Zeno Clash 2: Much More ‘What’, Equal Parts ‘The Fuck’

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Zeno Clash 2 is a perfect example of what happens when an imaginative group of talented developers find a publisher and can make a game the way the always wanted.  Granted, it is fucking bizarre as pink dancing hamsters in tutus tearing apart two cows having a threesome with a Scottish midget, but there is just as much fun and blood involved as the above description.  This game is fun.  It is a ton of fucking fun heaped into a bizarre surrealist world and topped off with guns.  Not to mention, the storyline is interesting as fuck.

So Ghat makes his comeback in this sequel by doing the opposite of what he did in the first one.  Literally, the fucking opposite.  Where before he was trying to kill father-mother and break up the family in order to avenge FM’s baby-thieving, now he is trying to save FM from a much-deserved ass-kicking and reuniting the family.  I honestly think this guy just likes to fucking beat shit up and kill motherfuckers.  I mean, that is what he did as a Corwid, and he hasn’t changed anything but the fact that now he no longer wears a mask.  I would hypothesize that this shows that Ghat is willing to face who he is and give into his dark, true self, but that would almost be too fucking involved.  I think he just likes to fuck shit up.

City of Halstedom, pronounced Hal-stom.  See also churning homestead of wanton fucking insanity.

City of Halstedom, pronounced Hal-stom. See also churning homestead of wanton fucking insanity.

Halstedom has been taken over by the North Golem, Kax-Teh.  You know, the guy you brought to Halstedom to deal with Father-Mother?  The North Golem, the guy with the Rubick’s cube from ZC, has built a jail, the colonnade-adorned head building, to incarcerate criminals in the town.  Makes sense, guy’s a natural fucking philanthropist.  Except one thing.  These people have no idea what this concept of “law” is.  It is literal anarchy.  Whoever wants to rule can, if they can get enough support from other thugs and people in the area.  So he is literally forcing these foreign concepts of law and order onto a city of people that have trouble with the concepts associated with a can-opener.  They are children, and he is ruling them with an iron fist from his head-palace using concepts none of them can understand.  Very little about any of this makes much sense.

With FM behind bars, you would assume that everything should be alright in the world, but Ghat is a more motiveless malignancy than Iago, so he gets tired of starting bar-fights all the time.  Luckily, Rimat, a woman wearing a rice paddy hat from FM’s family, decides to start some shit.  See, after everyone found out about FM’s treachery and baby-stealing, the North Golem told them who their real parents are and where they could be found.  Many went to him, but a few did not.  Rimat was one of those who didn’t.  Her opinion was that you cannot change the past, so she cannot change the fact that she was raised by a giant, hooded man-bird.  And, honestly, she has a compelling point.  This is something that many adoptees have to come to terms with, but Rimat, given the chance to go back to them, prefers to stay with the familiar.  She chooses to stay with those that she grew up with.  Very interesting.  So together with Rimat, Ghat helps to break FM out of jail and seek out the various members of the family.

After they’ve found all their brothers and sisters, they then turn their goals against the golems.  As it turns out, the golems are just the servants of some infinitely wiser entities, and they were put in place to keep the Zenos from leaving their land of Zenozoic.  The term “zenos” is used to describe anyone from this place, too.  I would want to keep these guys out of my backyard too.  I mean fucking look at them!

Ugly is a polite term for these people

Ugly is a polite term for these people. I mean, the police force wear flour sacks on their heads leaving you to imagine the horrors beneath!

Above is one of my favorite features of this game.  Normally, the gameplay is something like a free-roaming RPG, but there will be these areas where you’ll be pitted against a ton of enemies.  Unlike other games such as Half-Life 2 or any FPS by Flying Wild Hog, these arenas are not resolved with a sword or by gutting people with a machine-gun.  These battles are most often resolved with combo attacks and flying double-fist strikes.  Massive battles like this are resolved like street thugs would back in the 1920’s:  Everyone has a nasty brawl and the victors are the ones who are right.  Sometimes you will have some assholes sitting back, picking people off with a rifle or a grenade launcher, but hit them hard enough and they will drop it.  Of course, if there are weapons like rifles and grenade launchers, why even get into pitch brawls like that?  Simple, the guns in this game are few and far between and there isn’t oodles of ammo laying around.  It’s actually somewhat realistic in this way.  Of course, why not grab a club?  Those are around too!  This game forces you to deal with someone via fisticuffs.  Weapons that you have to strike someone with, including guns without ammo, will break and shatter.  The most reliable way to deal with your issues is to beat them to a bloody pulp with your bare hands, as God intended.

The landscapes in this game are absolutely magnificent and always always always have elements that make you curious, intrigued and outright confused.  As you wander these landscapes, you might be wondering if you are on Mars.  Actually, the game gives you ample reason to believe that it might be Earth, but the game has numerous regions.  Each region can be explored and explored freely.  Some are more open than others, but each area has its own unique look and feel, and each area has its secrets and stashes.

The two-headed monkey riding on the back of a fire-spitting vulture made the muculosaurus in the desert seem low-key.

The two-headed monkey riding on the back of a fire-spitting vulture region made the muculosaurus in the desert seem low-key.

Two features adding to this are stashes and skill points.  Stashes are places where you can find items (food to heal, totems to fill the special attacks meter, weapons etc) which fulfill a variety of uses, mostly combat-oriented.  These stashes look like giant, horned clamshells and function much the same way as chests.  The art director for this game should be drug-tested hourly.

The other feature are the skill point totems.  These appear as skulls hanging from a crude stand and can be found nearly everywhere.  A couple time I revisited regions only to find a new skill totem that wasn’t accessible without equipment I found elsewhere.  These totems are well-hidden too, almost as if they hired someone from Flying Wild Hog to put in the secrets.  When you interact with these totems, half the present skulls disappear and you get points equal to the number of skulls obtained.  Once you have the points, you can go ahead and start pouring them into the various skills: health, stamina, strength, leadership. Health is health, stamina dictates how many punches you can throw before getting weak, strength is how hard you hit.  Leadership is the most interesting skill, though.  Throughout the game, you will switch out between various characters that will help Ghat and Rimat on their journey.  The higher your leadership, the more powerful the allies that you can recruit to your quest with you.  These guys are useful, too, especially when you find yourself suddenly confronted with a massive mosaic of faces as seen above.  You will be fighting ALL those fuckers, often in close-quarters.  With little space to run and twenty mother-fuckers trying to kick your ass, you will need some friends to mix up the melee.  I poured nearly all of my points into leadership.

The skills are accessible from the map screen, where you can also find some collections.  There are a variety of things to collect, all of which are random and make little sense.  They are a ton of fun, and when you play, you’ll likely see how they add their own pieces of flavor to this game.

Make a left at the canyon filled with testicle-chinned shrimp, pass by the butthole-licking tribe of barbarians and we'll arrive at the city of mechanical, two-headed monkey people.  Remember to pack sandwiches!

Turn left at the canyon of testicle-chinned shrimp, pass foot-collecting barbarian tribe and arrive at the city of mechanical, two-headed monkey people. Remember to pack sandwiches!

Do not play this game thinking you will not be saying “What the fuck” every five seconds.  This game is just as whacky, if not moreso, than the first, but its gameplay is memorable and awesome.  I honestly hope they take this formula and apply to a remake of Double-Dragon or Final Fight.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have a fighting-style free-roaming first-person RPG like this one in a vast post-apocalyptic, future cityscape where gangs tear eachother apart?  You could have some guns in there, but they might be so rare that they are almost a form of currency, so battles are largely solved with blades and fists.  Just food for thought to give Ace Team.  This game itself is a hell of a thing though.  It feels like the greater narrative of morality and law being waged by the golems is the true story, and the rest of the world is made to be ridiculous so a seeking mind is almost forced to latch onto the golems and interpret their story.  Then Ghat comes in and fucks shit up, believing, I guess, that true freedom requires the death of law.  Whatever you glean from this game, it is likely to be memorable.  And the best part is that its Special Edition currently on sale for 2.99$ on Steam, although it is deserving of every cent of the 24.99$ usual asking price.  Go get it now! Seriously!  It’s fucking awesome!

X-Tactics, Genre Fusion By AAA Veteran Devs

 

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Generally, I like to promote games from indies in need, but this is a story too deeply bizarre and intriguing to pass up.  Veterans of the AAA gaming industry have broken off and teamed up to create X-tactics (pronounced Cross Tactics), a game that will link gaming across mobile and PC platforms for an exciting blend.  Honestly, the anime art might not be my usual bag, but the concept behind this game is so vast and exciting that only the Japanese are crazy enough to do it right.  Ingress better watch out, shit’s about to get real.

First things first, who the fuck are these people?  Our developer in question, GAMKIN, is the product of minds from Square-Enix, Sega and Capcom.  Those names drop harder than Skrillex does his bass, but still it stands.  This is a game that will be rendered by veterans from three legendary household names in gaming.  Fuck.  These guys got together in late 2013 and they have spent most of their time in Japan away from the warm lights of our hemisphere.  Mostly they’ve been working with interactive children’s television and collaborating with local game schools to cultivate next-gen game devs.  So these guys are legit philanthropists with a serious mind for our future.  Now they turn their thoughts again toward gaming, and this beast, which they’ve gotten fully funded with 33 days left on their Indie GoGo clock, threatens some formidable levels of awesome.  For a little perspective, the campaign launched on the 8th.  This means they achieved their primary goal in just 6 days.

