Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the category “OS X Games”

Yooka-Laylee for PS4, Xbox One, PC, Linux and OS X

I still remember the day I got my N64. My mum was pretty strict when it came to game consoles; she didn’t approve at all and was pretty keen to keep controllers out of my hands. My dad was a big softy though and we went to go pick it up from Toys-R-Us for Christmas. This was the UK in the 1990s and the PS1 was culturally dominant in a way I think lots of people have forgotten, but I had eyes only for the N64. My best friend had one and we’d spent countless hours playing together, but one game had caught my eye above all others. Not Super Mario 64, not Ocarina of Time; Banjo-Kazooie. I obsessed over this game, collecting every Jiggy, every Note, every Jinjo. I’ll never forget the day Nintendo Official Magazine published the secret codes to unlock the enigmatic, but ultimately pointless, Ice Key and Special Eggs, ringing my best friend to share my discovery. I awaited Banjo-Tooie with a fervour, and even though with hindsight I can see that it’s a less tight and strong experience overall than the original, I still loved it to bits at the time. The point is, cut me and I bleed Banjo.

It’s 2017 now, and I’m not far from 20 years older than I was when I first played. Some things haven’t changed; I still have Grant Kirkhope’s Spiral Mountain theme etched into my skull and the childhood best friend was my best man, but one area that has changed is gaming. It’s not 1998 anymore. Yooka-Laylee’s reception was likely disappointing to Playtonic, formed largely by people who left Rare after not being able to handle anymore of Microsoft’s bullshit, who demonstrate clear passion for the collect-a-thon genre and a style of game that no longer exists. Yooka-Laylee is quite clearly a labour of love, which makes it all the sadder that it ultimately fails. Some have snapped back at the criticism of Yooka-Laylee by saying that it simply does what was promised, to recreate the gameplay, style and aesthetic of Banjo-Kazooie into 2017. Those criticising it are simply not the target audience.

Unfortunately, I think the issues with Yooka-Laylee run deeper than simply being a matter of personal taste and nostalgia. Banjo-Kazooie was a big, epic game, but it was very tightly designed. In terms of pure square footage, the levels really weren’t that big, but were packed to the rafters with stuff. There was a sense of wonder, as each world felt radically different to the others, offering unique style, gameplay and sweet, sweet Kirkhope music. Yooka-Laylee has fewer worlds than Banjo-Kazooie, only five overall, plus the hub world. This wouldn’t be a problem in of itself, but they’re also much bigger and, overall, have far less personality. There is probably more content in each world than in Banjo-Kazooie, each of which can be expanded, but it’s far less interesting to gather. Yooka-Laylee aims for Banjo-Kazooie, but it lands on Donkey Kong 64.

The Banjo games were never known for complex plots, but you still had a clear motivation. Banjo’s sister has been kidnapped by an evil witch who wants to make herself young again. In Yooka-Laylee the villain is Capital B, an evil businessman who creates a machine to absorb all the books in the world, to horde knowledge to then sell back. He steals the pages from a magical book in the possession of chameleon Yooka and bat Laylee, so the two set forth into his lair to get the pages back. The writing is still good, funny and silly and irreverent and oh-so-very British, as it was in Banjo. An element I really liked is that the whole game can be interpreted as a dig at Microsoft, with constant jokes at the expense of corporations and capitalism. A boss clearly modelled on Microsoft’s Kinect was particularly genius, as perhaps nothing symbolises how far Rare has fallen, or was dragged, than that useless bit of nonsense. Whilst I like the idea of Capital B, he ultimately feels like less of an engaging presence than Gruntilda, whose constant taunting and rhymes during the original game is pretty much iconic.

Although the level design is lacking, most of the core mechanics themselves are really solid. Yooka simply feels fun to control, running at a good speed and with tight platforming. Similarly to the talon trot of the Banjo games, Yooka can roll up into a ball and be ridden by Laylee for extra speed and to climb slopes, with controls that feel tight and responsive. Many people have knocked the camera, but I can’t say I ever had any major issues with it. The sheer joy of movement that 3D platformers really need is present here, even if what is layered on top of these mechanics feels lacklustre.

