Let me tell you about video games vol. 1

I’ve been playing some video games over the last few months. I’ve also been staring at my computer monitor trying to unlock my latent time travel powers to go into the future and play games that have yet to be released.

I have prepared a list.

Planetside 2

I have the same weird relationship with online shooters that I do with strategy games, namely that I’m very interested in the genre despite being utterly terrible at it. My online shooter experience generally consists of running around for a few minutes and then getting sniped from halfway across the map by someone with a handgun named xxX*AryanWeedNinja*Xxx.

Even still, Planetside 2 was too intriguing to ignore. The game asks players to select a side in a three-way war between space nazis, space bikers and space elves locked in an endless war fight the three continents of an alien planet. The ever-shifting battle lines of the conflict are entirely driven by the effort of the players, with nary an NPC to be seen in the entire virtual battlefield. I’m always drawn to the idea of large-scale online games that are entirely player-driven, but most examples I can think of  are either super-hardcore time sinks like EVE Online or chaotic barely-functioning sandboxes like Second Life. Here’s the chance for a huge player-driven scenario backed by a large company and with the easy-to-grasp gameplay of an FPS.

After spending a while in-game I can safely say that Planetside mostly lives up to that ambition. Within minutes of logging on tank battalions were advancing across ridge lines and fleets of aircraft were zipping overhead, all of it 100% controlled by RonPaulBrony56 and ##TeeBagger##. I was curious to see how far the developers would allow one side to go in prevailing over the others, and in my limited time playing I’ve witnessed an entire continent being taken over apart from the other armies’ invincible main bases. The continents are instanced and have their own separate resource nodes so I doubt one side would ever be able to leverage a victory over one of them into absolute server domination, but there doesn’t seem to be any system in place that would prevent it.

The game wisely makes it easy to get to where the shooting is, with your map displaying a list of spawn points near bases that are being attacked or defended by your side and an “instant action” button you can press to get straight into the fighting (although the latter once dumped into the middle of an enemy stronghold with no backup for miles). Once you get there you may not know what to do next, however. The side effect of giving players so much space to romp around in is to decouple individual effort from the wider ebb and flow of the front-line. It can be hard to figure out what it is you should be doing in an engagement or if defending this particular base is actually helping your team at all. Most online gun-shoot players seem to live for those moments of individual heroism where they single-handedly turn the tide of battle; from what I can gather such herculean feats are nigh-unobtainable once in a lifetime events in Planetside 2. You’re very much a cog in the machine, which can lead to a vague feeling of dissatisfaction and existential ennui.

Planetside 2’s game mechanics involve spawn points protected by unbreakable force fields; only the faction that owns the spawn point can pass through them and neither side can shoot through them. You capture enemy facilities by bringing down the generators powering the shields then converting the spawn point to your own faction. What this means in practice is that the latter stage of any battle is usually spent either poking your head out of the forcefield to take pot shots at the enemy forces standing just outside or waiting around twiddling your thumbs until the victory timer counts down and the spawn point switches over to your side. Particularly as a defender you spend a lot of time in the end-stage of a siege crouched outside of a force-field door debating whether you should risk firing a rocket at that tank parked a few meters away. This brings to mind less you and your comrades mounting epic last-stand defenses and more a group of kids milling around awkwardly outside the principal’s office.

Technically, this is quite a pretty game. The sheer scale of of the infrastructure you’ll be fighting over is jaw-dropping and there are some very pretty lighting effects, particularly during sunrise and sunset. However, all of the technical wizardry in the world can’t make up for bad art design and Planetside 2 is one of the most artistically hideous games I’ve ever played with chunky, garish character and vehicle designs that look like something out of a late-90s shareware game. My chosen faction, the tech-fanatics of the Vanu Sovereignty, sport bright purple sculpted armour that makes them look alarmingly like giant sci-fi dildos. I understand that Sony wanted to remain faithful to the look of the first game, to which this is much more a remake than a sequel, and I’m glad they went with an unashamedly sci-fi aesthetic rather than gritty hoo-rah Realsoldiers, but maybe update this stuff just a bit.

This is a Free to Play game and so it has Free To Play elements, but they’re not massively obtrusive. You can pay to unlock more powerful guns and equipment, which does stray into the dreaded “pay to win” territory, but the amount of experience points needed to do the same isn’t prohibitively high and there’s none of this malarcky about renting guns for a limited amount of time unless you pay for them that a lot of other F2P games pull. You can absolutely just buy a ton of advanced equipment the moment you start playing, but this isn’t like an MMO where more powerful equipment will make you untouchable except to similarly bedecked players. A headshot is still going to take you out no matter how much fancy gear you’re carrying around.

If you’re interested in the online shoot-bangs give Planetside 2 a go. It’s worth checking out just for the sheer spectacle of the combat, and you might find yourself getting into it.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days

After receiving approximately All The Money and being crowned Emperors of the planet for making the first season of Walking Dead point and click episodes Telltale have decided to ease the wait for the second season with this piece of DLC, a single episode split between five interconnected stories introducing characters we’re presumably going to be playing as or interacting with some time later this year.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical about this. Telltale has one of the most difficult follow-up acts in gaming history on its hands here, and it’s hard to even imagine a Walking Dead game without Lee and Clementine (not that that stopped anyone). I was pretty much ready to just draw a line in the sand and decide that no Walking Dead game could ever be as good as the first season.

