[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]
Three Fourths Home is an interactive visual novel, which to some people is a fancy way of saying “not a video game” or “pretentious indie nonsense”. And, I suppose, that’s kind of justified. It certainly has very little in the way of traditional gameplay, and what’s there consists of turning things on or off and selecting dialogue options. There’s no challenge, which is the curve on which a lot of people like to grade a game’s worth, and there’s no real depth or complexity, either – at least not in the mechanics. But the pretentious accusation, which I’ve seen bandied around a lot in relation to Three Fourths Home, seems a little unfair. On the contrary, it’s one of the most grounded stories I’ve ever seen in the medium. There’s nothing snooty or condescending about it. That isn’t to say it’s in any way exceptional, or even all that riveting on its own terms, but it’s an honest-to-God tale about people who talk and think like human beings. That’s more than I can say for a lot of games.
Continue reading Completionist – Three Fourths Home
[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.
Continue reading Completionist – Cubot: The Complexity of Simplicity
As my suffering readership is no doubt well-aware, I love a video game which prompts an interesting discussion. And say whatever you like about Sunset Overdrive, the new open-world sandbox adventure from Insomniac Games, but it certainly does that. So let’s discuss the thing that’s been on my mind constantly since the first five minutes of it: How can a game so fun to play, a game with such simple, elegant mechanics, a game based around a single near-genius concept… how can that game make me want me murder every single member of its development team?
Well, let’s find out.
Continue reading Review – Sunset Overdrive
The problem with Resident Evil isn’t that everybody dies, it’s that nobody ever stays dead. The series has never treated mortality with any kind of permanence. In the first few games, which were fairly traditional zombie stories, that was fine. It was mostly the point. But throughout many, often ill-advised sequels, Capcom started to apply the same logic to their major characters and plot beats. Albert Wesker has been the recurring series villain for 20 years, and he was killed in the first game.
The reason for Wesker’s implausible resilience is the T-Virus – a zombie-brewing superweapon that is also responsible for all of Resident Evil’s other unanswerable narrative quandaries. Sometimes they call it the G-Virus, or the C-Virus, and sometimes it’s a parasite called Las Plagas, but functionally it’s always the same thing: Bottled contrivance. Whatever you need, story-wise, the T/G/C-Virus Parasite can provide it. Monster outbreaks in Midwestern America, rural Spain, Africa? Done. Games set on luxury cruise liners and multicar locomotives? No problem. Villains and supporting characters dying grisly but ultimately unimportant deaths? Easy. Everything that has ever happened in a Resident Evil game can be explained by this, insofar as anything that has ever happened in a Resident Evil game can be explained at all.
Continue reading Review – Resident Evil VII
Remedy Entertainment and their games have always struck me as being smarter than most people give them credit for. They hide it well, admittedly. Max Payne, released in 2001, was on one hand a game about a man with a daft name and an awful shirt. On the other, though, it managed to combine the slowed-down akimbo gunplay of Chinese cinema with hilariously overwritten conspiracy-chewing noir, and it was a great time. Its sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, released two years later, was better still. And the games knew this about themselves. They made time for moments of silliness and self-indulgence that other titles wouldn’t. In both, the player could approach television sets and watch short, weirdly detailed little made-up shows, like the soapy Lords & Ladies and the cartoon adventures of Captain BaseBallBat-Boy, who became an unofficial series mascot. Ask someone what they remember most about either of the first two Max Payne games and the answer will probably be one of those shows.
And then there’s Alan Wake, an underappreciated camp gem of the last console generation. Its eponymous hero was an insomniac writer (Alan Wake… A. Wake… Awake… Oh, Remedy) whose terrible writing formed the backbone of a paranormal thriller that stretched the well-thumbed pages of a Stephen King novel into a season of Twin Peaks. That game had TVs too, all showing episodes of a Twilight Zone-inspired anthology series called Night Springs. But it also had scattered pages of Alan’s prose, presented as collectibles. And he’s a hack. His writing is some species of feverish fan-fiction. Yet in the game he’s ludicrously famous. You can scarcely walk anywhere without being greeted by a cardboard cut-out of him. Nobody ever mentions that he’s awful, which is obviously the joke. And as the game progresses, Alan trying to frantically re-write its story (which he already wrote in the first place – don’t ask), you realize the whole thing is in on it.
Continue reading Review – Quantum Break
It’s hard to explain the appeal of the Sniper Elite series. It’s one of those gaming guilty pleasures that sounds faintly perverse written down, and utterly ludicrous spoken out loud. Not that there’s anything particularly unusual about sniping in games; almost all shooters have at least one rifle, and many have whole stretches of gameplay that are dedicated to nothing but long-range marksmanship. The sniping in and of itself, though, isn’t the appeal of Sniper Elite. Things would be so much easier if it were. But, no, there’s something else that differentiates this series from other sneaky-stabby-shooty third-person games, and it’s that psychotic slow-motion X-Ray view that lets you see all the catastrophic internal trauma you’re inflicting on your victims.
Seems an odd thing to be into, doesn’t it? Certainly wouldn’t sit well around the office water cooler or the in-law’s dinner table, and you get the sense that Rebellion, the game’s developers, probably recognise this. Which, I assume, is why they continue to set the series in World War II, despite having exhausted every major theatre of the conflict. You need Nazis for this kind of thing. These games have such a throbbing stiffy for lovingly-detailed exploding organs that it would be uncomfortable if your bullets were tunnelling through the brainpans of anyone else. But killing Nazis is always guilt-free. In the context of taking on a xenophobic imperialist war-machine, it’s actually pretty satisfying to watch precisely how much irreparable damage each bullet is inflicting on the Third Reich. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.
Continue reading Review – Sniper Elite 4