You should buy No Man's Sky because Sean Murray is a fan of the excellent movie Hot Rod.
If you haven’t played Inside, you shouldn’t read this. You should play Inside.
“What about the civic opera?
Those were the longest three hours of my life.” - Dieffenbachia, Kleenex Girl Wonder
Superhero movies have trained their audience to simultaneously crave miniscule promotional detail while decrying reviews with the most basic plot summaries as heretical attempts at sabotaging an idealised unending childhood.
Their primary function is to remind their audience of something, often something they’d been told to read up on first so they could be reminded of it later. The way superhero fans have been taught to wield the conceptual framework of “spoiler” might be the most successful example of weaponising fan enthusiasm against fan discernment.
“But they didn't mean shit to you.
I didn't get to you.” - Dieffenbachia, Kleenex Girl Wonder
Though the Venn diagram of fans of superhero movies and games is almost a circle, spoiling games can be different. While the theming (“intellectual property”) of games is largely sold off familiarity, aggressively so, the impact of any mechanical revelations a game holds can be as diminished by explanation as a joke. You are not being reminded, you are being surprised.
So stop reading and play Inside if you haven’t played Inside.
Like all opposites both sides of this distinction often contain each other. When you see Mario, you are happy. It’s Pavlov’s bell but instead of ringing, drool and steak, every time you see a caricature of an Italian plumber, your heart warms at the thought of how good his jump feels.
You like the plumber because of the incredibly-articulated jumping, you open yourself up to more incredible jumping and the ever-expanding application of same when you see the plumber (as Drake remarked “Jumpman, Jumpman, Jumpman: fuck was you expecting? Wow!”).
“Jesus knows that I don't wanna lie no more!
I'm like a bull in a china store
That can't make up its mind and it's fine except
I keep getting mixed up in these
intertwined metaphors!” - Dieffenbachia, Kleenex Girl Wonder
The people who made Inside also made the massively-popular, much-discussed Limbo. Inside feels like a definite iterative leap forward from Limbo, a leap seemingly driven by weaponising the very second-guessing that tends to stem from the massive success of something so slight. They have filled Inside with observations about games, their mechanics and how they can be balanced to create a feeling of realising along with the game, just as the character does.
Theming and mechanics have a particularly taut grip around each other’s throats throughout Inside. It articulates its questions and ideas through an intricate structure of rhyming sequences, deliberately tangling what you have learned with what you are doing to learn something else to apply to what you will do in the future. It comments on itself consistently throughout without grinding your experience to a halt to do so.
For a game insisting you exist at a breakneck pace, Inside has less to do with prominent indie 2d platformers like Spelunky and Super Meat Boy than it does with Gone Home or Beginners Guide. It’s a “walking simulator” for walking right. Inside takes the increasingly-popular, first-person concept of a carefully-choreographed experience where limited agency propels you through a series of set pieces and transplants it onto a 2D landscape. Inside isn’t something you can be good at, it’s something you experience.
This distinction is important. Spelunky is a perfectly-tuned set of interlocking gears inflicted on every turn of a kaleidoscope while Inside is a diorama of the factory where those gears are made. Inside helpfully underlines this by taking place in a literal, diorama-esque factory peopled by faceless, disposable avatars who can be controlled remotely.
Early on in Inside, birds follow you but not if you get too close. You have to trick them into marching into machinery so their weight can push over something to create a new route. One of them dies. Later you marshall full size human mind slaves onto a platform so their weight can open a door to create a new route. One of these mind slaves is already dead.
Inside is built on rhyming concepts like this: contrasts that echo and emphasise each other, indicating just how inextricably linked they are.
One may expect obvious parallels to be drawn in a video game that involves your avatar taking control of various avatars. Sure enough, the secret ending all but confirms that all along, a greater power was being exerted.
Inside does strive to articulate this standard “maybe the most dangerous animal...was man”-style revelation in a far more muscular manner than many other video games. This is also where its observations begin, rather than come to a screeching halt .
At a key point early-on, Inside forces you to act exactly like one of the many mind slaves you control throughout the game. Not hugely subtle but it’s a section that rhymes nicely with what happens later on when you have to follow a strict path of jumping and turning least you be annihilated by an unseen force. A game telling you it is a game telling you about games over and over.
Sound is interpreted when it reaches the skull. Inside’s soundtrack is, like around 80% of indie games that don’t feature chiptune, inspired by 80s John Carpenter soundtracks. An extra layer of reflexivity is added however by actually processing these synthesiser sounds through a real human skull to give them a hollow, sombre quality. Soundtracks tend to feed off each other and lean extra-hard on influence and reinterpretation. True to form: Inside presents you with interpretation of interpretation, already pre-interpreted by the physical medium you are about to reinterpret it with.
Until its famous conclusion, it feels like the only character in Inside you are on fairly equal footing with are the dogs. Their drive to harm you rhymes with how your primary mode of defense is your total lack of self-preservation. They won’t jump where you will, that that thrill is just for you.
Speaking of potential equals: the game’s first empowerment moment, boarding a submarine to make a vertiginous dive, is swiftly undercut when you are confronted with a powerful water wraith. It can’t stand light, you can’t stand the pressure it exerts on your submarine. You are immediately at the mercy of each other’s weaknesses.
Later in the game, you make another deep dive. This time it is prompted by powerlessness and sparked by the very creature who attempted to sabotage you in the first place. A shift in perspective: it seems any earlier murders at the hands of this creature was, as murders often are, the result of poorly articulated and interpreted intentions.
The first encounter had you resist while traversing obstacles, the second involves overcoming serious obstacles by giving in. Though this is an interesting comment on how getting good at a game might mean giving in rather than mastery, it is still one of the few moments in the game that feels a little off pace.
“So I'll quit while I'm ahead
Before things get violent
I'd like to thank the environment,
and god, what a glorious day!” - Dieffenbachia, Kleenex Girl Wonder
Inside ends with a well-worn video game twist. After spending a whole game avoiding any living thing at all costs, suddenly everything is running from you. Far from going the gravity gun route however, the power Inside’s fantasy is rhymed with how it is depicted in the environment: painful, alienating and something that inspires supplicance through incomprehensible horror.
The way you rip and tear through the environment echos the damage wreaked by the industrial setting you’ve just navigated through. Powerful, helpless momentum, still solving the same tasks of picking things up and putting them down again with bigger things and larger impacts. When you become powerful, or rather revert to being powerful as the game seems to suggest, you do not really get to break the rules. You get to follow new ones.
The ending is where Inside peaks. There, at the beating heart of the game, so many comments and inversions of game design tropes rush past it becomes a microcosm of what came before: carefully-constructed set pieces meticulously placed to feel as manic as possible.
For instance: Inside eventually becomes a game where you intentionally kill a single character. This is a murder for which the entire game has, unbeknownst to you, been an rigorously articulate argument. Inside has also primed you, however, for how hollow, pointless and unimportant this death will feel. When this murder happens it is messy, impotent and clumsy. Even at the centre of a grotesque, massive machine there’s no real catharsis. Deep in the factory two gears grind off each other, nothing more.
