Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “mac gaming”

Dreamfall Chapters for PS4, Xbox One, PC, Linux and OS X

1999’s The Longest Journey is one of my favourite games of all time, and certainly my favourite adventure game which doesn’t contain Guybrush Threepwood. Wonderful world-building and a truly epic journey which loved up to the name were held together by April Ryan, one of my favourite game protagonists ever. 2006’s sequel/spin-off Dreamfall: The Longest Journey impressed me less and I feel has actually aged much worse than its 7-year older predecessor. The long awaited Dreamfall Chapters is the third in the series and, unsurprisingly based on the name, is very much is the vein of Dreamfall rather than The Longest Journey. It is likely to be the concluding game of the entire saga and whilst elements work very well, it ultimately falls rather short. It could have worked as a 2017 style adventure game, it could have worked as a revival of a 1990s style adventure game, but instead it feels like a revival of a 2006 adventure game, which I don’t think anyone would argue is the genre’s golden age.

Dreamfall Chapters picks up a few months after the end of the last game; over in our world, the technologically advanced Stark, Zoe Castillo awakens from a coma, having forgotten the events of the previous game. To rebuild her life she moves to the continent wide mega city of Europolis, but it isn’t long before she is caught up in a new intrigue and local politics. Despite Zoe’s efforts in Dreamfall, Wati Corp have managed to release their sinister Dream Machine, which has turned many into lifeless husks, addicted to lucid dreams. Over in Arcadia, the apostle Kian Alvane has been imprisoned for betraying the Azadi Empire, who have invaded Marcuria and begun a system of oppression against magical races. To atone for his part in the death of April Ryan, Kian is recruited into the Resistance to fight his former masters and help the magicals he had previously despised. Finally, in the House of All Worlds, a strange child with mysterious powers, Saga, is born.

I’ll start out with the things I liked about the story of Dreamfall Chapters. The actual dialogue is as good as ever, with the same sharp, engaging and fully rounded characters that the series should be known for. Returning characters form The Longest Journey and Dreamfall are welcome, particularly the cowardly, sarcastic and intensely loyal Crow, my favourite sidekick in gaming history. I also really enjoyed the development of the stoic and powerful Dolmari Likho from Dreamfall, whose character develops in some interesting ways. I also really liked some of the new characters, particularly the nervous and endearing member of the magical resistance Enu, who forms an unlikely and very sweet bond with Kian. Zoe was never the most engaging protagonist, but she’s a bit better here, helped by a new and improved voice actor. I didn’t expect to like Kian as much as I did, but we find out that there is a fair bit more to him than we saw in Dreamfall and he even gets some endearingly funny moments.

There are elements of Dreamfall Chapter’s plot which work very well, but it’s origins as an episodic game expose major plot issues, which are exacerbated when the five chapters are played back to back. Seemingly major plot elements from earlier chapters vanish in later chapters, either without a trace or in brief dialogues. A seemingly key plot point in the first couple of chapters about an upcoming election in Europolis, on which Zoe works as a campaigner, fizzles out into nothing. Seemingly vital characters vanish into the aether, with the final episode in particular introducing a dazzling number of concepts and locations in its dash for the finish line. I totally get why this game had to be episodic due to the realities of crowd funding and publishing, but I can’t deny that it hurt the eventual release. If this is the final Longest Journey game as has been suggested, I would be pretty sad due to the fact that the fascinating reveal at the end of the first game has still not been addressed; the reunification of Stark and Arcadia and the so-called War of the Balance. In fact, a lot of plot points from The Longest Journey are glossed over, such as The Balance itself, the Draic Kin and the multiverse. They are referenced and touched upon, but the focus is always on the vaguer notion of ‘The Dreaming.’ During the Kickstarter, game director Ragnar Tournquist suggested a potential direct sequel to the first game, The Longest Journey Home. He has recently suggested that this is unlikely to happen which is heart-breaking as it honestly feels that there is a story left to be told. Dreamfall Chapters does a decent job of wrapping up the series, but it simply doesn’t have the time to address everything.

