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.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture's British village of Yaughton should evoke relief, a retreat, escapism. “It’s good to get out of the city for a while”, you exhale, as you trek along the moors and find a deep calm in voluntary isolation; not a soul in sight. It’s spiritually reparative, a literal breath of fresh air.
When I was eight, we moved from West Manchester to a tiny village in Lancashire, where I lived until I was eighteen. No more than thirty houses made up the population. A babbling brook with three bridges bisected the inhabitants, the village itself beset on all sides by fields, farms and moors. When I left home, right up until my parents eventually moved a couple of years ago, I'd return every Christmas and, on boxing day, I would go for a walk on the moors by myself.
There's something magical about tramping up a series of hills, the odd curious ram keeping you on your toes, to reach a place devoid of other people. The more you walk, the fewer signs of humanity there are, from the cottages, to the old, disused caravan in the field leading up to the moors, to nothing but swishing reeds, dull green plains and the trickle of rivers. There’s nothing like the priceless peace of turning around full circle and finding yourself completely alone.
I'd sit by a tree and think about everything that had happened; the quietest moment of the year. Sometimes, I wouldn't reflect at all, I'd just appreciate the value of true, pure silence. I'd marvel at how still it was. The landscape around there has changed very little since civilisation as we know it began, and it almost feels like it's just me, I'm the only one left.
There would come a point when the feeling gradually shifted from peaceful to uncomfortable, and I would cautiously pick my way back down the hills. Evidence of the existence of others would enter my view with increasing frequency, until I passed a farmer juddering along in his tractor, and we'd give each other the nigh-on imperceptible "farmer's nod": a two degree dip and raise of the forehead.
When being completely alone isn’t a choice, when you can't just nip down the hill and find someone to talk to, that silence is suffocating. Yaughton's empty pubs, cottages and caravans shows another side of rural Britain; a picturesque prison where isolation is the overpowering sensation.
This is reflected in the human stories you discover; trails of light form into vaguely humanoid patterns, and echoes of previous events and encounters play out in front of you. All you can do is listen, though, and the more voices you hear, and the more you get to know these people and who they were, the more alone you feel. Just like you, they were trapped in this village, too. Everything they know is here, and to venture out beyond Yaughton's reach is unthinkable to many.
I've seen these stories - these people, even - play out in my own life. A close-knit community divided by an 'outsider', someone with money and personal interests. The landscape changes, socially, physically, spiritually, and people become separated by more than just a brook. A community so small and close seldom survives division of its inhabitants. Fetes and house parties become less and less frequent. Short walks to the post box, once peppered with encounters, gradually diminish and become lonely strolls through a ghost town. People come to the countryside for the slow pace, for the peace and quiet and to be closer to nature, but even the smallest village is nothing without its people.
I've seen many screenshots of the game of people admiring the views and getting shots of the sun beaming through gaps in the trees, the rolling hills kissed by the golden sun. I didn't get that out of the game. I was too busy being gripped by the horror of isolation. I'd jump out of my skin when I'd encounter a memory suddenly playing out, and journeying upstairs inside an abandoned cottage to discover the next snippet of story became an exercise in dread.
I remember our first night in the cottage. It was so completely, impossibly silent I couldn't sleep. Moving from a house outside a busy road to absolute silence was unnerving. I looked out of my bedroom window and was met with total darkness. A single, dull street lamp struggled to cast its rays across the length of the nearby bridge. At the end of ...Rapture's first act, the cosmos is laid bare before you, an impossible blanket of stars. The night swallows you; it's the game's memento mori - just rememberyou are a sliver of light, a single flash between two unfathomable chasms of darkness.
We may feel small when we are presented with the observable universe; we may feel our time is short when compared to all of history; we may think our human interactions are of little import when the end of the world is an inevitability, but it's all we have. And it is important, it is worthwhile. From the village pastor to the world leader; from two young lovers deciding to run away together to someone making a historical scientific breakthrough, we all leave our mark in one way or another, however small and however temporary, until it's all gone.