Inside is also punctuated with stealth sections so of course it jams a critique of the nature of video game stealth into its sprint to the finish. A character is terrified of you and can only complete their arbitrary task of pushing a button when you are at the opposite end of a room to it, both in plain sight of each other. You are suddenly at the other end of the mechanic seesaw, poised in the comical squat position instead the dizzying, precarious one.
“Please accept this cycad,
a token of my epic disfigured view of
This big twisted picture.
Really what more can I say?”- Dieffenbachia, Kleenex Girl Wonder
None of the observations made by Inside feel like negative criticism of other games. It feels, instead, like an acknowledgement of the current generation of games centered on subverting the expectations created by games up until that point.
Games reflecting on games are no longer even a novelty, mechanical self-awareness is as much of a tradition as climbing a tower to unlock a map or whatever the second thing that happens in every Ubisoft game is.
Inside has as much to say as the Stanley Parable, about the possibilities of inside and outside of play and how the expectations around gaming can be limiting while setting a path for discovery. The crucial difference is Inside goes for feel instead of freedom. The prize you’re offered for straying from the path Inside presents is an even more direct, insistent lampshading of the ending reveal.The actual visual aesthetic does occasionally suffer by dint of being too on-the-nose: once someone says it looks like a Tool video that becomes difficult to miss. This is compensated for by a finely-tuned, degree-perfect camera nudging you toward every set-piece with care and attention proportional to the Resident Evil camera’s leering sadism. Sometimes this is a little too coddling and these choreographed movements can occasionally feel like an over-emphasised punchline.
Inside is a diamond: full of reflections and odd angles but also palpably generated by sheer fucking pressure. It can feel like a David Fincher film: an attempt to turn compulsive, perpetual second-guessing and self-awareness into a smooth marble wall of enjoyable genre entertainment.
Its most confident sweeping movements and set pieces betray its need to show its work. You have to be looking a particular way... you have to definitely hear your character’s anguish. They are willing to literally hit you over the head with a worm-infested pig so you know they’ve seen Upstream Color.
There may be flaws, but it is hard to play Inside, a game ostensibly about alienation, without empathising with what it feels like to create a game in a field where every game changes or comments on some major accepted truth of gaming. The destructive cascade of pure ideas at the end feels like great pressure being lifted, impossible to wade through all those perfect throwaway comments without feeling immense waves of (fittingly) someone else’s relief.
“...so you lock the basement tight
And cover the windows to keep the demons out.
Thought bubbles cause trouble but you muddle through...” - Dieffenbachia, Kleenex Girl Wonder
You finish Inside outside, totally free and completely absorbed.
“...Oblivious to what's right in front of you...” - Dieffenbachia, Kleenex Girl Wonder
Look, I know it's all triple A and blockbuster-y and third person cover shooter-y and we're not allowed to like that stuff anymore because it's big and stupid, but Uncharted 4 is very beautiful and worth your time. I'm obsessed with the lighting in it, it's incredible, as you might imagine from a team like Naughty Dog.
The photo mode, as seen in the remaster of The Last of Us (and used by me) was where I could put on my photographer's hat (it's got a little picture of a camera on it) and make more cinematic looking shots - mainly portraits - to make full use of all those polygons and ambient occlusion and all the other shit that Digital Foundry go mental over.
I make these photo series to celebrate the artistic potential of exploring these worlds from a photographer's perspective. Action games in particular demand that we rip through them at speed, shooting lads in the face, driving motorised shit off the edge of tall stuff and generally experiencing explosions. That's brilliant and all but it's sort of a shame that all the excruciating effort the artists put into every detail is so good and so believable that it is forgotten about.
Here's a closer look at the things you might have missed when belting about, gunning people's gobs clean off their heads. All these photos were taken in Uncharted 4's photo mode, no fancy tricks.
Click on the thumbnails in the grid images for a larger version
What is there to say about videogames in the year 2016?
I don’t get excited by much nowadays. I’m hilariously and tragically stuck in the past, and crushingly jaded. Everything WAS better back then for me. ISS64 is better than Pro Evo, Turok 2 is a more emotional, engaging story than BioShock and The Last of Us is Resident Evil 4 for cereal café dimwits.
However! I am majorly excited for the new Doom. I love everything about Doom you see, and have done ever since I saw it on GamesMaster years ago. Can you imagine the reaction of a 11 year-old dumbbell - so used to hazily mashing buttons on nonsense like Andre Agassi Tennis on the Mega Drive - to seeing Doom for the first time? It was like going from Bryan Adams to Napalm Death.
I don’t know why, but everything about Doom grabbed me by the gazongas. The gameplay, the graphics, the setting.… they all spoke to me. Some people relate to music, some people relate to characters in novels. I’m so culturally pig-ignorant, I relate to Doom. And Mortal Kombat.
Anyhoo, whilst having a conversation with one of the Midnight Resistance cabal, I finally cottoned on to why I was so attracted to Doom in the first place…
It scared the hell out of me.
I was, ooooh, eleven, when I first saw Doom, I think. At the time, I was positively angelic. I had no vices (just crème eggs), never swore, and was nice to my parents. Mostly.
I was also a churchgoing Christian kid. I was never oppressed and it wasn’t ever forced on me or anything, and I didn’t have to stay up late reading Psalms and that, but it was a part of my life. Yeah, I found it boring, and spent Sunday school singing rude versions of the Popeye theme, but I belieeeved. I believed in all the good, about going to heaven and about Jesus being a top bloke who built my hotrod and all that.
More importantly, I believed in the bad. For a couple of years in my childhood, I was absolutely terrified that I was going to hell. Again, this was never said to me by anyone who loved me, I’d just come to my own bewildering conclusions. I was already a sensitive, anxious and extremely naïve kid, but stick the threat of eternal damnation in the mix, and you’re asking for a child psychologist. I’d be up late at night worrying about things like ‘oh no I said a bad word today, is that going to be held against me?’
However, as puberty loomed around the corner like a hairy spectre, things in my brain started changing. I was still a Christian, but my interests started… developing. No longer was I content with just listening to my mum’s old records. I wanted stuff by Pulp and Radiohead, stuff that had naughty words and songs about bonking and alienation and robots and that. I didn’t want to watch cartoons anymore, I wanted to watch Robocop every day and night (this is still true now).
I didn’t want Sonic. I wanted Doom.
My family wasn’t made of money, so we never got a PC, but a couple of years later in 1997 I got an N64 for Christmas. Of course, everybody wanted Goldeneye at the time, but nobody could get it. Me and the old man looked everywhere, but alas… sold out. So whilst in Toys’R’us, my poor exasperated dad asked me to just pick something so he could go home and have a kip.
And there it was… Doom 64.
I always wanted my own version of Doom, so I couldn’t resist. He bought it, we went home and after some jiggery pokery with my trusty old analogue TV (which I think had Antoine De Caunes burned into the screen), I was away, playing my first ever Doom.
