Posts byLiam Dean
“Reboot” isn’t necessarily a word that people greet with much enthusiasm. Everything seems to be getting rebooted these days, from TV shows to video games. The worst culprits are the incredibly unimaginative people from the mythical land of Hollywood, who seem more than happy to ruin our fondest film memories to make a quick buck. Their lack of creativity and occasional disregard for fans of the originals have left us with many naff substitutes such as Planet Of The Apes, A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Wicker Man. Seriously, what were they thinking when they cast Nicholas Cage in that movie?
But, we’ve also had plenty of good movie reboots as well. The truth is that for every Pink Panther there is a Dredd to counterbalance it. The same is true for video games too. It’s never the case that all re-imaginings of our favourite things turn out to be bad. Sometimes the planets will align and we will be magically gifted with games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, DmC: Devil May Cry and Twisted Metal. All of those games had both positive and negative aspects, but they also had elements that fans of the original series could enjoy in some nostalgic way. But whilst those games were very good, it is my personal belief that the new Tomb Raider reboot by Crystal Dynamics sets the standard for all future reboots.
And so we find ourselves at the tail end of another week spent in the Barnabas-o-sphere. Just as sure as the sun rises and sets, the tide changes on a daily basis, and Fraser’s ferocious beard continues to grow unabated, we say goodbye to the week that was the 30th of April to the 6th of May.
The one unifying theme that can be attributed to the past week is forward thinking. It’s no secret that the biggest gaming event of the year is just around the corner. To give you a hint — as if you really needed one — it’s got something to do with the Exposition Of Entertaining Electronics. Not only that, but Microsoft may or may not be planning to dish out the dirt on their latest wonder box in just a couple of weeks’ time.
Needless to say, it’s a rather exciting time to be interested in video games. All of this excitement has caused Andy to explode prematurely about brilliant upcoming games like Ragnarok Online 2: Legend Of The Second, Metro: Last Light and Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D. Read it to get your gander up about all the great games that May has to offer and beyond! And, if all of this isn’t forward thinking enough for you, he’s even got news of an intriguing graveyard exploration sim called Boon Hill as part of our regular “Money Shots” section. It’s so far in the future it hasn’t even been made yet! Never say we don’t cater to all tastes.
Call me conceited if you want, but I like to think of myself as a fairly intelligent person. Don’t get me wrong – I’m probably not going to win any great scientific awards like the ones they give to real life geniuses, but I’m (hopefully) not going to appear posthumously in the next edition of The Darwin Awards either. As a person of modest intellect, I occasionally like to stroke my beard in a sage-like manner whilst pondering the mysteries of the universe, and I have even been known to solve Sudoku puzzles in the dark. Why is it then that I find myself playing and – for the most part – enjoying many games that simply involve travelling from A to B?
The notion of linear design in video games hasn’t always been a popular one. The mention of “linear” in a design context immediately conjures up images of a player being pushed down narrow artificial corridors, getting forced to use a single method to tackle a given problem or even (gasp!) being inundated with dreaded QTE’s. These are obviously not always desirable design traits, and as a consequence it’s not uncommon for video games journalists to use the term as an adjective for poor games design. It may even be something that a moderately intelligent, incredibly good looking person such as myself has been guilty of in the past. However, this should not always automatically be the case. I believe that there are actually many instances in which linear design can benefit the overall experience of playing a game.
The prospect of finding out what happens in the future is attractive to anyone. Any number of possibilities could lead to a person becoming wealthy, finding their true life’s calling or even avoiding dangerous situations. Someone might put up with a lot to find out this information, but not many people would starve themselves in solitary confinement for days on end before wandering through a forest full of supernatural terrors. This is the task that is forced upon you in the iOS exclusive title Year Walk, and if nothing else it certainly highlights the virtues of surrendering oneself to fate and circumstance.
The year is 1894 and the location is somewhere deep in Sweden’s rural, snowy countryside in the depths of winter. Evocative and spooky images of a cabin in the woods, a windmill and a church are flashed in front of the viewer. As the narrative progresses, it is clear that the person the player is inhabiting is embroiled in a forbidden love affair — something that they care about so much they’re prepared to go on a “Year Walk” in order to discover its fate. A couple of cutscenes later, and the player is turned loose on a forest at night: a gloomy maze of chin scratching puzzles and unknown horrors.
Controversy and video games are two things that seem to go hand in hand in this day and age. As the art form continues to expand in the scope of its ambition, so too does it grow in the diversity of its subject matter. It’s not always enough to have every game amounting to a 2D sprite traversing a colourful background without context or meaning. Like all forms of expression, we find ourselves reflecting our own culture in the video game worlds and stories we create; and in doing so we invariably include the darker sides of our nature.
Violence, and how it is depicted in video games, has been the most recent topic for discussion as of late. Owing to recent and incredibly tragic circumstances, it is understandable why people would want to challenge the way we view violence both within the context of our own social interactions and in the media we consume. However, this has led to some rather unfair and premature conclusions being made about the impact of violent video games on gamers at large, and many titles have suffered fallout as a consequence. It is understandable then why a game like BioShock Infinite could fall under the banner of “potentially controversial”. Apart from containing copious amounts of violent imagery, it also contains themes of racism, jingoism, xenophobia, sexism and religious discrimination.
It’s no secret that visual fidelity has always been of paramount importance when it comes to the progression of video games technology. Each and every console generation sees a significant bump in the amount of polygons we can expect to see in our favourite interactive experiences. This is, in essence, a tool that designers use to improve the amount of immersion we feel in a video game’s world. There’s no doubt that improved graphics can achieve this, but there’s something else that’s been around since the dawn of video games’ existence that’s been sucking us in since day one, and it’s a technology that’s shifted very little comparatively.