Dreamfall Chapters is mechanically very basic, only a very slight step up in interactivity from Telltale. There are a handful of puzzles, but they’re simple and not particularly engaging. The Longest Journey infamously went too far in the other direction, with some the most hilariously obtuse puzzle solutions in the genre. Still, at least The Longest Journey felt like, well, an adventure. Although some other locations are included, Dreamfall Chapters mostly sees you running around a smallish open world in Europolis as Zoe and in Marcuria as Kian. Most puzzles just involve wandering around these environments and there’s little sense of discovery or satisfaction in your travel. I almost wish that they’d gone the whole hog and made Dreamfall Chapters an entirely narrative, Telltale-esque experience rather than this weird hybrid, because it doesn’t really work.

For the relatively low budget, Dreamfall Chapters looks pretty nice. The environments are particularly impressive, bursting with character and life. The character models fare less well, generally stiff and fairly expressionless, but the voice acting and writing are to a high enough standard that it doesn’t feel like a major problem. Some dramatic moments come off as stiff and a bit awkward, with the visuals feeling more like an early Xbox 360/PS3 game rather than something more modern, but it never really hurt the experience for me.

There was a lot I liked in Dreamfall Chapters and I’m happy to have got some kind of ending, but ultimately the stuff I wanted to see the most does not appear. I truly hope that this isn’t the end for the series, but for something as obscure and niche as this to get an ending at all, with roughly a decade between instalments, is a hell of a thing. It may not be exactly what I wanted, but I’m still glad it exists.

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – A Criminal Past DLC for PS4, Xbox One, PC, OS X and Linux

The second DLC for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is much meatier than the first and stands out because it offers a much more interesting setting and premise, which feels distinct from anything in the main game, something which could not have been said for the competent but familiar first DLC, System Rift. A Criminal Past starts out very interesting and takes the turn which makes it become much less interesting, but it stays engaging throughout.

A Criminal Past is framed as a therapy session for Jensen at TF-29, as he recalls a mission from before the events of Mankind Divided. He is sent undercover to infiltrate a state of the art prison for Augs, to extract a deep undercover agent who is feared to have gone rogue. Upon arrival Jensen quickly finds himself caught between the callous and sadistic warden Stenger and the charismatic leader among the inmates Flossy and it isn’t long until things escalate out of control. The setup is interesting, but a found myself zoning out of a lot of the story stuff, hitting essentially similar beats to everything we’ve seen before.

The prison setting, seeing Jensen stripped of his Augs and forced to rely entirely on his wits, was interesting in theory and starts out very well. The prison is split into two blocks, with those in one wearing red and the other in yellow. Jensen starts in red but must make his way over to yellow, where you could sneak around or you could simply steal a yellow uniform and walk around freely. There was an indication that there would be some interesting mechanics about having to follow the routine of prison life for a while to find your target, but things go wrong almost immediately and the setting quickly become much like any other Deus Ex location. Much of the DLC takes place during a riot, which is frankly much less interesting than the social stealth elements of the early section. Perhaps I was expecting too much, but there are DLCs out there that do fundamentally interesting and different things with the base game and A Criminal Past initially seemed like it may be doing the same. Instead we have a competent enough Deus Ex experience that offers more of the same.

The future for the Deus Ex series is uncertain at the moment, so A Criminal Past may be the last we see of it for a while. It’s a decent enough experience, and certainly beats the much slighter System Rift, but it doesn’t follow through on it’s interesting premise and ends up feeling like a missed opportunity.

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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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Thomas Was Alone for PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox One, PC, OS X, Linux, iOS and Android

I’m an unashamedly emotional consumer of media; I watched pretty much the entirety of How to Train Your Dragon 2 through misty eyes. Games have made me cry, but they have never brought on that unending cascade of emotions some film, TV and books have…until Thomas Was Alone. I spent the final third of this game feeling intensely emotional and I DON’T KNOW WHY OH GOD SOMEONE GIVE ME A HUG.

Thomas is a red rectangle who jumps on stuff. He’s also a newly emergent AI who is just discovering sentience. He’s a curious and affable fellow and is soon joined by a group of other coloured quadrilaterals who use their different abilities to discover more about the world which contains them and, maybe, find a way out.

In a way, Thomas Was Alone tells two different narratives; one is a cosier and whimsical story about the AIs and the relationships they form on their adventure and another in a meta-narrative which lends everything context. It’s a bit like Assassin’s Creed in a way, but done so much better, with each element of the narrative supporting the other beautifully. Thomas Was Alone manages to blend an intimate and personal narrative with an epic context. The wonderful narration from Danny Wallace imbues each coloured shape with a distinct personality. These squares and rectangles are some of the most memorable characters I’ve seen in a game recently. I can barely remember the conflict between the Kyrati freedom fighters in Far Cry 4, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever forget yellow square Chris mellowing out from his grumpy beginnings through his love for the pink rectangle Laura, or the high jumping John’s newfound humility. This game almost feels like an experiment in empathy, as if someone asked ‘is it possible to make people care about a four sided shape?’ Well, the answer is a conclusive yes.

