Metro 2033 was an unpolished gem; a journey through claustrophobic tunnels punctuated by bleak forays into Moscow’s post-apocalyptic surface. For all its bugs and questionable optimisation, it stood out with its punishing difficulty and novel mechanics, and it existed as an interesting companion to Dmitry Glukhovsky’s book of the same name.
With Metro: Last Light, 4A Games has addressed many of the concerns and criticisms over the first game, crafting a polished title that stands alone, having nothing whatsoever to do with Glukhovsky’s sequel, Metro 2034. It’s a confident piece of digital fiction, creating a believable world out of the Russian capital’s underground, and it is undoubtedly an impressive first-person shooter.
Amid the improvements and increased ambition, Last Light is a very different experience from its predecessor, however. It has more mass market appeal, and unrelenting horror and tension is now a little less less common — though certainly still present — than explosive fire fights and over-the-top action. It’s a less subtle and nuanced journey, becoming more bombastic and epic.
It’s different, and to some this will be disappointing. I am not one of those people.
Not starving to death seems like a pretty simple goal. Positively low key in this world of alien chest-rippers, crater-riddled war zones and dragons with fricking laser beams in their heads that we gamers call home. Remembering to eat seemed almost laughable in comparison to my usual tasks, so I took it patronisingly under advisement and went about my business. And that’s how I died with my axe halfway through a tree.
Only a few days had gone by in the wilderness, and I had been busying myself with gathering supplies, fending off the odd spider attack and building the sturdiest fire pit known to mankind. That’s when Don’t Starve hit me with a big stick, as my hunger dropped to zero and my health began to ebb away. Frantic running in all directions looking for carrots yielded nothing but quizzical looks from nearby birds, and, before long, I made a horrible gurgling noise and left a very embarrassed corpse. You see, contrary to appearances, Don’t Starve is actually a game about surviving. It’s a game I’ve grown to absolutely love, but it continues to hate me. And I keep trying to impress it, like a sad child running after an indifferent father. Why won’t you just hug me, Don’t Starve?
On first spotting the game, you might be drawn in by the storybook art style, with the game’s hero (such as he is) staring grumpily out at you and a playfully spooky forest bringing back memories of Grimm fables and Tim Burton productions before he stared too Depp into the abyss. But Don’t Starve has more in common with the truly twisted works of Roald Dahl, with some Twin Peaks and Lovecraftian discomfort mixed in for taste.
There aren’t many downsides to working in the gaming press. Oh sure, if you focus on the total lack of respect and the fact that, if anything, it actually costs money to get involved, then seems a little bleak, but at the end of the day we’re allowed to play video games and pretend it’s business. But one can get a bit jaded, especially when yet another small developer comes along with one more 2D platformer. It was with this cold, cynical, heartless soul I began playing Guacamelee, and I have been reborn.
Effortlessly charming and infectiously enthusiastic. That’s how I would summarise Drinkbox’s latest offering, were I forced to curb my enthusiasm and verbosity. From the moment you turn on the game and are bombarded with the bright colours and happy music of cartoon Mexico, Guacamelee is a good time. Even simple explanations of the premise seem disingenuously positive. You play as Juan, an unfortunate fellow who must rescue a beautiful woman from an evil skeleton by punching and kicking hundreds of other skeletons. You die, and then you come back to life with the power of a luchador mask, then you take fighting lessons from a giant chicken and a man who lives as a goat. One of the bad guys tries to defeat you with her sexy hips.
I love a good heist story. There’s something fundamentally satisfying about rooting for the righteous thieves, usually a ragtag crew of specialists, come together and pull-off a dramatic high-stakes operation. Classic films such as Heat, The Italian Job, and The Killing all use a classic, tested caper formula: build a team, form a plan, execute said plan, overcome the inevitable screw-up. While numerous video games will insert a heist scenario, I cannot think of one that uses such a system as the basic architecture of its design.
When Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine started to make waves a few years ago, it had my attention, but I had my misgivings as its development cycle lengthened. After all, what began as a six-week project to be released on Xbox Live snowballed into a six-year undertaking. Yes, Monaco has had a long and storied journey toward its release day, but the twists and turns it has taken have been worth the wait. The games blends a bit of something old with a few things new, resulting in a game that quite brilliantly blends a classic genre with classic gameplay. In fact, it is one of the most complete imaginings of the caper genre in any medium I’ve encountered.
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.
There lurks a darkness in all of us. It might be something small, like taking the last piece of candy at a kid’s party. It might be bigger, like poisoning the candy supply at a kid’s party in order to destabilise the company his parents work for by capitalising on their grief. Society keeps most of this in check, teaching us to push the dark thoughts and actions deep underground, where they can fester quietly and never bother us again.
But what if all that terrible and very human desire manifested somehow? Became a physical place? Welcome to The Cave, a place apparently existing outside of space and time where visitors can gain that which they most desire. Seven strangers from different walks of life stand at the entrance of this living metaphor, staring down at what their future could become. Or has become. Or didn’t become. It’s all a bit confusing, but perhaps that’s the point.
Booker DeWitt has made many poor decisions in his life. He’s a killer, a gambler and a sot. With his debts mounting up, he is given a chance at wiping the slate clean, and all he has to do is one task. To Columbia he must go, a fantastical city that drifts above the clouds, to rescue a girl from a tower, a bird and a madman.
BioShock Infinite is not a modern fairy tale, though. Booker is not an errant knight or even a hero and the girl isn’t a damsel in distress waiting for a man to save her. Honestly, I’m not sure what it is. Science fiction mystery, subtle tragedy, blockbuster spectacle — it’s all those things and likely a whole lot more.
I’m rolling my second cigarette since starting this review, and I’m only three paragraphs in. Smoking is meant to help me think, as the smell of the tobacco and the warmth in my lungs relaxes me enough so that I can digest all I’ve just seen. Really, though, I’m stalling for time, because I have so much to say about BioShock Infinite, but I have no idea where to begin.
Few things in this world make me smile. There’s my dog, drinking whisky in complete silence, and schadenfreude. There are probably some other things, but they aren’t important right now. What is important is the latest addition to this very short list, because it also happens to be the subject of this review: Driftmoon.
What sorcery is contained within the game to make it elicit the unnatural contortion of my mouth, you ask? Well, it’s a delightful blend of RPG and adventure game, full of wit and charm, it allows you to travel with a haughty royal panther, features drunk crabs and it spins a great many wonderful yarns. All in all, it is very much my cup of tea. A very nice earl grey, if you will.
Driftmoon begins with the protagonist being pushed down a well by his mother. Rather than being a distressing case of abuse, she’s doing it out of love. The hero’s quaint village immediately gets attacked by lizard men, the inhabitants get turned to stone and his father gets kidnapped — dragged to the evil undead King Ixal, who is dead set on petrifying the world. Horrible chap.
Brigands and foes scattered the mountainside, armed with bows, swords, lances and axes. My ragtag team of warriors had faced numerous battles before, effortlessly dispatching all who fought against Ylisse. As their faithful tactician, their lives were in my hands. I hadn’t lost a single soul yet. To them, I was a peerless strategist, able to conjure victory even in the most dire of consequences!
Little did they know, I’ve gone back in time to fix my mistakes — a lot.
The world of Fire Emblem: Awakening is an unforgiving one, with death constantly stalking your units. It’s also one very much worth exploring, filled with wonderful characters you can’t help but grow attached to. As such, it’s all the more painful when you screw up, delivering a faithful ally into the arms of the Grim Reaper.
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.