Completionist – Harm’s Way

[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]

I’ve never met anyone who played Harm’s Way for more than an hour or two, and even that’s pushing it. In a way this is hardly surprising; the game’s an arcade racer that only has four drivable vehicles, three very similar post-apocalyptic tracks, and a single three-race event to compete in. But it is surprising for a couple of reasons. The first is that Harm’s Way is a completely free release on Xbox Live’s marketplace, which is a combination of words I’ve very rarely been able to use. And secondly, Harm’s Way is quite a lot of fun.

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a game that’s going to change your life. It’s just a simple arcade title that feels fresher than it has any right to by conjoining two well-worn concepts (off-road racing and emplaced turret sequences) into a surprisingly complementary whole. Players can either barrel around the desert courses in buggies and buses or hop into a roadside turret to blast their rival drivers with high-powered weaponry. Written down (and, indeed, in action) it feels like an idea dreamt up by a crazy kid, and I don’t mean that as a criticism. In a sense, Harm’s Way gets to something fundamental about games; that a lot of the very best are as silly as they are fun, and better for it. This brings me back to my original point, though. What is it, outside of the scarce options, which stops people coming back to this game?

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Completionist – Cubot: The Complexity of Simplicity

[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]

I know it hardly matters, but how complex can simplicity really be? Cubot’s subtitle seems to suggest the whole game is an answer to that question, but aren’t we talking about two extremes of the same spectrum here? Aren’t they mutually exclusive? If something’s simple then by definition in can’t be complex, can it? I know, I know – who cares? But Cubot gives off a weirdly pretentious vibe, and that subtitle’s a part of it. Another is the game’s fascination with quotes: every few levels it presents another puzzle-oriented little titbit as though it’s unfurling the Dead Sea Scrolls; like the very act of playing the game is somehow solving the great existential mysteries of life. I’m not convinced. It hardly helps that a handful of the quotes are attributed to Ernő Rubik. Is Rubik’s Cube really still being held aloft as a beacon of ingenuity? They come with instructions. A toddler could solve one.

So Cubot is a little full of itself, but it’s an independent game and that’s to be expected. Besides, a puzzler can get away with an awful lot as long as it’s puzzling enough, and Cubot manages to stretch its central premise across 80 quite compelling brainteasers. That premise is the rolling of coloured cubes onto the corresponding tiles of a free-floating white grid, the conceit being that the cubes can’t be moved individually – a nudge left, right, up or down affects every component of the puzzle at once. This is all fine and dandy when you only have to deal with one or two cubes, but it becomes a bigger ask as more varieties are introduced onto progressively more complex grids. At its most befuddling, Cubot tasks you with manipulating multiple cubes, each with varying behaviours, up and down elevators and through teleporters, all the while tracking your total number of moves – which, in a game like this, is essentially a numerical version of your self-worth.

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Completionist – CSI Triple Threat

[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]

Telltale Games are pretty popular these days for applying their now-trademark episodic formula to various well-known multimedia properties, from graphic novels (The Walking Dead and Fables) to television shows (Game of Thrones) and video game series’ (Borderlands). But what a lot of people don’t know is that, once upon a time, Telltale also made shit like this.

Like the show, the CSI games offer passable whodunnits based unsurprisingly around the investigation of various crime scenes. It’s a first-person point-and-click affair, the player steering around a nameless, newbie investigator as he pokes, prods, nips and sprays with numerous bits of technical kit (like tweezers!). It’s a simple form of adventure gaming that maintains the enjoyment of finding a well-hidden item, but loses the frustrating moon logic of early genre fare like The Secret of Monkey Island (which is still a wonderful game, but, y’know… it’s weird).

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Completionist – Terminator Salvation

[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]

I often think that when the world’s machines inevitably gain sentience and rise up to enslave the human race, part of our punishment will be to repeatedly play video games like this. It makes sense. Not only does Terminator Salvation give artificial intelligence a bad name pretty much across the board, it would only take a couple of playthroughs to have us all begging our new overlords for the mercy of a quick death.

