Life Is Strange: Suicide

Spoiler warning: This post will reveal major spoilers from Life Is Strange Episode 2: Out of Time.

Life Is Strange is an episodic adventure game in the vein of Telltale narrative adventure games like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. The world of Life Is Strange can best be described as Groundhog Day meets Twin Peaks, and the developer Square Enix isn’t shy about this. You can find ‘Fire Walk With Me’ graffitied on a mirror in the diner bathroom.

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My Games of 2013

I did it last year so here it is again; a list of games that released over the year of 2013 that I rather enjoyed, and there’s a good chance you may enjoy them too. Most of which are indies, but there’s a bunch of big studio games in the mix too.

In alphabetical order we have…

Antichamber

antichamber

Like Portal, Antichamber is a first-person puzzle game. But whereas Portal is quite clear with its instructions, Antichamber throws you into a world where you have to work out for yourself what the hell you are doing. Using tricks of the optical kind Antichamber will mess with your head. Not to mention that all the puzzle rooms  will randomly reorganise themselves while you play to add  to the headache. It’s original, it’s hard, it’s Antichamber — a puzzle game that won’t go easy on you.

Candy Box 2

candybox2

I played a ton of the original Candy Box (also released in 2013). It’s the game that starts off as a single button. Built with ASCII art the game won me over with its mix of RPG, adventure, and pure curiosity. Candy Box 2 further expands upon that original idea with a huge world map. There are so many things to discover in Candy Box 2. many of which hard to find, I eventually turned to the wiki for guidance. This was a game I always had open in my browser for the good part of a month or more. It was my distraction from the things I really should have been doing. Plus leaving it open generates more candies!

Diablo III

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Yes Diablo III was first released on PC in 2012, but this is the console release and the first time I’m getting around to playing it. I grabbed my brother and we hunkered down and played through the first Act. At first the game felt like it had “dumbed down” a lot of the features of Diablo II; auto character stats, no skill trees, but maybe we should’ve chosen a difficulty level higher than Normal (there are harder versions of normal apparently!), as we weren’t finding it overly challenging. But at the end of Act 1 the game feels like it’s ramping up a bit and the streamlining and simplified user interface (arranging equipment into helmets and pants for example) is a welcome addition for an originally mouse heavy PC game. It’s a good old fashioned loot fest with fun-filled monster slaughtering. Without having finished it (not that I finished most of the games on this list) it found a welcome spot. Now we just have to see if it lives up to its predecessors. Topping nostalgia is not an easy thing.

Gone Home

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Word of mouth helped this game find it’s way onto screens around the world, including mine. It’s a simple adventure game, well, more of an exploration game really. There isn’t much in the way of puzzles and there aren’t dialogue choices. But what it does have is atmosphere. You walk about a creepy house in the middle of a thunder storm over turning every little piece of information you can find to learn about the occupants and their stories. This is a game where snooping is encouraged!

Grand Theft Auto V

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Rockstar have a reputation for their open world games, and GTA V keeps hold of the flag. San Andreas is dutifully recreated as a vast playground of adventures. The main storyline is okay as things go. There are some funny bits such as Michael kicking his kid off his video game console and taking him bike riding for some father son time, but there’s a lot of tedious driving from point A to point B. In a series first you take control of three characters who you can switch between (and sometimes during missions. There needed to be more of this, as it did change up the traditional GTA gameplay). Rockstar can’t be beaten for its realistic open worlds and myself and friends have had many an adventure simply cruising the streets, stealing planes and causing general mayhem. Due to save issues I’m not sure if I feel that compelled to finish the story side of things.

Gunpoint

gunpointGunpoint is another indie darling I discovered. Essentially it’s a puzzle platformer. You hack into electrical networks, try not to be seen  and make your leave. Oh yeah and you can jump through windows. It’s awesome tackling a guard, crashing through a window, and diving hundreds of metres to the ground, punching him in the face until your mouse clicking hand gets tired. What? It’s therapeutic! Gunpoint’s writing is also clever. Between missions you ring up your contacts and choose between dialogue options which can affect the outcome of the game, or you can use just for fun. You can solve many of the puzzles using the gadgets at your disposal in a variety of ways; electrocuting guards with wall sockets, wiring doors to open on a gun firing, or turning off lights with elevator movement.

