Tag Archives: deus ex

Are Videogames Art? (Part Four)

Part Four – Focused Vision

A defining characteristic of this console generation has been the rise of the smaller (often downloadable) games from diminutive teams. Larger companies are having to sell millions of copies to break even, and are taking less and less risks because of this. Games have simply become too big.

I’m not just talking about massive in-game worlds like in Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto; or lengthy quests such as a Final Fantasy. Some modern videogame teams, like Treyarch (Call of Duty) or Ubisoft Montreal (Assassin’s Creed), employ upwards of 300 people over periods of multiple years to create their technological vision. However, with huge teams comes different visions and approaches to game-making. This means creativity is often watered down in the process. So when a game like ‘Dear Esther’ comes along with a mood and idea so precise, so clearly and exactly what the developers intended, you know it must have come from an intimate and tightly-knit group. The type of group which many of the games profiled in this series, from Journey to The Unfinished Swan, have spawned from. The type of group which understands mood.

Dear Esther creates a wonderful sense of place

Interactivity in Dear Esther is limited. You play in first-person, and often all you have to do as the player is walk around, take in the sights, and soak up the atmosphere. Atmosphere is the key expression to describe Dear Esther’s charm. At times tense, moody, mysterious, but always engaging – the sense of place that the guys at thechineseroom have created is astonishing. I won’t get into too much about what happens in this short, experimental game for fear of spoiling its unique charms; but the important thing to take away is this – Dear Esther is an example of how an interactive experience (even with interactivity so limited) can create some of the greatest narratives available to us today. And all from a team that could comfortably fit in Treyarch’s bathroom.

A similar example is the beautifully simple ‘Slender’. It’s a straightforward horror game available for free download on the PC (or you can pay to pick up the newer ‘Slender: The Arrival’). All you have to do is collect pieces of paper from an almost pitch black environment, torch in hand to light the way, whilst avoiding the ever approaching Slenderman. Playing Slender for my first time was a horrifying experience. I was genuinely terrified at points. But the real fun came at a friend’s house.

This game scared the crap out of me

After a long night of Mario Party with my old pal Alex, his 13 year old brother and his cousin of the same age, Alex went off to bed. I was going to crash on his sofa, but as it was a weekend, Alex’s brother and cousin were still up around midnight playing Call of Duty, as 13 year olds do. I started to tell them about this great game called Slender, and shamelessly tried to scare the two youngsters by claiming the creaks and groans from the otherwise silent house were the Slenderman’s footsteps. They weren’t having it, and said no videogame could scare them. 10 minutes later, Slender was downloaded and installed on Alex’s PC. Another 20 minutes later, and one was hidden underneath a blanket whilst the other refused to play anymore. That really says more than I ever could.

Slender won’t keep you occupied for months and months, but it’s not meant to. It’s all about that first experience. The fear of the unknown. The tension as you find your second, third and fourth piece of paper and Slenderman tracks you more fiercely than ever. It’s Munch’s ‘The Scream’ come to life. It’s all in the atmosphere.

That’s not to say bigger companies can’t do atmosphere. One of my personal favourite games of the generation is ‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution’. In terms of gameplay, it’s an average third-person stealth shooter. But the characters, dialogue and most importantly the world this game creates is absolutely second to none.

The wonderful dystopia of Deus Ex

During my time with Deus Ex, I felt like I was playing the sci-fi classic Blade Runner. The characters have real flaws and real motivations. Their interactions are realistic. The near future setting, something so contrived in many of Deus Ex’s contemporaries, is fantastically believable. It feels like an organic evolution from our current surroundings, yet it’s just different and crazy enough to be absolutely compelling. Every time I got bored of skulking through another straight corridor, I hacked a computer to spy on the workplace gossip of ‘just what was in that secured container last Tuesday?’ Once the cookie-cutter cover shooting became tiresome, I just walked the city streets talking to police, pedestrians and even persuasive ladies of the night. I seriously wanted to live in this world, civil war warts-and-all.

One might say the creation of place was simply artful (sorry).

So there it is, the games that artfully construct place and mood better than even most films can manage. Part Five, the finale, coming soon!

The 5 Best Games You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

The average gamer’s videogame collection consists of a mixture of first-person shooters (a Halo, CoD or Battlefield), with an annualized sports title (FIFA or Madden), maybe a racer (Forza, GT or Need for Speed?) and a customary open world sandbox game (Assassin’s Creed or more likely the juggernaut GTA).

Sound familiar? It most probably does.

Those games, and many similar ones besides them, are great. They’re highly rated and sell in huge numbers for a reason.

