Tag Archives: games

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!

Are Videogames Art? (Part Three)

Part Three – More than just a pretty face.

Videogames can be artistic in more ways than just pretty visuals. Whereas Saving Private Ryan may be a standout in the field of cinematography, the Godfather tells the greatest story of this generation (or so many would say). Similarly, if wonderful HD graphics aren’t your thing, the captivating and frankly insane yarn from ‘Catherine’ may be more to your liking.

Don’t get me wrong, Catherine has a wonderful anime art style. But it’s the utterly unique and medium-defining maturity of the games’ narrative that sticks with you.

A common scene, chatting at the bar

You play as Vincent, a 30-something bar-crawler with a dead end office job he hates. Basically, he’s us. We aren’t all in our 30’s and we don’t all hate our jobs (unbelievably), but we can all relate to his slightly slacker lifestyle and desire to just hang out with his friends in the pub on a Friday night. His one saving grace is his girlfriend, Katherine, whom he is too commitment-shy to marry. The monotony of his life changes, though when he has a drunken one-night-stand with the beautiful young Catherine. He adores her playful and carefree nature, perhaps wishing to go back to a time when he could live and act more like her.

I know right? I couldn’t believe it either. THIS IS A VIDEOGAME. Videogames never have anything mature or profound to say about relationships!

But that’s the thing. They do. You just have to know where to look. Stop ending your search for a new fix at the first-person shooter section. Stop laughing at the ‘geeky’ anime art styles of Japanese games. Pick up Catherine and enjoy the breadth of artful experiences videogames have to offer. Chat to your surprisingly judgemental friend over a cup of sake. Attempt to balance the needs of two very different women; or don’t, just pick your preferred lifestyle and the girl who best suits it.

The puzzle-play can frustrate

The greatest compliment I could give this game is that it made me turn around and look at my own life. In a time where I myself was unsure what I wanted from my relationship (you would NEVER guess what my girlfriends name was), and even life, Catherine spoke to me. It’s not often you can say a work of art from ANY medium does that, so for an obscure videogame from Japan to do it is profound. It’s a special achievement, and the sort of experience everyone should give a chance.

Just make sure you bring a guide.

The downfall of Catherine rears its head when you play it. If you like insanely difficult puzzle games, all the better. But sandwiched in between all the great story sections comes the actual ‘game’ portion on Catherine. Set in Vincent’s nightmares, you have to escape from his greatest commitment-driven fears. It is a clever way of manifesting Vincent’s thoughts at first, but over the course of the game gets way too hard, and simply gets in the way of Catherine’s best attribute, its wonderful story.

It’s a great example of a wonderful idea getting bogged down in an attempt to turn the tale into a ‘game’, and Catherine turns out worse for it.

This isn’t the only way in which a game’s greatest assets can become muddled. Some games are simply too huge. Luckily, this generation has ushered in a new era of smaller, denser, but equally as artful titles…

Part Four soon…

Are Videogames Art? (Part Two)

Part Two – The Modern Masterpieces.

Modern games offer such a breadth of experiences. Yes, many are bombastic shooters aimed squarely at the testosterone of teenage males, but think of these as the ‘summer blockbuster’ equivalent of the videogame world. There are also casual puzzlers, engrossing role-playing games and spectacular science fiction sandboxes. But sometimes, just sometimes, a ‘game’ comes along so original, so innovative and so breathtakingly beautiful that you simply cannot deny that it is a modern work of art.

Take ‘The Unfinished Swan’, for example. A Playstation 3 exclusive game, you play as a boy transferred by his imagination into the canvas of one of his late mothers incomplete paintings. You are thrown into a totally blank world, tasked with using thrown paint to reveal the world around you and try to come to terms with the space left in your life by the loss of your protector. Simply looking at this game you can see that it’s a moving, living painting.