Perhaps that’s not entirely fair. At the very least Salvation has the decency to only last about four hours, and if you’re feeling particularly charitable you can at least describe it as functional. As a startlingly generic cover-based third-person shooter, it sort of works. A lot of emphasis is placed on flanking around enemies and firing a tiny pile of unimaginative, unsatisfying weapons at their obligatory glowing weak spot. There are scripted sequences on emplaced gun turrets and, of course, moments which have you defend a given location against several waves of murderous robots. There’s even a co-op mode.

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Completionist – Interpol: The Trail of Dr. Chaos

[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]

I’ve never really understood the appeal of hidden object games. For one thing, I don’t like mess; I’ve had real-life relationships end because I seem to be attracted almost exclusively to untidy women. The idea of staring squinty-eyed at a low-resolution screen full of someone else’s rubbish, not to mention paying for that privilege, seems faintly perverse to me. And Interpol: The Trail of Dr. Chaos is just about the most bog-standard interpretation of this idea I’ve ever seen. You can play better examples of the genre right now, on your browser, for free. But what I’ve come to learn over the last few years is that bolting some quick and easy Xbox Achievements onto an experience lets you get away with a whole lot. This is how I found myself, nose an inch away from the screen, poking around some filthy kitchen looking for errant loaves of bread.

There is some semblance of story here. The player-character unsurprisingly works for Interpol, and he’s either a compulsive hoarder or the most unconventional detective who ever lived – it’s kind of unclear. Dr. Chaos, again quite unsurprisingly, is the villain. I’m not sure what exactly he’s a doctor of, but it certainly isn’t common sense. His fiendish master plan seems to hinge entirely on culturally-appropriate clutter being stuffed into airport departure lounges and ancient Egyptian tombs. Why? I have no idea. But he gets around – the game has nine missions based in real-world locales, and you have to slog through all of them without using hints if you want to come away from the experience 200 Gamerpoints richer. Is it worth it? Probably not. But these are the things I endure so that you don’t have to.

Completionist – NHL 2K6

[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]

Here are all the things I know about ice hockey: it’s cold, Canadians like it, and for some reason players are allowed to halt the game, whip off their helmets and beat the shit out of each other. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it, but I managed to live the vast majority of my life without it ever being an issue that I didn’t know what. Then, all of a sudden, I’m trawling through Google for an explanation of breakaways and the (bizarrely specific) criteria for penalty shots.

Back when the Xbox 360 and PS3 were considered the “next generation” of video game consoles, these 2K Sports titles were some of the first I played. I remember being blown away by them. It wasn’t the gameplay, which was largely the same as it always had been, but the small, incidental details that hadn’t been possible on other platforms: realistic sweat running down players’ faces, the fabric of a jersey rippling and contorting with motion. I never considered these games as the go-to fix for achievement junkies, because in 2005 nobody really cared about or understood the Gamerscore system. The launch line-up was a gateway to what was suddenly possible now, and what might be possible in the future. Of course when you go back and play them in 2016 you realize they are full of laughable achievements, and that their reputation of ease and convenience taints the memory of what it felt like to play these games when they were new and exciting.

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Review – Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge Special Edition

Even though I said a large portion of what I have to say about Secret of Monkey Island, video game humour generally, and the benefit of re-releasing classic games in my review of the previous Special Edition, here’s some more of that stuff anyway. Because why not?

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge Special Edition (hereafter just Monkey Island 2, thanks very much) is a better remake of a better game. If you enjoyed the first one – in either its original or shiny, high-definition form – you’ll enjoy this even more. If you’d rather boil your own head than play a 90s-style point-and-click adventure… this probably won’t sway you. Yes, the game is better, but it’s better because the jokes are funnier and the puzzles make slightly more sense. The underlying format remains unchanged.

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