Sometimes, though, we need something a little different to both cleanse our palette and expand our horizons. In the spirit of trying something new, here are my 5 games that are totally awesome, but you probably didn’t play.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Multiplatform)

The hook of Deus Ex is the choice it gives you. Making your way through a room full of guards and security cameras could go any number of ways. You can run in guns blazing, sniping off the first henchman from a high ledge and disposing of the rest with semi-automatic fire. But in being so crass, you’d be robbing yourself of some of the greatest stealth gameplay in years.

The augmented cop, Adam Jensen

As Adam Jensen, you can use your cybernetically enhanced body to hack computers and turn turrets or armed defence robots against your enemies. Or you could use cloaking and a hidden vent system to sneak through totally silently, your adversaries never even knowing you were there. Or try my personal favourite route, somewhere in the middle. Sneaking up on enemies, and depending on how pissed off you are, either temporarily knocking them out or outright murdering them (using awesome blades that extend from Jensen’s arms).

A great politically and morally charged story, memorable characters, and one of the best worlds in gaming (I spent SO much time just walking around the astonishing near-future worlds of Detroit and Singapore) add up to make a memorable experience. The shooting mechanics need an upgrade, and the boss fights are downright poor, but there’s more than enough here for anyone looking for a new Metal Gear Solid.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (Multiplatform)

There’s a reason Pac-Man Championship Edition has a Metacritic average of 93% on Xbox 360 and 91% on Playstation 3. It’s frigging awesome.

So shiny

Utterly, utterly addictive, its neon aesthetic and synth sounds look and sound like the original Pac-Man on acid. And it plays that way too. This download only title takes the basic gameplay of the arcade original and turns the old-school action up to 100. It’s exhilarating to see a chain of 50 ghosts (yes there’s more than 4 now) all lined up and ready to be consumed in one epic chain. You really have to play it to realise how fun it is. I’m not a high score-chaser, but this game had me eagerly scouring the leaderboards trying to find out how many places I had climbed on my last run.

It only costs a couple of quid, has multiple ‘maps’ and modes, and I practically promise you’ll become addicted. Waka-waka.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (Playstation 3/Playstation Vita)

I love fighting games, but I’m put off buying so many of them because of their ridiculously high learning curves and the thought of getting absolutely trashed online. This is where Playstation All-Stars comes in.

All-Stars is most like Nintendo’s Smash Brothers series, pitting multiple famous faces on 2D battlefields in anarchic but skilled fist-fights. It’s got the perfect ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ balance and comes into its own playing against friends sitting next to you on the couch.

“It’s got the perfect ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ balance and comes into its own playing against friends”

There’s nothing quite like pitting God of War’s Kratos, Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, a Helghast soldier from Killzone and Tekken’s Heihachi in an epic 4-way brawl to the death. Or seeing who really is the greatest Playstation duo; Jak and Daxter or Ratchet and Clank? With a fairly large marketing campaign behind it, but ultimately selling under a million units, this is underrated gem.

The Orange Box (Multiplatform)

I recently wrote about the Orange Box in my ’10 Best Console Games of the Last Generation’ post, so for the details of this brilliant collection check that out. Just know this is a collection of some of the best shooters since the start of the last gen.

Half-Life 2 and its two extra ‘episodes’ are the place to get your single-player story and character fix; Team Fortress 2 will please those looking for fast-paced multiplayer; and Portal is a puzzle-infused twist on the shooter genre that will satisfy your appetite for humour and scratch that itch on your brain.

Selling a combined 3m units, it was hardly a flop, but each game in the collection deserved to sell more copies than that by themselves. The PS3 version has technical issues, but it’s X360 and PC counterparts have 96% Metacritic ratings for good reason.

Valkyria Chronicles (Playstation 3)

Take one glance at the beautiful artwork of Valkyria Chronicles and you can probably tell whether or not it’s for you. If a strong anime style and a typically Japanese type of storytelling put you off, fine. But by skipping on this brilliant strategy RPG you’re denying yourself one of the greatest exclusive games of the past decade.

The Galian Reserve

The story is essentially an anime retelling of WW2, with you playing a recruit in the fictional ‘Gallian’ army. Befriending a group of misfits in your miss-match squad (a slight twist on the cliché ‘high school class’ dynamic), you face increasingly difficult strategic battles best described as Final Fantasy Tactics meets Gears of War (but of course far more the former than the latter).

Another highly rated (an 86% Metacritic average this time), but under-selling (just over a million units) game, you owe it to yourself to overlook the art direction and dig in to the meaty, challenging campaign. And if you like anime and all of its tropes, why haven’t you played this yet?!

So there it is, the 5 games you may not of heard of but sure should give a try. Obviously I’ve kept this list to the last gen, as most people will currently own those consoles/a compatible PC. What obscure gem would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!