The actual mechanics are really solid as well. It’s a puzzle platformer, with the objective of each level being to get into the portal at the end. Although early on you just play as Thomas, who has no particular abilities, in later levels you are introduced to more and more friends who all have different abilities. For example, Sarah can float in water which kills the other shapes and Laura provides a surface which other shapes can bounce on. Switching between the different shapes and finding out how to get all their abilities to work together to reach their portals is hugely satisfying, although never particularly challenging. It also reinforces the theme of teamwork which suffuses the game, a great example of using the actual mechanics of the game to tell part of the story. The controls are a bit frustrating and I had my fair share of unfairly missed jumps, but Thomas Was Alone never frustrated nearly as much as many indie platformers with floaty controls.

The graphical style is very minimalist but highly effective. In a few years I think it may even be considered iconic. The real star though is the music. You know how I mentioned that I spent much of this game in tears? The music played a pretty massive part in that. A beautiful blend of real instruments and a laid back chip tune influence combined into something entirely unique but supremely effecting. I honestly think Thomas Was Alone may have shot up to join Braid, Banjo Kazooie, Ocarina of Time and Mario 64 in my favourite ever videogame soundtrack charts. I’m listening to it now as I write this and beginning to tear up again and oh God I can’t stop. David Housden is a composer I’ll be keeping a close eye on.

Between them, Mike Bithell, David Housden and Danny Wallace have created a live write straight to my emotional core. I played this game when I was feeling quite down and Thomas Was Alone provided a catharsis and left me feeling moved and saddened yet optimistic. Thomas Was Alone is a triumph.header (1)

Fez for PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, PC, OS X and Linux

Fez is almost the quintessential ‘indie’ game. It’s a platformer with a clever twist, with a pixel art style and a creator famed for his outbursts. Such a cliché! I really love this game though, and I was thrilled to revisit it on PS4.

Fez follows Gomez, a youngster who discovers the ability to perceive the third dimension. He sets out to collect a few dozen cubes which will save the world…or something. Fez doesn’t have much of a plot, but its world is curiously fascinating and engaging, with a few amusing NPCs and some decent writing. This may sound odd, but this is a minimalist plot done right. There’s nothing to get in the way of the pure gameplay, but there’s enough intrigue about the world itself to give everything a context.

Fez is a platformer at heart, with the main gimmick being the difficult to explain fact that each area has four sides, which Gomez can switch to at will, changing how the world is perceived. This is used for simple platforming to collect cubes from a series of different worlds, which can be explored at leisure. Fez is an open game, with exploration being a huge part of its charm. The actual platforming itself is frustratingly imprecise, but the ingenious level design more than makes up for it. There are a few spins on the formula, such as platforms which can also be rotated and throwable bombs, but by and large Fez is a great example of how a game can get away with one really strong, original mechanic rather than aiming to be a jack of all trades.

Fez is a game filled to the brim with secrets, many of which incredibly obscure and complex. The world of Fez is filled with codes and ciphers and treasure maps, with no hand holding as to what corresponds with what. There are whole rooms with purposes that seem maddeningly obscure, only for the key to their existence to be found half the game away. This sort of thing normally turns me off, but none of it is needed for the main game; you can reach the credits without delving into this stuff and it adds an extra layer to the experience. A palpable sense of mystery suffuses the entire game, with a nagging desire to just understand how this world works.

The visuals are absolutely lovely, with gorgeous pixel art vistas and some lovely lighting effects. The music is good too, very chilled and low key yet absolutely suiting every area. The different regions are suitably distinct from one another, with suitably different vibes.