Yooka-Laylee has moments of greatness and charm but it is lacking something. The writing, music and strong core mechanics of Banjo are there, but the level design, variety and, ultimately, heart are not. This is clearly a labour of love and I’d like to see Playtonic have another shot; I think there’s a solid foundation here to build upon, but I’m as diehard a Banjo-Kazooie fan as you could imagine and Yooka-Laylee fell flat for me.

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Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment DLC for Switch, Wii U, 3DS, PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, PC, OS X and Linux

The third Shovel Knight campaign was the second game I ducked into on the Switch after Breath of the Wild. It was a good choice; after the sprawling grandeur of Zelda, a nice, tight platforming campaign was exactly what I needed and jumping back into the world of Shovel Knight seemed the best way to do so.

Specter of Torment tells the story of how Specter Knight came to be the ghostly presence we see in the main campaign, as well as how he first recruited the Order of No-Quarter for the Enchantress. Yet again, Yacht Club provide a masterclass in how to include story in this kind of games. It’s light, it never gets in the way, but there’s enough to add an extras layer of engagement to the rock solid platforming gameplay.

Ah yes, and speaking of the gameplay, Specter Knight is just as fun to control as Shovel and Plague Knights before him. Just as with Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment reuses the same locations and boss fights from the base game. Although I certainly hope we get some truly new levels down the line, the subtle alterations that are made to each level make them feel distinct. Alongside Shovel Knight’s bouncing shovel and Plague Knights bombs, Specter Knight has some interesting, fun traversal mechanics. One is the ability to slash towards enemies and certain objects, launching you across the screen. This can be combed to cover large gaps, with close timing being frequently required. Less commonly, you can also grind on your scythe along rails, which is fun but perhaps a little underused.

There’s a lot of joy in catapulting yourself around the areas and the boss fights are as fun as ever, even if Specter Knight’s abilities make them a little too easy. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of an overworld this time around, with Specter of Torment instead simply containing a level select screen inside a small version of the Enchantress’ castle. It doesn’t quite feel as fully formed as Plague of Shadows, but it’s still a really fun, challenging experience.

By this point, the base game for Shovel Knight is bloody good value, with three excellent campaigns. Specter Knight is distinct and fun to play as, although I do hope that Yacht Club begin to move beyond the original campaign as their basis.

 

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XCOM 2 for PS4, Xbox One, PC, OS X and Linux

XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a great little game and the sequel builds upon its predecessor in interesting ways. The core mechanics and loop are the same, but a few clever twists keep things interesting and provide a very strong strategy experience.

In the previous game, the aliens were the guerrilla fighters, popping up, inflicting damage, then vanishing again. XCOM 2, in an interesting narrative twist, assumes that the player failed in Enemy Unknown and so the aliens have taken over the world, with the role now reversed. It is 20 years after the fall of Earth, with the planet now in the grips of the puppet ADVENT administration, with propaganda persuading the people of Earth that the aliens are benevolent and kind. XCOM are now an insurgent group, operating from a mobile military base hidden in the arctic. Word reaches XCOM that the alien administration is pursuing the mysterious ADVENT project. No one knows what it is, but they know it is bad and must be stopped.

XCOM 2 feels a little bit more plot heavy than the predecessor, but as with the last game the real joy will be in the stories you craft for yourself. Your base has a handful of scientists and military men and engineers you may be meant to care about, but I never really did. I did care about my squad of randomly generated squaddies. By sheer chance and not my radical feminist SJW agenda, I ended up with an all-female core squad and by the end I grew rather fond of my ass kicking team of alien stomping women. I felt this way about the first game as well, but it felt like there were more boring cutscenes this time around. Give me the context for what I’m doing then leave me alone, I’m not interested in anything else.