Jesus, it terrified me.
Doom 64 wasn’t the buttrock and violence bonanza the PC version was. Doom 64 was a horribly dark, oppressive game, with a Lustmord style soundtrack, gloomy lighting and grim, disturbing level design, viscera strewn all over the place.
It had a real sense of hopelessness, compounded by the opening cinematic where a load of Doom lads get massacred by Demons. This was a lot for my (recently-turned) 13 year-old brain to deal with, a brain previously only accustomed to day-glo stuff like Sonic and FIFA.
The way I thought about Doom 64 is the way people think about Dark Souls now. It was this insurmountable thing. I couldn’t get to grips with it. This extended to the artwork, too.
The foundations were getting shakier everyday, but I was still Christian for the most part. Having a game where the front cover was a big pentagram and beasty on the front, though? Asking for trouble. I used to get so disturbed looking at the art, I’d put the cover face down. I’d still look at it in terrified fascination though, and at the time, I never knew why.
Clive Barker said there’s a fine line between horror and arousal (of course Clive was talking sexual arousal, because… he’s Clive Barker), but I think that applies here, and no, not in a sexual way, you brutes. You always want what you’re not used to in some way, something forbidden.
Even though it technically wasn’t, Doom felt forbidden. By playing Doom, my cherubic 13 year old incarnation was doing something a little naughty, something that would warrant a talking to from Him upstairs. And even though he felt bad for playing it, deep down, I think somewhere… 13 year old me quite liked it.
I actually traded Doom 64 in a month or so later for Diddy Kong Racing (it’s better than Mario Kart 64, chumps) as I couldn’t get past the third level because I was too braindead to use the run button, but by that point, the damage had been done. I wanted more of the same in everything, from games to music to movies. More violence, more transgressive content, more angst, more cussing, more bleakness, more naughty bits, just… more.
As you can tell, I’m an extremely lapsed Christian now. That part of my life dissipated rapidly halfway through my teens with the discovery of violent industrial metal, attitude era WWF, Chris Morris, discarded grot mags in the woods and (wait for it)… Quake! I became a scumbag basically, a desensitised husk that stuck on stuff like Hellraiser as something gentle to fall asleep to, and listened to bands with song titles like ‘High Velocity Impact Splatter.’
I think in some ways, Doom was a factor that helped open that door.
The door to HELL.
Statistically speaking, you’ve probably played and really enjoyed CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and there’s also a strong possibility that it was the first of CDPR’s games you’ve really delved into; despite it being the third entry in the series, Wild Hunt set new standards in its genre and earned the studio a fair few new fans as a result.
So, loads of people’s eyes are understandably fixed on the ongoing Wild Hunt DLC and the continued adventures of professional sexy beard-grower Geralt. And bloody hell, mates - we keep forgetting that CDPR are still working on something else that could be equally brilliant: Cyberpunk 2077.
You're looking at our new website, after our last one - kindly put together by Friends of the Resistance Niall Molloy and Lu 'Minkee' Holden - was starting to fall apart a bit. The CMS was getting massively outdated, and I had to literally deceive the website into accepting new podcast episodes. It was a lot of fun, but things should now be much easier.
Overhauling the website has been a huge task, and it's not over yet - you'll notice 'The Archive' is missing a bunch of stuff, not all the old URLs have been preserved, and old images are broken as heck. We'll be working our way backwards and fixing stuff as we go, while our favourite bits can be found on the Greatest Shits page, which I was going to rename before we made this live but I forgot and you've all seen it now.
The podcast feed should magically migrate on whatever podcatcher you use, although frankly they're all a bit unpredictable so you might have to do some kind of cache fuckery, or just unsubscribe and subscribe again. If you need a link to the new RSS, it's at the bottom of every podcast post from now on (or here). I think iTunes is still going a bit nuts, but we'll give it 24 hours and see if it settles before we start kicking it around.
We're not yet sure if this also marks any sort of new direction for the site. Probably not, although it's likely you'll see less of a focus on written stuff, and we're aiming to be more consistent with the podcast - hopefully along the lines of our twice-monthly schedule towards the end of 2015.
If you see anything that's broken or you quite rightly think we haven't got a clue what we're doing regarding the site's design, feel free to scream at us via the Midnight Resistance twitter account.
Thanks so much for all your patience while we've been sorting this out - we aim to get back on the Podcast Horse as soon as possible and will let you know when that happens.
- The Management
It's often said that Nintendo are best when backed into a corner. The Wii U's misfire gave us Super Mario 3D World, Bayonetta 2, Pushmo. It gave us Andi's favourite shooter, Splatoon. But before this, the last time Nintendo was on the backfoot was the Gamecube, their lovely little box of power. I loved that box. I even used the handle! GC-era Nintendo gave us F-Zero GX, Paper Mario 2, Custom Robo, Donkey Konga. A golden age of creative games.
But of course, there were also Nintendo’s core series, but they had a shake-up too. Mario got some mad water cannon. Metroid went to first-person. And Zelda became a cartoon.
The Wind Waker, at its reveal, wasn't well received. Fans had been shown a realistic tech demo at Spaceworld the previous year, and this was seen as an 'insult' by gamers [chokes]. The Wind Waker has a secret, though. It's dark and mature, perhaps more so even than fan-favourite Majora's Mask.
Link's adventure starts, ostensibly, as a mission to rescue his sister. Link, in this game, is no chosen hero. He's just a wee lad who wants to stop his little sis from being eaten by an enormous bird. But in doing so, Link ventures below the surface of his ocean world, revealing a beautiful Hyrule long-lost. A world frozen in time, with no-one left but monsters and a King with no subjects. Ganon is from this lost world.
Ganon is fascinating in Wind Waker. Normally a boring big bad, Ganon in this has seen his world destroyed. He’s old and wise and yearns for a land that was taken from him. He knows the life Hyrule’s residents live above the waves is depleted, a half-life compared to that of their predecessors below the waves. Ganon’s aim is to restore that world, to bring the people of Hyrule back to a world they deserve.
A lot was made, at the time, of how long you spent sailing. It was a limitation of the Gamecube, of course, but I like to think it’s summative of this life that the sea-dwellers live. Travel is limited and governed by winds, with most populated islands relying on passing boats for any of their supplies. Beedle has a monopoly on meatballs. Even when the wind is with you, progress is slow. Rito, the only intelligent creatures capable of flight, are reduced to being postmen, not by choice, but by necessity. Multiple races are on the brink of extinction – the Gorons are only briefly seen on rafts, the Kokiri are now just a family of around 10 small plants.
The world is dying, and Link’s actions in the game doom it further. King Daphnes, after Link defeats Ganon, requests that Link and Tetra venture away to new lands. It is implied that this is because the current one he lives in is doomed to die, slowly and painfully.
