Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
For someone who first took it in as a wide-eyed kid, revisiting Episode I’s podrace scene is a pretty deflating experience. It just comes off far too slow and lifeless, especially considering it’s a race between rickety rocket sleds. And all the cuts from the action to the bystanders drags it down even more. The one thing about it that still really entertains is, unsurprisingly, the sound: the goofy noises of the alien pilots, the “wub wub” of the oversized engines, John Williams’ typically brassy score.
You know what does hold up, though? The video game they made out of the podracing scene. Episode I: Racer came out back in 1999 alongside Phantom Menace, but the PC version was just rereleased this week on GOG’s digital storefront, cleaned up and rejiggered to run on modern rigs. I was surprised to see how well it’s still able to elicit the key things the film is sorely missing: a sense of speed and danger. It’s not much to look at after nearly 20 years, but when you’re jetting around at 600 mph (or more when you start buying Watto’s pricey upgrades), the minimalist tracks are a huge help, drawing the eye to any craggy little obstacles in your path—which is good, since colliding with one is seriously jolting. Every bump feels like it could tear your scrappy pod to pieces, and with all that good Star Wars wear and tear on the racers and the way those engines sway, they already seem like they could come unglued at any second. And the one thing I still love about that scene—all the great sounds—are here, too, taken straight from the movie. It’s everything cool about podracing without the constant cutaways to Jake Lloyd’s grimacing little face. [Matt Gerardi]
Look, I do not want to ruin Black Room for you by telling you, exactly, what it is or how it works. Designer Cassie McQuater describes it as a feminist dungeon crawler, but the dungeon you’re crawling through is your internet browser, here reconfigured to represent a subconscious mind. And, I want to be really explicit here: You will kill zero skeletons, loot zero chests, upgrade zero pieces of equipment.
What you’ll find instead are dense, haunted images comprising clip art, pilfered sprites from classic games, hallucinatory assemblages of found footage, and luminous GIFs. Lyrical texts scattered throughout evoke a sort of mental exercise meant to induce sleep, and Black Room frequently evokes that master of dream-art, David Lynch, with rooms full of blue flowers and nightmarish spaces presented with unnerving grace. McQuater’s aesthetic has a dreamy, gothic beauty to it, with lilting, melancholy music that induces a sort of meditative state, ideal for the leisurely pace of the game. I do not know when you’re reading this, but keep the game in your back pocket and boot it up sometime late at night when you can’t think of what else to click on. It’s a diamond-tight trove of mysteries and weird beauties, waiting on the internet for you. And it’s free, so you’ve got nothing to lose. [Clayton Purdom]