Understated beauty

But screenshots can only tell you so much – you need to see it in action. You need to throw the paint yourself, see it splash and colour the world around you. See it create the world around you. You need to explore this world that has been manufactured for you, but unravel it at your own personal pace. Find as much or as little as you want. Colour just your path and move your story forward, or take your time to fully realize this realm and let its intricacies slowly sink in.

Its unlike anything else you can feel with any other form of expression, and that alone is worthy of calling it a piece of art.

The world slowly grows in complexity

Then there’s ‘Journey’, the third in a trilogy of non-sequential but spiritually connected games for the Playstation. Like Swan, it’s a short and very simple game that really has no noticeable difficulty barriers for the un-initiated (a rare thing in game design). You’re a nomad, thrust into a gorgeous desert setting with one unexplained aim – reach the summit of the mountain towering in front of you.

A Journey awaits, what’s up there?

It’s hard to say much about Journey without spoiling the ride. However, what I can tell you about is the serene, peaceful feeling you have whilst traversing its nearly barren world. You gently slide down the slopes of sand dunes, float on the currents of desert gusts and are driven forward by a human inquisitiveness to know – just what is on top of that gleaming mountain?

On top of the sense of solitary adventure, it’s utterly beautiful. The pictures could tell you more than I ever could. If Monet was alive and creating today, this would be his masterpiece.

And whilst on the topic of visually beautiful games, may I point you in the direction of ‘Okami’?

Unique, traditional Japanese style

In terms of visual spectacle, Okami mixes the best of both Swan and Journey. First and foremost Okami is an ‘action-adventure’ game, but truly it’s a Japanese watercolour come to life. But how much life is up to you. Environments start out glum and grey, and as you vanquish the fairy-tale evils of the game you can restore life to these once and future picturesque lands. There’s nothing quite like – after wondering for 20 minutes in a diminished, lifeless world – seeing a flourishing cherry blossom bloom by fields of green grass, azure lakes and joyful wildlife.

Play this game.

It’s absolutely breath-taking, and the images of its watercolour world will stay with you long after the credits and rolled. And what’s better, it has been re-released on the Playstation Store in HD, so there’s no better time to give it a go than now.

These games are all, of course, art in the visual sense. That is absolutely fine, but the beauty of videogames is that they can also be so much more than that…

So it’s clear to see how videogames can be art in the most obvious, visual sense. But it’s time to delve much deeper, so come back over the weekend for more!

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!

Flappy Bird is the Greatest Fucking Game Ever

That Flappy Fucking Bird. Bobbing along with that useless fucking look on his face. Barely able to do the one fucking thing birds have fucking evolved to do – fly. Fucking Flappy Bird.

Time of my life I'll never get back
Time of my life I’ll never get back

I really hate the flappy bird. But I can’t help but to try and help him get further and further each time. I don’t even know where he’s going, or why. I don’t care. I just want to beat my own records and everyone’s around me. I want the flappiest fucking bird in town.

It’s so simple, just tap at the right time. The difficulty is so perfectly tuned, though, that people simply can’t resist that ‘one more try’. It’s never unfair, we know the rules, yet when you get so close to a new high score and inelegantly headbut a pipe you lose it and have to stop yourself smashing your phone through a desk.

Yet I come back. Everyone comes back. Even if you fail again, its only taken 30 seconds of your time. So you’ll have another go. It’s brilliant. That flappy fucking bird.

The new game from cult mobile game creator Dong Nguyen is top of the Free Games chart on the App Store, and all over my social network feeds. Word of mouth seems to have spread this game like crazy, even putting Nguyen’s other games top of the free charts. If you can beat my current high score of 69, let me know in the comments!

The 10 Best Console Games of the Last Generation (Part Two)

With a damn fine console generation (almost) behind us, now’s a perfect time to look back at the very best the last few years had to offer. Last time out I looked at the best games to reach multiple pieces of hardware, so now it’s time to approach the best exclusives each machine has to offer. Let’s get to it!