Tetra is another interesting move. A person of colour as a main character in a Zelda game is rare enough; That she is swashbuckling, smart, and generally better equipped to take on Ganon than Link is something else. Unfortunately, this is all rather spoilt when she is revealed (and transformed into) Zelda halfway through the game – Nintendo even going so far as to change her to a white woman. Maybe next time, eh lads?
The Wind Waker is an odd experiment. Very divisive at the time, and very different to the two games before it, it stands alone as a total mix-up of Zelda’s formula. It holds a very special place in my heart.
“Oh, so it can play DVDs then?” my dad asked inquisitively as I stared at the ugly orange box behind the glass. The glass was my most hated enemy that day, a barrier keeping me from reaching out and just… touching one of those wretched “Spiced Orange” GameCubes that came out in America or Japan or wherever. I desired it more than anything despite its garishness. On the tiny TV next to it, the console was idling and playing a demo of Rogue Squadron 2’s Battle of Hoth, a demo so convincing that I have this horrifically cliché story to tell of my auld da confusing a game for a film.
Do you remember those 1997 Special Editions of Star Wars, though? They were my entry into the Star Wars franchise (sorry) at the age of ten and looking back, some of the new CGI (i.e. most of the stuff added to Star Wars) was pretty terrible. Jabba looked like a chew toy a labrador had swallowed, unceremoniously shat out on the carpet in front of you and showed not a hint of remorse as Harrison Ford digitally walked over it. Specifically though, remember the bit they changed (for the better) where the X-Wings and Y-Wings are flying towards the Death Star; originally a load of models poorly composited together, it was replaced with nicer CGI models.
Rogue Squadron 2’s recreation of that scene, in-engine, looked better than that.
So four years later, teenage Rob is standing outside some indie import game store (you know the kind) in God-knows-where London pointing out proudly to his dad that he had been saving up for this specific toy and yeah, let’s be honest, on a shitty small TV it did look better than the stop-motion snow battles of Empire.
Rogue Squadron 2 was a technical masterpiece, a launch title that looked better than any other (console) games at the time. Did you know it was made in eight months? I mean, this wasn’t so long ago that games were being made in a few months or half a year either; the two-year dev cycle practice we see today was already pretty standard by then. This was a new console as well, an unreleased console, and they were adding in new tech as they went like surround sound as well. Apparently it alsomaybepossibly ran at 60 fps but honestly no-one gave a shit then and you really shouldn’t now.
However much the little Nintendo and Star Wars fanboys (me) said otherwise at the time, having the game look that good was a massive selling point. It felt like I was playing Star Wars (yeah I’m rolling my eyes too), and it really didn’t hurt that it followed the story all the way through the original trilogy as well. Or that, you know, it was a genuinely good game.
With all that insane work going into making it look as great as it did, they also managed to put a good game underneath that spit and polish. Objective-lead levels reminiscent of the X-Wing games with controls and difficulty curve that weren’t all over the place like the original Rogue Leader. Each craft responded as I felt it should in my feeble mind - the painfully lumbering Y-Wings, the bloody nippy A-Wings and all the other adjectivey adjective Letter-wings.
It was a dream come true to be part of that universe, whether it was jumping into scenes from the movies or helping connect the dots between them. Firing ion blasts at satellites, liberating important Rebel personnel, purposefully crashing into a Star Destroyer to get a Gold Medal or weaving around a dried out river bed under the radar to make a daring mission to steal the shuttle Tydirium.
All the levels were great fun (apart from the Asteroid Field one), offering something pretty different in each one that wasn’t just a standard “shoot TIE Fighters until there are no more TIE Fighters to shoot and you move onto shooting other TIE Fighters” thing. Although it was a relatively short game, there were more levels based on scenes from the movies locked behind medal collection and that was a pretty great incentive to replay. Got me hunting them down at least, although I never did get a Gold on Death Star Attack. The bastard.
Honestly, I lost hours to this game. When my third-party memory card crapped out (mum bought me a new one) I had to do it all again and I didn’t even care. I remember having my telly on barely above mute so as to try and not wake everyone up in our little house on a Saturday morning (it didn’t work). I still have fantastic muscle memory for the trench run. That Battle of Endor level is still probably my favourite level in any videogame and it made me like a film where Carebears capture and almost eat a powerful space wizard and Harrison Ford.
Apparently I was a bit of a prat when I was 15 (still am) and one of the things I remember being impressed with was the voice acting. We’ve all been having a laugh over how crap the voices are in Battlefront but at the time I marvelled at how good they were in Rogue Leader 2. Mainly on account of them taking clips directly from the movie but they also had a good Luke and somehow convinced Dennis Lawson to reprise Wedge. The man despises Star Wars. Here’s a picture of him used on the Rogue Leader wikipedia page, which I can only assume was taken as he heard someone whisper “Star Wars” nearby:
To me it is probably one of, if not the best Star Wars games ever made. Which isn’t hard when there’s only four and a half good Star Wars games in general. It’s also definitely up there with Super Mario 64 as one of the best console launch titles; not much else has really captured my imagination and made me excited to own a new console. This is what Rogue Squadron 2 was for the GameCube, a glimpse into just how much more power there was to play with now, how much more you could do with it.
And nothing ever really topped it on that system.
If you weren't already aware, the original GameCube release of Wind Waker had this ace little feature where you could connect your GBA to the main console and use it as a second screen for all manner of shenanigans. This ranged from simple stuff like placing markers on the map and healing Link, to calling in airstrikes and walking on thin air. All of this would be cool on its own, but it's made even more amazing by Tingle, the money-grabbing 35 year-old fariy man we know and love.
Wind Waker is one of the more adventurous Zelda outings, with a totally different take on the overworld of Hyrule, and vibrant, wacky characters inhabiting its vast world. But the Tingle tuner is the thing that stands out to me. It was a precursor to the fantastic moments using the GBA in Four Swords Adventures, but it was also a very early foray into dual screen gaming, something which truly came to fruition with the DS and Wii U. It's a truly unique idea, and whilst it doesn't change gameplay severely, it's certainly a worthy bonus for anyone who owns both a GBA and a link cable.
So what about that funny Tingle lad, eh? Well, he isn't exactly portrayed as a normal bloke in Majora's Mask, but he isn't an evil twat like he is in Wind Waker. After springing him out of jail, you chance upon the bastard stood up in his tower, watching his brother and some other guy do manual labor for him:
But this isn't the end of the story! Tingle turns out to be essential for completing the game, because you have to bring all these bloody maps back to him so he can decode them. This costs a fortune, and takes ages. I mean, I am saving the whole world here Tingle, including you. You could at least give me a discount. On top of these transgressions, Tingle also has the gall to charge you for everything on the Tuner. That isn't cheap, either!
I digress. Basically, I think the Tingle Tuner is really great, but always feel guilty funding such an evil little man when using it. Seriously, if there were more NPCs on Tingle Island, the guy would essentially be an even smaller Kim-Jong Un.