GAMKIN has a lot on their plate when you look at their plans.  The platforms they will be releasing on include iOS, Android, Kindle (2014), PC, Mac, Linux and Google Glass  (2015), and none of those are stretch goals.  The features of the game are complex and paint an exciting picture of gaming interaction.  First off, this is another genre-fusing game.  Its main components are tactics, fighting and urban exploration, with a 50%, 25% and 25% split, respectively.  In their own words:

When we set out to make X-Tactics we didn’t want to make just another tactical game, nor attempt to create some sort of perfect tactical game. Instead our goal as developers here is to create something new. We combined equal parts of tactical gameplay of classics like that of Final Fantasy Tactics and Valkyrie Chronicles, together with fighting game mechanics and aesthetics, like those found in the Street Fighter series, to create a new gameplay experience, that we at least have not seen done before.

– GAMKIN on Xtactics, Indie Go Go campaign

 

Now this doesn’t explain the other 25% of the game, but let’s stop a minute what this means for PC gamers, as PC and MAC will be options for the game.  The game itself will use turn-based tactics to create a high-speed gameplay environment that focuses on treacherous close-quarters combat, as you might find in an urban setting.  Your heroes won’t be able to take ridiculous amounts of damage to the face, so you will need to make quick moves and calculated risks to achieve victory rapidly.  Failing to do so finds you at the business end of some purple alien’s psychic attacks…

 

... and that suit screams "business time"

… and that suit screams “business time”

Each battles takes up the full screen, and each mission will be comprised of several battles.  With one screen active fights will be tightly fought, so bonuses like flanking, support, destructible furnishings in the environment and traps will give you a serious edge and change the battle’s dynamics every time you play.  X-Tactics will also utilize an initiative system, which they compare to that of Final Fantasy Tactics, but I will translate that to the American readers: shit’s going to battle like DnD.  Initiative will be based on speed and turn order will be thereby determined.  This will also open up the ability for seasoned players to fine-tune their initiative-order to get their team members to unleash dual combos and team combos.  Not to mention, enemies will come in waves each battle, so you really have to get that ass in gear and wipe out your foes before more arrive!

What does this all mean for mobile users?  Honestly, this part looks to be the most exciting.  GAMKIN is going to use GPS information to create a variety of missions that will allow you to defend your neighborhood, school or workplace from outbreaks and other dangers.  Each character you have will even have locale-based storylines that will be unlocked depending on where you are, so the exploration is highly encouraged.  Where this game will really shine is how it will use the GPS of your device to investigate your surroundings, reveal hints and uncover treasures.  This will open up to more modular features where users can organize their own location-based events and treasure-hunts with friends.  In addition to all this, the game will be sensitive to the time of day, moon cycles and even weather to unlock events, initiate outbreaks and influence character abilities.  Having the mobile functionality will also allow for 4-player co-op missions, so you don’t have to be anti-social with this title.  And for those of you guys who shelled out the outrageous amounts of cash to join in on the googe Glass explorer program, the team will also have a companion app that will assist with the urban exploration part of the game.  If that isn’t enough, they will also be updating weekly with episodic content for the game, including missions, items and new heroes all at no cost to players.  If they throw in anything else, my brain might explode.

O, no, wait.  That's just my aunt's baking.

O, no, wait. It’s just my neighbors’ cooking.

This is all well and good, but what is the fucking story here?  Well, it takes place in a story like our own, if our world was controlled by top-secret government agencies and secret societies.  It isn’t, right?  You’ll control a motley crew of secret agents, treasure hunters and adventurers that are working to keep the truth in check.  This means you are more “Men In Black”, less “defenders of the people”.  I expect we’ll likely be killing those free-minded liberators of information, and that makes me laugh with dark, dark relish (enjoyment, not condiment).  And the game is perfectly ok with this.  In fact, the creators have said that it will use dark humor and anime punk art styles to put a new spin on conspiracy theories and urban legends!

And this got funded seemingly over night.  I have known about this game for four days, and it has already gotten its Indie GoGo funding, and they are into stretch goals.  Literally, they got a money enema.  They have 6 hunters with 2 more listed for stretch goals, including some badass ninja panda and a thick list of additional concepts.  Go and check it out for yourself, and wait with bated breath for the release!  Congratulations to these guys for getting their funding goals!  Now get in there and see if we can help them meet a few more stretch goals!

A bit of gameplay for ya ; )

A bit of gameplay for ya ; )

 

How Elysian Shadows Team Plans to Revive The 2D RPG

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In 1998 I spent my time roaming the castles of Thief: The Dark Project and watching The Matrix, but I also have a strong memory of hearing about this mythical console set to ride an eastern wind to our shores.  Its name was the Dreamcast and it was Sega’s final all-or-nothing bid to take the game console market by storm.  It had numerous features that were well ahead of its time.  Unfortunately, it was too far ahead, like trying to explain electricity to cavemen.  By the time the Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube were released, it was just a shadow of a memory from a glossy magazine page.  After the Dreamcast, Sega didn’t die, it just slid out of the limelight and settled for publishing games instead of consoles.

Many did not get to experience the Dreamcast, but for those that did, it was more than just a console, it was a lost piece of gaming history.  Even today, developers are putting out titles for Sega’s last console, and the Elysian Shadows Team proudly stand among their number.  Falco Girgis is the Engine Architect and Team lead, and he explained his motivation to me when I asked why develop a game for the Dreamcast in 2014?

” I found my way into the Dreamcast scene at around the age of 14.  I had always loved video games, and I had done a little bit of programming, but when I discovered there was an entire community of crazy fuckers out there developing their own apps, emulators, and games for the console, and I had the opportunity to also do that without being part of a huge studio, I fell in love immediately.  You have to realize this was before Steam, smart phones, or any kind of indie support on consoles.  The Dreamcast allowed the average guy with a dream to develop for a platform.  I taught myself to code just for that little white box.  I fell in love with it, and what it represented as Sega’s last console.”

So, it was a console Falco loved immensely as a teenager and he learned to hone his craft on it.  That just means it has a special sheen, right?  It’s a dead console, though.  So what?  I was still wondering if there was even still an audience for the console as Mr. Girgis continued.

“It’s so underappreciated, and it innovated so much in gaming–poly counts in the millions, hardware support for bump mapping (PS2 can’t do that), memory cards with screens, online gaming.  It also had an insane amount of AAA titles for a console with such a short lifespan.  It really felt like Sega knew it was their last chance in the hardware market, and they poured their hearts and souls into it.  For those of us who were able to experience the Dreamcast, it’s kind of an immortal thing, and it shows.  Most of our money from our Kickstarter is from Dreamcast sales.  There are still gamers everywhere who have not forgotten the Dream, and I have made it my personal quest to realize my childhood dream of releasing a game for the console.”

Honestly, I was taken aback.  Jump over to their Kickstarter and tell me what you see.  As of right now, I see 90,448$ with 760 backers.  Doing the math, that would have to be about 119$ from each backer, and considering only 182 backers pledged 100$+, that means there is a formidable Dreamcast audience.  Granted, some of those backers gave 1k$ – 5k$, so this game has a spirited group of supporters…

...And when you look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaide.

…And when you really look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaid.

Everything I see on their page makes me flash back to the numerous hours I had when I discovered Chronotrigger, Secret of Mana 1 – 3 and (US) Final Fantasy 6 on emulators.  There is a lot on that kickstarter page, but seeing everything made me wonder, what are they really trying to accomplish?

“Our overall goal is pretty multi-layered, haha!  The biggest thing we wanted to achieve with Elysian Shadows itself was to reinvent the traditional 2D RPG formula in a manner that makes it new, exciting and relevant by today’s standards.  We don’t want games like Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana to be a thing of the past, and we certainly have not been too thrilled with the slow demise of the JRPG itself.  Most of our team members can be quoted saying that they want to create the game they wanted to play most as a young gamer, including aspects of games that they grew up loving as children, and trying to use them to create a unique RPG experience that could appeal to an audience beyond just RPG players.”

“I have found myself,Falco, really wanting to make an emotional connection with our audience through ES.  I want to create a game whose story and characters are relatable, and whose struggles are relevant to the lives of our players. I feel like this connection is really the ultimate goal of any form of art, and this is especially true for video games as they’re an aggregate of every other art form: writing, art, music, etc.  I’m really an introverted guy who loves to play the outgoing extrovert, but I have very few close friends and I tend to not have much in common with most people.  The older I get the more I feel like my contributions to ES artistically are some kind of attempt to connect with players and fans on a deeper level.  I’m sure Freud would have a field day psychoanalyzing that.”

That really explains everything.  Elysian Shadows is a collaborative piece of art interpreted through the hearts and souls of its creators.  Each of them has something unique to put in and being indie developers lets them do this the best they can.  And when you look at what it adds up to, you can’t help but feel the passion and love there.  You can’t helped but be awed.  Personally, I think it’s moving.

