Without wanting to get into the “not a game” debate I’m not sure how else you could describe Flower. It is just a beautiful experience that was only really let down by the motion controls occasionally contorting my body into an unusual position. Nice to play a game for a few hours, get plenty from it and know I could (but won’t) go back to find more secrets or just to be carried along by the wind.
I decided I didn’t have time to get stuck into another game this month even though I really want to play the re-release of Twilight Princess and The Witness. I did think I had time to play through a few demos. First up were the two (latest?) Lego games The Force Awakens and Avengers. Both were fun but even I’m now starting to feel like I’ve had enough of these now. The Force Awakens felt far too clutter and in the shooting and flying sections I often couldn’t tell what was going on. I think I enjoyed The Avengers more even though a bug at the end prevented me from finishing the demo but I’d seen enough.
Much more enjoyable was Unravel, when I first saw this it looked so beautiful and I was intrigued by the mechanics of controlling a character made from yarn. Indeed the game is one of the best looking I’ve seen (perhaps Uncharted 4 is as good) and there is a lovely atmosphere to the game. I enjoyed all the mechanics in the game and, as a demo should, it left me wanting more. I was tempted to purchase the full game and carry on but trying to be more strict about playing what I’ve already bought first. It’s a shame to glance at reviews and see them suggest that it becomes repetitive or the mechanics start to be inconsistent or not make sense but I’m ready for more before I lose interest.
I think it’s fair to say I hated Arkham Knight but with a huge caveat of I also really enjoyed it. This was the first game of this generation in which I had any interest but so-so reviews weren’t enough to make me purchase hardware. When Arkham Knight picked up the Best Game Bafta it felt like a good time to give it a go. By the time my end credits rolled I thought it was embarrassing that this game had won the BAFTA. I didn’t take to the game at all and certainly not as much as any of the other games in the series including Origins. The controls have been mangled so so actions learned over three other games now open pointless menus and makes it so much harder to do simple things like switching gadgets so they just don’t get used. Another button quickly calls the Batmobile which is also something you’ll hardly ever want to do because that is another huge problem with the game. Perhaps it’s because I don’t like driving games but everything about it feels wrong and doesn’t feel like Batman. Any Batmobile section brings the game to a grinding halt and destroys any momentum and forgiveness of other flaws that may have developed.
The story is another big problem. I didn’t like it, it’s uninteresting and didn’t make much sense and was full of pointless and obvious twists. It always felt like it was the story that was getting in the way of the game an idea that was only solidified after probably spending as much time in the game after completing the story. Because when it boils down to what the game actually is, it is still great fun. It’s great to be Batman, everything about the other games is still great here. It just gets interrupted by a car chase, race or shoot out. I did keep coming back for more, it’s unlikely I’ll get to 100% but it felt like it was worth working towards it and again apart from the Batmobile sections (apart from the Riddler trophies the only other part I’ve yet to complete are the mines) they are more fun than the story. It made me realise that nearly every open world game has it the wrong way around and it’s all the smaller side quests that should be the focus. A story could come along and interrupt things and that would make much more sense. The Riddler’s presence is much more prominent than any of the other villains in the game and that should have been the focus. As you’re trying to sort him out other “plot” could happen around you. I thought the same thing about other games such as Tomb Raider where exploring and collecting trinkets was more enjoyable than the story. It’s something I hope the new Zelda game will get right.
So a love/hate relationship. The mechanics (once you get over the dodgy controls and stop opening menus) are hugely enjoyable and the reason why I kept coming back. Definitely more fun once the story was out of the way and the Batmobile was never required.
Firewatch has one of the best openings of any game, it reminded me a lot of the start of Up! and it is just as emotional. Once the game started properly I had some issues getting familiar with the controls, this isn’t unusual for me but something here wasn’t quite right. It’s never a huge issue but more than once I missed a piece of conversation or selected the wrong option by pressing the wrong button. The control issues did stop me loving the game the way I thought and hoped I would from the start though. I did end up enjoying the experience though. It’s a shame there isn’t more to do or at least more time to explore, at one point a day ended when I was in the middle of something else which was both jarring and annoying. I played through in three “movie length” sessions so it probably was around 6 hours. The story is well told and has a really satisfying conclusion but at places wish there was more depth. I’ve realised there is a problem in that I can’t really remember any of the detail (it’s a month later) but perhaps that just means I should find time to play through again.
I’d known about Valiant Hearts for a while but didn’t realise it came out back in 2014, I only caught up with it this year when it was heavily discounted in the sales. It’s a remarkable game, simplistic in it’s gameplay but full of depth when it comes to the portrayal of war. Perhaps it’s surprising that something that looks the way this does should feel so authentic but it captured something that so few other things have managed. There are several moments in the game when bombs are being dropped or your characters are under heavy fire and it isn’t clear what you should do; do you just run for it, hold back, step out of the way. It was these moments that really made me feel the hopelessness of war, it’s usually a terrible game mechanic to make progress through trial and error but here it just added poignancy.
The whole game is beautifully designed and looks fantastic. Rather than strive for photorealistic graphics I never understood why developers didn’t aim for interactive cartoons like this. The digging animation is the only weak part but I assume that was made intentionally shonky by design. If there are other problems then my hopelessness with names meant I struggled to completely follow the story (even though I played through it over a short period), it’s a shame because this could have been avoided if the diaries had pictures of the characters or there was some other place to see their names. The historical facts are an interesting addition but the use of actual photos doesn’t sit well with the rest of the stylised world but does add some authenticity to what you are seeing.
