Killzone: Shadow Fall portrays a world full of suffering and moral ambiguity, not that unlike our own

Killzoneshadowfall[Contains spoilers of Killzone 3]

I approach every game in the Killzone series with almost unmatched optimism.  The first game – while not perhaps the Halo-killer in terms of popularity and sales- remained the greatest shooter on that system; something that games on subsequent systems have managed to live up to for their respective consoles.  With such a great track record, expectations have always been high for the series, but Guerrilla Games (and more recently Guerrilla Cambridge) has managed to hit the high bar set by marketing and media alike to deliver fun and beautiful shooters that push the technology seemingly beyond breaking point.  Needless to say I have had more than my fair share of fun shooting at those clearly fascist-inspired red-eyed goons.

But underneath the inspired locales and solid shooting is a more sordid tale.  Through subtle undertones, decaying environment, and direct narrative devices, Killzone paints the picture of mixed and confused morals and almost religious dedication to one’s ideals.  Just as Wolfenstein: The New Order dealt with fascism and genocide did earlier this year, the Killzone series always carefully but directly covers narrative and thematic ground most shooters don’t allude to let alone explore.  The battle between the Helghast and the Vektans is a war long fought based on ideology and history – in some ways not unlike many conflicts currently killing innocents across the globe.  In short Killzone makes me incredibly uneasy.

Playstation 4 launch title, Killzone: Shadow Fall, is probably the most successful in injecting moral ambiguity into the heart of its narrative.  While the previous three main games in the series have toyed with themes of humanity and morality in fits and starts in its narrative, Shadows Fall is simple drenched in dread and scenes of injustices.  The  end of Killzone 3 saw the destruction of the Helghast home planet of Helghan, and what amounts to the wholesale genocide of its people.  Who is left – the refugees – have been granted asylum on the planet of their enemy, placed in encampments past a heavily guarded wall that separates them from the rest of the city’s population.  Right from the get-go, Shadow Fall paints a bleak picture of a world gone crazy, and one where human suffering is not only allowed, but perhaps condoned.   The segregation conveniently blinkers the general population, while the military maintains the tension between the two races in order to perpetuate the ‘us vs. them’ mentality of the populous.  And the random acts of aggression by Helghan soldiers, fallen prey to the propaganda of ‘terrorist groups’, gives the military just enough ammunition to maintain the fear of the populous and forward their agenda.

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And from that point on, in filling the shoes of a Vektan military Shadow Marshal, you’ll never be fully comfortable with your actions, as it becomes a case of how many innocent lives are considered justifiable collateral.

Its the construction of such a vivid and believable world that Guerrilla uses as leverage to construct a world full of ambiguity in morality.  In many ways the amazing contrast between the opulence of the Vektans and the poverty of the refugee Helghans is brought to life by carefully constructed passages and level progression – helped in large part by the incredible technical and graphical accomplishment afforded to the developer by the Playstation 4 hardware – which take you on a journey to give you a rounded view of the true cost of the conflict.  The sequences in the refugee camps where you are witness to – and in some cases can intervene – Helghans ready to end their own lives are memorable punctuations that give that player an insight into the human toll of the subjectively frivolous conflict.  It’s one thing to use graphical power to construct realistic environments, its quite another to use it to create a believable world that conveys a real sense of curiosity and empathy.

Killzone has always been an amazingly constructed world with incredibly deep lore that uses a shooter to tell its story.  Shadow Fall is no different, and in many ways, takes what seems to be Guerrilla Games’ development modus operandi to the next level.  The strong focus on morals, and reflection of current global conflicts in its themes whether intentional or not, is a stroke of genius that makes it stand head and shoulders above other games that feature shooting as a central mechanic.  The sense of unease created both directly and indirectly is a brilliant device that Guerrilla Games uses to full effect, which rather than overlaying a binary moral mechanic over the game itself, achieves the same by attempting to alter the player’s mental and ideological state as they approach the narrative set before them.  Killzone may not be a revolution in gameplay, but its a revolution in creating a morally ambiguous path for the player.  More importantly it provides a fictional mirror through which to view (and understand) some of the most violent conflicts which are killing innocent people across the world every day.

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From The Armchair: Time for a Clear Out

ArmchairWhat ho, chums!

Egad, it’s been a fair old while since I last penned a post, nearly three weeks by my reckoning. Still, I have plenty of excuses to hand, one of which is that I spent most of last week cycling around the D-Day beaches of Normandy, which left little time for writing about video games. Although when standing on Omaha beach, the opening of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault crossed my mind more than once.