The core feel of the turn based battle system is unchanged from the previous game, but a couple of nifty adjustments shake up how the whole thing feels. Enemy Unknown was a bit easier to cheese, with the Overwatch ability being somewhat overpowered. This move meant any movement by the enemy would then cause them to be fired upon, meaning that a strategy of ‘creep forward, Overwatch, creep forward, Overwatch’ would work more often than not. Most missions in XCOM 2 are on a timer. I thought I’d hate this, but in reality it forces you to play more aggressively. You have to actively pursue your goals with every turn, taking risks to survive. I got through the last game by playing very conservatively, something which XCOM 2 refuses to let you do. The battles themselves are still hugely satisfying, with a simple class system which nonetheless allows for significant customisation. There’s a moment when your squaddies become predators rather than prey which us hugely exciting. The moment for me came when my sniper unlocked the ability to have a move refunded every time they make a kill. This meant that I could operate a strategy of whittling down the alien’s health with explosives before finishing them all off with my sniper, often going through my entire ammo pool in one round. Some may call this cheap, but I had to earn the ability to do this, by keeping my team alive long enough to develop these abilities.

A core part of XCOM is the metagame between missions, which sees you developing your base and researching new weapons and armour. This element was so satisfying in the last game and is even more so now. The sense of satisfaction from developing a new technology or building a new facility is intoxicating, all the more so because the decision about where to allocate resources is so risky. Resources are tight, particularly at the beginning and it’s more than possible to screw yourself over before a battle even begins. The core focus is on linking rebel cells into a global resistance. All the while, a bar counting up to the launch of the ADVENT project is above the map. This can be lowered in a variety of different ways, but it’s a constant reminder hanging over the player. A sense of urgency pervades the whole experience. Something about the XCOM gameplay loop of build/fight, build/fight is just so dang lovely.

The general visual design is decent, with some nasty new alien design and decent music. All told, the actual visual upgrade from the previous game is minimal, minor spit and polish aside. The biggest issue is punishing load times between missions; this is a pretty good disincentive against save-scumming, but I doubt this was intentional. A bit of added visual flair would be a neat little addition, but the general visual conservativeness doesn’t do much harm.

XCOM 2 is, pretty much, more of the same, but seemingly minor tweaks are more significant than they first seem. Strategy games often allow players to retreat to comfort zones, but XCOM 2 refuses to let you do so. It’s always pushing the player on, never allowing them to relax, which can make it an intense, but highly rewarding experience.

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Titan Souls for PS4, PS Vita, PC, OS X and Android

Titan Souls originated from a game jam, with the original prototype created in merely two days. Although expanded from these humble beginnings, the purity of vision which shines through Titan Souls demonstrates its origin. With the name Souls in the title you’d be forgiven that this is simply something riding on the coattails of Dark Souls, and whilst it was certainly a clear influence it’s still very much its own thing.

The plotting is very minimalistic, with the player simply taking control of a figure who must travel through a strange, empty land, along the way slaying the deadly ‘titans’ he encounters. These monsters don’t attack, in fact they will only fight after you’ve attacked them first, raising some interesting questions about who the real hero is here. This is a common enough theme, but the closest to a narrative hook the game can be said to have. The overall look is very simple but effective, primarily in the design of the titans themselves. An effective soundtrack also helps elevate the experience beyond its humble beginnings.

The core mechanics are incredibly simple. Played from a top-down Zelda style perspective, the player can dodge, sprint and fire an arrow. It is an arrow since you only have one, after firing it you must hold a button to pull it back to you to be fired again. The game is simply a series of boss fights. They’re deadly, fast and aggressive and a single hit kills you. In the game’s most interesting twist, the same applies to them. It only takes one strike on a boss’ weak spot to take them down, but getting a shot in on that weak spot is a hell of a challenge. This means that winning fights are usually over in seconds, but you’ll die over and over again getting to that point. You can’t move whilst firing or retrieving the arrow, so placement in the environment is key. These boss fights are brilliant, frantic and brutal and often seemingly impossible at first, until you learn their rhythms and how to manipulate them. They feel like a boss fight in Dark Souls or Bloodborne, whilst being mechanically nothing like them at all. The euphoria rush of taking down a boss you’ve been throwing yourself against is amazing. If my entire game time had been spent fighting these bosses, Titan Souls would be a perfect game, but there a couple of drawbacks, one not so serious and one more so.