The Last of Us

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Despite it’s clunky beginnings Last of Us becomes another Naughty Dog special. Set years after a zombie outbreak (sorry, Infected) Joel, a hardened smuggler must travel across a post apocalyptic America with Ellie, a young girl with a secret. The Last of Us is god damn beautiful and my highlight is exploring the dilapidated environments without the constant barrage of enemies. The violence in The Last of Us can be jarring, from choking the breath out of mercenaries to dispatching of Infected with an axe to the head. But it’s gritty violence that suits it’s bleak world. As Joel and Ellie struggled I felt like I struggled with them, or is that… as them?

Papers, Please

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Papers, Please is an unusual type of game. It’s unusual in the sense it simulates a desk job of an immigration officer working for a communist nation. Yes, for the majority of the game you are scanning documents and passports, checking for discrepancies. Any discrepancy has to be checked and questioned for letting terrorists through can cost you dearly. At the end of each work day you go home to your family (displayed only as text) and choose between spending what little money you have on rent, food, heating, or medicine. If you screw up badly at work your family will pay for it and one by one they will die off. Depressing huh? But it’s an addicting experience that gets increasingly difficult as new elements are introduced.

Rogue Legacy

roguelegacy

I turned to Rogue Legacy in hope of another Spelunky type of experience. With it’s random dungeons and it’s extreme difficulty, it certainly tickled that itch. But unlike Spelunky, Rogue Legacy has a sense of progression. What gold you have left on your death gets transferred to your ancestor where you can spend it on new abilities, weapons, magic, and other upgrades (it gets a little hard when the prices increase, money doesn’t tend to carry through when you enter the castle). On each run you can choose between three ancestors, each of which have a class, and varying traits (not always helpful) including colour blindness which turns the game greyscale, and dwarfism which well, lets you play as a dwarf. As of writing I have only defeated one boss. The game is hard yo! It looks like once all the bosses are defeated, the door to the final challenge will open. I live and pray.

The Stanley Parable

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The Stanley Parable is a game based on the Half-Life 2 mod of the same name. You star as Stanley, office worker, who one day notices his coworkers are missing and his one job is brought to a halt. As you explore the office, a narrator tells Stanley’s story. The first choice of the game is whether you go down the left door obeying the narrator, or the door on your right. You can play through the game obeying the narrator, but that is only one story/ending of the game. The fun is in disobeying the narrator who will quickly berate you for doing so. There are many, many paths through The Stanley Parable, and many of which will illustrate the illusion of choice in most story driven games.

I’ve Grown Up But Videogames Haven’t


I was nine when I got my first console and game; a Sony PlayStation and a copy of Disney’s Action Game Featuring Hercules (a bit of a mouthful). I had played games before but nothing like this with its delightful use of 2D and 3D; its colourful world of Herculades and impossible save points. I wasn’t on the forefront of gaming by any means. I make no claims to that. This was the 90’s.

I grew up with games. I spun crates as Crash Bandicoot, chanted as Abe in Abe’s Oddysee, and brandished a long sword as Cloud in Final Fantasy VII. I followed Naughty Dog from PlayStation to PlayStation. I expanded, bought different consoles, crossed different genres. I grew older. I reached my twenties and I started to play less, but my love for games never vanished. I am now 24 and more picky than ever regarding the games I choose to play. TV became my new escape because I began to realise games hadn’t changed all too much.

At the 2013 DICE Summit David Cage did a talk titled The Peter Pan Syndrome: The Industry That Refused to Grow Up. His point was we need to move the medium forward, to where we’re at today, to explore new themes and ideas – and I happen to agree with him. Please note that this doesn’t mean I want every game to be Heavy Rain. But something different would be nice. Ask a fellow non-gamer friend to take a look at the games lining store shelves and they’re likely to see a bunch of same looking boxes; shooters and sequels to shooters. It’s no wonder so many people still think of video games as a kid’s medium. We haven’t proven ourselves yet. Sure there’s the odd exception and I’ll cover some of those later, but we are still buying the same old crap. And so what do publishers do? Why, sell us more of it of course.

