Tag Archives: Playstation

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!

Lightning Strikes Thrice; Returning to Happier Times.

So, I’ve already spoken about my heartwarming experience at my recent trip to see Lightning Returns at the Troxy Theatre (courtesy of IGN) in my main blog feed, but how was the actual game? I’m glad you asked…

I sat down for my first demo, on a Xbox 360, in what I presume is a very early portion of the game. After completing a simple tutorial, I’m struck by one thing – there is a LOT happening on screen. I play a tonne of videogames, and I’m certainly no stranger to complex RPGs, but I really struggled to keep up here. It’s not that there was a huge amount actually going on, but I had to keep up with two health bars, the new equivalent of a ‘stagger’ bar, a special meter, and THREE seperate energy gauges. On top of that, these energy gauges are essential, deplete with every attack, and constantly recharge.

That complaint aside, it was actually quite an exciting, action-orientated system – its what Final Fantasy XIII wanted to be. It’s still tactical and strategic, but hack-and-slashy enough to attract ‘casual fans’.

I ran through this fairly simple section, defeated a small boss, and ended the demo. Good enough. The real meat of gameplay, however, came in the second demo.

Now on a Playstation 3, I was really let out in an open, non-linear expanse of the world, reminiscent of XIII’s Gran Pulse. I decided to tackle the main story missions, whilst my friend explored any available side quests. Haters of XIII’s ’20 hours of corridoors’ will be pleased to know there is a lot more choice and variety in this respect.

There were fetch quests in which we had to collect flowers from the area, ask people in the small towns for information, gather medicine for an injured Chocobo and more; all in conjuction with the main story missions. This freedom is sure to go down a treat with more traditional RPG players. And the mini-boss in these story missions was devilishly hard, far more so than most run of the mill bosses I remember facing in the last few ‘FFs’.

The art style and graphics on the other hand are exactly what players of XIII and XIII-2 would expect, complete with some overly quirky characters that dont necessarily translate well to Western audiences. The music, of course, is of the same high standard of all FF titles.

Overall I was left feeling optimistic after my time with the game, but I didn’t expect much else, being a seemingly rare fan of the previous two ‘XIII’s’. But even if you wern’t a fan of the last few entries into the classic Square Enix series, there’s plenty different in Lightning Returns to change your mind, and return fans to happier times.

How my passion and my Vita found new life

Two weeks ago I had the honour of attending an invite-only event in London’s Troxy Theatre, previewing the upcoming videogame ‘Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII’. It was an immaculately constructed event, as is the norm when at a gathering arranged by internet giant IGN. If you want my opinion on the game, here’s the place to go –http://www.ign.com/blogs/k-swizzle. Because as great as the event was, something happened totally unrelated to the game on show that really stuck with me, and reaffirmed to me why I love being part of the videogame community.

I arrived at the theatre just before 7pm, my old friend and plus-one Alex with me, and was warmly greeted by the outrageously good looking staff. We were shepherded to our seats, and as we were a little late (thanks London Underground), slipped into seats at the back. We enjoyed the presentation, soaked up the following Q&A, applauded to show our appreciation, and excitedly moved to the demonstration area. After a few minutes of playing through a tutorial, something struck me – where the Hell was my Playstation Vita?! For those who don’t know, that’s basically a £200 portable gaming console, otherwise known as a geek’s wet dream.

Ofcourse, during the presentation, it had somehow slipped out of my pocket. I shot up from my beanbag seat, ran through the demo area back into the theatre, and felt my heart sink as I saw the empty space in and around the chair I was in minutes before. Of course it was taken, I was in a building with 200 gamers, and left the newest handheld console ripe for the taking. With three of the previous Final Fantasy games already installed on it! Someone hit the jackpot.

With absolutely no hope it would help, I asked the security and staff around the building if they saw or had been handed anything. Nothing. Dejected, I sat back down, my beanbag suddenly feeling a lot less comfortable. This is London after all, it wouldn’t have surprised me if I was mugged for the Vita on my way to the theatre, so I had no lingering hope it would miraculously reappear. But this is where I hugely underestimated my gaming peers.

5 minutes later, mindlessly clicking through the same demo I was so excited about just a quarter-hour previously, I felt a tap on my shoulder. One of the stewards I had asked for help was stood behind me: “It was you who had lost the Playstation, right?”

Delighted. The rest of the story is trivial, I was taken to the bar, handed the Vita, checked it was mine, thanked everyone and sat back down, but once again invigorated and ready to play.

I didn’t know who handed that Vita in, and I would never find out, but I did find out something I had forgotten in recent times. Not all ‘hardcore’ gamers are internet trolls who spew vitriol at you for supporting the ‘wrong’ console. Some, most even, are people just like me, who want to find escapism in these rich virtual words and socialise in the real communities that form around them. And most importantly, we wouldn’t do a thing to take any of that away from a fellow gamer.