The first drawback is the environments between fights. Clusters of fights are found in certain areas, but you’ve got to explore a decently sized environment to find them. The problem is that this exploration simply isn’t fun or satisfying. This is a fine looking game, but the environments aren’t interesting from a visual or design standpoint. Removing these sections entirely and reducing the game to exclusively a series of boss fights would have tightened up some of the flab. The bigger issue is the checkpointing. After dying you will wake up at a checkpoint near the boss arena. Sometimes these are right next to the boss room and sometimes it’s further away. The boss rooms are never more than 10 seconds from the checkpoint, but when you die as often as you do in this game it adds up. I think it’s trying to capture the bonfires/lanterns from the Soulsborne games, but those are different games. Titan Souls has a more arcade-y ‘just one more go’ feeling than those games, which is undermined by this delay. It may sound like a petty thing, but no one likes the feeling of their time being wasted and I felt that this really did. Simply respawning the player straight in the boss room would have been so much better.

Titan Souls is a very good game which falls short of greatness due to some frustrating issues. I liked it very much and the core concept is so strong that I hope they make another one, but more cut back and streamlined rather than more expansive as sequels generally are.

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Day of the Tentacle Remastered for PS4, PS Vita, PC, OS X, Linux and iOS

When it comes to adventure games, I’m a LucasArts man through and through. The first two Monkey Islands are a pair of my favourite games of all time and I really love Sam and Max too, but there are a lot I missed. The Day of the Tentacle is a very well renowned game which I missed first time around (I was two to be fair) so I was happy to see it pop up as a free PS+ game.

The Day of the Tentacle is actually a sequel to Maniac Mansion, one of the earliest Lucasarts games. That said, a few references aside I really didn’t feel like it held back the experience. The game opens with a sentient purple tentacle drinking the toxic run-off from the mansion of scientist Dr. Red Edison. This causes him to mutate, gaining massive intelligence and a desire to conquer the world. The nerdy and hapless Bernard, along with two friends, is summoned to the mansion to stop Purple Tentacle. The three set out in Dr. Red’s time machine to stop the Purple Tentacle from drinking the sludge, but a malfunction sees the three split up across time. Bernard remains in the present, the laid back roadie Hoagie is sent back 200 years to the signing of the United States Constitution and the deranged Laverne arrives 200 years into a dystopian future ruled by the tentacles. The three must work together across time to end the Purple Tentacle’s plans.

The whole thing is suitably silly and deranged for a Lucasarts game. I didn’t feel that it quite holds the cleverness of the Monkey Island games, particularly the cerebral and strange Monkey Island 2. It’s a lighter game, a more-pure comedy lacking in some of the genuinely heartfelt moments some of the other games have. The writing is vintage Tim Schafer, but I’m not sure if it carries the depth and humanity present in much of his other work. The Purple Tentacle itself isn’t quite enough of a presence throughout the game to come across as a genuine threat, but he’s still silly and over the top enough to be enjoyable. I liked the characters, particularly Laverne, a brilliantly unsettling, macabre and twisted figure.

This is a LucasArts SCUMM adventure game and so has all the strengths and flaws that entails. Controlling three figures across time, which can be switched at will, is a neat twist and leads to some interesting puzzles. Items can be freely swapped between the three, with the time travel element allowing events in the past to influence the future. Some of these time meddlings are amusingly clumsy, such as altering the US Constitution to ensure that there is a vacuum cleaner in the basement in the present or changing the US flag to create a tentacle costume. There are some brilliantly clever puzzle solutions, although it is naturally saddled with your classic ‘adventure game logic’ problems. The Day of the Tentacle contains one of the most ridiculous and obscure puzzle solutions I’ve seen since The Longest Journey’s ‘rubber ducky/subway key.’ I have no shame in saying that I freely used a guide whilst playing; I don’t have the time for the insane level of experimentation which would be needed to solve some of these puzzles.