Fez is the creation of one creative genius, one who has been forced out of the industry by the levels of abuse he’s suffered at the hands of the despicable online commentators. People have said Phil Fish should get a thicker skin, but why the hell should he? Anyone who can make games like Fez is a gift to the game industry, so I can only hope one day the online gaming community reaches a point where it deserved eccentric figures like Fish enough that he’ll come back to the fold and maybe, just maybe, polish off Fez 2.Fez_(video_game)_cover_art

Octodad: Dadliest Catch for PSN, PC, OS X and Linux

Ok, yes, Octodad is very much a gimmick game. It’s all one big joke, and if you don’t fine that joke funny, you probably won’t get too much out of it. Good thing I did find it funny.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch is the story of a perfectly normal family man who lives a life of mundane suburban bliss. Except he hides a dark secret; he is secretly an octopus, and is utterly terrified of him family or the wider world discovering the truth. After fumbling his way through basic home chores, Octodad faces his biggest nightmare; a trip to the aquarium with his family.

Ok, so obviously Octodad is a comedy, and the concept is inherently ridiculous and absurd. There are plenty of laughs both in the script and the emergent gameplay. Octodad didn’t just make me laugh though; I also found it to be oddly moving. There’s something just so loveable and sympathetic about Octodad that he’s impossible not to care for. On a personal level, I’ve struggled with feelings of social awkwardness and anxiety about not fitting in my whole life, and Octodad captures these feelings brilliantly, albeit in an absurd way. There’s probably a bit of Octodad in all of us, and I imagine that this is a game which will mean a lot of different things to different people. Of course, for many people this will just be a silly game about an octopus and that’s just as valid an interpretation as any other!

So; the gameplay. Octodad probably fits into the new-fangled ‘fumblecore’ genre, although it’s a bit more accessible than games like QWOP or Surgeon Simulator. Both of Octodad’s ‘legs’ are controlled independently, with one limb used to manipulate the environment, picking up objects and throwing them around. It’s incredibly fiddly and awkward to control, which is exactly the point. The best game narratives are those where the gameplay actually reinforces the narrative rather than just existing alongside it, and Octodad definitely succeeds there. Basic tasks become impossibly difficult, as Octodad causes chaos around him. Too much chaos however and the ‘suspicion meter’ raises too high and you have to start again, but thankfully the humans of Octodad’s world are a credulous bunch. It can get quite frustration, but that’s all part of the fun. This is an oddly social game, with the most fun to be had in playing in a group and passing around the controller, celebrating each other’s achievements and punishing their failures.

Octodad is brilliantly expressive, and his family are immediately likeable and well voice acted. The music is also rather lovely, with the wonderfully silly theme song being the best piece. Octodad is simple, but drips charm, and is a well polished experience.

Now, this is far from a long game, and if bought at full price you might feel a little short changed. I got it on sale though, and found the whole thing to be deeply charming. Lots of people will not like this game at all, but if you have a taste for the absurd and a fair amount of patience, Octodad is absolutely worth a go.images

The Walking Dead for Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, iOS, Ouya, PC and Mac.

I’ve been a fan of Telltale games for a long time. They have a knack for adapting my favourite things into hilarious, tricky and fun episodic adventures games. After adapting Homestar Runner, Wallace & Gromit and Monkey Island, they were cemented as one of my all-time favourite game companies. I wasn’t as much of a fan of their Back to the Future series, but it was the awkward middle part of their transition from old fashioned adventure games to a new kind of interactive story. Although I hope that they one day return to their roots, this exciting new genre is incredibly exciting, and Telltale used it to great effect in the Walking Dead, creating one of the most genuinely moving and emotional game experiences that I’ve ever enjoyed.

The Walking Dead opens with history professor Lee Everett in a police car following his mysterious arrest. The appearance of zombies, here called ‘walkers’, drives the car off the road and Lee makes his escape. Soon he comes across a young girl named Clementine, whose parents are away, and it’s not long before Lee becomes her guardian through the zombie apocalypse. Lee meets up with a small group of other survivors and focuses his attention on protecting Clementine, his new surrogate daughter.

Telltale’s leap into the dramatic over the comic is handled incredibly well. I knew these guys could do irreverent and funny, but moving and tense? They nailed it. Lee is a highly likeable main character, although I suppose depending on the player he could also be an aggressive jerk. Lee is just how characters in games like this should be; plain enough that the player can project their will on them, but also with an independent personality of their own, something even Bioware never quite managed with Commander Sheperd. Although the supporting cast are interesting and likeable, what kept me coming back was the moving and heart-warming relationship between Lee and Clementine. Lee is a man who has lost everything, even before the rise of the walkers, and in Clementine he finds the motivation to be a better man.