Moral qualms with the thing aside, I think the Tingle Tuner serves as a great example of how adventurous Nintendo were with the GameCube. They put a unique spin on Mario Sunshine and Double Dash, they created Pikmin, and managed to get great third party support (for once). They even made a local co-op Zelda game that no-one played. It was a playful, yet highly focused console, and Nintendo were willing to take a lot of risks, for better or for worse.
Wind Waker HD came out a couple years ago, and was sadly missing an updated version of the Tingle Tuner. It's sad to see the old thing go, but the fact that it's now a relic isolated to the GameCube version makes it that bit more special, you know? If nothing else, it's a reason to dust off the original game and return to Hyrule for one last adventure, with the aid of a certain 35 year-old fairy man.
SSX3 is really good and here is a half-hour video of me Freeriding through the whole game in one go
PN03 is a game which absolutely defines the Gamecube. You might not have played it, but if you’re into Platinum Games and their output, you’ll recognise the connection. This game is such a parent it goes to dinner parties and smugly insists it knows best about complex international issues.
Directed by the powerful Shinji Mikami, the man behind Capcom Five stablemate Resident Evil 4, playing PN03 today it feels like a prototype for the big man’s later masterpiece Vanquish. Playing as Vanessa, a mercenary in shiny white power armour, the player fights through room after room of killer robots in crisp, Apple Store environments. There’s top cover shooting, cool power ups and upgradeable armour.
Kamiya denies it, but as much as Vanquish is PN03’s son, Bayonetta feels like its daughter. Vanessa is cool as a cucumber, with wicked glasses over a great haircut. She has a dry sense of humour and when she struts her stuff to unleash special moves, she might as well be summoning a demon with her magic hair.
All the Platinum tropes are there; one story, played out over a series of missions. A score at the end of each. A store to buy power ups and equipment, between levels and accessed via a portal in levels. Fast-paced action, built around a unique character.
Like all the best Platinum games, PN03 is bloody excellent. Like, properly actually amazing. Vanessa’s movements are full of character, from her little dance to the background music when she stands still to the more elaborate moves that accompany her attacks. The shooting is quick and impactful, with simple Street Fighter-esque combos unleashing special attacks.
Sure, the game is short. Sure, the one-stick controls feel archaic in 2015. But PN03 is as Gamecube as games get. This is the machine where Mikami became the true master of his craft that we know today. This is the machine where Link became a cartoon, Mario got a water pistol and shooters could be about dance moves. This was the machine where a graphically top-of-the-range third person cover shooter could be a Nintendo exclusive.
With one stick, a big green button and some shoulder triggers, PN03 plays a better game of shooting than half the guff that gets released today. The Gamecube generation can sometimes feel like the last generation where big publishers were willing to take risks, and maybe PN03 shows us why. It was ahead of the time, unique and brilliant, but it barely sold. Another thing Vanquish inherited from its mum, then.
Japanese RPGs weren’t something that the Gamecube was especially known for, so when I went through a copy of Nintendo Official Magazine just over a decade ago I was pretty surprised to find a preview of a rad-looking JRPG. The main thing that drew me towards it was that it looked different to Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles; 10 year-old Sayem was far too cool for those weird peanut-looking people. To me, Baten Kaitos was cool, edgy, and looked like it might even have had the chops to be better than Golden Sun; the first JRPG wee little me ever completed.
After finally being able to buy it (I used up all the ink on my family’s printer by printing ‘PLEASE BUY ME BATEN KAITOS’ over and over again) I was completely taken in. The game kicks off with almost every cliché in the book, but at the time I just didn’t know any better. Your main dude, Kalas, is a young, brash hero with a tortured past, who wakes up without his memory. You, the player, actually accompany Kalas as a spirit, and can talk to him or make decisions. For some reason this also meant that all the voice acting had this weird flange effect on it, making the entire game sound like it was recorded through an empty tube of kitchen roll.
What starts off as a simple premise quickly shifts into an incredibly convoluted plot about an evil emperor and a malevolent god sealed into trading cards, because that’s clearly the best way of dealing with that situation. The characters are all a mashup of your typical JRPG tropes and had one of the worst companions of all time, Lyude. While a younger version of myself absolutely adored Baten Kaitos’ story, it really hasn't stood the test of time.
But it wasn't really the story that stuck with me - it was the world. Instead of having your usual run-of-the-mill huge avatar trekking across the world, Baten Kaitos was a little more focused. Set on several floating islands in the sky, Kalas simply made his own way across several cities and dungeons, with no real overworld. Baten Kaitos instead set itself against beautifully pre-rendered backgrounds, both on the map and inside cities. The developers essentially just used the concept art in the game.
More importantly, I was equally as impressed that Baten Kaitos came on two discs, which for a £40 game was astonishing to me. I eagerly awaited the moment that I had to swap the disc and think: “there’s a whole other half to this that I’ve never even seen!” When that time came, I jumped at the opportunity and had a sense of deep satisfaction for about five seconds. As it turns out, the game makes you save as you swap discs, locking you into all of the second disc's content. Being a naive child, I didn’t think to make a backup save file. The second began with a difficulty spike. A big one. And I couldn’t go back and grind a few levels so I’d be stronger.
I turned the Gamecube off, inserted disc one, sighed deeply and started the game again.
Probably one of the most memorable parts of Baten Kaitos was Motoi Sakuraba's soundtrack. Mixing the traditional traditional fantasy fanfare with ludicrous prog-rock themes and, at its peak, blending the two together in some sort of unholy union. Aside from his work on the ‘Souls’ series, Sakuraba’s RPG themes have been run into the ground with bland, uninspired tracks after writing music for the ‘Tales of’ series for the best part of 20 years. Baten Kaitos is arguably some of Sakuraba’s best work, but to me represents a golden age for the composer. Seeing tracks where’s he’s simply able to let go and embrace his own unique style is much more appealing than hearing derivative, forgettable gunk that populates most of his modern output.
Baten Kaitos was just the type of JRPG I was looking for at the time. I thought the story was brilliant because it had a knockoff version of Final Fantasy X’s Wakka who says “Bastard!” in the intro, and because it came on two discs. The game stands among a few other Gamecube JRPGs like Skies of Arcadia: Legends and Tales of Symphonia which, to be honest, are probably much better games, but Baten Kaitos holds a special place in my heart as the game I played most on the Gamecube. Developer Monolith Soft went on to make a sequel in 2006, but we never saw it come out here in the UK. In any case, I know I’ll probably never have that same feeling of satisfaction or excitement about such a by-the-book JRPG ever again.
Every December here at Midnight Resistance has a theme. A month of articles from a whole load of people about a subject that we are fans of. Dreamcast. Doom. DOGS.
This year, in what can only be described as a ‘radical overhaul of the XCember tradition’, there’s a twist. We’ve decided against the letter ‘D’ and instead have elected for a name that rhymes with December instead to decide our theme.
A celebration of Nintendo’s brilliant box with the little handle that no one ever used to carry one to a mate’s house ever! Home to some of Nintendo’s more ‘interesting’ titles, some stone cold classics and some total weirdness.