The Remastered version for consoles actually works surprisingly well, with dragging the cursor around being way less irritating than I expected. You can freely switch between the remastered version, with updated visuals and music, as well as a cleaner interface, or the SCUMM original in all its glory. Call me a nostalgia bitch, but I preferred the SCUMM version. The new visuals are just a bit too clean; I liked the jagged edges of the original and seeing how expressive and vibrant the world and characters are with the limited technology. It really is a wonderful looking game in its original form, but if you’re not familiar with the SCUMM engine it may be a bit off putting. The music is really great, although again I preferred the original versions to the remastered versions. The voice acting is good too, hammy and over the top with not a degree of subtlety or nuance, as well it should be.

Without a nostalgic frame of reference, it’s difficult to talk about The Day of the Tentacle. I ran into a similar problem when I played the remaster of Grim Fandango. I just don’t have the time or inclination to play these games as they were meant to be played anymore, but even with regular usage of a guide I still enjoy them. The next LucasArts remaster is supposedly Full Throttle, another one I missed and I look forward to passively enjoying that one with a walkthrough too.

 

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Minecraft: Story Mode for PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, OS X, iOS and Android

So…this was a weird one. I have no particular love for the Minecraft brand; I’ve dabbled and I have huge respect for it as a game and learning tool, but it’s just not for me. Telltale’s brand of narrative games are almost as far from the huge freedom of Minecraft that you can get, but I fancied a narrative game to play over 5 episodes and thought what the hell. I bit off a bit more than I could chew because it wasn’t long until the series was extended to 8. Last year I was surprised to find myself enjoying Tales from the Borderlands much more than Game of Thrones despite massively preferring the latter franchise and this year I’ve been surprised to find myself enjoying Minecraft: Story Mode far more than Telltale’s Batman.

Minecraft: Story Mode is split into two distinct arcs across the first and final halves of the season. The protagonist is Jesse, male or female, who alongside his friends and trusty pet/bestie Reuben (a pig) enters a building competition in his home town. It isn’t long before Jesse is pulled into world changing events as maniacal genius Ivor releases a ‘Wither Storm’, a huge creature which grows continuingly, destroying the land. Jesse and his friends set forth to find the Order of the Stone, legendary warriors who slew the Ender Dragon many years earlier for their help in stopping the Wither Storm. The second half sees Jesse and his friends expelled from their world and unable to find their way back, wandering between a series of strange alternate worlds on their quest back home.

Recent Telltale games have struggled with openings and Minecraft: Story Mode is no exception. The tone is oddly dark and portentous; I had been expecting a lighter and breezier affair. The whole Wither Storm arc doesn’t really work; the general aesthetic doesn’t match a bizarre sense of impending doom the game aims for and the characters are too broad to carry this sort of emotional range needed to support this kind of story. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the characters, but most never get beyond that point of likeability into being something more interesting. There’s a general feeling that things just aren’t as funny as they should be. There are some heartfelt moments towards the end of the first arc when I realised I was genuinely invested in what was going on, but it just takes too long to get there. There are some great moments in this first arc, but it is in the second that the potential for this series comes into its own. Seeing Jesse and his friends travelling to a new world each episode opens up the range of scenarios that can be explored and the most interesting moments can be found here. From a murder mystery pastiche in a mansion to a rogue AI to a Hunger Games style tournament, there’s a feeling of looseness and fun in the final four episodes somewhat lacking in the earlier ones. If Telltale choose to do a second season (and I would be surprised if they didn’t) I hope that this is the approach they stick with.