A beautiful, moving and educational experience that would also be suitable for people who don’t normally play games.
One of the reasons I eventually decided to get a PS4 was because it appeared to be the platform for more interesting ‘smaller’ games. To be honest I expected that Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture would be something I would admire rather than like which is how I felt about Dear Esther, but this turned out to be such a wonderful experience.
It was the beautiful screenshots of a deserted English village that initially drew me and they didn’t disapoint. Nearly everything looks so real that it’s slightly jarring when a road sign font or number plate isn’t quite right but I think I mean that as a compliment. Perhaps because it’s depicting a world I already know it felt so real to me. I didn’t realise the game had started because I was too busy looking at the view.
Calling this a game is where people start to have issues but I don’t really want to explore that; if it’s not a game then what is it? Part of me thinks it would have been nice to maybe have some sort of collectables but a bigger part of me thinks that it would be a distraction. Perhaps upon getting to the end of the story a new mode could have been unlocked with some more gamified elements. The trophies already to this to some extent but they are nearly impossible to discover by accident and even when you know about them the minutes required to wait is excessively long. This is the third game in a row after Life Is Strange and The Last Of Us where I wish there was a reward for sitting on a bench and taking everything in.
I ended up adoring this experience which more than once had a transcendent quality like nothing else (although looking up the definition perhaps that isn’t quite the right word). Perhaps it was obvious that this would appeal to me so much (I am the guy who thinks every game would be better if it didn’t have guns). I was too swept along with the experience to notice if there were problems with the story, I suspect the sci-fi elements could be a considered hokum but it didn’t bother me. I also still don’t know how much of the story I saw or understood but the fact that it made enough sense even though it was told in such a fragmented and out of order only makes me admire the writing even more.
There are issues, the biggest being how stuck I was in the first hour having somehow failed to understand the motion controlled tuning of the lights and then not knowing what to do. Smaller gaming issues like trying to open every locked door feel out of place especially earlier on when it looks like all ajar doors could be opened and all closed ones couldn’t – this is one thing that could ruin the experience for non-gamers. The biggest problem I had is one that seems far too common to all games and that’s a delimitation between chapters. The end of each chapter are the highlights of the game, these are the moments when the game looks and sounds the best and combine into those transcendental experiences but they also lead directly into the next chapter without an opportunity to save. Perhaps this is to encourage you to carry on but I need and want points where I know I can take a break and continue later without breaking the flow.
A final word about the music, this is perhaps the real emotional drive behind the entire experience, it will be interesting to see how it plays away from the game (I bought the soundtrack immediately after I finished playing) if nothing else I suspect it will just bring back memories.
I keep meaning to write about the games I play but never have the time or end up forgetting. I still don’t have the time but wanted to say something about The Last Of Us.
The most annoying thing about The Last Of Us is that it is one of the most accomplished games ever made and yet it’s so terrible in places. I still think there’s a huge issue around games and their logic which only makes sense to people who play games. TLOU is full of video games tropes and cliches and for a change it’s the strong characters and story that lift it up. However there are several places where the writing makes no sense, such as the end of the dam sequence – it eventually drives the story forward but neither Ellie or Joel act like I expect their characters to behave. Fortunately these setbacks are usually redeemed by something much better, such as the wonderful moment in the bus station after the illogic of the characters reacting to play time rather than the story time (we’ve just experienced the previous section but was it not days, weeks or months ago for the characters?). Throughout the game I felt these ups and downs and for me it ended on a downer. It wasn’t the actual ending which many other people seemed to have issues with, this mostly worked for me although if I had a choice I think I’d have taken the alternative (although oddly I went the other way in Life Is Strange which is essentially the same decision). My disappointment was the hospital level and I later realised it was a bigger issue with the entire portrayal of the Fireflies. I was never sure who the Fireflies were or what they stood for, were they good or bad or was that the whole point? In that hospital level TLOU became a different game and I whilst I enjoyed the mechanics and literal execution it felt like a betrayal of the story. It’s a larger problems with games in general, having a character led story constantly interrupted by a spot of mass murder with no emotional impact at all. It turns out I was fine slaughtering infected, crazy people and even the military but it didn’t feel right to casually kill people like us, people like Joel and Ellie. In the Winter section of the game it sounds like this may get addressed but that interesting concept is quickly squandered by making everybody crazy and setting up some more video game sequences.
After finishing the main game I played the DLC, Left Behind, and thought this got everything right (although one moment questionably felt like it might have been put there just to shock). It also climaxes with lots of killing but somehow this feels different, is it because they started the fighting and are presented as savages or is it just because Ellie is trying to help Joel and there’s no other option. It’s still a video game moment but it’s the emotional side of all the flashbacks that I remember more. In these flashbacks it’s more about the story telling although the game mechanics are still used in an effective way.
Where does that leave us? It’s still a great game, easily up there with the likes of Resident Evil 4 as my all time favourites but is it too much to ask that killing humans should always be the last resort and not the default option. I’m planning on playing Everyone’s Gone To The Rapture and Firewatch next, hopefully these will offer a more enlightened portrayal of humanity.