In this day and age a guy has to do what he can to get by. That means you have to take a lot of jobs to make ends meet, even legal ones. A Firefly class boat needs parts and supplies to keep it in the air, after all. In this week’s Brakketology, if you haven’t guessed, I got a chance to play Firefly: The Game. Along with some first impressions of that, there’s a promising first look at Banner Saga (via RPS) that demands you pay attention, more Enemy Within bits, Project Eternity continues its climb up my list of most anticipated games, Amazon does something that almost made my life better, a real Ultima lands on iOS, and Xbox One gets a release date…
Brandon is back, Bill shows heart and courage by recording on just three hours sleep, and I’m in because I just didn’t have anything else to do. That’s right, it’s a full boat on this week’s JTS! For episode #189, Brandon walks the dungeons of Diablo III only he’s doing it with a gamepad in his hand. It’s a mad, mad world. He also picks up the phone and dials Hotline Miami. He promptly kills everyone and hangs up. Bill and I take a journey into Meh with the new Vic Davis game, Occult Chronicles. And there is much talk of Breaking Bad.
EDIT: I forgot to add! You guys, I have played Firefly: The Game and it is has taken my love and my land, and taken me where I cannot stand. I don’t care, though, because it is frigg’n awesome!
A few interesting releases this week before the GTA V juggernaut comes crashing on gaming’s shores, invalidating any need for a shiny, new console. First up is Puppeteer on the PS3. I’m looking forward to playing this one, if only for the visual style. Platformers aren’t my thing, but if something looks interesting enough, I’ll try it. Also coming out on Sony hardware this week is Killzone Mercenary. I have a theory that the Killzone games are not meant to be the action heavy shooters they are, but a grand farce centering on the most incompetent military squad in the galaxy. I don’t see Mercenary topping the genocidal incompetence of Killzone 3, but I’m all in regardless. Rounding out the console releases are Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix for the PS3 and NHL ’14 (360, PS3).
On the PC side, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs releases this week. Our own Matt Thrower reviewed it, so by all means, read his scintillating words. For eighty bucks you can get every Elder Scrolls game ever made in the The Elder Scrolls Anthology. If military sandboxes are your thing, ARMA 3 has got you covered. Cyanide drops Aarklash Legacy, and Robot Loves Kitty releases Legend of Dungeon. Looks like that last one is already out, so have at it.
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.
AEG has certainly come a long way from Tomb, a game I mercilessly panned back in 2008 which remains one of my barometers for modern game design gone…well, just bad. They’ve positioned themselves well with a couple of strong product lines and brand names beyond their tentpole Legend of the Five the Rings, and I’m always curious to see what they’re doing next. Last week, I reviewed (and mostly liked) their US release of the Japanese deckbuilder Trains but I’ve also been sitting on a small pile of recent card game releases from the company and I figure it’s about time to round ‘em up in a Review Rodeo.
Labor Day has come and gone and the last time I penned anything we lived in a world where I could go 48 hours without hearing anything about Miley Cyrus. I didn’t even know what twerking was. Yes, it was a happier, simpler time. But fall is coming and I’m here with renewed vigor to, like, write things and stuff. (Said vigor may least three weeks or three years, get your bets in now!)
After the break, lots of stuff from the past week summarized for your edification…
Brandon is spending the week visiting with Tom over at the Quarter to Three gaming podcast (go check it out!), but Bill and I are still here to bring you your weekly dose of JtS goodness. This week we clasp hands together and bravely venture into a spooky old house in Gone Home. Is this really the unexpectedly brilliant adventure game hit of the summer or is it being overrated based solely for being a novel premise? Only your crazy uncle the pharmacist knows for sure and he’s not talking. So join us for two in-depth discussion of the game; up first the spoiler free iteration and then we light the Spoiler Lamp and talk about every shady nook and cranny. After that we’re on to the new Robinson Crusoe board game and why Bill thinks it’s really rather brilliant if he does say so himself.
Spoiler Lamp Warning: Gone Home 15:00 – 32:10
It’s a short work week here in the states, something I used to my advantage to sit on my butt and play Saints Row IV and Diablo III. Not a bad way to spend Labor Day.
Speaking of Diablo III (PS3, 360), it’s out on consoles this week. Tom and I are playing it over at Quarter To Three so take a gander to find out what happens when a grizzled PC veteran and a plucky, young console upstart fight the demons of Hell together. If demons aren’t your thing, Total War: Rome 2 brings all of the fun that only men in skirts and sandals can bring. If platforming is your thing, Rayman Legends (Wii U, Vita, PS3, 360) drops today. I liked Origins enough, but the platforming got too complicated for me so I ended up not finishing it, as is my way with all platformers. If being scared is your thing, Outlast may have you covered. I say may because horror is like comedy. What scares one person does nothing for another. Finally, A Tale of Two Brothers hits PC and PS3, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate hits PS3 and 360 and Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse hits PC, PS3 and 360.
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.