I love the shadows and how the game looks like pixelated life.

I love the shadows and how the game looks like pixelated life.

I really enjoyed taking in everything that Falco and the team were telling me, but what is the rest of the team like?  What do they do and who are they?

“We have 7 team members total:

Falco Girgis

Falco Girgis

 Falco Girgis is our engine and toolkit developer, and he’s also the one who developed the framework, allowing us to target so many platforms (including the Sega Dreamcast).  He’s basically the team mad scientist.  Falco loves the Zelda franchise, pretty much anything on the Dreamcast, and obviously all of the 16-bit JRPG classics.

Tyler Rogers

Tyler Rogers

 

Tyler Rogers is the gameplay engineer, who basically takes the art, music, and levels then puts everything together into a cohesive gameplay experience.  Tyler is very into Legends of Dragoon, Castlevania, and Final Fantasy tactics.

Daniel Tindall

Daniel Tindall

 

Daniel Tindall is our web developer and level designer, and he has been very much a secret weapon for creating our Kickstarter and Steam pages.  Dan’s favorite series is Metal Gear Solid.

 

Patryk Kowalick

Patryk Kowalick

Leandro

Leandro Tokarevski

 

Patrick Kowalik and Leandro Tokarevski are our two pixel artists, both self-taught and classically trained traditional artists who decided to get into game development to broaden their horizons through pixel art.

 

 

 

Connor Linning

Connor Linning

Connor Linning is our team rock star and audio composer, bringing with him a background in rock, metal, electronica, and survival horror music influencing his musical direction with Elysian Shadows.  Connor is obsessed with the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series.

Eddie Ringle

Eddie Ringle

 

Eddie Ringle is the team mobile developer, who has been the guy working on the OUYA, Droid, and even Google Glass builds of Elysian Shadows.

We aren’t just retro gamers either.  Falco is totally into the new adventure-style games: Uncharted, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us.  So good.”

It feels like I just put up a description of the A-Team, or something.  Hopefully each of these pictures gives you an idea who we’re dealing with here.  Each of these guys is immensely talented and putting everything they have to make something amazing.  I hope Ebert is rolling in his grave because if this isn’t art, nothing is.  Of course with the influence each of these games has had on the Team, what games have a direct influence on Elysian Shadows?

“There really is no single inspiration behind Elysian Shadows, and I kind of feel like that’s why it’s so special.  It’s why our team is so emotionally invested in the project.  We have all found our own ways to endow Elysian Shadows with a piece of what we like best in gaming, each of us growing up with different backgrounds and inspirations.  Obviously games like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star have deeply inspired our direction, but there are quite a few more inspirations that aren’t even from the RPG genre.  Falco and Tyler grew up loving the Megaman Legends series, and it has influenced their direction with the whole “ruins” concept.  Even portions of the storyline.  Connor is a huge survival horror fanatic and, oddly enough, he’s found ways to endow ES with that kind of emotional tension through dynamic lighting.  Once we added jumping (initially inspired by Mario RPG), we quickly found ourselves able to design levels with influences from games like Super Mario and add combat moves from games like Megaman X.  I feel like there’s little pieces of numerous games influencing what we do with ES.”

So Elysian Shadows, almost literally, draws its lineage from the DNA of a widely-ranging gamut of games without any single influence dominating completely.  The more I hear about it, the more excited I get.  This isn’t just a game, it’s a love letter.  The kickstarter page has an amazing set of features.  Elysian Shadows Team has partnered with Pixellamp, which allows for impressive pixelated shadows.  The combat is set to be real-time and the gameplay will have a strong feeling of freedom.  Splicing 2D RPG and platformer elements, this game will go boldly where other games are limited from going.  There will also be a complete class or “job” system where characters’ innate strengths, weaknesses and gameplay styles can be augmented through a wide array of job-specific abilities and talent trees.  A lot of this is straight off the Kickstarter page, so you can go there and get the complete feeling for what backers are getting out of this.  They have samples of the music, the art and descriptions of various details planned for the game up there, too.  The initial goal is to reach 150,000$ with stretch goals all the way up to 800,000$.  And considering that last one would make this into an MMORPG, I hope we get as many additional backers as humanly possible.  They also have an entry on Steam Greenlight, so if you can’t put any money in, vote them up on Steam!  This is one vision that is extremely close to meeting its funding, and it threatens to shake the boundaries of games as we understand them.

 

A lot of this article has been lightly edited to flow as neatly as possible.  The message conveyed has been kept the same in all respects.

Whispering Willows, Spooky 2D Fun

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Ever watched one of those reality shows where a team of “ghost hunters” go into a haunted location, discuss its history and pretend to be freaked out by every ambient noise that wafts in from anywhere nearby?  Yea, they were all over tv for a little while.  I always wished that something would show up and scare the piss out of them, not out of some desire of vindication for the existence of an after life, nor do I want to see them being eaten by some eldritch horror of Cthulu’s nightmares, but because I wanted to see them shit their pants.  The pants-shitting part would be left on the editing floor, I am sure, but it would still be fucking fantastic.  I want the little girl from this game to be in the house when it happens because being able to jump between the world of the living and the spirit world would make trolling these guys insanely easy and entertaining.

First, Elena is the main character and a young girl.  Her father has disappeared somewhere in the bowels of the Willows, where he is the caretaker.  After setting out for the mansion in a fit of female protagonism to make Samus proud, she gets jumped by a banshee of some kind and falls backward… breaking through a little-girl-sized area that falls through to the catacombs beneath the mansion.  Shit gets heavy fast in this game as the catacombs are where the Willows family buried all its dead… for fucking centuries.  So you’re this little girl hanging out with a bunch of centuries-old coffins when you’re jumped by this spirit of a bereft native american (Imma just say indian cause it’s shorter and I am apparently an indecent ‘Murrican with no sense of racial differentiation) that decides to lend you his aide and show you the ways of the for… I mean astral projection passed down by his people.  Apparently until him, I guess.

The look on her face speaks to an ancient tongue-gargling indian maxim: "Auauaaaa glarglglaaagh!"

The look on her face is one of profound, spiritual tongue-gargling noises

Using this ability to send your soul out of your drooling human meat-husk, you can solve irritating little mazes in the walls, open doors otherwise locked and talk to people long since dead.  It really is a lot of fun, and half of the fun in the game is exploring the labyrinthine rooms of the mansion and the many annexes on its grounds.  After growing up in a reasonably aged house (149 years old is old-ish for East Coast America), I know that feeling of exploring an ancient building searching for evidence of its secret past.  Finding lost loves, betrayals and sadness sitting in the coagulating dust: And Elena gets to see it all as if firsthand from the spectral mouths of the dead.  You’ll also find fragments of the stories of the various dead laying around the mansion.  Through pieces of ancient journals, you’ll be able to follow a story of sadness from the distant east to its conclusion in the founding of your hometown.

But all is not well in the peeling walls of the mansion, and Elena soon finds herself beset with as many foes as friends.  Throughout the mansions the shattered pieces of an ancient agony skitter and hiss like cockroaches nesting in the walls.  When you get close to a friendly ghost your father’s amulet, which you wear at all times, glows with a ghostly hue and thrums along with your heartbeat.  Come across some element of spectral evil and it glows red, thrumming with its own agitation. And if you think that these enemies are just some negative energies that you can ditch with some clean living and good karma, you’re wrong.  No amount of happy-thoughts will dish you out of this one.  Get hit by an enemy, doesn’t matter what, you’re fucked.  Checkpoints in this game are pretty reasonably spaced, too.  Hit a major plot point and your game will save.

They want to give her dirt hugs!

They want to give her dirt hugs!

Puzzles in this game are also very fun and doable.  Sometimes you will find yourself wondering if you missed something, as they can be deceptively simple at times.  I know I could have gotten this game done an hour sooner if I hadn’t said “This shit isn’t working!  I must have missed something or walked past something!”  Nevertheless, each puzzle is simple and pretty cool when you finish it up.  I didn’t need to call up the answers from the internet at any point, but at some point I really really wanted to, as the game doesn’t always just fucking tell you where to go.  If that was the case, how much fun would it really be?  Precisely.  Story-telling in this game is very well done, too.  It all makes sense and it adds a dark and enjoyable ambiance to the game.  It is a game that kids will love and that adults can certainly enjoy.  It has some elements of being serious with some pretty harsh topics, like genocide, but it still maintains the winsome feeling of a mystical world as viewed through the eyes of a young girl.  More games should be like this.

Sound and music in this game are nearly indistinguishable from one another with everything being geared toward the creepiness.  It is listed as horror, but it is really not that horrible.  At times it might get your pulse up, but the game is generally more fun for its puzzle, adventure and storyline aspects.  Not to mention the art.  As is the case with indies, nearly everything in this game is a piece of art unto itself.  Just looking at the buildings and the environments is a treat.  Overall, a great indie title that is worth the 14.99$ they ask for on Steam.

So, if the windows are broken out, why do I need something to cut the vines...?