The actual gameplay on the other hand? Truly terrible. There are a lot of quick time events and hurried decision making, and these work well, but whenever The Walking Dead tries to be a proper adventure game it fails miserably. The terrible character animations as we move Lee around break the immersion, and the puzzles are never more than a matter of go pick up A and bring to B. Although I liked it when Telltale made adventure games, I’d almost rather they go the whole hog and abandon that element, and focus entirely on the interactive story telling. It’s rare that I’m asking for more QTEs and less gameplay, but I honestly feel that that is what these games need.

The cartoony visual style, reminiscent of its comic book source material, works well and doesn’t detract from the sense of menace. The biggest visual irritation is the poor character animations, and hopefully Telltale with their new success can afford to invest in some motion capture for future projects. The voice acting is, unsurprisingly, superb. Much like with a great animated film, you forget that these figures are just polygons and start seeing them as people, and that’s really all down to the great voice performance. The poor facial animation means that the voice actors have to pull double duty to make their characters convincing, and all of them do.

The Walking Dead is a game which creates a new genre, and one which really nails the episodic gaming concept. After a shaky time with Back to the Future, I’m on board with this new, dramatic Telltale. Telltale is we knew it is dead. Long live Telltale. TWD-game-cover

Borderlands 2: Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty DLC for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Mac

Well, this is how to do DLC. The firs t major Borderlands 2 DLC takes a piratical theme, introducing a few large new areas, a fun main story and a good range of side quests. All of the fun of the vanilla game is there, although there are some elements in this release which fall slightly short of the very high bar set by the main game.

Despite the pirate theme of this DLC, it doesn’t take place near an ocean, instead staying in the deserts which are the primary setting of the series. There are a handful of big new hubs, which feel admirably distinct from each other and those in the main game. Some of the most breathtaking geography in Borderlands 2 is to be found in this DLC. I particularly liked a vast lighthouse on a high promontory above the desert; I was often fond of the more vertical environments of the main game, so I was glad to see more here. I’m generally not fond of caves in videogames as a rule, and the cave levels of the main game were generally less impressive than their more open ended counterparts, so it’s gratifying to see that Gearbox have included the most lovely and beautiful cave section of the game in this DLC. A gorgeous underground oasis ironically discovered below a town in which all of the population bar one had died of thirst is a classic example of the wonderfully cruel comedy which made Borderlands 2 so great.

The Vault Hunter (or hunters if you are co-op inclined) arrive in the deserted town of Oasis, and are soon greeted by a message from the titular Captain Scarlett, who is seeking the treasure of the dread pirate Captain Blade. She recruits the player to find four compass pieces, which will reveal the location of the treasure, whilst cheerily confessing that she will almost certainly stab you in the back come the end. Along the journey there player meets plenty of new big personalities to join the roster, encounters some fun new enemies and picks up the requisite hordes of loot. The actual plot isn’t anything special at all, there aren’t any compelling twists and it doesn’t pack the emotional punch which the main game was able to. What makes the DLC so fun to play is, as always, the characters. Captain Scarlett herself is a hoot, affably sadistic, but there are plenty of other fun characters rounding out the bunch. One of the best was Shade, the last survivor in a town riven by drought, who has propped up the corpses of his former friends, pretending that they are still alive. Shade even gives you some missions ‘in character’, which was as amusing as it sounds. It would be so easy for Borderlands 2 to slip into being obnoxious, but it never does; the humour is cleverer than it may first seem.

The basic mechanics of Borderlands 2 are as strong as ever, and the levels are well designed and fun to play. If there’s any area which takes a slight step backwards from the main game, it’s in the prevalence of fetch quests. These were generally still fun, and what you’re fetching is usually amusing, but a little bit more variety would have been nice. One huge improvement is the addition of the ‘sand skiff’, a hovercraft to explore Pirate’s Booty’s locales. The vehicles in Borderlands 2 were one of its weakest points, as they lacked traction and weight, feeling unnaturally floaty. A hovercraft has no traction and is floaty, so the controls feel a lot better here, with a nice extra boost to manoeuvrability. However, if you’re hoping for something fundamentally different to what’s on offer in the main game you may be disappointed, there’s no real innovation here. More of the same isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, when the ‘same’ was so damn fun to begin with!

The voice acting is up to its usual high standard here, with plenty of fun and amusing characters joining the fray. One tragically minor character was Aubrey Callahan III, a wonderful deadpan teenage girl, who I’m utterly convinced is named after Aubrey Plaza of ‘Parks and Recreation’ fame. There are a few technical issues, a cut out of the music during the final boss fight rather sapped the tension from the battle, but Borderlands 2 remains a remarkably glitch free experience. After the mess that was Assassin’s Creed III, this was a relief.