For more - a huge photo story on the game - go
That Volume by that Mike Bithell is out this week and to be honest the site isn’t important enough to get a pre-release copy, so I’ve no idea what it is like. It looks quite good though - a stripped to basics, honest stealth game. I don’t really like stealth games, but Volume wears its colours proudly and there’s something about all of the mechanics in the game being laid so bare that could likely overcome a lot of my issues with the genre, so it is something I’m interested in giving a go at some point. At least I know what I’m getting myself into, right? Because there’s absolutely nothing worse than a stealth section popping up in the middle of an otherwise enjoyable video game. Like an erection at a funeral or a woman at one of those GamerGate meet ups, it’s frankly not welcome and ruins the occasion for everyone. Here’s a tedious listicle containing a few of the times I’ve had an otherwise enjoyable experience shat up the wall by a surprise stealth section.
The Evil Within.
Shinji Mikami’s spiritual sequel to Resident Evil 4 shines when it is doing its best impersonation of that classic game. Situations where the odds are well and truly against you - an area full of awful bastards, weapons with limited ammo and only your wits to help you get through. Every missed shot, wasted bullet or poorly executed plan causes you to rethink your approach on the fly and as the enemies close in, the game begins to turn the screw, you panic and go into survival mode. Pure, total survival horror.
It is a shame then that The Evil Within occasionally leans on that cheapest of horror gameplay mechanics - having to hide from some insta-death monster prick. The game even BEGINS with one such section and it is fucking terrible. This big lad with a chainsaw is stalking around an area and you have to sneak past him by tossing bottles and waiting for him to look in the other direction. It is about as much fun as choosing which finger to cut off. I eventually muddled my way through it using trial and error, because it was less frustrating than actually TRYING in my attempt to sneak past the chainsaw fiend, only to be spotted and cut to pieces with little or no warning.
After you’re past the opening stealth disaster, The Evil Within becomes a great game, but decides to revisit near insta-fail sneaking for the final few levels, meaning that my memory of the game isn’t a particularly fond one and my desire to start the game again at any point is dampened by that opening shitshow.
Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.
Black Flag is the closest that the annual borefest the Assassin’s Creed series has come to being a decent game. It has nothing to do with its usual mix of awkward parkour, repetitive missions and crap combat, but instead the fleshed out sections onboard a boat, which first appeared in Assassin’s Creed 3. These are absolutely brilliant, sticking you in epic sea battles as you blast other boats with your cannons, whilst being battered by a severe storm. As you slowly turn the ship in the wind, readying the cannons to blast an enemy vessel to splinters, you really feel the weight of the bloody thing, like you’re wrestling the wheel yourself.
It even allows you to seamlessly board enemy ships, which is quite impressive considering all of the moving parts in play as two wooden boats collide at sea, while members of the two crews do battle. Sure, it doesn’t fix the fundamental issues at the heart of the series, but the naval combat is undeniably fun and the fact that it became the focus of two Assassin’s Creed games showed that Ubisoft knew this too. Unfortunately, Black Flag has a few sections where you have to sneak past patrol boats and watchtowers, whilst in a fucking pirate ship. What?
Now, I’ve mentioned this before and some mewling idiots have said “Well, how is this any different to the Cobra Tank/Stealth sections in Arkham Knight?” Simple, in Arkham Knight, the Batmobile’s much maligned ‘tank’ mode is pretty nippy and can maneuver around the area with ease, meaning you can get yourself out of any bad situation you find yourself in. In Black Flag, you’re a huge, lumbering boat that is being propelled by the fucking wind and have a turning circle akin to Earth’s orbit of the Sun. It isn’t just insta-fail bullshit, either. You sometimes have a good few seconds to sink in as you slowly, but unavoidably float your way into the line of sight and are unceremoniously sent back to the beginning of the section. They’ve got rid of the boat stuff in recent games, instead replacing them with hilarious, game-breaking bugs, which doesn’t sound like the smartest move, but it sold millions anyway, so what do I know, eh?
ANY First Person Shooter.
Now, this doesn’t include the Thief games, because at no point do they ever claim to be a First Person SHOOTER. I’m talking about games that, for the most part, have you shooting everything in sight, only to ‘offer a bit of variety’ a few levels in and have you sneaking past guards and having to restart from the last fucking checkpoint every time you set off a fucking alarm. I remember playing Red Faction (on the PS2, like a total monster) and being totally blown away by the ‘Geo-Mod’ technology, allowing you to blow huge holes in the game world and use these to your advantage. It was awesome to fire a rocket at a few enemies and see the destruction left in its wake. Imagine my horror when I suddenly had all of my weapons taken away and had to sneak through some offices full of armed guards. There’s no instant fail if you get spotted, which for once is actually a pain in the bollocks, because instead of that you’ve just got to run around impotently until they’ve shot you to death.