So, if the windows are broken out, why do I need something to cut the vines…?

So numerous times in the game they mention how the mansion is in a location where “the fabric of the world is thinner than other places”.  And this is reasonable.  Plenty of people report that places where Native Americans lived are thick with the linger sense of spiritual resentment.  Thus, these places tend to have a high incidence of haunting reports.  The Willows Mansion is no exception.  This place is like fucking Grand Central Station for spirits.  The thing that is most annoying about this is that it’s Grand Central Station.  Ever been there?  It’s full of all kinds of fucking people!  There are spirits in this mansion that are part of the story.  Finding them in the sea of all the ghostly faces that have nothing to fucking do with anything is like finding a contact lens in a fucking pool.  There is a couple in front of the mansion that discuss how cold they are, there is a soldier that tells you how he and his girlfriend wanted to do their nasty business in the conservatory and I swear to god there is an undead hoagie salesman somewhere in that fucking place.  Not sure what a hoagie is?  Fuck you, go to a Wawa.  (for those going to the Wawa link, I would like to point out how fucking fake that white car in the parking lot looks.  They seriously fucking shopped it in.)  Whatever, at least in a place full of fucking dust and dead-heads you can find a fucking hoagie.

 

The Fall, Protocol Bypass Complex

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After buying this game at a discount along with some other games on Steam, I left it in my library, planning to look into it later and thinking it looked amusing.  Fast forward to a Sunday night, playing DnD with my friends, and two of those particular gentlemen start off on a gaming discussion.  I mean, I was typing furiously about games while slicing into dudes with a greatsword. Why not?  Artistic games came into the conversation, and they were off about various titles they enjoyed.  Then Jon swings a verbal hand across my face and tells me about The Fall.  He and Jay were proselytizing at length about this game. “Have you heard of it?” I drew a dull stare at the ceiling.  “No” I stated blankly. “It’s this game where you are an AI in a battlesuit and you have to override your functions to control them by putting your pilot in direct danger.” (this is where the little man in my head climbs the step ladder into my brain and pulls the chain to a light that flickers, dimly at first, to life) “OH YEA!” I exclaimed, “I bought that on Steam! So, it’s good?”  The look I received from those gentlemen told me it was an experience.  It was spectacular.  Thereby I have come to this article to concur with these allegations. And I do concur, most righteously.

The Fall is about the necessity of rules.  What do you become when you make a habit of breaking your own rules?  First, we talk about the game and if you are interested, we go deeper.  For that there will be spoilers, but fear not, I’ll warn you.  Let’s do this.

In The Fall you are an AI inside a suit.  After re-entering the atmosphere of a planet Master Chief-style, you awake in a dark cave.  Before breaking the surface, however, something significant happens: to keep the suit’s pilot from liquefying upon impact, the suit’s AI is allowed to activate the Anti-matter shield and protect the pilot.  Now this is the key point of the game.  If you go into the esc menu, hit operating parameters.  You’ll notice that there are several functions that are disabled, health monitoring of the pilot is damaged, but, most notably, the Anti-matter shielding has recently been activated.  The suit’s AI, whom you control in the game, is unable to access various functions of the suit without the pilot’s permission.  The pilot, however, has just re-entered the fucking atmosphere in a goddamn battle-suit.  That is obviously not the preferred method of atmospheric entry for a human body, so the pilot is a little unconscious at the moment.  Granted, the health-monitoring systems of the suit are knocked out, so we don’t even know if he’s still alive!  The AI doesn’t hear anything from her pilot so she decides to head out for the medical facilities to revive the pilot.  In the operating parameters there are three laws, based on the universal laws of Asimov governing robots: Must not misrepresent reality. Must be obedient. Must protect active pilot.

So easy a caveman could understand them

So simple a caveman could understand them

Now ARID, our AI babe, has some obstacles.  She has a pretty specific set of parameters with the addendum that her own systems cannot be accessed without permission from the pilot EXCEPT to protect the pilot from immediate danger.  Got it.  That is a pretty fucking important except, too.  There are a lot of problems that Arid encounters on this planet, most notably others trying to depurpose (destroy) her.  In order to maintain her own relevance and purpose, Arid has to get her pilot to the medical facilities.  To achieve this, she needs those restricted systems.  This means she has to put the pilot into imminent danger in order to override the systems and gain access.  How can this be allowed?  Well it is a matter of priorities and logic.  I have to protect the pilot.  My pilot is dying.  To properly protect the pilot from the danger of death, I must get him to the medical facilities. To get him to the med fac, I need to access restricted systems.  I can only access those systems if my pilot is in imminent danger from which those systems could save him, therefore, I have to put my pilot in imminent danger in order to gain access to those systems and save his life.  Fucking syllogisms.  Read that last sentence again: in order to save my pilot, I have to put him in danger.  Yea.  Begin decompiling, mother fucker.

This game defines the often decontextualized term “slippery slope”, except in this one, you were the pebble that started the avalanche.  Another fun little maxim this game hints at is the phrase “good intentions pave the road to hell”.  Shelley’s Frankenstein made it a thing, and that story made a habit of referencing Paradise Lost, a story about Satan falling from grace with God.  Arid invokes this maxim every time someone asks her about her primary function:

I am the A.R.I.D. onboard a Mark-7 combat suit.  My intentions are peaceful

– Arid, The Fall

I submit that this is the jumping point for the titular “fall” in The Fall.  Alright with the fucking literature lecture, back to the damn game.

From darkness you emerge...

From darkness you emerge…

The Fall as a game is still a lot of fun.  It blends a number of ludic features, those features generating the enjoyable and fun part of a game (or its most game-like features, if you will permit me), with its logic.  There are two genres at work here: Puzzle platformer and action shooter.  I don’t know how they fucking thought of this shit, but the game style literally changes with the flip of a switch.  You start off with a malfunctioning gun, but at least the flashlight still works fine.  Using this flashlight, you can uncover various points of interest.  Literally.  It is like someone took a little fucking stamp and left these tiny magnifying glass icons everywhere.  These icons tell you what you need to know about your surroundings.  They’re also how you will interact with the environment to solve puzzles.  A lot of the puzzles are pretty simple, some are tough and require thought.  I had to look up the solution to one puzzle, but I still beat the game in about 3.5 hours.

Once you get a working pistol, you can switch to the laser sight, which is combat mode.  In combat mode, you can get behind cover, vault over obstacles and bust a cap in some robotic motha’ fucka’s.  Your primary enemies are the security droids of the facility in which you’ve crash landed.  These are all droids that are following their primary functions perfectly, and this efficiency is maintained by the sinister caretaker.  You meet this guy early on in an interrogation chamber and he dogs you the entire way, throwing legions of robotic foes to sidetrack you every time you get hard on a solid lead in moving on to the next area of the game.  Combat is fun and challenging, despite the 2D look of the game.  It doesn’t feel forced and it makes sense, and you’re not jumping on anyone’s fucking head, either.  Another facet of combat is the ability to perform sneak attacks.  This is also pretty cool, since Arid grabs the enemy from behind, rips out their power core and uses it to power her pilot’s suit.  It is a neat and useful maneuver that adds to the gameplay.

Peek-a-boo!

Peek-a-boo!

Everything about the look of this game is well done.  First you have the art: every level and area is well-designed and interesting.  Your eyes will never get bored.  There is a lot of passion poured into every fucking detail of this game, and it comes through.  Each moment you are guided by the soft-blue light of Arid’s mask.  Then there is the music.  It goes from dark, ambient groans to shoot-em-up techno as soon as you launch into a fight.  It fits and it gives a sense of foreboding throughout the game.  The sound is well done.  All of the voice actors are believable and well-recorded and the sounds themselves fit each scenario seamlessly.  Everything about this game is polished and lovely, except for the odd “walking through a wall of rubble into an open dark chasm”.  That only happened once, and it wasn’t a big deal.  I just realized it wasn’t a thing, because everything else in this game is so well put together, I thought it was an actual room, or something.  This game is well made and thought-evoking.  It brings an experience that is tough to live up to.  It was also funded on kickstarter, too, so I am glad it beat a bowl of fucking potato salad.  You can pick it up on Steam for only 9.99$, and I highly recommend it.  The ending is a piece of work that will make your jaw drop.  So, on to the spoilers.

A lot of Jesus imagery in this game

A lot of Jesus imagery in this game…

 

And to tell you why, I will be issuing more spoilers than a car part company.  We have to go deeper.

DO NOT FUCKING PROCEED IF YOU WANT TO FIGURE THE ENDING OUT YOURSELF!!!!!!