Articles will start from tomorrow and continue until the New Year. We’ve quite a few excellent pieces from excellent people lined up, as well as a Gamecube Special of the podcast coming in the next month.
Should you wish to contribute something to GCember, please get in touch. We take literally anything - articles, videos, photography, pieces of music, actual video games, performance art… whatever you’d like to send us, we’re up for it.
Fire off submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org if you fancy taking part.
Thanks for sticking with our brand of bullshit for another year, hope you enjoy the stuff we’ve got planned!
I've been saying for years that I buy the Dead or Alive Xtreme games "for research purposes", and fate has finally granted me an opportunity to legitimise the shit out of that.
[CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 4 OF LIFE IS STRANGE]
Have you ever known somebody who wanted to die?
Somebody you loved; somebody whose physical form had failed them, a person slowly fading painfully from existence. A person who wants to die because they no longer want to be a burden on those they love, and who wants to die because they want it to happen on their terms, even though (or sometimes entirely because) nothing else happened on their terms.
Strong, wilful and charismatic people reduced to a thing they do not want to be, whether it be through age or through tragedy.
I saw what was coming in episode 4 of Life is Strange a few minutes before it actually happened.
I imagine most people did to some extent, and I’d also imagine most people playing felt the same cloying fear of dread begin to grip hold of their stomach as I did before Chloe actually asked Max to end her life, but for me that scene, framed with intravenous tubes and the unmistakable alien smell of medical equipment in a home, reminded me of the day my Grandmother told me she wanted to die.
When Chloe tells Max that she’s had enough of living - that she’s sick of her body slowly, agonisingly and inevitably shutting itself down and that she wants her final memory to be of sitting with her best friend remembering the glory days, time freezes. This isn’t unusual in Life is Strange; it’s what happens every time you are forced to make a difficult decision that can affect the narrative (either indirectly or directly, and sometimes in ways you won’t see coming), but on this occasion the stark, binary choice of allowing someone to descend further into medical dependency (I don’t know if you’ve ever spent time with someone receiving palliative care but it is a deeply upsetting experience for all involved) or carrying out the one action that would be most harmful to their body but most therapeutic to their soul, I felt a tear roll slowly down my cheek.
A person does not tell another person that they no longer want to carry on living without a very good reason - in a situation like this they are saying it because the idea of staring at the same walls until their shell expires is something they can no longer stand. It is a thing that you know that person wants, and that doing it for them would be the ultimate act of love that any person could perform for them.
I paused the game; time had already frozen in Max’s world, but putting a mechanical barrier between myself and the game felt more than necessary.
Life is Strange is a story about regret, and about friendship. About love, and relationships, and the things people do for other people whether they should or not. It is a game that makes you think about the times you wish you could change; the single moments you wish had never happened, and the people who life took away from you, either through geography, tragedy or personality. It’s the story of a girl who is given the ability to change the world around her, who slowly realises that the blood on hands is indelible, and that only the source of it can change.
If you have ever wished you could change a moment in your life, Life is Strange is a game that will, with unnerving reliability, grab you by the collar and hold your face to that mirror and demand you look.
It’s a game with some plotholes and some not-great vocal performances. A game with some crap puzzles and some writing that will likely always be controversial.
But it is also an enduring depiction of two young women, each angry at the world in their own way and for their own reasons, uniting over something that they are barely in control of, and I challenge any human who has never been furious at the melange of random chance that our universe can spit at us to carry Max and Chloe through five chapters of story without stopping and remembering, and wishing they had done that one thing differently - what if I had never knocked on that door, or taken that flight? Would I be happier?
Would I like myself more?
I unpaused the game and I pressed Square. Max stood up and turned Chloe’s IV up to maximum and sat with her friend as her final request was granted, and I thought of my Nana and I tried to decide whether I wished I had been able to do the same thing for her.
You’re all being really dumb about Dark Souls 3. “Oh no! Not my precious ‘Souls’ games! Please don’t turn them into the next Assassin’s Creed - yearly churned out stale on arrival sequels that offer little new with every installment! Stop making them, despite them being literally the only title that makes FROM Software money.”
Shut up. The problem with Assassin’s Creed isn’t entirely down to the fact that it is yearly. The problem with Assassin’s Creed is that it is a game that has a really quite pants core gameplay mechanic that they haven’t changed in what seems like a thousand games now. Call of Duty comes out every year, and although it takes a while for that series to make huge leaps forward in terms of the gameplay it provides, it’s a solid amount of fun at its core and therefore, every iteration is at the very least a good laugh and an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. Dark Souls has the advantage here of being - at its core - one of the best videogames ever made. We all know how mechanically sound Dark Souls is. That doesn’t need to change. If it did, it wouldn’t be Dark Souls. The gameplay is a huge part of the experience.
Dark Souls 2 got an unfair amount of shit for basically not being the new best game ever made. It was Obafemi Martins, stepping into the Newcastle number 9 shirt the season after Alan Shearer retired. Sure, it wasn’t a patch on what came before, but look, it still scores goals and this cunt can do backflips. That’s pretty cool. The gameplay at the heart of Dark Souls 2 is still brilliant, only the worldbuilding, level design and some of the bosses were weak - all three being areas where the original game really shone. A lot of the blame for this was aimed at Yui Tanimura, who directed the game while Hidetaka Miyazaki worked on Bloodborne.
In an interview for the Dark Souls 2 Design Works book, Tanimura indicated that Dark Souls 2 had quite a challenging developmental process, including basically being started from scratch at one point, with surviving assets being repurposed to fulfil now radically different roles in this ‘new’ game. We all saw the original lighting engine and heard the promise that having to light your way using a torch carried from a bonfire and we all played a game that simply didn’t have those things in it (and in the case of the torch thing, I’m convinced was removed as they approached the 11th hour because, frankly, it wasn’t a very good idea.) In fact, based on what has been said about Dark Souls 2’s development, it is a pretty amazing achievement that a game even approaching the quality of the first game came out of the process.
So, the game ships and a few months later three DLC packs are released and they’re a bit of a revelation. At the first opportunity Tanimura has to put his stamp on something Dark Souls, rather than piece something together from broken parts, he delivers some of the finest levels in the entire series. Brume Tower, with its verticality and devious enemy placement stands alongside Sen’s Fortress and The Duke’s Archives in terms of the kind of fantastic level design you associate with the series’ finest moments. Then there’s the Flume Knight - a giant dual-sword wielding bastard that brings to mind the fantastic scrap with Artorias in the Dark Souls DLC. When he’s not salvaging a project, Tanimura proves that he has some impressive design chops.
Let’s not forget, masterpiece it may be, but Dark Souls features a few sections towards the end of the game that are very much unfinished. The Design Works book for the original game states that the entire Lost Izalith area, which is terminally dull, was created towards the end of development and rushed. It’s summed up best by the boss - the Bed of Chaos - which feels like a half-baked ‘puzzle boss’ idea that just isn’t very good, but they didn’t have time to cut it or change it and we’re left with one of the lowest points of the game. Miyazaki even publically apologised for how poor this section is. Then, there’s the infamous Blighttown framerate, which is downright shocking to anyone heading down there for the first time. FROM were nowhere near the company they are right now and obviously at this point the clock was ticking on release, which is likely something they are now in a position to be more relaxed about, given all their filthy Bloodborne dollars.
