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Get British!

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As the token Brit on NHS, it’s obviously my remit to drink copious quantities of tea, discuss the vagaries of the weather and get typecast in Hollywood movies as the villain. However I also take it upon myself to bring you occasional snippets of news from the UK games industry.

Here’s the latest: a kickstarter for a new British game, made in Britain starring British people and full of typical self-deprecating British humour. It’s a point and click adventure entitled Her Majesty’s SPIFFING and you can back it at the usual place. Take a look, have a think about it. We’ve fallen a long way since the 8-bit glory days, and frankly, we could do with the business.

Knock-Knock Review

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Knock-Knock is the latest game from Russian developer Ice Pick Lodge. That may mean nothing to you: it meant nothing to me when I first downloaded the game. Some of their previous titles did chime a little as names I’d heard now and again – Pathologic or The Void. However I soon came to understand that for those more familiar with this studio and its titles, the name presages a unique combination of inventive gameplay and jarring oddness.

Almost everything you need to know about Knock-Knock can be gleaned from one brief anecdote. About halfway through the game I spent one level wandering aimlessly around a darkened house, turning on lights and began to grow pretty bored. Then I opened a door, walked through and found myself in a dank corridor which I had to wander up and down through a series of more doors before discovering I was back at the start of the tedious level again. Infuriated, I wanted to stop. But I kept on playing.

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Dear Esther: Down in the Deep

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Last week I found myself in a twitter conversation about Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs which lead on to the previous game from its developers, Dear Esther. I offered two statements about Dear Esther, first that it was full of faux-intellectualism and second that it wasn’t particularly “deep”, both of which my conversant challenged. I couldn’t really answer properly in 140 character bites, but I think there are some interesting enough questions around this to merit wider discussion.

First, let’s talk about Dear Esther. If you haven’t played it, it’s a first-person experience in which you wander around a small island, triggering a selection of different voice snippets that hang together into a maddeningly incomplete narrative. There’s no enemies, no puzzles and you’re largely on rails, although there are occasional opportunities for exploration. So that narrative, which draws from a very large selection of passages and is different on each play through, makes up much the game’s value.

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Card Hunter First Impressions

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I don’t like grinding. Okay, so when it’s combined with epic detail and rich narrative, like in Skyrim, or with ball-breaking skill, like in Dark Souls, it can add a fantastically fun and addictive element to a game. What I hate are games based around grinding for it’s own sake, the endless repetition of kill monster, upgrade gear, kill tougher monster in the service of nothing more than pressing psychological buttons. The Diablo series is probably the worst offender, but so are endless cheap and free-to-play role playing games.

Card Hunter falls into that category. A free-to-play browser based flash game, with inevitable in-app purchases, it challenges you to assemble a team of three characters from the classic warrior, wizard, cleric archetype and send them into various brief encounters with enemies in search of loot. So I should hate it. I want to hate it. But I can’t. In fact it’s one of the most horribly addictive games I’ve played in ages.

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Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Review

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The first Amnesia title, The Dark Descent, was acclaimed by many as the scariest game ever made, an assessment with which I concur. Its success was down to getting simple things right: atmosphere, cunning set-pieces and depriving the player of the ability to fight back, making every monster encounter a wellspring of terror.

That immediately creates two problems for this sequel. First, the bar is already set incredibly high: to outdo the most horrifying game ever created. Second, to make it interesting and new without adding too much and spoiling the stripped down formula responsible for the original’s success.

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Occult Chronicles Review

Occult Chronicles Review

Cryptic Comet’s latest turn based video/boardgame hybrid, Occult Chronicles, is a game I should love. Basically it’s a mash up of Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, and “Roguelikes”.

But I can’t stand it.

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Gone Home Review

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You arrive at the doorstep of a mansion. Your parents recently moved there with your kid sister but you are seeing it for the first time because you have just arrived from your backpack trip across Europe. It’s dark, stormy, and the place looks like it’s been ripped out of a King novel (one of the good ones). No one is home. The lights flicker. The TV is on but it’s just white noise. You enter the house looking for signs of your family.