Minecraft: Story Mode is a Telltale game and plays as such. There are some nods towards the normal Minecraft experience; there are crafting tables and you will sometimes have to…y’know, craft things, but this is very limited. You are essentially just arranging the items you will have picked up automatically to advance the game in a particular order. There’s nothing more to it than that. There are hints towards a more full-fledged combat system than the usual QTEs, but it’s not particularly fun and drops off towards the end. If ever there was a time to get out of the comfort zone and open up the experience a bit, it was here, but Telltale played it safe and stuck with the formula. It’s one that worked well, but it’s hard not to feel that diminishing returns are setting in, or perhaps already had set in a while ago.

The blocky look of Minecraft works surprisingly well, particularly in the character models which are much more expressive than you would expect. The voice acting is to a high standard as it has to be for this sort of game. I normally choose female characters in games, but I had to go for the male this time so I could hear Patton Oswalt, who I’m very fond of, as Jesse. He does a great job and the supporting cast do too although I struggle to think of any truly stand out performances. Telltale games are often unforgivably janky, with low framerates and dodgy textures. Minecraft: Story Mode doesn’t really have this problem, probably due to the simpler art style and runs as well as a game like this should. The music was surprisingly good too, with lots of keyboard and synths making action scenes genuinely exciting.

Minecraft: Story Mode does very much feel like Telltale on autopilot but is a decent enough experience despite all that. I enjoyed the hour or so a week I played with my fiancé, an approach which perhaps softens some of the flaws. This is far from the best Telltale game and doesn’t come close to The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us or Tales from the Borderlands, but it’s still likeable enough anyway.

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The Talos Principle: Road to Gehenna DLC for PS4, PC, OS X, Linux and Android

As soon as I finished The Talos Principle I jumped into Road to Gehenna, the DLC. Although I was only able to complete about three of this expansion’s couple dozen puzzles without a guide, the story and some interesting interactions made this experience worthwhile for me.

Road to Gehenna sees you playing as Uriel, a much more defined character than in the main game. With the artificial construct in which they reside falling apart, Elohim, filled with regret over his actions, sends Uriel to rescue a group of intelligences he had banished due to their questioning nature and willingness to challenge his word. Uriel arrives in this section of the construct and finds that the minds there have, through their terminals, created Gehenna, a platform to allow them to share their works of art and form a community. This creation has staved off the madness of boredom for the AIs residing there, but Gehenna isn’t quite as utopian as it seems.

Gehenna is a pretty fascinating concept and the game does a pretty great job of imagining the kind of art that would be created by minds with all the empathy and intelligence of humans but none of the real world experience. As with the main game, most of the story is told through terminals as you gradually find yourself rising through the community of Gehenna. The whole thing reminds me of nothing so much as a much nicer, more meaningful reddit. The different minds have clearly defined personalities and watching them react to your arrival is pretty interesting. Probably my favourite part of the DLC were a couple of short text adventures which appear on the Gehenna terminal, all of which generally stand in as a metaphor for what is going on around you in the meta story. Road to Gehenna doesn’t quite have the same broad scope of philosophical thought that is seen in the main game but is instead more focused, primarily upon the idea of art and creation and, perhaps, their role in the age of reddit and content aggregation. I liked the story of Road to Gehenna just as much as I liked the story in the main game.

The puzzles are presumably not impossible, but to one with my mental capabilities they really were. I found almost all of them insanely difficult and unfortunately had to spend almost the entire thing following guides. It’s hard to blame the game for this to be fair and it didn’t actually impact my enjoyment as much as you’d expect. I’m still not going to talk too much about his element of the game because I don’t have a huge amount to say. They seem like they’re well designed but to be honest I can’t really tell. The environments still look nice, although they’re mostly recycled from the main game.

It’s pretty crazy that, despite not really engaging with the entire core mechanics of this DLC, I still liked it as much as I did. It shows that, for me at least, good world building conquers all in my enjoyment of a game. Road to Gehenna is a worthy addition to an already great game.