Loads of people talk up the stealth sections in the Call of Duty games, specifically the sneaking through the field in the first of the Modern Warfare games. Well, they’re rubbish. Atmospheric rubbish, but rubbish nonetheless. All you do is slowly walk or crawl around, following the exact actions of an A.I partner - any deviation from this will result in you being spotted and failing the mission instantly - until you eventually reach an end point. It’s a fucking military themed Dear Esther, only with a better plot.
It’s just false advertising really, isn’t it? If I buy a First Person Shooter I don’t ever want to find myself stripped of all weapons and unable to progress because I can’t figure my way through a maze of A.I vision cones. Adding stealth sections to a game is like, the absolute bottom rung of ‘adding variety’ to a product. Entry level stuff. Which brings us on nicely to…
The Legend Of Zelda: Wind Waker.
“But all Zelda games are the same thing all the time!” whined someone who spends too much time on NeoGAF. “Nintendo need to change the formula or it’ll get stale!” they mewl from their lair of plastic promotional tat.
Look at the damage you caused.
There’s a stealth section at the start of Wind Waker. Link finds himself locked away in the Forbidden Fortress with no weapons. No sword. No sword! In a Zelda game! All you’ve got is a bunch of guards and searchlights to avoid as you cut about the area but if you get spotted it’s - surprise! - back to the start for you! It’s not even hard, it’s just rubbish. A change of pace before the game even gets going and to a mechanic you don’t use again for the duration. It feels like it was tacked on towards the end of development because they didn’t fancy putting effort into adding new content, or y’know, actually finishing the game off properly.
There’s been a stealth section in every Zelda game since. It is always the lowest ebb of otherwise incredible games. The wolf nonsense in Twilight Princess. The rubbish bit in the volcano in Skyward Sword. At least A Link Between Worlds proved that Nintendo can change up the traditional Zelda formula without having to rely on such stale gameplay sections.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.
I bloody love Lords of Shadow. The original is a fantastic action game full of variety in every aspect - locations, enemies, moves, the lot. It is every part an action game from the God of War/Platinum Games era, but is also a fitting tribute to the hardcore action platforming from the 16-bit era and even before. It is a great game and one absolutely worthy of your time.
When reports came out that the second one was a much more open game, I was still excited. Making the game more of a ‘Metroidvania’ style affair would be a nice nod to the other side of the whole Castlevania thing, with a bit of exploration and finding new abilities to aid in that sound like a pretty cool thing to add to the Lords of Shadow formula. Unfortunately, for the most part it was a bloated and directionless sequel that added a load of unnecessary fat to the tight and lean original.
It also happens to have one of the worst stealth segments I’ve ever played, too. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Agreus Dead Leaf Garden.
The first game goes a long way to establishing the fact that you are playing as Dracula in the sequel. The devil himself. The all-mighty and all-powerful lord of the fucking night. The baddest of all badasses. However, if you step on - and I’m not making this up at all - a pile of leaves during this terrible stealth section, this mad goat thing shows up in a cutscene and one shots you. Just think about that for a second. Foiled by LEAVES. LEAVES. He’s lived for millennia and he’s undone by some rustling.
It’s absolute crap and even after I found out you could muddle your way through it using Dracula’s mist form I still sacked the game off.
Tell me your least favourite stealth sections on Twitter - @andihero
A sense of entitlement has spread across the entirety of the video game fan base like a disease in the last ten years. It has turned a large portion of ‘gamers’ into intolerable whiners who deem even a slightest inaccuracy unacceptable. Whether it is related to the plot, mechanics, or their self-created standards based on the game which they’ve not played even once, they’ll will always find something to complain about. And as soon as EA has released the first trailer for the new Need for Speed, I was not surprised by the fact that majority have already belittled the game in one way or another. However, just like with The Last of Us, internet’s vocal minority has yet again criticized something that is absolutely acceptable and where The Last of Us was getting abused for time skipping, new Need for Speed is being defamed for its unrealistic and, at times, comical setting.