After reading about all the horrors and dreadful death tolls of D-Day, it still strikes me as odd to play a video game about it for fun, especially when World War 2 remains within living memory. And yet experiencing that landing scene in Allied Assault all those years ago probably gave me a better idea of what it would be like to take part in D-Day than all of the museums I visited last week. WW2 games may be long out of fashion, but I’m still undecided as to whether they are callous gamifications of a bloody struggle or essential ways to keep the memory of the price paid by so many alive for another generation – I suppose it very much depends on the sensitivity of the game.

Another excuse for my lack of posting is of course that it’s summer and the weather’s great, so I’ve been frolicking in the great outdoors. But perhaps a more exciting excuse is that I’ve been writing a couple of pieces for Kotaku.co.uk, both of which should hopefully see the light of day in the next few weeks.

But chief of my excuses is the fact that I’m moving out of London very soon, so the last couple of weeks has seen some frantic packing and clearing out. I’m off to Edinburgh, via a short sojourn in sunny Cannes, so there has been much frantic and increasingly desperate preparation as the moving date looms. Of course, this also provided the perfect excuse to take a long, cold look at my gaming backlog and make a judgement call on which games would be coming with me and which, ultimately, I can’t really see myself ever playing. Here are a few that missed their place in the moving van.

Dead_Space_ExtractionDead Space: Extraction – Don’t get me wrong, this game’s fate in the clear-out pile is no indication of its inferior quality. In fact, it came close to being one of our top ten favourite Wii games of all time. But I lost my save game when quite near the end after I said goodbye to my old Wii, and I just haven’t got round to playing through it again – and as the years roll on, it’s looking unlikely I ever will. Still, a great game, especially in two player.

fable-2-box-art-frontFable II - This was infuriating. I got Fable II for Christmas when it came out, and for some reason it kept on crashing my Xbox 360. After about 12 crashes I gave up, and not long afterwards my 360 developed the red ring of death. Coincidence? Well apparently the game was known to push the poorly cooled graphics chip pretty hard, so I’ll warrant there is probably a link there. I’ve never quite plucked up the courage to try the game again on my replacement 360, and to be honest there are several long RPGs that I’d rather play before this one, so time to give it the old heave ho.

Mercury_Meltdown_RevolutionMercury Meltdown Revolution - I bought this years ago, and I loved it. It’s a sequel to the PSP game Mercury by British video game legend Archer MacLean, creator of Dropzone, IK+ and Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker. It’s one of the few Wii games I can think of that really embraces the motion controls – you have to carefully tilt the remote to guide your blob of mercury around. I got about halfway through I think, but I haven’t played it in years, so it’s probably about time to part with it.

sin-punishment-star-successor-box-artSin and Punishment 2: Successor to the Skies – I bought this after hearing all sorts of good things about the fabled Japan-only N64 game Sin and Punishment, and as far as shooters go it’s a very good one. But it’s also very hard, and I never managed to get further than about three levels in. Loved the bizarre characters though, and all the weird giant turtles and crabs.

Wario_Land_The_Shake_Dimension_BoxartWario Land: The Shake Dimension – This is another Wii game that worked well with motion controls. Well, it involved a lot of shaking, anyway. It’s a pretty decent platform game, and I like Wario as a character, but to be honest I’ve been falling out of love with platformers these past few years – and if I can’t bring myself to finish New Super Mario Bros. U, then it’s unlikely I’ll get round to this game.

Toodle-pip for now!

 

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I am a nobody

CoD GhostI am the no one that buys Call of Duty for the single player campaign.  Call me part of the problem but I buy every Call of Duty game – and more recently Battlefield game – without exception.  While people lament the lack of changes to the perk system and the recycling of old maps I, like millions of other imbeciles, rush out to retailers and plonk their cool hard cash down on the counter.  “The newest game where I shoot many people please”.

But unlike everyone else that buys these games I don’t touch the multiplayer.  At all.  I appreciate and admire the intricate design and balance of these brilliant multiplayer shoot-fests, I find absolutely no fun in being either shot to death by swearing pre pubescents, or when I am winning, being told that I’m cheating because I’m using a weapon that is deemed to be ‘unbalanced’.  I am more than happy to accept that these parts of the games appeal to people that aren’t me.