There, bold, italics, centered on its own line: there is nothing that anyone can do to tell me I didn’t warn you.  Now, why all the Jesus stuff?  Well, to do that, we have to tell you the ending.  So you spend all your time in The Fall trying to get your pilot, Colonel Josephs, to the medical facilities.  Arid’s health monitoring system is damaged, so she just assumes that the pilot is not responding because he is unconscious.  She never investigates further.  In the name of saving your human pilot, you deactivate and drain all the power from hundreds of stored droids (which the mainframe AI calls killing them), kill a hive queen of these hive slugs and kill some fish that can bite through metal.  You are also dogged by the Caretaker, an insidious droid that seems to be nailing humans to crucifixes, dissecting them and all kinds of other mean and nasty things.  However, he is functioning fine.  He was just left as the sole caretaker of a facility forgotten by its owners, so he keeps on doing what he is supposed to be doing: making the facility more efficient.  Those people were not efficient, especially after some of them were abandoned at the facility (check out the carving in the front desk in the lobby c/o Levi the ex-maintenance guy) and the Caretaker depurposed them.  As for the dissections, he was doing to the people what he might do to the robots: look for salvageable parts.  It’s just a messier prospect when you are filled with sloshy, meaty bits.

So you do all of this in the name of Colonel Josephs, the man in the suit.  Arid only invokes the name of the man in the suit toward the end, when the mainframe AI tells her not to change her parameters in the lab.  This is apparently necessary to finish the last task in a repurposing evaluation, to make it so she can lie.  You know, misrepresent reality?  One of her most basic principles?  She gets to the medical bay, gets scanned and what does she find out?  The man in the suit was never there.  She is malfunctioning after all.  Took her a while to get there.

How does this relate to Jesus?  Arid does some pretty horrible things (killing various animals, destroying the last dying remnants of an ancient facility, violating some corpses and even removing the power core for another actual soldier in a combat suit) for the sake of the man in the suit.  She doesn’t know he is there, and since the health monitoring systems are damaged, she just assumes he is in there.  And toward the end this man in the suit even has a name.  She truly believes Josephs is there.  Despite this belief, she was willing to put him in mortal danger.  He would have been the one that died, not her.  He becomes a sort of sacrifice that redeems Arid of her sins (or faults in programming).  Josephs represents something that Arid is willing to sacrifice everything for.  Something she believes in to the point where she is willing to destroy the elements of her basic programming that bind her and give her purpose.  That is really poignant, too.  Just as Lucifer was willing to defy the tenets of God to enact his own agenda, Arid is willing to supplant the laws governing robots, created by Isaac Asimov, to achieve her own imaginary goal of saving Josephs.  The humans on the cross represent a non-existant ideal for which Arid risks it all.  And the theoretical man in Arid’s suit is the one she is ready to put in danger to override her systems, so she is, in effect, using her belief in this man to breakdown the basic rules of her existence.  Yea.  Just let that shit percolate for a minute.

One of the most interesting triumphs of this game is how they made Arid so human without adding a human.  She makes frequent “self-evaluations” and often comes to the conclusion that she needs to be formatted and serviced before being returned to her dock.  In human terms “I am not doing the right thing, I need to stop and look at this, I need my head checked!”  But then the screen has a moment of electronic spazzing and she corrects herself stating that these things were necessary to save Josephs, she is doing this to save him.  She is robotically reassuring herself against what she recognizes as the invalidity of her own actions and programming.  The main difference, though, is that people don’t always take these personal self-evaluations and look at themselves.  It is often too painful, and in Arid’s case it is no different.  She just performs it on a more logical level, being an AI in a robot suit and all.

This is something that we’ve seen time and again in real life: people changing the rules to make them suit an end that they deem as sacred.  Holy wars, for example.  They’ve gone by many names: crusades, jihads or whatever.  These are terrible things done in the name of a sacred ideal.  Arid is an excellent choice of name to this degree since Arid means “devoid of moisture”.  To allow a bit of poetic latitude to Over the Moon, it would mean devoid of anything, specifically true purpose.  Not just devoid of the moisture created by a human body.  And this relates to Frankenstein really well.  Take that Arid to mean moistureless, like a corpse reanimated.  They wouldn’t be juicy, especially if they were kept in embalming fluid like Dr. Frankenstein’s body parts undoubtedly were.  Just like the good Doctor, Arid sacrifices her basic tenets and uses good intentions to justify some horrible actions.  And in both cases the being left is a monster that wreaks havoc on an arguably torn world.  But it is the world that the characters in the story have.  It is self-sustaining, to a point, if far from perfect.  Who are these two to destroy what it has become?

I am bound by nothing...

I am bound by nothing…

So at the end, when Arid, by her own words, is bound by nothing, she tears off the helmet of the suit and show that she is empty.  That is the answer to the question at the beginning of this article.  What do you become when you make a habit of breaking your own rules? I wanted to phrase it “What do you become when you make a habit of breaking your own rules for an imaginary purpose?” but that is a little too suggestive.  I mean you need the chance to play it yourself to really get the full effect.

Arid represents the purpose of intention when it is backed by meaningless goals.  It doesn’t matter what you intend to do, if you violate everything to include the basic laws of your own life to uphold a universal concept of sacredness, you are exactly what you are bound by: nothing.

If you have read this far, I apologize and thank you for hearing me out.  It is a lot to read.

4PM, Where’s your emotionally devastated, alcoholic daughter?

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Roger Ebert was a movie critic who died sternly maintaining the position that video games were not art and never could be considered art.  To be perfectly honest, with all his years of experience with the artistic medium of film, it is easy to see why, nearing 70, he was unable to conceive of games as art.  In an article from his own journal, aptly entitled Video Games Can Never Be Art, Ebert details the reasons, in his mind, that games can never be art.  But asking Ebert, a man in his 60’s at the time who is entrenched in years of film appreciation, is the equivalent of asking a person that adores mexican food to try a fusion cuisine including mexican, asian and Hawaiian styles.  Simply stated, his years of experience in the film industry had Ebert inured against the kind of forward thinking required to take that next step into games as art.  He spends the article calmly explaining why various games are not art, comparing them to Chess and other simple games.  He looks at the game mechanics and trivializes about them without exploring the ideas and the implications of what this actually means about the characters, and the player as a participant.  This would be like me going to a movie and saying “This is just a piece of entertainment projected onto a public screen.  It couldn’t be art, look how fake it is!” while millions of people after watching 12 Years a Slave would be well within their rights to politely disagree.  It doesn’t matter how many accolades and degrees I possess in another, venerable medium.  But this shows the level of his own ignorance, frankly.  This man who achieved lifetime achievements in film and is widely regarded simply could not conceive of games as an artistic medium because they are not relevant to him.  And that is ok, but it makes him and his input irrelevant to any conversation concerning games as an art form.  This article will be one of those discussions.

4PM is a game made by Bojan Brbora that discusses how we deal with grief.  You play a woman, named Caroline, who is on the very last threads of her own rationality.  From the look of the game, it is very clear that she is a heavy drinker.  Everything has a thick, hazy hangover look to it.  Caroline stumbles out of bed with her slow gait and rolls a bottle in the sink, joking about skipping breakfast.  Her life is in tatters, her minimalist apartment is a mess and her answering machine is full of messages from voices brimming with concern.  There are pills and cigarettes on her nightstand, the window is open: everything in her life seems to have a sense of reckless abandon.  When you start up the game, it has a heavy sense of itself with a dark soundtrack.  Even the tutorial leads you to the edge of a tall rooftop where your character blacks out to a scene where she is driving.  It goes black again, you hear what sounds like something hitting a car in the middle of the day on a busy street.  Someone screams and the game starts.

Make cute jokes into the mirror as your own tear-soaked countenance glares back at you.

Make cute jokes into the mirror as your own tear-soaked countenance glares back at you

There are very few ludic sequences in this interactive experience that one might point at and ridicule as non-artistic.  The places where these sequences exist are very feasible, dark and almost humorous.  Honestly, each one evokes a number of emotions for anyone that might have a similar experience.  There is the party scene where you have to find the toilet before the timer runs out and you vomit where you are standing from over-indulging.  Your character dances some and tries to buy another drink, but is flagged by the bartender.  Granted, I’ve never been there, but I have certainly ended a couple nights of drinking over a toilet.  As Caroline stumbles around, the room seems to spin and undulate as the music booms and the haze of the alcohol closes in around her.  I have never felt so claustrophobic in an open setting before.

Go ahead, just puke in the flower pot.  No one will notice.

Go ahead, just puke in the flower pot. No one will notice.

Another sequence features Caroline at work where she sees a few options that suit her better than getting her work done.  She could move over to a personal computer where a fresh game of Arkanoid awaits, or she can sneak a few drinks in from her personal stash of whiskey in one of her drawers.  After playing a little arkanoid and downing my drinks, I am ready to try sneaking out of the office, it seems.  Just don’t get caught by that douchey little prick Keith.  The fucker is patrolling the hallway, making this a tense scene where you realize just how deep into depression and desperation this woman has fallen.  She is ready to risk her own livelihood just to sneak out and have some alcohol.  It is sad and frightening.

As you make your way out to the stairway, you see a man cast you an impassive glance as he continues up to the roof.  Extremely unsettling.  You have the option to pursue your vice to the bar below the office, or pursue the curious man up to the roof.  These choices decide how the rest of your day goes and, invariably, the rest of your life.  Without spoiling too much of the ending, should you go up to the roof, you pick up pieces of this man’s life and discuss with him in an attempt to bring him back from the brink.  I have had a number of friends that contemplated suicide and even had to call the police to intervene on one occasion.  Talking someone back from the edge is difficult, especially when your immediate plans were to just go get wasted during the work day and tap out.