If you enjoyed Borderlands 2, Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty is a worthwhile, but unessential purchase. If you gave this a miss you wouldn’t necessarily be missing out on anything incredibly worthwhile, but there are much worse places you could put your money. borderlands-2-captain-scarlett-her-pirates-booty

Bastion for XBLA, PC, Mac, Linux and iOS

Bastion is one of the biggest success stories of the recent indie gaming boom, and it’s not difficult to see why; the beautiful world, wonderful music and best of all, a narration throughout the entire game by a husky voiced gentleman. What’s not to love? Sadly, quite a lot. Like Limbo before it, Bastion is a case of pure style over substance.

Bastion is set in and around the city of Caelondia following a nightmarish catastrophe known as ‘The Calamity’, which has left the world fractured, with the surviving pieces of the once beautiful city floating in a void. There’s a surprisingly complex back story to the game, but it isn’t conveyed particularly well, with a large amount of the details coming from simple messages in the loading screens. Although it’s clear the developers wanted to create a complex and compelling world to underpin the gameplay, and I don’t believe that they quite succeeded. Where they did succeed however is in how utterly beautiful the world of Bastion can be, creating a unique setting unlike any that I’ve seen before.

The player character of Bastion is known only as ‘The Kid’, a young man of a mysterious past, of whom we are only given a very limited understanding. Upon awakening after The Calamity as one of the only human survivors, he makes his way to ‘The Bastion’ a sort of floating shrine to the world before the disaster, under the control of the mysterious Rucks, the narrator of the game. Rucks sends the Kid out into the shattered lands of Caelondia to collect shards of, I don’t know, some kind of vague magicky stuff, which can boost the power of the Bastion. As the Kid’s journey continues the player learns more about the nature of The Calamity and what bought it about.

The plot of Bastion is quite thin, but rather interesting nonetheless. There are a few characters in the game apart from Rucks and the Kid, but it’s rather difficult to get a real feel for them, as they’re simply narrated by Rucks. The success of Bastion’s narrative lies not with the story itself, which is moderately interesting at best, but in how this story is told.

Bastion is an action RPG played from an isometric perspective. There’s little in the way of exploration; the player picks a level from the world map and then plays through in a generally linear fashion, all to the soothingly grave tones of Rucks. The combat is fairly simple, consisting of two weapons and one special attack, which can be customised in the Bastion, which serves as the game’s hub. There’s a wide variety of weapons to choose from, from the hammer seen in the game’s art to pistols and a rocket launcher.

The actual bread and butter gameplay of Bastion leaves something to be desired, usually devolving into fairly uninspired hack and slash. Something I did like was the wide variety of weaponry available and the amount of customisation available to the player; the game does a good job of introducing cool weapons all the way throughout the game, so you’ll never go too long without getting to try out something new. There’s some interest in the customisation of the Bastion, but this mechanic never really reaches its potential. As I mentioned before, like Limbo, Bastion is another indie game which shows style over substance. That said, if the style is suitable good this isn’t necessarily a problem; I actually really liked Limbo! The sad fact remains that Bastion simply isn’t that much fun to play, even if it is beautiful to look at and listen to.

Despite all of my misgivings about the gameplay of Bastion, the narrator is going to keep me looking back at the game with fondness. It’s so elegantly compelling that it’s a wonder no one else has done it before. The voice actor for Rucks was an excellent choice, soothing and mysterious, a trustworthy voice to carry the player through the game. The music for Bastion is also excellent, particularly a sung track towards the end of the game that sent shivers down my spine. The game also looks great, with a lovely art style, although the environments can look a little cluttered. I suspect that the blame for this lies more with the level design than the art design. For all its flaws, Bastion doesn’t look or sound like any other game out there.

I have extremely mixed feelings on Bastion; on one side I love that it took risks with its presentation, delivering something certifiably unique yet I wish that as much attention had been lavished upon the gameplay. I almost want to recommend Bastion solely because I want to support games like this existing, but the game as it stands simply isn’t good enough. If you spot it on sale, and fancy being taken on an interesting and fun narrative ride, pick up Bastion, but if you want an actual fun and satisfying gaming experience, you could do better elsewhere.

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