the game, and you can decide whether you think that’s useful or not.”
Ashton: It’s a shame that’s so frequently misinterpretted.
Lewis: As what?
Ashton: As “You’re a fucking idiot if you think differently than I do, this review is designed to intimidate you, FEEL SMALL.” Which is what causes people to post abuse saying how dare someone say that, it’s just their opinion. Well of course.
Lewis: Ugh I know man. It’s very odd. And like, with Assassin’s Creed 2. He gave it a 5/10 or something. And people said “HE SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ON THAT REVIEW, OBVIOUSLY!” Why not? “BECAUSE HE GAVE THE FIRST GAME 4/10!” … “WELL HE’S NOT A FAN OF THE FIRST GAME SO WHY IS HE REVIEWING THE SEQUEL?” In other words: only people who are BIASED TOWARDS THE SERIES should be allowed to review new games in it. Which is MADDENINGLY stupid but it’s how it works! Reviews editors work that way!
Ashton: Yeah, the same happened with Final Fantasy XIII. People were saying how it should’ve been given to someone else because they’d been totally psyched for FFXIII, ignoring the fact Jim is actually a FF fan, but didn’t like the direction of FF13 (not that that’s even relevant, but even that wasn’t enough).
Lewis: I remember the story of Kieron [Gillen] reviewing Metal Gear Solid 2. He gave it a very meh score – 62% I think – and everyone was outraged. And now, as he’s said, no editor would ever let him near a MGS game. But he’s done his bit now.
Ashton: I can’t imagine Kieron Gillen enjoying MGS’s plot, forgetting everything else.
Lewis: I suspect that was his major problem with it. I can’t quite remember now.
Ashton: The MGS plot is something I try never to think about. And, for the same reasons, Lost.
Lewis: What do you reckon – postmodern or just shit?
Ashton: Just shit, I’m afraid.
Lewis: I sit massively on the fence with MGS. I find them oddly compelling, despite realising they’re rubbish.
Ashton: Oh I actually LIKE the series, quite a lot. It’s not so much the actual games but the furore around the plot. The “just shit” was about Lost.
Lewis: Oh! I see! No, I meant MGS. I’ll come out and say I only ever finished the first two. Played a bit of 3, didn’t touch 4. The first one I really enjoyed, but suspect it may have been more for external reasons.
Ashton: I never finished 3, did 1, 2 and 4. I like the idea of the plot, I just don’t like the way the narrative is cratfted by filling it with nonsensical shit that people spent hours musing over the relevance of.
Ashton: Not that I begrudge people for enjoying doing so, but it’s a little disheartening for a writer at times I think.
Lewis: It is funny, I often think, how people defend MGS’ wavering philosophical nonsense, then call Limbo pretentious. And it is the same people.
Ashton: Yeah it’s crazy how some stuff is dismissed as pretentious for one reason, then massive mainstream series like Resident Evil or Metal Gear Solid, with the ridiculous way they craft their narratives, are regarded as great.
Lewis: Resi isn’t pretentious, though. Resi really is just shit. And fuck me, if I hear another person defend anything that stupid, STUPID series does.
Ashton: Oh, Resi is pretentious in places. Or more like, the surrounding discussion/expanded universe/whatnot is. Now Silent Hill is a series that actually does horror plots properly (ignoring the first game’s very dubious translation).
Lewis: One word. Pathologic. It does, for me, everything perfectly. Not intentionally. But… reading Jim’s review of Deadly Premonition, actually, reminded me totally of Pathologic. He feels the same about that as I do about Pathologic. as in, the devs fucked it up. But somehow – goodness knows how – it worked.
Ashton: You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to Deadly Premonition. And in fact, Tom [Hoggins, The Telegraph’s games ed] was telling me some stuff about it and I told him it reminded me of Pathologic.
Lewis: Our reviewer [Matthew Lee, BeefJack] said the same thing.
[At this point we start talking about some stuff which is apparently embargoed. So now it’s snipped out and you’ll NEVER KNOOOOW.]