I have to admit, the ‘lad’-like approach to the story of the upcoming Need for Speed seems a little off and yes, some sections of the FMV cutscenes that we have seen so far are cringeworthy, but the fact of the matter is that the newest incarnation of the Need for Speed franchise might serve us with the most realistic portrayal of street racing that we’ve ever seen. And before you start hurling abuse at me, because you simply disagree with my opinion, or because I don’t have a PHD in illicit motor vehicle competitive racing, let me explain myself first.
As I’ve already said, I have no academic background in street racing or in fact anything that involves illegal use of vehicles, however I have something much better, and it is first-hand experience. No, I have never participated in street racing myself, but every Saturday night - with no exceptions - I was watching people who did. Everything that EA has published so far in relation to the new Need for Speed, has not only reaffirmed that they are doing something that has a chance to reach beyond the average and mundane, but also something that might be touching on actual realism.
The first major complaint that has arisen - as soon as first plot related information was released - is in relation to the main storyline itself. Some people, or as I like to call them ‘bastards’, have voiced their upset about the fact that the game might not have an actual story, as the main objective of the game is to become famous in either style, build, speed, crew, or police notoriety. The base for their complaint, as always, comes from the fact that 10 years ago they’ve all played Need for Speed: Most Wanted and it was ‘’well good’’. Mainly because it featured - and I quote here - ‘’an actual story, about revenge, and human suffering’’. A story where a handful of so called racers is terrorizing the entire city is more fantastical than the entire Call of Duty Franchise and this is because in real functioning world, inhabited by actual human beings, street racers cower on the sight of the police, the sound of a siren and prefer to have their car impounded rather than risk losing it all together by trying to outrun the authorities.
When I was growing up, I lived about 20 meters away from a small carpark where said ‘outlaws’ were meeting up every Saturday. It was a great location, as it was situated at the very beginning of a road which led straight into the heart of the city. However, it was also a kilometre away from a nearest police station, and the close proximity between the two allowed me to witness hundreds of arrests over the years. You could argue that a person who is driving a customized 600hp Porsche Carrera GT and could easily be a professional driver, has a really good chance at outrunning a middle-aged man driving a Skoda. However, everyone who was too late to leave before boys in blue arrived just waited patiently to hand themselves over, because spending few hours in police custody and paying couple hundred Euros for car recovery was, and still is better than risking time in prison or even death. This is because most people who were a part of the so called ‘Night Club’ had careers and families they all had to go back to in the morning and, just like the characters from Need for Speed’s newest trailer, were all over 30.
The second feature of the Need for Speed that most seem to be upset about concerns the age of the on-screen characters and not their behaviour. The consensus to which the internet’s vocal minority has come to, is that ‘’Old people would never do things like this’’. And where most fail to specify what they mean by old, it is easy to comprehend that they simply can’t bare the idea that someone over the age of 25 could possibly race around a city, as it is something only young and beautiful indulge themselves in. If you step out of the imaginary world which these people have created, you’d see that they couldn’t be any more incorrect. However, it is not entirely their fault, as movies such as The Fast & The Furious, and previous Need for Speed titles are responsible for creation of the stereotype that so many stand by. In a way it is partially true, as when I was witnessing the street culture unravel in the early 2000’s, I’d always see a single ‘youngster’ who would try his chances racing against others in his slammed Volkswagen Golf, but every time someone like that appeared, he/she would simply be laughed at and sent away not to waste anybody’s time. In a way it was a cruel thing to do, but ‘Night Club’s’ 40 and even 50 year old top dogs who were doing it for years, knew that it would be better not to invite anyone with no experience or inadequate car, as the majority of even the most experienced drivers ended up in hospital sooner or later.
In the end both Need for Speed and real life street racing are all about money. If you can’t afford to buy the right car, or modify your existing vehicle to a required ‘spec’ you can’t consider yourself a member of the club. However, where in real life all drivers are highly situated business men/women which spend tens if not hundreds of thousands on their cars with the money gained through their daytime employment. Your in game persona will obviously generate his/hers funds through street racing, or any other illegal activity, and I understand how people can see this to be a problem, as you can’t possibly earn enough money through racing to buy a brand new Porsche. But when saying that, this people also forget that Need for Speed is a video game, and it has to keep you engaged by throwing at you activities based around its main mechanic, which in this case is driving. And I can’t see how a banking mini-game could be a better alternative to making money than racing in a game that is all about racing.