Well, shoot me in the head and leave my corpse on the side of the road, 400 Days is every bit as good as it’s predecessor.

Rather than trying to make zombie-lightning strike twice Telltale have taken the opportunity to experiment both narratively and in terms of gameplay construction. Rather than going for the same quasi-blank slate approach that they took with Lee, our five protagonists start the game with more of an established backstory and personality, neither of which are always entirely pleasant. The mini-episodes that make up 400 Days often ditch the slow-burn “wander around clicking on things” approach in favour of focusing all of the action on a single, taut encounter or scenario. As a result the game feels faster, edgier and more adrenaline-fueled than most of the first season, having more in common with the white-knuckle rollercoaster of the final episode than the four that preceded it.

400 Days doesn’t replicate he emotional brutality of the first game- it couldn’t possibly be expected to- but I found myself surprisingly involved in all of the new characters by the end. We’re thrown into these survivor’s situations with little to no set-up, and as it turns out adversity builds friendship. The episode even manages to replicate the Lee/Clementine dynamic, but then flips the personalities of both character equivalents on their heads. It’s a welcome sign that Telltale aren’t going to play it safe going forward.

There are of course some nods to the first game for the hardcore fans, although they’re mostly subtle and implemented in a way that doesn’t  detract from the new faces. It’s a nice way to hint at what’s been going on since the end of Episode 5 while leaving fans with unresolved questions like “But what about Clementine?” and “Where’s Clementine?” and “No seriously, where is she?”

Bring on season 2.

Rogue Legacy

“My duty is to my family, but I am loyal only to myself”

So begins Rogue Legacy’s sepia-toned prologue, a moving ode to family and the power of…..

Nope, I couldn’t keep that up for more than a sentence. To be fair neither can Rogue Legacy, turning immediately once the tutorial is over into a delightfully goofy story of swords, sorcery and irritable bowel syndrome. This is essentially a Roguelike metroidvania in which you explore a randomly generated castle in order to kill the evil whats-it at the top. You’ll die in this game. A lot. I failed to make it past the first room the first time I played.

But it’s okay, that’s the point. Rogue Legacy‘s gimmick is that death leads to a respawn of a more literal variety than you may be used to. Instead of coming back as the same character you choose from a selection of possible heirs, each with a different class and a host of genetic traits, some of which are just in there for the lulz or to make the game harder on purpose (my particular favourite is the one that turns the entire game upside down). When your offspring inevitably dies it’s back to the beginning to start over with a fresh hero. After each micro-adventure you can spend any money you earned from the previous play-through on upgrading your stats and unlocking vendors for better gear. This leads to a constant upward progression in which I found myself actually looking forward to each death to see what my gold could get me. It’s a simple change to the roguelike formula but in practice this over-arching progression system turns out to be a game changer by making each attempt to assault the game’s absurd difficulty a small incremental step toward victory rather than just another failure.

So far Rogue Legacy is up there with Spelunky in terms of addictive one-more-try adventuring. If you need something you can pick up and play a few rounds of without too much of a time commitment, look no further.

 

Routine

Do you like horror? Do you like space? Do you like horror games set in space?

Routine is an indie first person horror title focusing on exploration and atmosphere with perma-death (if you say that three times in front of a mirror a PC gaming enthusiast will appear behind you and talk about crowd-funding for 12 hours), set on a moon base where something has gone horribly wrong. There’s some absolutely gorgeous environmental design with a retro-futuristic setting that reminds me of 2001A Space Odyssey. Gameplay is very Amnesia-ish, except you have some sort of zappy gun thing that can stun enemies.

I look forward to downloading it, appreciating the atmosphere for five minutes and then being too terrified to play any more.

Infra

I have this thing where I’m intensely attracted to games that simulate mundane jobs I would never be interested in doing in real life. There’s a bus driver simulator. It’s called Bus Driver. I have payed actual real-person money for it even though if I was forced to be a bus driver in real life it would result in some sort of vehicular murder-suicide within the first three hours. The same company is publishing a game about chemical spill cleaners that I’m eagerly awaiting.

Then we come to Infra, a Steam Greenlight game about an infrastructure safety auditor. There’s some kind of story in there about preventing an impending disaster and you can die from tunnel collapses and stuff, but honestly if the game just gave me an abandoned dam and told me to count how many cracks there were in the environment I’d be down for that too.

Advertisements

One thought on “Let me tell you about video games vol. 1

  1. Zenobious

    I played Planetside 2 for a long while until they wiped all the accounts at the end of the beta, which killed my desire to play for the most part.

    In my experience the best ways to enjoy the game were to either find a clan that knew what they were doing or to entertain myself doing things that are only really possible on those huge maps. For the former, I conveniently had some friends who were in a well-organized clan, and rolling across the countryside in a massive formation smashing everything could be pretty fun — especially when your formation ran into an enemy one in a titanic clash.

    For the latter, I mostly ran around in the hills with a sniper rifle trying to find the silliest sniper positions possible. It could take a lot of time and effort, but it’s worth it all when you shoot a dozen dudes in the head from a cliff overlooking their base, while they all run around in confusion, never looking up! Another good one was to hop on an ATV with a grenade launcher and see how far I could drive behind enemy lines, taking pot-shots at everyone I sped by, before someone gave chase and stopped me.

    The visual design is definitely disappointing, though. I played Vanu but it pained me every time I had to look at the ridiculous character models and horrific color schemes… still better than generic CoD-style mil-dudebros, but that’s not saying much.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s