Lewis: Everything about it I love the sound of. “It’s David Lynch’s Twin Peaks meets Resident Evil, basically (watch the original promotional trailers to see how true that really is). It’s Chris Carter’s Millennium meets Curb Your Enthusiasm. It’s clunky, slow, outdated – it was originally supposed to be a PS2 release – it’s bizarre to the point of inducing hysterical laughter, and it’s also frequently quite, quite brilliant.” is what Matthew wrote about it in a news post about its UK release.
Ashton: If you don’t shower for days, flies hover around you.
Lewis: That is awesome!
Lewis: Good reference point for it?
Ashton: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know THAT mucha bout Deadly Premonition.
Ashton: I mean it is pretty much a retelling of Twin Peaks though.
Lewis: Yeah. All I know is what Chris Schilling [Eurogamer’s reviewer] told me at the time, and what Matthew’s told me today.
Ashton: Millennium was amazing.
Lewis: I don’t remember it that well. I’ll have been like ten or eleven years old or something.
Ashton: I rewatched it a few years ago, even the slightly rubbish X Files episode that concluded it. It’s great, I wish it had gotten a proper ending.
Lewis: I still haven’t finished Twin Peaks season 2, y’know.
Ashton: Neither have I.
Lewis: I know what happens, like. Just haven’t actually seen it.
Ashton: I left it at a cliffhanger point, where it reveals WHO KILLED LAURA PALMER (to the viewer, not to Coop). The last bit I saw was [SPOILER EDIT]. What was her name?
Lewis: Er. I can only think Sarah. Was it Sarah?
Ashton: Nah… Maddy.
Lewis: That’s it. Goodness knows where Sarah came from. Twin Peaks is another one, you know, like… okay let me think how to explain this. If in 1991 film and television had been at the same level of infancy as videogames are now, Twin Peaks would have been slammed. Things that it does are totally objectively ridiculous. And yet somehow… it works. Perfectly. You change anything about Twin Peaks, it ceases to work. It’s like a whole bunch of absolutely absurd ideas and techniques, all dreadful ideas in isolation, but all balanced procariously against each other. And it’s perfect. That, to me, is Pathologic. So there’s no point criticising the engine, or the translation, or the AI, or the bugs, because actually, all those things add so much to the game, in the exact balance they’re stacked in …does that make any sense at all?
Ashton: Yeah it does, I mean this is a totally different kind of game, but that summarises Demon’s Souls for me.
Lewis: I haven’t played it.
Ashton: It’s a lot less extreme than Pathologic, but certain things about the engine, the way the combat works, clipping issues and exploits in the game, they’re all part of what makes the game so amazing, finding them or finding out how to circumvent them, learning THE GAME rather than the world. But also the world. And this amazing, oppressive, horrible atmosphere they created with every single aspect of it contributing so perfectly, where you’d worry if they tweaked anything at all, it just wouldn’t be the same.
Lewis: Yep. Which I think is why I’m left so cold by – say – Gears of War, and its stoic, mechanical precision. You wouldn’t change anything in Gears. But… nnngh.
Ashton: I think games like that are great with friends, when you don’t need to think about the game too much.
Lewis: Yeah. But then I think there’s a lack of interesting co-op games. I mean, for starters, I’d pick Left 4 Dead over Gears for co-op any day. But there aren’t really many rivals, which is why Gears, or Halo, or whatever, gets away with it.
Ashton: Well yeah, but Left 4 Dead is just generally a better game. I’ve been enjoying Castlevania HD in coop lately DONT HATE ME.
Lewis: No, no. I said to a journalist friend of mine who 9/10d it elsewhere – his argument was spot-on. Watertight. It just is a very divisive game. Lauren [Wainwright, everywhere] said you’d been co-opping that. Oh, while I remember, can I C&P that big conv chunk we had about Twin Peaks and Pathologic and DP and suchlike to my blog? Reckon it was quite an interesting chat to make public.
Ashton: Yeah feel free. Incidentally, talking of Twin Peaks, DID YOU KNOW that Sheryl Lee, aka Laura Palmer, provided ‘additional voices’ for Bioshock 2?
Well, readers? Did you?