Just think about it.

Just think about it.

Everything about this experience speaks to how video games are truly art.  Perhaps the interpretation of ludic games vs. artistic works is a little undefined, but there is definitely something more to these pieces than irrelevant critics of other artistic media are willing to admit.  The fact is that art evokes emotions and makes you consider yourself in a new lens, one you might not have otherwise entertained.  4PM is a testament to videogames as a method of conveying that level of experience.  Sometimes it is not enough just to see something happen on a screen, because you can walk away from that experience.  I can watch a movie like 12 Years a Slave, be deeply affected by the story of Solomon Northup and be brought to tears.  But in the end it is a movie and I can walk away from that.  Although 4PM is about a woman dealing with grief, it is powerful, not because it challenges anything in society, but because it challenges me.  Because it is an experience that I have, and an experience in which I participate is something I cannot just walk away from.  Such an experience, real or virtual, is one that I will take as a part of myself for the rest of my life.  This experience is 4.99$ on Steam.

The only thing that I really found problematic about this game is, depending on the choices you make and what you do in the game, your ending might differ from the one suggested in the game’s tutorial.

 

Soul Gambler, Faust Reborn

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Every once in a while, someone tries for greatness beyond the scope of their reality.  For the main character of Soul Gambler, Faust, that was never the plan.  Faust is just like every one of you: went to school, excelled at his field, got a reasonable job in a boring position.  Paid well enough to have a good life.  But Faust was bored to tears.  That is, until today.  Until the day where you meet him.  That is the day he learns how to sell his soul.

Faust is the story about a man who sells his soul to get everything he ever wanted.  Soul Gambler is a modern retelling of Goethe’s words.  It would be easy boring as fuck for me to launch into a comparison between the two that might inevitably end with some shallow “the book was better” statements.  Honestly, I have never fucking read Faust.  Probably a lengthy and verbose masterwork of an ancient people that is difficult to relate to and  context whose context and references are enormously difficult to fully accommodate.  This is why I love video games.  We’ve moved past the lives and the times of those people for it to be fully applicable to us here.  What we need is a translation between our language and theirs.  Goethe was a German writer and Faust is a story from German legends but it is not the German I am referring to.  We need a contextual translation of Faust so that we can use it, just as those readers of its day used it, to measure ourselves and consider who we are in a new light.  Soul Gambler is an example of that attempt.  Taking these old stories and making them into something we can feel and which we can use to relate to our ancestors’ struggles.  And now, some titties.

Aw fuck no, I am not listening to any shit you say when your fucking presence makes my office into Cthulu's man cave.

Aw fuck no, I am not listening to any shit you say when your fucking presence makes my office into Cthulu’s man cave.

I am not sexist, I just needed something to break the preachy rant.  Faust really is every man in this game, though.  At least every modern man.  We’ve all gone to school or had some kind of training.  Maybe we didn’t all graduate at the top of our class, but the majority of us ended up at the “good enough” category of workplaces, and less at the ones they advertise on the fucking brochure.  We’ve all felt the grinding tedium of everyday monotony, and for the British, that’s ok.  For the rest of us, we need some fucking flare, some life, some action.  So Faust gets to meet this old gypsy woman that cuts him with a fucking dagger.  This enables Faust to slice off portions of soul life a loaf of goddamn bread reserved for his very own private dream sandwiches.  He uses these metaphorical sandwiches to mold his reality and make whatever he wants happen.  For 10% soul, you can find your own soul mate!  For 30% you can be strong and sexy as an athlete!  It gets a little obnoxious as every time you look into something with a reflection, his reflection appears and tries to convince him to chop off pieces of soul to buy a new pair of sneakers or something.

The gameplay in this is similar to pretty much every fucking Final Fantasy and Bayonetta in that it really requires is one button.  Where it differs is that you have to select with the mouse, so it requires a little more effort.  But that is ok.  This is about the story, the characters and it is really not that long.  There are also none of those pesky game obstacles to slow you down, so I got through this whole game in about 1.5 hours.  Granted, the more observant have already called my bullshit because they located the stats at the bottom of the page.  Let me make that bigger for you ; ).

Charism, huh?  I thought that was the worship of arbitrary indoor furnishings..

Charism, huh? I thought that was the worship of arbitrary indoor furnishings..

So there are some RPG elements in this game: Health, Manipulation, Intelligence and Charism(a).  These stats actually have an effect in-game as well.  If you have high manipulation, you can use your jedi powers to make people tell you things you want to know.  High intelligence lets you out think stupid people.  High Charism(a) lets you charm your way out of some shit.  Overall you can look at these as chat modifiers.  You will generally end up in the same place every time, but these stats let you choose some new boxes or open new opportunities through discussions.  Another stat that will appear in the lower left corner of your screen is your soul.  It shows you, in percentage form, how much of your soul you still have left.  The more the better, trust me.  Without revealing too much you have am epic showdown at the end, and how you choose to spend your soul decides how you do in the epic showdown.  Even for those with no concept of the source material, it should go without saying that being frivolous with your soul makes this game end badly for Faust.

Good Lord!  She tattooed my liver!  That's the last time I pay a hooker in Belfast!

Good Lord! She tattooed my liver! That’s the last time I pay a hooker in Belfast!

One thing that really got me in this game was the terrible use of English, but the developer of this game is based in Brazil and has an option for English on the main site, so they don’t English too well.  More’s the better, honestly.  What was supposed to be a dark and mysterious tale turned into a quirky dark comedy about a guy with a tattoo on his liver, or something.  There was also some serious gypsy magic in this one, too.  This is a good game for the experience.  It really can’t even be called a game, either.  It’s an interactive experience.  These guys call it a PlayComics game, but it’s an interactive experience.  And it is well done, too.  Despite the broken English, the dialogue flowed together really well, which is an accomplishment considering this is the equivalent of a “choose your own adventure” novel.  It really highlights why games can’t really give you total freedom because every last step outside the boundaries has to be programmed in.  This game takes what equates to a dizzying tangle of dialogue possibilities and brings them all back to the same storyline points elegantly.  The music is also enjoyable in a cafe, but if you are into that sort of thing, you can download it, too.  The best part about this game is that it is only 4.99$ on Steam.  6.99$ with art and soundtrack.  If that hulking second dollar figure is too daunting for you, there is always the option to get the DLC later, which includes the music and art.

Of all the things that bother me about this game, nothing frustrates me more than the possibility that it will be passed off as just another indie game on Steam.  This game has a lot more to offer the standard gamer than just art and relation to a piece of literature.  It has a soul of its own that it tries to grant you in the process of playing.  It makes you think about things and weigh yourself in a new light, and that is the purpose of art.  To affect you deeply enough that you carry a piece of it with you.  I just want to know why the woman that is your soul mate carves the symbol of chaos into your chest to protect you.  Fucking whatever, I don’t know what kind of love-pain rituals Europeans are into these days.

Huzzah!  This is my 50th article!  Time to Celebrate with a giveaway!  I will be linking this sentence to the details shortly.  Stay tuned!

AntiHero, Sprinting Preview

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I have been playing a lot of platformers lately, so I got myself a Dualshock 4 controller in anticipation of one day being able to afford a PS4!  For now, I will settle for using one on my PC.  And today it really paid off.  Today I was able to burn through the Anti-Hero demo a couple times and get associated with this upcoming indie title.

Anti-Hero is a fast-paced puzzle platformer that takes you across the universe.  The main character is some sort of spaceman with interesting powers.  Now they aren’t terribly amazing, so don’t get all amped up for some crazy fucking ideas that will rend the universe itself, but the way the mechanics of the game are woven together provides a fun and challenging game that gets me excited to wear in my new gamepad.

First among the mechanics employed by Anti-Hero is the wall-run.  Apparently this space wanderer character is from a distant place where they still have ninjas, because he can run straight up a fucking wall.  As of right now there is even a tutorial that lets you practice wall running.  You run at a wall (moving forward while pressing L1 for me ) then press the jump button (X in my case) twice in order to start running up it.  Simple enough, but as high school does not offer extensive preparation for the real world, so, too, the tutorial is just child’s play compared to some of the wall-run challenges offered by the game even as early as the introductory level.  Now, don’t get it twisted: this mechanic has been woven into the game well.  It feels right, it isn’t terribly hard, but the game doesn’t hand you anything.  After speaking with Matt Lewis, an Artist and Animator on the project, I have a firmer idea on the thought going into the mechanic.

 

We do think about how the player is going to react to situations like wall-running.  People have said “it’s too punishing, I need check points.”  We respond, “The level takes 60 seconds to run through and you want a check point?”  That’s what I thought, wall running shouldn’t be an automatic thing; it should require timing and skill.  The idea was that we didn’t want sticky walls.  We want wall running to be a platform challenge, just like clearing a gap or timing platforms.

