• Add Review
  • Subscribe
  • Nominate
  • Submit Media
  • RSS

Middens: A Preemptive Retrospective

  • kumada
  • 09/21/2012 03:38 PM
  • 6030 views
"Art dies in the presence of thought... It lives in that virtual space described by Heisenberg’s uncertainty, in which the moment you name it … it’s gone." - toc fetch

Middens puts the player in a difficult position. Right from the get-go, it makes him promise to be a killer. It hands him a gun and tells him to point it at people, and suggests that when he has done this enough, he will be allowed to feel that he has won. Aside from being a possibly pitch-black take on the nature of grind in rpgs, this is nearly the entire plot of Middens. Roam the wastes, find unusual creatures, and shoot them.

Fortunately, any scarcity in writing is more than made up for by the lavishness of the art. The visual in Middens are a collision of styles, ranging from the subdued tones of a Hieronymus Bosch painting to the spastic technicolor hell of an atari game on a malfunctioning tv. An incredible amount of care and attention was paid to mapping this game, but even that pales before the grandeur of its battle portraits. Every single thing I fought in the trans-spatial rift that Middens seems to take place in, I would have been willing to put in a frame and keep in my house.

Gameplay in Middens, on the other hand, serves as a counter-point to art. Exploration is difficult--given the non-euclidian nature of the mapping in Middens--and a prodigious amount of it is needed before the player can move to the end-game. Combat, another necessity, is long and exhausting. The player summons abstract manifestations of different temperaments into play, and then everyone chips away at the lifebar of whatever fish-on-a-bicycle surreality the player decided to try and kill until it eventually collapses. Sometimes the enemies will try to bargain or plead (in their own half-lucid way,) which was a nice dash of flavor (with the fringe bonus of making the player uncomfortable,) but didn't save the combat from being fundamentally straight-forward and slow. Moreover, after-battle heals don't happen automatically, and are needed after every other confrontation, forcing players to backtrack heavily and rack up frequent-flier miles at save points.

The middle of Middens does drag, perhaps as a result of being so open-ended, and the player's inter-dimensional murder-spree--at first titillating and wrong--passes the point of banality. 30 Nothings is the arbitrary item count that gets you to the end-game sequence. I racked up that plus a few more besides, and my gun had the nerve to call me a pacifist. Fortunately, the ending sequence is much tighter than the rest of the story, and actually hints at character motivations in a meaningful way. It doesn't let too much slip, but for a brief moment it did allow me to connect with the characters, and I found myself wondering how much more of a punch the game would have packed if it had been doing that all along.

Overall, Middens has some flaws, but it's also daring, experimental, and gets you outside of your comfort zone. As one reviewer to another, I'd like to give some advice to anyone who wants to play this. Put aside your notepad. Suspend your critique. Wait until you get all the way through it before you analyze. That logical inner monologue will suck a lot of the fun out of this game. Treat it like you did when you first played Myst, and just explore. It may be that the message of Middens is about the banality of gaming, or that the way to win it is by not playing, but--as long as you are going to play it--there's some amazing artistry hiding beneath the rpg maker surface, waiting to revolutionize your world.

Posts

Pages: 1
Excellent observations and commentary. I'm a bit intimidated to submit my review next to these.
author=bargainbinbible
Excellent observations and commentary. I'm a bit intimidated to submit my review next to these.

Get yourself some makerscore. This game needs people's opinions.
Roam the wastes, find unusual creatures, and shoot them.

it's true. middens is essentially a safari of the sub-conscious.

this is a very well written and succinct review.

hmm should i still write my own review

Sometimes the enemies will try to bargain or plead (in their own half-lucid way,) which was a nice dash of flavor (with the fringe bonus of making the player uncomfortable,) but didn't save the combat from being fundamentally straight-forward and slow.

o i c. so am i the only one who was unwilling to kill, specifically, the "foes" that pleaded for their lives?

the way to win it is by not playing

it's the funny games of rpg makar
author=Fugue
o i c. so am i the only one who was unwilling to kill, specifically, the "foes" that pleaded for their lives?


You may be the most moral out of all of us.
i still killed plenty that were just minding their own business.

just none that begged me to spare them.

if i am a moral paragon your bar is mad low son.

(i don't feel bad at all about killing mr. williams man. he needed to die.)
author=Fugue
i still killed plenty that were just minding their own business.

just none that begged me to spare them.

if i am a moral paragon your bar is mad low son.

(i don't feel bad at all about killing mr. williams man. he needed to die.)


They all needed to die!
You're a moral paragon as far as this game is concerned. You exercised restraint in how you used the only way you had of interacting with its universe.

It's not like there was a button you could press to invite the Hellmaw over for tea.
Marrend
Guardian of the Description Thread
21781
Enemies that plead for their lives? I don't think I've ever found any. Then again, the only enemies I ever managed to actually kill were the Thrones, or whatever they were called, in the first couple of areas. So I probably shouldn't talk!
There's a fish that bargains, I think. And maybe a few others.
There's a large number of creatures that plead---but I couldn't name them all by heart. I know the Felis Umbra does and the Unicorn Fetus.
author=Marrend
Enemies that plead for their lives? I don't think I've ever found any. Then again, the only enemies I ever managed to actually kill were the Thrones, or whatever they were called, in the first couple of areas. So I probably shouldn't talk!


you suck at middens : P
Marrend
Guardian of the Description Thread
21781
author=Fugue
you suck at middens : P


This is true! I was using Escape like nobody's business and had 9 "Nothings" to my name before I was ready to say that I was done with the game. Then, a PM exchange happened, and well, the rest is history.

As a side-note, it didn't even occur to me that I could shoot non-hostile NPCs until after I had my 30 "Nothings". Would I have played differently if I realized it sooner? I can't say for certain.
Pages: 1