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Aristotle: the best games reviewer ever
by Chris Hawke

Aristotle. 384 – 322 BC. A Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. He came up with some wicked clever ideas, especially that considering Plato, his teacher, came out with some right old rubbish. Aristotle made very astute observations about what makes something something, and why things are what they are; their purpose. Aristotle was a pretty cool dude. Except that his wonderfully inventive ideas on the primum movens aren't his best work. Not even close. No; Aristotle has something much bigger to add to his CV. Something much more important.

Aristotle is the best games reviewer the world has ever seen.

Do you remember when, messing around with LEGO, you decided that you were going to make something really, really awesome? So you sat down, and thought for a while, and then went to work on the best temple/castle/spaceship the world had ever laid eyes on? And once it was done, despite the fact that all there was in front of you were little multicoloured blocks put one on top of the other, there was something stunningly brilliant about it? Something hard to describe, but a feeling of accomplishment, and pride, that made the structure more than just a collection of tiny, plastic Danish blocks; it made it unique and special. How about when listening to this tune, regardless of it just being a series of musical instruments playing in a certain sequence? Does it give you that beautifully nostalgic feeling that adds so much more to the experience of listening to a random song? That's 'holism'.

Holism is, according to the big man himself, when 'the whole is different, or more, from the sum of its parts'. So, you can look at the LEGO building as just various blocks placed in an aesthetically pleasing order, or music as a series of sounds, but holism would argue that the extra sense of accomplishment that accompanies it - all those nostalgic memories of The Sims - make the experience more than just what it's made out of.

Apply this to video games, and it explains why Aristotle would have made a killing in the reviewing industry. S.T.A.L.K.E.R., one of my not-so-secret passions, is a troublesome little thing. Despite three games in the series, it has used essentially the same game engine from 2006 onwards, and has been plagued by some serious issues; bugs galore, shoddy AI, weak bullets, and just a general feeling of outdatedness.

But there's something special to it.

When the superb lighting bounces around an abandoned Pripyat, bursting through broken windows. The bloodied hospital floors as a baby's cry echoes all around you. You know the glassy-eyed husk of a Duty fighter caught in an emission is somewhere ahead of you, but you don't know where. Low on ammo, low on health, low on confidence. Now, you could take a step back from the screen and simply note the shoddy textures, the repeating sound clips and the immersion-breaking HUD. That is, after all, what's in front of you. Those are the building blocks of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience. But, somehow, they mould together to create the nerve-wrecking, sweaty-palmed horror-fest that gets your heart pumping and your teeth chattering every time.

Aristotle would have been the best games reviewer ever if he had been around in this internet age. So many reviews these days get bogged down in technical talk; over-analysing of anti-aliasing. They examine every texture, every bug, and every pixel. What they miss, though, is the real game: the action that's happening right in front of their eyes, the experience created by the fusion of all the game's elements. Of course, the technical side always has its place; Fallout is - justly - condemned as a buggy mess, but if you just reject it on its slip-ups and glitches, you'll miss one of the most enjoyably violent, immersive and open-ended games on the market.

Never judge a book by it's cover. Never eat yellow snow. Don't wee with the seat down - seriously, it'll only go wrong; men can't judge distances right - and never forget the overall, the conclusion, the overarching feeling of a game.

A game is more than just parsible entities.

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- Chris Hawke

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