Of course, there is the big issue that Dark Souls 3 won’t be bringing anything new to the table. There’s no longer any surprise to any of the content. You know what you’re getting. That seems to be the general consensus coming out of the recent network test and public demos and that’s something that just doesn’t sit right with me at all. First of all, the demo is likely a section of the game that is the most instant and familiar, so it doesn’t instantly turn show floor rando off. The systems we’ve seen - Estus, Humanity etc - appear to be stuff we’ve seen before but again, who knows what new stuff they’re going to bring to the table in terms of Covenants, those ‘weapon arts’ and perhaps totally new ideas altogether? Dark Souls 2 started to explore some really interesting PVP stuff and I’m interested to see if they take that further. Who knows what bosses hide in areas we haven’t seen yet? Yes, the core gameplay might be familiar, but the chance to test my skills in all new locations and against all new bosses? Sign me up.
Dark Souls 3 is being made by a company who have had a lot of recent success in terms of sales and critical opinion. They don’t need to rush this game. Their talismanic leader is onboard for this title and he’s working alongside a director who eventually proved has an eye for what makes a damn good bit of Dark Souls. This is likely to be the most complete Souls game, one made without developmental issues plaguing the project, time restraints and, of course, without Miyazaki overseeing the whole thing. The first one to actually be properly finished. That’s something to be excited about, not just dismissing as more of the same. Sometimes, a new spin on a reliable formula can be pretty good!
Let’s have a chat about EGX, because I keep seeing a few people sulking about it on twitter, then people sulking about people sulking about it, then people sulking about people sulking about people sulking about it.
I’m not having a go at any of you, as various people I like have fallen on either side. And both sides have got valid points! So let’s have a look at them.
Some people are sulking because EGX has left its usual home of Earl’s Court, which is In London, and moved to the larger Birmingham NEC, which can fit more people in it but it is in Birmingham and, crucially, Not In London.
Other people are sulking because everything’s in fucking London these days and what is it with people who are in London seemingly being completely incapable of ever leaving the place?
Meanwhile, other people are sulking because hey, just because they live in London and don’t fancy traipsing up to Birmingham doesn’t mean they’re London-centric arseholes so please don’t stereotype them as such, thanks.
Here’s how I, as a child of the north-west tied to neither Birmingham nor London, see it.
First off, right, it is a nightmare getting London folk to attend things north of their stinking shithole of a city. Some of you make the effort for GameCity, but even then you start fucking hallucinating because your cardiovascular system can’t handle normal levels of oxygen. Any further north and you go into shock because you haven’t got any signal, Uber isn’t working and you haven’t got an overrated gourmet burger joint in sight at all times.
As a geographical outsider myself, I can totally get where the venom towards London and all of the scum in it comes from, because there is the occasional waft of genuine elitism coming from our fair capital - or at the very least, an excruciating lack of awareness of the amount of travelling everyone else in the country has to do for stupid videogames shit. And this is before you even consider the folk for whom the travel distance to London is impossible due to financial or health reasons.
I don’t think many people are kicking off purely because EGX isn’t in London any more. They’re not even necessarily kicking off because it’s in Birmingham, as such. They’re kicking off because it’s at the NEC, which isn’t really in Birmingham, it’s just near it, and there’s fuck-all to do there apart from the expo itself. And while the expo is alright, it’s the stuff happening around it that made EGX so special. Whether you’re going to actual organised parties or just getting to hang around with cool people you normally only speak to on twitter, the show itself took a backseat to the fact that it gathered everyone in a place where there’s loads of cool stuff to do. At the NEC, there’s one Wetherspoons for thousands of attendees, and if you step out of the hall for some fresh air, there’s nothing to see apart from the world’s largest car-park.
Here’s the thing, though. EGX is huge now, so maybe it’s just not aimed at us any more? I mean, Christ, most people I know who normally attend the show don’t even pay to get in - they just blag a press pass, same as we do. Like the county’s biggest games expo needs fucking Midnight Resistance’s help spreading the word or else nobody might come next year!
This year’s EGX certainly drew much closer to the horror stories you hear about the likes of E3 or Gamescom; crowded, noisy, stinking halls where actually playing a videogame feels like a pain in the arse but you can sure as shit pay someone to engrave your name on a fucking bullet. But that’s an unavoidable side-effect of how hugely popular it is now, and while I personally haven’t got the mental fortitude to deal with it, the thousands of people queueing up for hours for a five-minute go on the next Assassin’s Creed don’t seem to mind one bit. And that's fine, despite my apparent need to mock their enthusiasm.
What irks is that despite all the moaning about EGX’s relocation, relatively few people are talking about the perfect antidote that is Rezzed - EGX’s indie-focused younger sibling - having moved to London from its original home in Brighton, clearly meant to fill EGX’s now-outgrown role as the event to bring all the cool industry/enthusiast jerks together. EGX may have grown to a size that makes it unbearable for some, but the way Rezzed has developed in tandem with it shows clear awareness on the organisers' part that each expo can serve different audiences.
Rezzed suffers from none of the things that EGX’s enormous success has brought on. There’s fresh air, sunlight, artisanal pies, and while I know it’s utterly tiresome to take the piss out of FPS fans, it's refreshingly free of cunts like these:
We had to queue behind them for ten minutes just to pay for parking before we’d even got to the event hall proper. I really like Destiny, but come on, lads.
While I've no great love for London, and nothing at all against Birmingham, there are legitimate reasons to complain about EGX’s move to the NEC. Not least because the expo was a firm fixture in our community's calendar thanks to the annual tradition of the Joypod/MidRes/Gamewank/Cane and Rinse/BitSocket/whoever meet, and many feel that's now been lost. But if you're a part of that community and you're looking for a new expo to call home, and if it has to be in London, Rezzed is absolutely it.
Look, I’m really ill today, but a game’s just come out and I need to tell you about it.
As one of the few people who lives near me, Chris Spann is contractually bound to sometimes come to my house and play videogames with me. Somebody has to.
We always have specific games planned when he comes to visit - Towerfall, The Yawhg, Sportsfriends, Affordable Space Adventures, whatever - and they are always brilliant. But it is no small coincidence that every single session we’ve had over the last two years has ended with a quick go on Assault Android Cactus.
We first played it at EGX in 2013 when, in the most incredible display of humility I’ve ever seen, the game called itself a ‘pre-alpha’. While it’s had a tonne of work done on it since, the sheer fucking joy of it was evident even back then, and we’ve been ardent fans since.
