Cyberpunk was a very 1980s thing, and sometimes that comes through in the modern games reviving the genre. Shadowrun began as a tabletop RPG in 1989 and the video games based on it retain some of the era’s qualities, including a fascination with Asian culture as filtered through action movies. Street samurai wield katanas, every city has triads and yakuza, and the world is run by megacorps with names like Shiawase, Wuxing, and Renraku.
So in Shadowrun: Hong Kong of course you work for a triad boss based out of a mahjong parlour and one of your missions is to mess with the feng shui of an office building to harm the owners’ profits. It trades in pretty broad stereotypes, but that’s the nature of Shadowrun’s pulpy adventure fiction background, which mashes up cyberpunk and urban fantasy so that the street samurais are likely to be elves, the triads and yakuza backed up by shamans, and the megacorps run by dragons.
You know those visualisation things you get with music software like Windows Media Player? The ones that accompany whatever song is playing with geometric patterns, rising and falling and changing colour in time with the music, sort of like what 1990s movies thought cyberspace looked like? Audiosurf takes that idea and makes a video game out of it. Feed it an mp3 (or, new in this sequel, a stream from SoundCloud) and its algorithm analyses the music’s tempo and beat and changes in intensity and then maps them to a rising and falling rollercoaster/racecourse hybrid, which you fly across in a spaceship.
Still with me? Good, because there’s more. While the speed you travel is entirely at the mercy of the BPM you can flit left and right across three lanes on that track to hit certain blocks while dodging others, collecting them in a grid beneath you and earning points. Audiosurf is two games in one – both a score-attack game of reflexes and careful choices about which blocks to grab, and a transformative experience that can turn your favourite music into a physical space and then pull you across it.
There are jobs monkeys can do, and then there are jobs you can’t give to a monkey because the soul-smashing tedium would be considered a form of animal cruelty. Scanning the items on supermarket shelves to make sure they all have the right price was one of those soul-smashing tedium jobs – just empty aisles and buzzing fluorescent lights until nine p.m. rolled around and I could go home.
On the walk home I normally didn’t see anyone. But on this night the lights were on in a home entertainment store where a friend of mine sold expensive car stereos and huge TVs. He was still in there, working late on the books when I went in to say “hi”. Too busy to talk, he said he had something to show me and shoved me into the back room and out of his way. There was a projector hooked up to a PlayStation back there, and a new game I apparently had to try. Then he went back to his books.
That was how I played Silent Hill for the first time. Head fuzzy from a job that used such a small slice of brain the rest shut down in despair, alone in the dark, holding a controller that burred and thudded in time with the heartbeat of the game’s protagonist as he ran through the streets of an abandoned town. The locations were ordinary – a school, a hospital, shops – the kind of public places it feels wrong to be in when the rest of the public aren’t.
Afterwards, I walked the rest of the way home flinching at every flicker of a streetlight.
Two years later I bought my own copy second-hand. I immediately caught the flu and spent the next three days lying on the couch, coughing and sneezing and playing while not sure what was real and what was feverish hallucination.
I remain convinced Silent Hill dislikes being played in a normal frame of mind.
There’s a popular Skyrim mod called Frostfall I’ve had installed for a while. It takes all those background weather effects, the snow and rain and fog, and pushes them into the foreground where you can’t help but notice them. It achieves this by letting them kill you. You know that expression “a little rain never hurt no one”? Yeah, forget that.
Somebody at Bethesda put a lot of effort into modelling the climate of Skyrim in the regular game, but apart from that one area near the top of The Throat Of The World that can chill you to death, it normally doesn’t affect you. Frostfall, on the other hand, models temperature and exposure and dampness, and will slowly freeze you to the bone if you wander off without adequate protection. To prepare you for that, Frostfall also lets you craft cloaks and sleeping tents, makes eating soup and standing near fires grant warmth and dryness, and also lets you take that wood you chopped just to watch the animation and light an actual fire with it.
I’ve been messing about with Frostfall on a savegame where I’m playing a Khajiit – one of the catfolk – named Hunter. He’s a hunter, yes. I’m imagination personified. Thanks to another mod called Live Another Life, Hunter S. Tomcatson isn’t the Dragonborn, hero of prophecy. He’s just an ordinary catman with a bow and a cloak who has been tooling around for nine levels shooting wildlife, skinning them, and selling the bits. That’s literally it. Sometimes he gets attacked by bandits, but since I didn’t initiate the main questline, Hunter lives in a Skyrim that doesn’t even have dragons in it.