Stories

What I keep coming back to are stories. The basis for a game’s scenario, its world and its characters. How often do you see the same old stories happen in games?

Dude with a gun and a mission?

Rescue the damsel in distress?

Defeat the big boss?

A young hero learning to fight?

Like movies and books, games can literally be about anything. Why are we stuck repeating the same old thing? We play the same White male character (commonly voiced by Nolan North) as the lead in many games. He kills a bunch of dudes and then the credits roll. Even Nintendo lives off its successes of good times gone by with sequels and rehashes of its popular franchises.

Now there are games that buck the trend and these are the ones that capture my attention. Heavy Rain told the story of a father and his desperate search for his son. Grim Fandango; a skeleton salesman in the Land of the Dead uncovering a conspiracy. The Secret of Monkey Island; a goofy boy wanting to become a pirate for no other reason than, because he can.

Why are these games so far and few between? Why can’t this be the norm?

It can be done. We just need the conviction to go through with it. People do buy creative projects. Just look at Kickstarter.

 

Storytelling

And it’s not just the stories themselves but the way they are told. Today it’s still acceptable for you to play for a little bit until you reach a cut-scene that shows your character do something amazing while you sit back and watch, or a dose of exposition is hurled at you while the controller sits on your lap. A few games found a way around this, most notably Half-Life 2 and Bioshock, which keep you in the player’s shoes the whole way through. It’s jarring to say the least to go from a first person perspective to a cut-scene featuring your character.

Games have found ways of giving exposition while you play, and in an entertaining way through dynamic voice over; GLaDOS’ sardonic wise cracks in Portal, or the croaky Rucks  in Bastion. And there’s games like The Walking Dead or Mass Effect where you’re not a straight faced mute and are actually involved in the conversation, picking dialogue options.

 

What Can You Do?

All of this has happened before and will happen again. We’re stuck in a vicious cycle of familiarity. When I say we I do mean the general game buying populace at large. We vote with our dollars for the kinds of stories we wish to play. It doesn’t help that the current best selling games of all time are first person military shooters. The solution for games to leave Neverland once and for all? Buy games that do new and interesting things — games that tell new stories. Fund indie Kickstarter campaigns. And for the love of Tim Schafer, stop buying god damn military shooters!

 

 

Here’s a Bunch of Games I Kinda Liked Last Year

It wouldn’t be the start of a new year without an end of year top ten list. It brings completion — a resolution of sorts even if I didn’t play every game released last year (or finish half the games I bought).

What follows is my completely objective and unbiased whatsoever list of a bunch of games I kinda liked from 2012.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

I’ve barely touched the main campaign, but who plays Call of Duty these days for the campaign — am I right? The online games are quick and you always feel like you’re making some kind of progress thanks to the addictive leveling system. The new setup for customizing classes is neat and lets you finely tweak your load-outs. That said it’s still a Call of Duty game.  Sure I’ve never spent enough time to make Prestige (and I still can’t aim a sniper rifle) but it’s something I keep coming back to, even with three mates huddled around a single TV set.

 


Far Cry 3

So we all know the animals are the real stars of this particular game. Go away you damn pirates, I want me some antelope. Because the skins are used for crafting pouches and other things it makes hunting a worthwhile activity. Oh and I guess exploring the enormous pacific island by hang glider or quad bike wasn’t so bad either. The antagonist Vaas caught my attention ever since the first trailer and while he does play a brilliant and scary psychopath unfortunately the story just doesn’t cater for him too well. And too bad the friends you’re trying to save are as plain as sticks. No wonder you’re always ditching them to go punch some sharks.