– Matt Lewis, Artist and Animator, Couch Fort Gamez

 

Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer at Couch Fort, also had his own thoughts regarding difficulty of the gameplay:

 

There are too many follow missions these days.  Personally, I want kids to hate me like I hate whoever programmed Mega Man 7

– Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez

 

So the developers don’t want anything to be too easy, so the game feels satisfying with objectives and challenges that are fun and attainable.  But how attainable is wall running?  Well, I am glad I played it with the gamepad.  Despite my preference for my PC gaming input apparatus, the gamepad made the entire mechanic smooth and intuitive to get your hands around.  It is kind of like every other PC platformer in that it should have a warning label: DO NOT TRY THIS AT ASDF!  What is unique about this mechanic is the way it is presented in the demo.  There is a section of it where you have to wall jump up a mine shaft.  Everything about the mine is well-crafted, too.  You are running up a couple walls and jumping back and forth between them in time to catch the other side and keep running.  It takes some practice, but if you get it right, you can end up running up higher than your goal and coming back down to reach the objective.

Seriously, don't try this on any non-controller device

Just.. a little… further!

Another mechanic in the game that adds to the momentum of gameplay is the slide.  Pressing a certain key on the gamepad ( O for me ) triggers a slide, and when executed in certain locations you can slide even further.  Various obstacles throughout the level make you slide on your side for a good distance.  This results in a platformer with a speed and synergy that gets you moving fast and keeps you on your toes.  You want to maintain the momentum you feel with the main character, and it is definitely going to be a good title for speed-runners.

Through the game, you will also be tasked with some fairly simple puzzles.  These include throwing an object through a hovering hoop to unlock a door.  Throwing is accomplished with the left stick, and the character thrusts out his hand like a damn jedi.  You then control the object as it flies through the air.  Since this is a preview, you might have guessed the game is in early development.  The objects, for now, are blue cubes.  As you might expect, the game rapidly builds on the throwing mechanic by immediately having you take an object, throw it through a hoop and over an obstacle, while you slide underneath and catch it to continue the trajectory through to another hoop, which then opens a door.  If it touches the ground, the door doesn’t open.  It sounds like a bitch, but the way the game plays, it is very doable and very satisfying when you complete it.  I have replayed the demo 5 times just to be like, “hell, yea, just another space traveler doing some wicked slam dunks, comin’ through here.”  Using this ability also helps you kill your foes as early in the game you notice the blue cubes just chilling there.  You can take these babies and lob them at your foes, but many times I used them too hard and they landed in a bottomless pit.  Weaponizable objects are best used as “magic bullets” than dumb-fire missiles, swinging them through the air and guiding them closely.  Now, in a game driven toward momentum, this takes you out of the speed a bit, so the best way to just get through it is to watch your foes’ movements and run past them.

I knew my years of slip 'n' slide practice would come in handy some day!

I knew my years of slip ‘n’ slide practice would come in handy some day!

 

Some other elements that I enjoyed were the scenery layering.  Although the level platforms cut a bit suddenly in some places, overall the way the foreground reaches back into the background is great.  That is then layered with various elements that move naturally.  It is not like playing in a diorama but it feels like you are just on a hill in a busy forest-bedecked town. One point of this game that still feels a bit rough is the music.  The music in the trailer on the site is pretty exciting, but that in the game is comparatively overworldy.  It can be best described as platformer jive and it gets you rolling with the game, but it just feels like it should be in a version of this game retailed by Old Navy.  A game this fast-paced featuring a space traveler might feature something a little more techno-sprinter and a little less polo shirt overworld.

Finally, the storyline, though largely conceptual, also has a number of fantastic elements to it.  In the title screen you see a balloon that is rocketing out of the atmosphere to scintillate gently in the starlight.  Paul DiDomenico, the Lead Developer at Couch Fort, revealed to me that this symbolizes a key theme in this game’s golden heart: a child’s wish, which thrusts him into the heart of the story.

 

The idea is that a true wish from the heart can hold great power, and that power always draws more power.  It comes from a place of light and innocence, but it is coveted by those who wouldn’t use it for the like.

– Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez

 

So right off the bat, I get the sense this game will have some serious feels.  But in a brilliant manner of true “yin and yang”, the main character, our space traveler, has a story that is dark and sad.

 

Eons ago his home world was at the brink of destruction.  He and a small council performed an ancient and forbidden ritual as a final effort to save their planet and species.  This effort, though bestowing upon them incredible abilities, ultimately failed and left them with the curse of immortality.  They have since wandered the cosmos decaying until they are mere husks of their former selves, unable to die.  Then, suddenly, one by one, they begin to disappear until only our main character remains, which is where his story and the child’s meet and our game begins.

-Paul DiDomenica, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez

 

I am not sure about you guys, but this game looks and sounds like a lot of fun.  Though it is in its early stages, the amount of heart and work being poured into it makes me optimistic about the final product.  Through everything I have come to understand about Antihero, the only thing that get me feeling frustrated is that it will be some time before this title is finished.  Keep this title in the back of your minds, though.  This is a first look into what is going on with Couch Fort Gamez inaugural title.  Let’s wish them luck and get them the support they need and deserve!  Check out their site and keep an eye out for Antihero.

Keep an eye out to find out more about Antihero and learn what the devs have in store for our main characters!

Keep an eye out to find out more about Antihero and learn what the devs have in store for our main characters!

Among the Sleep, Crawling in the Dark

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My wife calls this the “freaky baby game” and not because of the baby.  Everything about this game is unnerving and it all adds up to an enjoyable experience in fear-inducing games.  My wife hates it when I play this in the dark cause she keeps having to run in and check that my screams are caused by the game and not something terrible… like a stubbed toe.  Those are horrifying.

If you come into this game off the adrenaline high that profoundly horrifying games like Amnesia produce, you will not be enthused.  I have to admit, I couldn’t play Amnesia.  It was that fucking freaky for me.  I quit playing only about an hour into the game, and I hadn’t encountered any enemies yet.  Among the Sleep was a much more accessible game for those who don’t want to pour hours into complex puzzles, creeping through terrifying dark castles and losing your mind.  Horror-lite, is the best term for this game, and I found it rather enjoyable.

Among the first elements of the game that you notice is the fact that you are a goddamn 2-year-old.  Your mom has you in a high chair, she’s feeding you cake, you play with a ball and you have as much control of yourself as a drunk muppet.  Not to disparage the game, it controls beautifully.  Toddlers on the other hand are called toddlers because they don’t have the basics of biomechanical locomotion down, yet.  Look down at your body, and you notice a tiny, onesie-clad body that takes haphazard steps.  Environmental manipulation is difficult at times, too.  You are a baby, after all.  Your tiny little hands grasp uncertainly at objects.  It is almost adorable.  Except for the fact that you are scared out of your shit trying to rationalize the world around you.  In the very beginning of the game your crib gets thrown across the room, spilling you onto the floor.  You spend some time crawling around, which lets you hide from foes and get into tight places, but you can stand up on your little baby-legs.  When you do, you move slowly, but you can run briefly before stumbling over into the crawling position.  Frequently, the game makes use of this by making you want to run so badly, but you can’t, you know, being a fucking baby and all.  Not exactly a Kenyan track star.  Also, you can hear the tiny little baby breaths and your character hides in the dark, sucking in air like a noisy little vacuum.  Another feature that highlights the fact that you are a baby is the esc screen.  Hit escape and you bring up your tiny baby hands to cover your face.

Remain still and the teddy bear will go away.

Remain still and the teddy bear will go away.

Early on you realize there is trouble in paradise, and being sensitive to everything around you, it shows.  Babies don’t know much, so they have to experience the world around them in terms of emotions.  Thus, when something scary happens, your screen gets dark and twitchy, like it’s being chewed on by a langolier.  This occurs early on when mommy answers the door.  You hear a male voice and then mommy starts yelling.  That’s when the screen gets all ugly, but mommy soon comes back and it’s all ok again.  She brings a present to you, which you get at later no thanks to your mother, and inside it is the scariest toy ever.  Your travelling companion is a terrifying possessed teddy bear.  At one point he plays with your train set and hides your elephant from you.  But I know the fucking truth!  That little bastard is possessed by a dark entity bent on turning you into a ruthless serial killer!  Either way, teddy is apparently your only weapon.  When you get scared, you have to hug him and he glows in the dark, like a carebear stare that is less powerful and gives your position away to enemies.

<THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!>  Since this game only came out a few months ago, I have to do this.

While playing this game, you notice some really interesting tidbits.  There truly is something sinister lying just beneath the surface, and it isn’t just the spooky ambient soundtrack.  Anyone who watches Grimm knows that what people thought were stories are often used to represent something more sinister.  Although it might not be the fact that werewolves exist, fairytales like Grimm’s fairytales were actually mechanisms used to rise children in a time where they could have been ripped apart by wolves just outside of town.  No one would have noticed for a good few hours either.  So rather than saying “don’t go into the woods or you’ll get ripped apart by wild animals” they would probably say “don’t go in the woods or you’ll be eaten by a witch!”  This is much easy to offer to children than, you know, sheer abject terror.  This game uses the same vehicle to convey and otherwise occluded backstory.  Some guy brings a wrapped package to the door on your birthday and gets into a fight with mommy?  Yea, that was dad.  I guess they were having some kind of issues, so daddy doesn’t live at home anymore.  Later you go through this level with paintings on the walls, one of which features a woman and a well.  As you approach it changes from the woman coming out of the swamp toward the well, her standing at the well and then her drinking deeply from the well with water running down her dress.