The main supernatural occurrence in Hunter’s Skyrim is fast-travel. Memories of slogging through the ash wasteland in Morrowind, or being funnelled by those tedious mountain passes while Cliff Racers swooped down like broken pterodactyls, have made me rely on the fast-travel in more recent Elder Scrolls games (and ride horses a lot too). But to get the most out of Frostfall you need to see it on foot and you need to see it continuously.
To that end I’m going to spend an afternoon travelling across the country, and I’ve banned myself from fast travel while I’m doing it. No carts or boats or mounts either. I’ll visit all the capital cities of the various Holds and see if I can do it without freezing to death. How long will that take? Let’s find out.
PAX AUS 2014 Special: Part Two Interviews with: Tripod, Wargaming (World of Tanks), Disparity Games (Ninja Pizza Girl), Witchbeam Studios (Assault Android Cactus), Flat Earth Games (Towncraft/Metrocide) & Digital Confectioners (Depth).
The Lego games are released on a schedule as constant as Call Of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, and that means they can be formulaic. Lego Batman 2: DC Heroes was one of the series’ innovators, however, introducing fully-voiced characters and an open world. Between missions you and a friend could hoon around Gotham City in Lego vehicles or climb its buildings looking for secrets and punching on hoodlums. It basically had everything I want from future Arkham games and threw in a playable Superman as well.
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham expands the roster even further, pulling various deep-cut characters from the DC Comics catalogue, while shifting the focus away from Batman’s home turf of Crimetown USA and into outer space. The villainous Brainiac has a plan to shrink the Earth and place it under glass like he’s collecting bugs, and he’s stolen the power of the variously coloured Lanterns to do it. Green Lantern isn’t alone, you see – in the comics he pals around with Red, Pink, Blue, Purple, Orange, and Yellow Lanterns. It’s a whole thing.
Halloween in Australia is weird. I’ve only had kids come to my door in costume twice, but people love to complain about how this American holiday has invaded our calendar. White Australians complaining about cultural imperialism is odd, right? Kind of tone deaf and crass? Christmas isn’t any more Australian, and we mainly use Halloween as an excuse for adults to dress up and get drunk anyway, like we do every other holiday.
The Costume Quest games are an insight into why Halloween is such a big deal for Americans, letting you play a gang of kids dressed up in dodgy outfits – a robotic suit made of cardboard boxes, a superhero costume that’s just a blanket cape and a pair of underpants on the outside – who are given free rein to roam the suburbs and pretend to be heroes and monsters while eating all the sugar. Those suburbs, by the way, are being invaded by aliens under the cover of Halloween and only you can stop them. Adults won’t believe that big green weirdo is a Grubbin from the planet Repugia and not just someone in a better costume than you, and anyway, you don’t need adults to stop them when you have The Power Of Imagination.
I hate reviews that start with a history lesson, but Wasteland 2 needs some context. I’ll try to make it a short history lesson at least. Here goes.
The original Wasteland was a turn-based post-apocalyptic roleplaying game designed by Interplay in 1988, in which cowboy Desert Rangers protected irradiated Arizona from raiders and robots and, if you played like me, got gnawed to the bone by giant mutant rabbits like they were fleshy carrots being chomped by Bugs Bunny. It was popular enough that Interplay started work on a sequel, but not popular enough for publisher Electronic Arts, who cancelled it and then refused to sell them back the rights. Interplay self-published a different post-apocalyptic RPG instead, and that’s the origin story for the classic Fallout. Years later, the Fallout series has changed hands and members of the original Interplay team, now calling themselves InXile, finally got the rights to their game back and – with help from fans via Kickstarter – made the sequel they wanted to make decades ago.
Platform: PC Developer: Arrowhead Website:www.gauntlet.com Australian classification: MA15+
The first time I played this remake of Gauntlet I accidentally shot the food within the opening five minutes, so if the only thing you need to know is whether it’s possible to destroy an entire roast turkey with a single, poorly aimed arrow just like in the original, there you go.
Gauntlet is a remake of the 1985 arcade game that gave us one of our first four-player co-op experiences and birthed a bunch of memes about the wizard needing food badly. Arrowhead, the developers of Magicka, have focussed on that arcade multiplayer experience and created a fast-paced action RPG that boils Diablo down to potent stock.