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The Talos Principle for PS4, PC, OS X, Linux and Android

I picked The Talos Principle because I had nothing to play and just looked at the Metacritic top rated PS4 games and went with the first one I hadn’t played. I was initially worried that the puzzles would hit a difficulty wall which would just infuriate me and well…it did, but despite me being an idiot and relying on guides for the final quarter the interesting story and unique way it is told carried me through.

At the start of The Talos Principle you awaken with no memories in a beautiful garden filled with decaying Grecian architecture and art, when a booming God-like voice identifying itself as Elohim tasks you with completing a series of puzzles to ascend and join him. When you first reach a computer terminal and see your robotic hands, it becomes very clear that this is not a story to take at face value. Elohim isn’t the only person communicating with you, dotted terminals scattered around the world drop hints about the nature of the world you inhabit, whilst an AI masquerading as a library assistant program hides out from Elohim and fills your head with thoughts of rebellion. At the centre of the world there is a tower which Elohim forbids you to climb but…that’s not going to stop you is it?

The Talos Principle is a game with extremely lofty narrative ambitions and genuinely hits almost all of them. It’s very concerned with philosophy, specifically the point where philosophy and technology intersect. If The Talos Principle can be said to have a central argument, it is that the musings of the great philosophers about the nature of humanity are in fact more relevant in our technologically advanced world rather than less. Artificial consciousness raises the question of the soul and the right for humans to assume dominance over other intelligences. Compared to something like the recent Deus Ex games, which explore similar themes with all the subtlety of a claymore, The Talos Principle takes a musing and thoughtful approach and doesn’t offer any answers. The most interesting parts of the game are your discussions with the library AI Milton, who questions you about your assumptions about the world and relentlessly challenges you on every point you make. It’s not a conversation, obviously, but it does sort of feel like one. If you’ve ever got into an argument with someone and realised half way through that there’s no way you can win because your opponent just knows more than you, you’ll know what talking with Milton feels like. If any criticism can be given it is that the gameplay and narrative don’t necessarily feel particularly well entwined, but the two separate elements are so strong individually it’s hard to be too upset by this.

So, the puzzles. There are dozens of them and all see you collecting little Tetris pieces called sigils which are put together into keys to unlock new areas or give access to new tools. The satisfaction of completing a puzzle and unlocking a new area is really lovely. The puzzles themselves are largely based around energy gates which must be kept open a variety of ways, from simple pressure pads to jammers to guiding lasers onto panels. By the end you have around six items available for use in the puzzles and it gets properly, ridiculously, difficult. The satisfaction of success is massive though, from creating a complex laser grids to using items in a less obvious, more ‘outside the box’ way. The game forces you to consider every use for your items; to give a simple example, just because your item is for channelling a laser beam doesn’t mean it can’t weigh down a pressure plate and maybe channel a laser at the same time. The Talos Principle forces you to consider your environment in a way I hadn’t really done since Portal 2; in fact, this game has a fair bit in common with Portal, perhaps with a dash of Myst thrown in. The mechanic which caused me the most grief was one which lets you create time loops to duplicate items for a short amount of time. It’s almost as difficult to explain as it was to use and I felt my heart sink every time I walked into a puzzle and saw the time loop machine there.

Alongside the main sigils are bonus stars which can unlock a new ending. If you thought the main puzzles were obscure these are ridiculous. As intricate and clever as the main puzzles are, they do at least simply require you to work within the individual puzzle room. Some of the stars actually force you to cleverly use elements from other rooms. I only picked up three on my first playthrough and the thought of how long it would take me to get the rest makes me feel a little sick. Still, I massively appreciated the way the game offers extra challenge without the blunt tool of different difficulty modes. I got a very reasonable amount of time out of this game but some people will get dozens and dozens of hours trying to get all those stars.

As much as I liked it, by the end I hit an intelligence wall and found myself grinding to a frustrating stop with every puzzle. This isn’t really the game’s fault though and I still found myself persevering with guides to follow to the end of the story which, by this point, I was pretty in to. I liked The Talos Principle a lot and it still probably isn’t my sort of thing; if you’re majorly into puzzle games I’d imagine that this one would be unmissable.

