Descent 2 was one of the videogames I cut my teeth on. Looking back on it, it was a pretty rude introduction to 3D games. It was a game that really made use of every axis. A maze of twisty passages, none of them alike. It was also my introduction to one of the defining videogame tropes of the era: “Red key, Red door” puzzles.
This is, like my Wargame review, a repost of something that I wrote for the ex-website D22 Zone, because I’d prefer that at least some of my work for them still existed in some form. So, given that this was originally written in June 2012, caveats apply to the accuracy of Tribes’ features as described here.
It’s a pleasant challenge, sometimes, to have to describe a game that’s difficult to pigeonhole easily. With most games, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of dismissively describing a game with an offhand “it’s a military-themed tactical shooter” or “it’s a 4X set in space” or “Oh that? That’s just a cross between Braid and Far Cry 2″. Tribes: Ascend resists any attempt at that kind of reduction, by virtue of being definitively its own thing, even within the super-saturated solution of bullets and chest-high walls that is the modern FPS genre.
So, Critical Distance are running a Blogs of the Round Table this month with the theme of Challenge:
“The past few years have seen a resurgence of challenging games: Dark Souls, Spelunky, FTL: Faster Than Light, XCOM: Enemy Unknown to name but a few. Do you think videogames have more value in providing a stern challenge for the player to overcome, or does difficulty serve to alienate and deter potential players, impeding their potential for inclusiveness?”
Woah, wait just a second. Dark Souls? FTL? XCOM? Those aren’t difficult games.
Snake will always hold a special place in the hearts of a certain generation of gamers. It’s high-score chatter by the lockers. It’s the reason we bought our first mobile phones, SMS be damned. It’s numb fingers whiling away the wait at a freezing bus stop by mashing the keypad of a Nokia 3310.
An affectionate and sharp indie reboot was probably an inevitability, then. But the irritatingly-unpronounceable qrth-phyl is more than just a smear of graphical make-up slathered over the ageing cheeks of a classic game. It has much bigger ideas than that.
Wargame: European Escalation wants to take you back to the 80s. From the moment you first fire up the game and are presented with a menu system that looks like the set of Wargames, Eugen Systems’ commitment to their source material is palpable. It could only be a more convincing child of the 80s if it were wearing dungarees and listening to Blue Monday on its Walkman. That’s mostly a good thing – the colossal, meticulously-realised unit roster alone is a testament to the value of thorough period research – but it also explains European Escalation’s authentic-feeling, but oddly ugly in-game UI: a wall of grey boxes that feels like an East German electronic engineer’s solution to screen burn.
In December last year, I was contacted by a games website called D22 Zone. They liked my blogs here and, based on that, asked me to contribute to their site; I’ve been writing a couple of articles a week for them since then. Around about that time, I also submitted an article to a fledgling games criticism site called Medium Difficulty. All of which should go some way to explaining why this blog hasn’t seen any updates in a good many months.
By co-incidence, this week saw Medium Difficulty finally launch, at the same time as D22 Zone was undergoing a major relaunch, with a new theme, hosting provider, and regular writers. So, that seemed as good a time as any to update my own blog and, in lieu of a proper new entry, to post some links to all the great things I’ve written elsewhere in the past few months.
Every game of Dwarf Fortress begins with a simple imperative: “Strike the Earth!”. If I ever take it upon myself to create a family coat of arms, it shall be emblazoned with that motto. I can truly think of no more useful and rousing wisdom to pass on to future generations.
Both battle-poem and epitaph, it deserves to become part of the canon of geek-proverbs along with “May the Force be with you” and “The cake is a lie”. But whereas those two simply mean “good luck” and “this is obvious deception”, respectively, “Strike the Earth!” is an exercise in pithy Dwarven brevity; while it may sound to the uninitiated like a simple “good luck” or “go for it!”, to any veteran of a few failed fortresses, it means much, much more.
But what the hell do They know, anyway? They said PC gaming was dying. They said Duke Nukem Forever would never launch. They told me that tuna fish, cheese and jalapenos don’t belong together in a sandwich, and by God were they ever wrong about that.
Sure, developers have more or less given up on LAN support in new releases, on the grounds that not enough people use it. And sure, the technical obstacles that made LAN parties necessary in the first place have been steadily eroded by ever-faster internet connections and welcome improvements in things like online matchmaking and VoIP, but LAN events are as popular as ever. In fact, online gaming titans Multiplay UK recently announced the relocation of their signature LAN – the i-series – to larger premises in Telford in order to accommodate twice as many people.
So what, if not necessity, is the magic sauce still attracting thousands of gamers up and down the country to clamber behind their desk, disembowel a nest of cables and drag their heavy PCs to some far-flung hall to play – broadly speaking – the same games they could be playing online?
Last week, in the run-up to Comic-Con, THQ produced an unusual press release. It announced the appointment of a new “Quality Assurance” team for Saints’ Row: The Third. Sort of. See, the new team members are… well, they’re porn stars. More precisely, every single one of the six new hires is a Penthouse Pet.
Now, I’ve worked in a games studio. QA is a job about dedicated bug-hunting, repetitive testing and meticulous documentation. So exactly why it is that Volition, the studio behind Saints’ Row, thought the best-qualified people for the job would be a bevy of attractive young ladies who are enthusiastic about removing their clothes in exchange for money is unclear.
Each and every turn in Frozen Synapse is Clint Eastwood leveling an over-sized revolver at your face, asking if you feel lucky. Maybe you do, so you send your shotgunner barrelling in the back entrance, blazing away. Maybe you don’t, so you pop a grenade in the window and cover the door with a machine-gun. Either way, 5 agonising seconds roll past, someone’s faithful soldier ends up a crumpled sachet of ketchup on the floor, and you’re asking yourself Dirty Harry’s famous question again.