Playstation 3

The Last of Us

The fact that The Last of Us has swept the majority of the industry’s game of the year awards for 2013 speaks volumes more about the game’s quality than I ever could. Naughty Dog, creators of Uncharted and Jak and Daxter previously, have hit gold again with this thoughtful and atmospheric action game.

Both beautiful and harrowing all at once, the post-apocalyptic world the player inhabits is so believable it’s hard to not get caught up in the drama. The developers are also brave enough to not give the player an army’s worth of artillery to work with, instead making ammunition barely scavengable and forcing players to think or even run during encounters.

The best motion and voice capture in the business, the best graphics on the system, the best music and sound (or often lack thereof). It all adds to the best presentation of a game this gen. Add a stellar story, smart gunplay and a surprisingly brilliant multiplayer mode, and you have one of the best overall games this gen. A sign of where games can go.

Uncharted 3

If The Last of Us is Playstation’s ‘The Godfather’ in terms of mature storytelling, then Uncharted is James Bond. It’s all about making the player feel like a badass; killing the bad guy, jumping away from the explosion, and getting the girl.

The same compliments I gave the Last of Us regarding performance capture and general presentation apply here, but with a blockbuster summer movie shine. Many people prefer Uncharted 2 over 3, but the last in the trilogy is just as good in my books, with a killer story twist or two and a more fully fleshed out multiplayer suite. Unrivaled.

Xbox 360

Halo: Reach

Purists will go for Halo 3, but Reach is the technical peak of a franchise that has had the most fun multiplayer shooting of the generation. Most Halo games are still running with huge online fanbases, and the online scene allows for casual noobs to have just as much fun as the veteran elite.

The single player is good, too. Maybe not quite as good as other Halos, or certainly not other games on this list, but it is especially fun playing co-op with a friend. Of particular note is the diverse array of weapons at your disposal, and how great vehicle play seamlessly merges into the traditional FPS set-up. The Spartans have defined Xbox gaming for a reason.

Gears of War

Second only to Halo in terms of popularity, but actually slightly more popular critically, is the third-person gore-fest Gears of War. Its sequels have improved on the multiplayer front, but the first Gears has the best and most exciting single player campaign of the series. Alone or in co-op its a bromance filled thrill ride; it’s obnoxious, it’s over-the-top and it revels in it’s own absurdity.

Wii

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Magical is the best way to describe Mario Galaxy, a game that takes you back to the wonder and unbound joy of gaming as a youngster. Galaxy 2 perfected the formula laid out in its predecessor, with some ‘world’s’ being simple enough for everyone to enjoy, but gaining all the hidden stars in every level takes real old-school skill.

It’s certainly the best looking game on the Wii, and the typical Mario style has held up well. The plumber’s adventure stands out this time, though, thanks to the awesome outer-space setting. Players can run 360 degrees around small ‘planets’, each with their own gravity, and it’s incredible to shoot yourself through space from one planetoid to the next in-game.

Like most Mario’s, great power-ups, fun enemy types and a general sense of creativity make this platformer just plain better than its contemporaries. It’s also one Wii game that doesn’t force you to needlessly waggle the Wiimote at the screen constantly. There’s an awful lot of trash on Nintendo’s super popular system, but Galaxy 2 is a star in the sky of cheap cash-ins.

So there we have it, the 10 games you owe it to yourself to play from the last generation! There’s an awful lot of shooters on the list, and I don’t even really consider myself a shooter fan! But the popularity of the genre and abundance of shooters released this generation obviously played a part in them becoming some of the best experiences available.

So what do you guys think of my choices? What would you change? Let me know in the comments below!

The 10 Best Console Games of the Last Generation (Part One)

The previous console generation was full of ups and downs, but here at the start of 2014, we can look back on three machines with healthy, quality catalogues of software.

So if you’ve just recently picked up one of the ‘old’ consoles, or whether your library simply consists of the dull old Call of Duty, FIFA and GTA trio, here you’ll find the 10 BEST games your money can buy.