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Gone Home for PS4, Xbox One, PC, OS X and Linux

Gone Home has become an odd vector for controversy since it was first released back in 2013, being a favourite punching bag for Gamergate knuckle-draggers bemoaning the success of something that isn’t a ‘real game.’ In the years since, this attitude has only become more ridiculous, as more and more games in the vein of Gone Home have come about, although this may have had the effect of slightly robbing the original of its impact.

In 1995 Kaitlin is returning to her childhood home after a lengthy period travelling. Arriving to an empty house, the player moves around using visual and audio clues to piece together what happened in her absence. The plot is fairly slight, but deals strongly with a theme little seen in gaming back in 2013 (and still very little today); LGBT love. Kaitlin’s sister had fallen for a young female army cadet, with the strong implication of serious disapproval from her parents. The actual story isn’t actually that interesting but it is one of the first time that this kind of stories has been the focus of a game. There have been strides towards LGBT representation in games; from the transgender mercenary deputy in Dragon Age: Inquisition, to your gay boss Miller in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and not forgetting the varied player controlled protagonists given gay romance options. Still, what none of these games do is put LGBT experience at the core of the narrative/ They may contain gay characters, but the stories aren’t about them and in some case gloss over them, filling a diversity quota but not much more. It is still inconceivable to imagine a AAA action game with an LGBT protagonist. Gone Home proudly stands as a noble exception.

That said…I still didn’t really like it much. I actually have little problems with walking simulators if the environments are beautiful or interesting enough, but Gone Home’s house simply isn’t that enjoyable to explore. It’s small, boxy and annoying to navigate. The story isn’t actually interesting beyond the overdue pleasure in seeing an LGBT narrative at the core, but if you’d taken the exact same gameplay and story and made it about a straight couple I don’t think I could have cared less.

Overall though, it undeniably was a pleasure to see an LGBT relationship at the core of a videogame and I hope to see more of it soon, but preferably in a more interesting game than this.

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The Walking Dead: Michonne for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, OS X, iOS and Android

I’ll confess straight up that I’ve never watched The Walking Dead TV show or read the comic and so went into this with no idea who Michonne was. My experience is likely very different to someone who is familiar with the character, but I approached this as a fan of the games and Telltale in general. That said, The Walking Dead: Michonne made me more interested in watching the show than anything else has previously.

Michonne, a lawyer before the zombie apocalypse and now a machete wielding badass, has found herself with a group of survivors on a ship. When following a distress beacon, Michonne and Pete, the captain, find themselves taken to the floating settlement of Monroe. It isn’t long before things start to go wrong as misunderstanding and distrust begins to descend into violence.

There’s a feeling in the first episode of The Walking Dead: Michonne that it is going through the motions slightly. I felt like I was seeing a lot of familiar stuff and I’ve only ever played the games, much less watched the show or read the comics. There’s a frustrating predictability in how everything descends into chaos but things improve greatly in the second half, as the narrative focuses and becomes much more tense. When the cast narrows down in size and the stakes shrink this game provides some great examples of the unbearably difficult decision making this series is known for. One of the most interesting elements is Michonne’s haunting by the spectres of her (presumably) dead children. This builds throughout the episodes to an intense emotional climax at the end. In some ways the visions of the dead is a cliché, but it’s hard to complain when executed this well. All said though, Michonne grabbed me far less than Season One or Two did simply because none of the supporting cast interested me nearly so much as those from the other seasons.

There is little to discuss mechanically or visually, with it essentially playing the same and looking the same as The Walking Dead season 2. If you found the interactive story/gameplay-lite focus of previous Telltale games grating you won’t like this either.

The Walking Dead: Michonne is, for better or for worse, exactly what it says on the tin. I love playing these games with my fiancé so much that I almost always enjoy them despite their flaws. I’ll only stop playing when Telltale tell a genuinely bad story, which has yet to happen.

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