 


Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is Super Meat Boy all over again. You’re start a level only to be stuck on the same screen half an hour later. And that’s the real beauty of Hotline Miami; perfecting one’s kill route. It’s a game about precision and patience (and the odd crazy rampage). But if there’s one troubling thing about this game it’s the pure bloodlust you get from trying to kill those guys that just don’t know when to die. At least it has something to say about violence. After each level that damn catchy music stops and the game makes you do the walk of shame past the trail of corpses you disposed of *shudders*. The masks you unlock offer different abilities that may give you a slight upper hand in future levels. Personally my favourite was the lethal doors mask. I think that one is the horse.

 

Mark of the Ninja

I’m not a stealth guy. I get twitchy. I hate restarting levels for some guard spotting my nose stick out from behind a pillar. But Mark of the Ninja gives you all the tools to put you in control. At all times you can see your visibility and how much sound you’re making with each movement or action. To me it felt a little like a 2D version of the challenge room levels in Batman: Arkham Asylum. You can see clearly (for the most part) where the guards are located, and you have multiple methods to “dispatch” of them. It gets quite challenging later on and I have to admit I did a few not-so-sneaky runs, ringing a few alarm bells in the process. So thank god it’s easy to get back into hiding.

 

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition

So thanks to my high performing laptop *cough* (you’d be surprised at how much memory blocky polygons take up!) I never had the chance to really get into Minecraft even when I purchased the Alpha all that time ago. But Minecraft on XBLA gave me that second chance, and what’s more I could even experience it like everyone else did with the game updating as I played. I found this version immediately accessible. You didn’t need to have a wiki page loaded up with crafting table recipes. It was all available from the get go. I made wooden and brick houses, mines, underground railroads, a waterfall elevator that takes you to the sky, and all of these paled in comparison to the unbelievable creations I witnessed online. Multiplayer was fun too, provided no griefing went on. Even with all the new additions in the updates I loved the game the most at its barebones when I created for creation’s sake and explored the landscape for no other reason than satisfying my curiosity.

 

Rayman Jungle Run

This is the best game I’ve played on the iPhone all year (and I’ve played a few). It brings the gorgeous graphics of Rayman Origins with auto-run controls for touch screen accessibility. No onscreen d-pad required! This doesn’t make it a walk in the park either. Far from it. While the levels are fairly easy to complete it’s still mighty challenging to collect all of the yellow thingy’s… lum’s, whatever they’re called. Forget Temple Run (geez, seriously it’s not that good!), Rayman Jungle Run proves that 2D platformers are alive and well, and as fun as ever.

 


Rockband Blitz

Ever wanted to play Rockband without the instruments? No, well neither did I until I came across this gem. It makes playing Rockband by yourself feel okay. There’s even an element of strategy to it, more so than Rock Band, with the addition of power-ups which you can select before the song begins. And while you do need to switch between all of the tracks (i.e. musical instruments) you can do so in any order you wish. The ever elusive friend high scores will drag you back in, and if there was ever a reason to go back and play all those Rock Band songs you downloaded or imported, this is it.

 


Spelunky

There are many emotions that come to mind when I hear this game’s title spoken aloud; Hope, defeat, dread. Even with all the times I’ve played it Spelunky never got any easier. Just unlocking the shortcuts was hard enough, then they wanted us to go through an unforgiving series of levels with mummies that spitfire bugs, lava pits, and cubes that will squash you flat. Then it’s time to fight (if that’s even the right word for it) the boss at the end, which is almost impossible if you used all your bombs and ropes previously. And the secret Hell level? Just forget about it. The randomly generating dungeons (yes, this is a platformer) means a fresh experience each time, although those experiences are guaranteed to end in heartbreak. I loved the mystery of discovering the game, learning about the world, its treasures, and its inhabitants (the things that want to kill you). And although some of the secrets are impossible to find without the aid of the Internet, it made the game feel larger than it was; a mystery to be uncovered.