For the sake of fairness and clarity I’ve chosen 5 multiplatform games, 2 each for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and even a Wii game. Yes, a Wii game is one of the best of the generation. Just trust me on this one. So without further a do, lets start with the best games you can buy on multiple platforms from the last 8 years:

Multiplatform

Bioshock

Undoubtedly my game of the generation, Bioshock is absolutely unmissable. A first-person shooter that actually has brains behind it, Bioshock intertwines story, character, place and gameplay like VERY few other games manage. It doesn’t rely on stopping the game and showing a cutscene to move the plot on like other, simpler games would. The story is told through the players actions – you yourself make meaningful choices in the games narrative, such as whether to kill ‘innocent’ children in order to become more powerful.

The shooting is tight, with varied and fun weapons and powers, and its downright scary to boot. And more than enough has already been said about Bioshock’s iconic world of Rapture. A masterpiece.

Portal 2

Portal 2 is hard. Like really hard. Both mentally challenging and an exercise for quick FPS reactions, Portal 2 can have you either scratching your head or screaming at the TV (in the best way possible).

Players are tasked with simply placing two portals, one you enter in to and another you exit out of, to get to the exit of a room. It seems simple at first, using most gamer’s innate knowledge of how to play a shooter to disguise the fact that it’s really a unique puzzle game; but the difficulty quickly ramps as momentum, moving targets and a number of new abilities begin to layer in. Sprinkle on a fine, genuinely laugh out loud story and some of the best voice acting ever, and you’ve got yourself one of the best games in years.

Dead Space

Dead Space is terrifying. I’ve yet to see any film that has scared me even half as much as this video game equivalent of Alien. It’s honestly hugely unsettling. If that doesn’t put you off, buy this game.

It’s tense, the weapons and space-suit powers are great fun, and it will definitely stay in your dreams (read: nightmares) for a long time after you’ve finished playing. Dead Space 2 is equally as great, but slightly tones down the horror and turns up the action, meaning the first Dead Space is the purer piece of work. Don’t be a scaredy-cat and play this game.

The Orange Box

The Orange Box is actually a collection of 3 games and two add-ons, making this the best value game on the list. The meat of the collection comes in the form of a game some people call the greatest of all time, Half-Life 2, and its two additional ‘episodes’ that continue the story. But I actually prefer the two quirkier pieces of the package.

Team Fortress 2 is a class-based online-only FPS, which may sound intimidating, but it’s fun all the way. The great selection of classes, welcoming online community and fun visual style make the game a blast even if you’re always getting your arse kicked.

And rounding out the Box is the original Portal – much shorter than its full-blown big brother of a sequel at about 4/5 hours – but perhaps even more of a memorable experience. It was truly unique for its time, and once you play it you’ll realise why so many immitators have copied its design and aesthetic since. Its fun, funny, challenging and has a great twist half way through that no-one saw coming. Wonderfully rounds out a fantastic collection.

Borderlands 2

Borderlands is another first-person shooter, but it’s vastly different to most on the market. Firstly, it’s meant to be played with friends (up to 4) and is a much better game with some mates round. It really differentiates itself, though, through its mix on FPS and RPG gameplay.

You’re never trapped into choosing a traditional ‘mission’. Rather, you talk to the hilarious and wacky characters on a huge open-world map to gain ‘quests’. You complete these quests at your leisure, all the while collecting delicious loot from your fallen enemies. Collecting these guns and gold is a dangerously addictive pursuit,  but the incredible arsenal you can obtain is more than worth it.

You also gain XP as you go to upgrade yourself in all sorts of ways – from gaining awesome new powers (like rocket turrets, flying robots and killer birds to aid you) to stat-boosts and new types of shields and grenades. It all comes together fantastically and the DLC available is some of the best in class, so try and pick up the ‘Game of the Year’ edition, as most of the extras are included. A brilliant art style, off-the-wall humour, and fun shooting make this a keeper.

So with the best multiplatform games sorted, come back soon for the best console exclusive games! In the mean time, what are your favourite games of the last gen? Let me know in the comments!