It’s a twin-stick shooter, and you’ve definitely played one of those before, but it might have been a while since you played one that’s quite this slick. Assault Android Cactus is slicker than Clark ‘Sparky’ Griswold’s sled, mate. The feel of the game’s characters, and the clear and constant feedback you’re given about everything that’s going on is genuinely Minter-esque. It’s a game that you can learn to ‘read’ on an almost instinctive level, which is no mean feat. Chaos erupts all around you, but thanks to a whole raft of smart design decisions, that chaos is always manageable. I tend to bounce off a lot of shooters because I’m pure piss at them - throw in one proper bullet-hell bit and I just switch off. But Cactus regularly takes you to the limit of your capabilities and just kind of holds you there in a way that few games manage. It’s exhausting at times, but in the best way possible.
The campaign is punctuated with boss battles, but they serve as fun explorations into the game’s possibilities rather than shite roadblocks. Certain levels also have brilliant little gimmicks to them - one is set on a moving transport platform with giant laser beams that you have to take cover from using a load of shipping crates. This is pretty easy, until enemies start bursting out of said crates and the platform starts to move in different directions, limiting your options for cover and dragging you around in directions you’d rather not go.
There’s also Infinity Drive, a mode of endless randomly generated levels and enemy patterns, and Daily Drive, similar to Spelunky’s daily challenge, where everyone is given the same randomly-generated level each day and you only get one attempt to achieve the best score you can. When Cactus hits the Vita (currently due in January 2016), this mode will be fucking dangerous.
Oh yeah, score chasing! You build up a chain by destroying enemies in quick succession, and chaining enemies increases your score multiplier while the chain is active. It’s pretty simple, but the way it works in practice is smart - some enemies take much more shooting to bring down than the regular cannon fodder, and they’re worth more points. But if you just focus on a tough enemy, your chain will disappear before you’re able to kill it. So you quickly learn that in order to hit the higher echelons of the leaderboards, you’ve got to learn to try and pace your kills - do some damage to a large enemy, kill some smaller ones, do a bit more damage, kill some more smaller enemies, and so on, keeping your chain alive until the big guy explodes and you can rake in the points.
You also can’t die, either. Well, you can, but it’s only ever temporary - what you need to worry about is your battery running out. The battery slowly drains over time, and the only way to replenish it is to kill enemies who will occasionally drop you a new battery. Dying causes you to deactivate for a second, giving you a vital second or two to gather yourself and mash the fire button to get back up again, but it costs you valuable time that should be spent hunting for your next battery. It’s a beautiful system as it essentially lets you off with the occasional mistake, but you’ll know when your performance is under-par because you slowly begin to feel the pressure of a constantly near-empty battery. Sometimes this encourages you to focus and pull it back from the brink, while other times you’ll just fuck it completely and fail the level, but in either case it’s a brilliantly frantic experience.
I haven’t talked about all the different characters you can play as but I’m about to fall asleep at the keyboard.
Please play Assault Android Cactus. Cheers. x
I’m going to kill Mike.
Throughout the opening few chapters of Until Dawn, Supermassive’s PS4 exclusive ‘interactive movie’, straight out of the David Cage camp of minimal gameplay/maximum storyline, one of the characters was doing my head in. Unlike Cage’s games, which usually feature someone talking bollocks about fighting the internet or whatever the fuck happened at the end of Fahrenheit, Until Dawn embraces the cliches of the genre in which it is set, and Mike is very much the archetypical overconfident jock that meets his end at the hands of some supernatural killing machine. Annoying, loud, thinks he’s funny and definitely going to get himself stuck on the end of a madman’s blade if I have anything to do with it. And I do!
I don’t feel like I’m playing as the characters in Until Dawn. There’s barely any actual interaction with the game. You pilot them around the areas looking for optional clues, make decisions during cutscenes and deal with the occasional QTE sequence, but for the most part you’re watching Until Dawn unfold in front of you based on your actions. I don’t feel like I have to like any of them and I certainly don’t have to keep any of them alive, as the game continues to its conclusion no matter what happens. So, the only meaningful way of affecting the game are these decisions, which cause - as the game puts it - a butterfly effect, leading me down different story paths until I reach one of the possible endings. It’s never going to turn around to me and tell me game over. Instead, I’m a director. I’m Wes Craven. Well, maybe more Tom Six in my case, but the point is, when it comes to a decision to be made in Until Dawn, I’m choosing them based on what I want to see next and if that happens to be the unfortunate demise of one of the characters, then so be it. I mean, what kind of a slasher movie would end with everyone coming out the other end unscathed? A rubbish one, that’s what.
So, there you sit, on your director’s sofa, responsible for every decision this group of potential victims makes. When you see someone in a film making that awful horror movie mistake of going upstairs instead of bolting for the nearest exit, that’s on you. Until Dawn is deep rooted in horror movie cliche, so you KNOW making the choice to run upstairs is a bad idea, so the only reason you’d choose to do such a thing is if you wanted to see that particular character end up getting stabbed to bits. The game is never going to tell you ‘Game Over’, so there’s no fail state - just tell that blonde to go and examine the strange noise from the darkened room and sit back and watch the drama unfold. There’s no score chasing, no way to ‘git gud’ at Until Dawn - the fun comes from shaping the experience into something you want to see. Want a bit more action in a chase sequence? Botch a couple of the QTE sections and deal with the consequences.
It’s good then, that Until Dawn is a very well written videogame, otherwise your decisions would be for naught. Not just in regards to the twists and turns of the plot, but in an area crucial to succeeding within the horror genre. You end up giving a shit about the characters. You might not like all of them but you give a shit about them enough that you want to continue to see them in the game, fleshing out the plot and, no doubt, causing more drama. You don’t want them to die. I always refer to the ‘Saw’ movies when it comes to this sort of thing. It’s easy to forget, among the countless sequels, dreadful nu-metal and the appearance of that shite from Linkin Park that the first one is actually a really smart movie and I remember first seeing it and thinking ‘Man, I don’t want either of these guys to die!’, making the movie extremely tense in places. By the time the second one had rolled around, the focus of the films is on the sadistic traps and horrible deaths - you WANT these people to die, because you want to see what happens to them. It instantly becomes less scary, because you’re essentially siding with the fear itself. Look at every Nightmare On Elm Street or Friday 13th after the first movies, when the infamous killers basically became anti-heroes. No one EVER wants The Thing to win.
I ended up liking Mike, by the way. He's a hero.
Once you’ve finished Until Dawn, you’ll likely do what I did and look online as to how to save the poor kids that didn’t make it through the night and you’ll see that there’s actually not as much going on in the background as you initially thought. It was always going to be this way - Freddy Krueger is just a man in a suit called Robert and all those deaths at his knived hand were written by someone - scripted and unavoidable. Horror thrives on that first time viewing, edge-of-your-seat thrills and unexpected scares curated by a master of the genre. Once you can see all of the strings behind it the kick you get as a viewer is diminished, but Until Dawn gives you a chance, for once, to be the puppetmaster. Creating your own little thriller, teen horror or total fucking gorefest, because seeing the strings is still kind of fun when you’ve been the one pulling them.