What is the act of play? When presented with a game, is play the participation of the so-called “player” within structures created for them, acting within the choreographed dance laid out before them? Is play the moments in between, where improvisation takes hold, and the unexpected occurs? Is play the times in which you stop clinging to control, to perceived notions of input and action, to simply be within whatever world it is you’ve chosen to delve?
Browsing category: Reviews
Among the retro-throwbacks of the current indie renaissance, first-person shooters harkening to the golden era of id and Build engine titles are up there as one of the most commonly occurring iterations on a genre. They tend to be an easy format to recreate: hand the player an armory of guns then turn them loose on a labyrinth of gnarled hallways and rooms stuffed to the brim with enemies lying in wait. Varied enemy types are mix-and-matched in myriad hordes thrown at the protagonist, the interplay between their varying tactics forcing you to stay on your toes as you adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.
You have fun twists on the genre with games like STRAFE and Tower of Guns throwing rogue-lite procgen into the mix, or simply hardcore returns to form with something akin to DUSK. There’s bullet-hell injected MOTHERGUNSHIP, as well as arcade styled Devil Daggers. Of course, along with the overwhelming amount of solid titles fleshing out the FPS space, one can explore more experimental takes on ripping and tearing with things such as DRL, which reimagines DOOM as a pure rogue-like experience. Further down that path, there’s modding tool ZKVN which turns the engine into a host for visual novels.
Staring down the gargantuan beast, you only have one sliver of health left. You’ve gone through several phases now, but you aren’t sure how much longer it’s going to keep clinging to life. You bait the first attack, then the second; you roll in and go for the kill. Two swipes, and it starts winding up its next attack. Barely dodging out of the way, you land the final blow, and the monster falls. A victory chime sweeps over the scene, and you pump your fists into the air. It only took 16 tries, but you’ve finally overcome it.
This is the sense of accomplishment offered to you by FAR BLADE, a title currently in early access from solo dev @BcubedLabs. Presented as a boss rush, the game is controlled from an isometric perspective, allowing the player to sweep the camera 360º around the character, roll, block, and swing their blade. A small hub area gives grounding to the world, taunting you with several tantalizing routes to take, each one leading to a new monster for you to surmount. There seems to be a bit more to the exploration of the world than most boss rushes, allowing the player time to wander a somewhat expansive space between monsters.
Jogging towards the objective with your team, you instinctively break off to cover the flank when, suddenly, the artificial sun goes down and rain starts to pour. High-voltage flashbulbs go off simulating lightning, their flashes providing sporadic glimpses of the battlefield as your adrenaline spikes.
Illumination from your helmet display starts to get in the way of your night vision in the near-total darkness; you decide to lift up your water-streaked visor for a better view. You’re taking up position near the objective, knee deep in a patch of swamp water infested with stinging nettles. Only the sound of droplets hitting carbon fiber is audible while you scan the dim horizon.
Soon after you hear distant gunfire, your team begins to engage the enemy, kicking off a dangerous game of search-and-destroy in the shadows.
You open your eyes and the first thing that fades into view is a small white fox. Before you can react to this fluffy sight it spots you, fleeing in fear. You now find yourself alone in a pale landscape dotted with abandoned structures with no sense of direction or memory of how you got here, so you turn to the oldest navigation aid known to man, The Sun. When you look up for it, an alarming realization sets in as you finally notice the impossible… the life-giving Sun slowly orbiting a small pillar right next to you, smaller than ever.
You look down to where the fox was and find a note with an introduction and your first clue. It seems you and the elusive critter share a goal: Finding a way to escape.
(CONTENT WARNING: Graphic depictions of suicide, discussion of suicide, strong themes of self-loathing and depression.)
Down was a hard game to play despite its easy, enticing presentation. There’s no jump scares, no monsters to fight or even any puzzles to contend with. But there is a visceral reflection on one’s baggage and traumatic history, something that Warden admits is inspired by her own struggles with anxiety.
There are themes and locales that will likely read similar to environments in Silent Hill 2, namely the narrow graveyard with foggy autumn weather. Warden successfully executes on the oppressively isolating macabre atmosphere which serves as a backdrop for the narrative’s exploration of self-harm.
A Knight’s Fee by Anders G. Jensen is one of the more compelling entries I’ve seen emerge from the Global Game Jam. What’s fascinating is that a talented character artist has chosen to make not one, but two games where they intentionally obfuscate the vision of the character as both a mechanic and a service to the atmosphere.
Compared to Blind Samurai, A Knight’s Fee is arguably the more playable of these two titles. Blind Samurai helps to establish the initial concept of having to rely on audio cues in the face of reduced stimuli which cause the game to feel quite spartan. This approach, however, pays off in how A Knight’s Fee manages to immediately establish a thick visual ambiance with adrenaline bleeding into the scenery in every direction.
Bird Of Passage arrives from the same metaphysical pedigree as Glitchhikers or Kentucky Route Zero both in aesthetics and execution. All three games follow a minimalist approach with dialogue driven by the momentum of inference, built around the whimsical framework of Magical Realism. Sidewalks covered by slick sheen, a lonely street light, blurry out of focus reflections that accentuate pastel taxis coming together to illustrate a long journey into an endless night wandering the Tokyo suburbs. Space Backyard has given a superb performance in capturing the plight of a listless wanderer.
The grim facade of a warehouse built from rotting wood acts acting as a shroud for a horrifying secret; walls bleeding from years of cigarette smoke, and the bump in the night you wish wasn’t real. FILTHBREED immediately pulled my focus into this dark world, reminding me of my years spent playing the Condemned franchise.
The most enjoyable facet of the game is how it never gets in the way of the horror. Its straightforward delivery of gameplay has you into the meat of it within minutes, allowing you to stay focused on your sleuthing, sifting rotten paper notes reminiscent of flesh for clues to what nightmares unfolded here. You’re forced to put your weapon down to interact with objects, a clever, simple mechanism that helps foster a sense of vulnerability and unease.
One more job shouldn’t have mattered. I’d killed nobles before. You could float a whaling ship on the high-born blood I’ve spilled. Another nobles steps in to replace the last one. All equally corrupt. Why should an Empress be different?
But she was.
I watched her bodyguard’s face as they took him away. Dead eyes. I knew I’d pay for this one, and maybe I deserved to. A storm was coming that would shake apart everything I’d built.
– Daud, Knife Of Dunwall’s opening narration
At the time of Dishonored’s release there was a consensus among many who’d finished it that the story was missing something, and Corvo’s nature as a silent protagonist certainly didn’t help to reduce this impression.
It wasn’t until I had spent time with the well-received Knife Of Dunwall DLC that the game felt anywhere near close to the vision promised by the original release of Dishonored. I didn’t exactly think that DLC would change much beyond adding a few extra hours to the game, padding out the world a little, and tweaking some mechanics, but I was very wrong.