It’s difficult to talk about Gone Home without venturing into spoiler territory. The game, if you insist on calling it that, is all about the story. There are no controls to speak of, no inventory to rifle through, no health meters, no reflexes are required, your amazing hand eye coordination is meaningless, and there is nary a weapon in sight.

Ah, so it’s an adventure game!

No, it isn’t.

There is no “adventure” here, either; at least not in the typical way we tend to view adventure games. There are no “puzzles” to solve, no riddles to think your way through and no dialogue options from which to choose. If you thought a game like The Waking Dead was devoid of actual game mechanics then Gone Home will feel like a school project.

But that’s part of what makes the “game” work. In Gone Home you are merely along for the ride; a passenger on a ghost train that only reveals itself as you muddle your way through a seemingly abandoned mansion one room at a time.

Is that enough? Is sitting down in front of your PC for two hours (literally) and piecing together an interesting story worth your $20? We like to debate the merits of “value” of a game when discussing its critique and while I still strongly believe that price has no place in the evaluation process of a game, (then again neither do stars, ratings, or any other ridiculous measuring stick) but in this specific case you need to at least know what you are getting into.

Gone Home is short – two hours short, but that’s somewhat irrelevant. More than that, the writers know you are playing a videogame where you are wandering alone inside in a spooky abandoned mansion that looks like it should be a terrifying place to wander around alone – it plays on that emotion at every possible turn. And this is where it’s difficult to really talk about Gone Home without giving anything away, and I do think you should play the game, which is really all a “used to be game critic” can offer, right? I’m glad I played it, but I’m not nearly as happy that I spent $20 to do so.

That said, the writers and designers of this game deserve great praise for their ability to tell an engaging story via spoken dialogue (journal entries), sound effects and music, Post-It notes, and by strategically placing mundane objects around the house that help you slowly piece together what happened to the family that lives there. It’s an amazing achievement that the writers can tell such an emotional story via post cards, letters, and travel brochures. As far as pure storytelling is concerned Gone Home is equal to and in most cases is far superior to anything you see in today’s so-called blockbuster videogames. Of course since the game is all about the narrative – it better be damn good or it simply won’t work.

But I can’t help but feel a little manipulated by Gone Home. Not because of its length or its lack of any real gameplay, but because it knows…the game knows I play videogames and it knows it IS a videogame and it takes that fact that uses it against me; when you strip that away you are left with a sad, emotional and ultimately wonderfully told story trapped inside a mediocre game.

The Shadowrun Brain Dump

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Based on the campaign length I’ve seen bandied about in reviews, I’m assuming I’m about halfway through Shadowrun Returns. It’s too short for a finished review and too long for an initial impressions post so instead I’m just going to dump all of this info here and let you sort through it. I’m sure there’s a Shadowrun term for it to make it sound all cool and cyber-brainy but I’m just going to stick with brain dump. Come to think of it, Shadowrun would probably call it that too.

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The Occult Chronicles Preview

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Haunted house type horror board games like Mansions of Madness and Betrayal at House on the Hill tend to suffer from one overriding problem which is that they’re pulled in all sorts of different directions by their requirements. How do you create a game that’s full of both mystery and well-informed decisions? How do you give it variety and replayability with limited tile stock and table space? How do you make it competitive and exciting without giving one player too much power?

The answer, obviously, is to make it into a computer game instead, and have the CPU handle all the fiddly bits for you. Enter upcoming game The Occult Chronicles, currently available to purchase as a playable beta-test. But in a twist worthy of the dark and disgusting gods that inspired the game, developer Cryptic Comet (also responsible for indie strategy titles Armageddon Empires and Solis Infernum) has seen fit to breed in elements of a Rogue-like as well.

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Why Metro Last Light Disappoints

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First off, hey, remember me? I used to write here a lot! Good to see you too.

So…first BioShock Infinite and now this.

Metro 2033 was one of the smartest, original and most challenging shooters to appear on the scene in quite some time when THQ and 4A Games released it back in 2010. Flawed? Yeah, but its uncompromising design made for one of the best gaming experiences of the year.

Now, with Metro Last Light we get a drop dead gorgeous sequel set in the same bleak, worn out world but this time it seems…different. Milder. Safer. “Streamlined” and Corporate.

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