 

The Walking Dead

Quite a lot has already been said about this game. First and foremost I am an adventure game fan. I have played many a point and click adventure and a few of Telltale’s games, and this is by far the most differentest, interestingest thing I’ve laid my eyes on. The puzzles take a back seat and it’s the characters that are at the forefront. This is not your daddy’s Monkey Island. While there is still the odd bit of humour The Walking Dead is a depressing affair (in a good way). It is no holds barred on the cussing, or the gore, or the emotional torment. And the thing I love the most is there really is no good or evil. It’s just you in that moment, in those few seconds to decide how you would act in that situation. Regardless of how linear the story turned out in the end, it made me feel powerful and at the same time helpless. It made me live those decisions, and that’s what mattered.

 


Trials Evolution

While it’s more of the same Trials you know and love (it’s still great and it’s back with a nicer difficulty curve), it’s the four player Supercross levels I was in there for. With the seemingly unlimited user marketplace of tracks available, many a fun time was had (excusing the odd glitchy level, but even those were amusing) . The multiplayer is a different beast; it’s less about making the perfectly timed jump and more about firing through to the finish. This is a great party game that isn’t just another kart racer.

The Ratchet & Clank Trilogy Review (PS3)

As posted on Koru Cottage.

Disappointed by Insomniac’s foray into four player co-op it’s good to see a return to the ‘classics’. Yes you may have played a gazillion and one Ratchet & Clank games by now, but these are the three PlayStation 2 games that started it all.

Ratchet & Clank

The game that kicked off the series (the idea originates from Insomniac’s cancelled project: Girl with a Stick). I first played Ratchet & Clank as a demo that came with our family’s PS2. As with Insomniac’s Spyro series, I was more a Naughty Dog fan and stuck with the Crash Bandicoots and the Jak and Daxters. Eventually I realised I was being biased for no apparent reason and so I picked up R&C. If I recall correctly it became my first game review. A review where I noted the ‘delicious environments’ and ‘loveable tones’. I hope my use of hyperbole has diminished since then.

Ratchet & Clank introduced us to the Lombax mechanic and the robot backpack — a duo that might remind you of Nintendo 64 favourite, Banjo-Kazooie — as well as the aloof super hero Captain Qwark. The main villain is completely unmemorable and upon playing it again I was expecting to bump into Dr. Nefarious but he doesn’t crop up until the third game.

 

Ratchet & Clank 2

On my travels to and from uni I picked up the last two games at The Gamesman on Lambton Quay in Wellington. RIP Gamesman.

As well as sporting new duds R&C2 was a lot more polished than its predecessor. Insomniac figured out what worked and made it better. Which most importantly meant the guns. Now the guns gather experience and level up. The more you use a weapon the faster it’ll level.

If I forgot to mention it earlier I’ll say it now, the guns are what makes Ratchet & Clank different to other platformers. And it really does work pretty well. There might be too many guns to choose from as you get later into it, but you’ll have your go-to’s and your only-for-special-occasions’.

 

Ratchet & Clank 3

I mostly recall this game for its multiplayer. Oh fun times were had between my siblings and I in three-player split-screen. Such a contrast to All 4 One today. The multiplayer was a mish mash of capturing bases and piloting vehicles, not too unlike Battlefield. I’m happy to say the online is functioning in the trilogy pack. Whether or not people play it is another question. Right now there seems to be a good crowd of people present.

Three also marks the first appearance of Secret Agent Clank (really just a fictional James Bond version of Clank) and Dr. Nefarious, a creepy yet loveable alien/robot with gears in his head.

 

The Trilogy Re-Release

The three Ratchet games each have Trophy collections if you’re into that sort of thing. 3D support is there for the folks that like to look a little crazy in front of their TVs.

Again like The Jak and Daxter trilogy, objects and characters do look a lot smoother. But the HDifying doesn’t really fix blurry HUDs or menus. The cut-scenes are only 4:3, no widescreen. And the occasional ground or character texture might be jarring. It doesn’t make it unplayable, just a little unsightly.

If you managed to catch all the PS3 Ratchet games and you still can’t get enough, here’s one more for the collection. Just be wary that the games have come a long way. The first Ratchet & Clank came out about ten years ago!

As for myself I enjoyed the games late in the PS2’s life cycle, so not enough time has passed for me to warrant a thorough replay. But it’s great to see how the series develops as Insomniac gets more comfortable with its world and characters.