There are many moments that I can look back on from games I have played in the past which have been hugely impactful on me as a gamer. There’s the suicide mission at the end of Mass Effect 2, the fight with Big Boss in the field of white flowers in Metal Gear Solid 3, arriving at Sander Cohen’s Fort Frolic in Bioshock, the final fight with Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII, crossing over the Mexican border for the first time in Red Dead Redemption and the warthog gauntlet at the end of Halo: Combat Evolved to name but a few. Right now I’m sure you’re imagining some of your own favourite memories, but before you assume that these are based solely on visual design or even gameplay mechanics, just think for a second about the sounds that accompanied each of them.
As Hugo Weaving so sardonically said in The Matrix, some things are inevitable. The Earth keeps on spinning, the weeks keep on rolling around to despicable Monday routines, and video games keep on failing to meet our expectations. If I sound miserable or pessimistic at all, it’s because I am. Of course not all video games fail to meet our expectations in the same way that the horribly overblown sequels to The Matrix did; but I reserve the right to be pessimistic from time to time. It’s hardly surprising if I am a little dour, in all fairness. The north of England has been a snowy wasteland of unseasonal weather this past week, and as a consequence I have a whopping great cold and my head hurts. And, I am naturally a very whiny person.
But if you thought my puerile complaining was going to stop there, then I’ve got some rather bad news for you – it isn’t. Apart from having to suffer some of the worst weather on Earth (fact) I’ve had to suffer some of the worst DRM on Earth as well this past week. SimCity was everything I had hoped that it wouldn’t be, and I had some brief fun writing a scathing review that you must now read for my cathartic relief. Apart from being a mess of connectivity issues and simulation breaking bugs, it is actually quite good, which only adds to the frustration of its failure. Perhaps I will enlist the aid of some expert programmers who can tear the game away from EA to make the necessary mods to render it more playable. Or, perhaps I will just sit here and wait for it to magically sort itself out like I usually do.
It’s a shame this isn’t a video review really, because if it was, I’d probably start by doing a very long sigh. There’s little else that can surmise the exasperation I feel with SimCity and its diabolical launch so succinctly. The game is the latest iteration — and reboot of sorts — in the long running and incredibly popular city building series originally conceived by Will Wright way back in 1989. The original was something of a revelation in game design. It was a game that could neither be won nor lost, and so was not thought to be very marketable by the fledgling Maxis. Luckily, they took a gamble and decided to publish it, releasing SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4 and SimCity Societies in the intervening years up until 2007.
Until now, pretty much all of the SimCity games have adopted a more isometric viewpoint, focusing heavily on expanding individual cities in a single player environment. The revolutionary aspect — or so Maxis hopes — about the new SimCity is the idea of cities no longer being self-contained, choosing to focus on a multi-city approach that requires regions to share resources, amenities and public services. The net result is that this new iteration feels like a bit of an experiment in the same vein as 2007’s SimCity Societies. Except, now players must brave the social pitfalls of real world multiplayer servers, and not just the simulated ones of that game. If all of this sounds like a recipe for disaster that could alienate the series’ extensive fan base, we’ve barely scratched the surface of SimCity’s problems.
It’s bad enough discovering that the place where you work is funding the destruction of your species, but finding out that you’re the guy who needs to risk life and limb to stop it is like the proverbial icing on the cake. Such is the depressingly fraught existence of Abe – Rupture Farms employee of the year and hitherto contented drone of Molluck the Glukkon. But -as Abe will later discover – there’s a hero in all of us, and pretty soon the Sligs, Paramites, Scrabs and Meeches of Oddworld will quiver at the mere mention of his name. If any of this sounds strange to you, then that’s because you’ve never become acquainted with the twisted vision of Lorne Lanning and Oddworld Inhabitants, and might have missed out on two of the most unique and brilliant platformers ever created.
Despite loving video games as a little kid, I didn’t always have much money with which to procure them. That’s why I made sure I took my time in picking a good one on the rare occasion that my pocket money reached double figures. I remember peering at Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee in my local game shop just shy of ten years old, my right eyebrow raised in a manner that even Dwayne Johnson would be proud of. I had played many platforming games in the past, but the bizarre blue fellow on the game’s front cover didn’t seem like he fit in with the likes of Sonic, Mario or Mega Man at all. There was something altogether more dark and sinister about him and his cockeyed smile. Looking at the back cover, I was greeted with screenshots of vicious creatures and explosions of blood. Needless to say, I marched straight up to the counter and slapped my coppers down.
Ah technology, how we both love and depend upon it. Without the computing knowledge we have amassed as human beings, we wouldn’t be able to do our online banking, program satellites to go into outer space, or rant endlessly at people we disagree with on internet forums. It is the digital glue that holds together our rapidly evolving online world. Without the steady evolution of computer science, it is debatable whether we would continue to expand in other areas of our worldly knowledge so fruitfully. Most importantly though, we wouldn’t be able to evolve in the way we make video games.
It is debatable whether or not all technological advancements have benefitted games development, but invariably some of it must have. I don’t think we would have ever seen Bioshock Infinite running on a Super Nintendo, for example. The storyline may have been there, but the artistic direction would have been significantly limited. Until now though, pretty much all of the technological advancements made with games hardware have been to facilitate more complicated graphics technology. With each iteration of a console that comes out, we have seen more and more raw computing power and little other than games on the software side. This has satisfied us as consumers – until now, that is.