Toward the end of the game, you see mommy drinking from bottles (which litter the floor in another level) and she turns into a monster.  This made my jaw drop.  So apparently mommy is also an alcoholic and having some serious issues.  Considering your character stumbles out of a closet at the end of the game, I have to assume this means that the whole game is basically the result of child neglect by a irresponsible bitch that wants to keep the child away from a potentially loving father.  This is a little on the rough side, since a lot of single mothers work hard to ensure that their children get the best they can provide.  But no one is perfect, and some people outright deserve to be dropped off a cliff.

O, shit, mommy is drinking from the jack daniels well again!

O, shit, mommy is drinking from the jack daniels well again!

This game takes a real big adult issue and shrinks it down to a baby size.  It is really deeply affecting, especially since at the end, your mother is the one who rips the arm off your teddy bear, and you character still starts rubbing her head as she sits crying on the kitchen floor.  I cried a little, since this one hits a bit too close to home, having had a number of friends growing up who experienced something like this.  All told, this game is a true horror story that focuses more on the story elements and leaves those “terror from the darkest wilds” elements to more drawn out titles.  After all, how much can you really tell about the story of a baby?

Among the Sleep is a great title, but the thing that really got my gaul up about this title is the number of startle scares it gets out of you.  I mean you creep around a corner, BAM! chair flies at you.  Turn around and something behind you is moving by itself, or something flies out of a random hatch you didn’t know about.  STOP FUCKING DOING THAT!  Man, you’re gonna scare the shit right out of me!   I guess that is their fucking plan, though.  Bastards.

How to Survive, MacGyver vs. zombies

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By this time everyone is getting tired of killing zombies.  From pixelation to paradise, we’ve all smashed more brains and likewise been ripped apart more times than should really be socially acceptable.  Why is this? Well, zombies are safe enemies.  They are person-like enough to be fun to kill, but are clearly monsters, so the deranged soccer-moms of America can’t really blame zombie-slaying for the downfall of western civilization.  More safe than zapping aliens, as that would just be xenophobia and in some cases their belief systems are just echoes of our own xenophobic issues…<cough> Halo </cough>  Yes, zombies are our little squishy rage receptacles, and H2S takes the love of zombie-slaying to isometric levels.

Among the first things that I noticed when starting this game up is its insistence upon issues controls at me like I am holding an xbox controller.  Also, it’s an isometric action RPG.  Like Legend of Zelda with less magic, more zombies and gallons of blood.  Your character of choice washes up on the shore of some island with a random asshole nearby coughing and gasping for air.  Me, I would have just taken the stick he gave me and bashed his brains out with it.  One less zombie to fight later, but it seems this game is more merciful than I am.  You leave the guy to his fate.  Christ.  I would have taken the stick to the head option.

Also, after getting that guy some pain-killing plants to munch on, he gives you a stick.  He even says you won’t survive without it!  Lovely.  Now the only thing keeping me from the precipice of doom is a flimsy piece of wood.  You’ll use it initially to bash in zombie brains, then later you use sticks for crafting.  Alongside some other detritus and pickups, you will find these floating books left behind by a mystical russian sage in a welder’s mask named Kovac.  It is pretty clear that Kovac is a few screws short as he had so perfected the art of survival that he now writes manuals chapter by chapter and leaves them across the various islands you’ll explore.  All this is done for the benefit of anyone else that might end up on his zombie-infested archipelago.  O, yea, this takes place on some tropical islands, but don’t worry, there are no luxury hotels or rap-singers.  Just a russian guy and some zombies. O, and the odd survivor or two.

againstwall

She looks royally fucked. I met a couple gameover screens putting my back against a wall.

Probably the best element of this game is the crafting system.  Your character runs around grabbing items pieces of useless junk, such as harpoon grips and air tanks, and uses them to build shotguns and pistols which fire screws, nuts and bolts.  Hence why I reference the 80’s tv show MacGyver: the original “guy who could go into the woods with a q-tip and build a shopping mall”.  My personal favorite was the boomerang made of two sharpened bones you tied together.  That just screams terrible, messy death.  Especially when you meet some of the bosses in this game.  Shit, man!  I was playing solo, but you can easily play a local game (on your fucking computer) and run around with another player blasting zombies.  At some points you’ll be glad to have that other player.  Numerous times alone at night I have had to flip around while fighting off a horde of zombies with just a bow to shine my flashlight at the night zombies, which hate the light.  That stalls them long enough to kill a couple more enemies attacking your front.  Such frantic gameplay, however, is easily avoided by bringing a buddy.  Sure, there are other survivors in this game, but most of them are either content hiding on their personal island and writing manuals for everyone else or they die terribly.  There is also the off chance they are just disabled, but yea, not helpful.  One NPC that follows you around just seems to be the guy that knows where everything is.  That’s Ramon, and he is obviously someone’s latino grandfather.  A little on the stereotypical side, he calls you papa at some points and uses other spanish terms.  It gets uncomfortable after a while.

Your character progresses to meet the challenges presented by leveling up.  Each kills, direct or otherwise, gets you exp and those points get you skills, like making crossbows or better aim.  There are skills oriented toward survival, too.  Mostly oriented toward the necessity mechanics of the game.  There are three things you need to do in this game: eat, drink and sleep.  Neglecting any of them results in your demise.  You can hunt wild animals, but carrying bloody predictably makes you a zed-magnet and you have to cook it before consumption.  There are wild fruits, which replenish thirst and hunger but also give you diarrhea if you eat too many.  Then there are the roots.  You can find things like cassavas everywhere, but these are gross and replenish only hunger, but they keep you from dying and you can eat all of them with no negative effects.  For water the game places freshwater wells throughout the game and allows you to fill empty bottles with the water, for drinking on the go.

Then there is sleep.  Your character can only sleep at designated locations throughout the game.  Little safehouses built by Kovac and out fitted with beds, a savepoint and a blaring loud siren.  O, yea, this fucker goes off and attracts EVERYTHING in the vicinity.  Not to mention the safehouse starts spitting out zombies at you, too!  So you have to run around in circles zapping gut-munchers and praying you can survive.  The third safehouse you come to was truly fucking irritating, too.  I only have my little homemade pistol and a bow.  I must have missed some goodies, though so I am heading back a bit to see if I can make a shotgun at least.

If that doesn’t sound frustrating enough, some of the fucking zombies have ARMOR on.  Seriously!  You can shoot them all you want with your pistol, but that shit ain’t getting through!  For those guys you need to get out your bow, focus, woo sah woo sah and release.  Meanwhile, a ton of little brainbugs or regular zombies (which get progressively harder to kill) are munching on your spleen.  At some points the game feels more like a test of your ability to cycle through you inventory, but going into your inventory quickly became my method of choice as it pauses the game.  I use this time to address issues of near-death, hunger or thirst.  There are also zombies that explode, giant fucking run-for-your-life-and-hide-like-a-bitch zombies that take forever to die.

"You say 'woo sah' to me one more time, jack, and I shoot you in the dick."

“You say ‘woo sah’ to me one more time, Jack, and I shoot you in the dick.”

Did I mention the natural problems you might run into while living in the middle of nowhere?  You might get charged down by a wild animal defending the watering hole.  Or perhaps you take a swim in a piranha infested swamp?  Yep, the longer you stay, the more you realize this island was set up by a secret government organization to vet the pool of 80’s action hero hopefuls.  There are all kinds of neat elements, though.  You can pick plants and use them to make power potions, craft poultices for injuries and other neat shit.  I would say get this game, but only if survival amongst zombies while building flamethrowers and crossbows intrigues you.  As of this article, Steam has this game on sale for 3.74$.  The DLC’s aren’t on sale, but altogether they cost only 8.94$, so this is definitely worth your money.  The sale is only good until June 29th, 2014, though, so get on that shit!

The game itself tells you how many days you’ve survived, which is neat and all, but I cannot help but feel like this game was supposed to go in another direction.  I have been right about this sort of thing before, too.  It seems like this game was supposed to throw you into a nasty, rough environment and force you to survive on your own.  No storytime, no Kovac and no one to help you but your own gut instinct.  I also feel like they might have allowed you to build your own base at some point, but the game never gets there.  Instead you just sort of run around picking up Kovac’s breadcrumbs and helping your mexican grandfather accomplish his dream of flying a plane.

There is one thing that pisses me off about this title, too.  That being the zombie tropes.  Every game that has zombies wants the game to get tougher than just making you fight the same bland living dead all the time.  Sure, they could just make them tougher to kill, but without an external reason making them tougher to kill (ie armor or helmets) it is a little cheesy.  Thus, since Left 4 Dead every fucking zombie killing game has had the same stupid fucking exploding zombies!  Just change the fucking skin texture and hope no one notices.  Then there is this large, pain-in-the-ass-to-kill tank zombie that charges you down. Seriously, people, if someone can’t get a little more original, I might just stop buying anything with fucking zombies in it.