The single-player campaigns though, those are things of beauty.  I’ll admit that they’re iterative, if not by numbers.  But they are spectacles like almost nothing else in video games.  Sure, they don’t have the scope or ambition of their open-world competition, but from my perspective they don’t need to when they execute on what they do so brilliantly.  While there are a number of reasons why I play games, my relationship with both Call of Duty and Battlefield campaigns are the closest I get to playing games simply for their escapism.  They may offer nothing in the way of cerebral challenge, or even sometimes narrative cohesion, but what they lack in those areas they more than make up for in pure thrills and immersion.  Battlefield 3 may not have been the greatest war story ever told, but the ride to its climax was a one that isn’t easily forgotten.  Needless to say, taking down a Russian jet fighter as it strafes your unit’s position ranks pretty highly in the memorable set pieces stakes.

With production values so high, and ambition in the immersion stakes so blue-sky, I personally find it hard to level criticism at the teams responsible for the roller coaster ride that is the modern shooter campaign. I find it perverse, not necessarily that Call of Duty and Battlefield campaigns are criticised per se, but more on the grounds on which they are.  Words like “linear”, “rote” and “predictable” are commonly used to describe the design of the admittedly short campaigns that developers allegedly shoehorn into games that – if you ask the internet – are primarily aimed at the online crowd.  But strangely, despite clearly not being the main sell-point for these games, it is the single-player motifs that define the publishers’ marketing regimes and the theme and feel of the game more broadly.  It is this strange paradox that the developers of these games find themselves in with games that focus so heavily on multiplayer being defined by aspects of their game that many people will ignore and never play.  In some ways while not as relevant as it once was, the campaigns in these games – Call of Duty particularly – is largely a legacy of the time where Call of Duty campaigns were king.  It is a legacy that the developers either can’t, or perhaps can’t afford to, shake.

And in terms of narrative and choreography, both of these behemoth series’ have revolutionised how games have made the transition to a more cinematic age.  While Battlefield’s sojourn into single-player action is a relatively new thing, it is easy to forget that Call of Duty made its name fighting artificial intelligence on the battlefields of World War II.  Ignoring Call of Duty: Finest Hour for a moment, it is Call of Duty 2 on the Xbox 360 where the series really hit its stride, wowing gamers the world over with its great graphics and amazing set pieces.  And where that game started, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare really finished the fight, really cementing the series’ place in the history books with its gripping tale of global terror and its depiction of the human side of modern conflict.  It wasn’t pulitzer prize winning stuff, but it was a revolution in the way it put players into the shoes of a hollywood-style modern super soldier.

BadCompany

 

Smelling the potential to capture console players, Battlefield followed suit by inserting some semblance of a single-player mode in Battlefield 2: Modern Combat on the PS2 and Xbox – but it was with Bad Company that DICE really showed its campaign chops.  Bad Company had a great sense of humour and really captured the essence of what it is to be a Battlefield game – destructible environments, vehicular mayhem, and solid gunplay – in the form of a well-paced single-player campaign.  While Battlefield: Bad Company 2 moved away from the successes of that first game to fit more of a Call of Duty mould, it was still filled to the brim with fantastic action set-pieces that punctuated its relatively short campaign with enough explosions to shift the Earth off of its axis.  That of course was the first step in the convergence between Battlefield and Call of Duty campaigns, which despite being such different multiplayer offerings, are now fighting for the hearts and minds of single-players in a set piece arms race.  If there is an argument to be made against these games its that the convergence of the two leaves players with little in the way of unique experiences.

But this isn’t uncommon in creative and dynamic fields like video games.  I feel like I’ve been a bit harsh on platformers lately, but many of the same sentiments can be levelled at these critical darlings.  While I stop short of calling them criticisms, the same complaints about Call of Duty and Battlefield singleplayer campaigns can be also squarely aimed at the average modern platformer.  And so it becomes simply a question of when it is okay to iterate and when it is not.  I can’t argue that the single-player campaigns of Battlefield and Call of Duty haven’t gone through any sort of revolution – but I do find myself asking “why do they need to?“.

Perhaps Activision and Electronic Arts need to think outside the box on what these single-player campaigns should be.  Or maybe they don’t.  What it comes down to is that both DICE and the various Activision developers responsible for the Call of Duty franchise know their audience and their place in the market.  They focus on the evolution of an entertainment rather than breaking apart the very campaigns that made their games such successes all those years ago.  Call of Duty and Battlefield games don’t purport to be art – nor should they – they are aimed squarely at the audience that enjoys ridiculous and often impossible action sequences and ‘us against them’ political espionage.  They aren’t life changing experiences by any stretch of the imagination, and nor do they purport to be with all the bombast that comes with their marketing and promotional material.  But they are valid experiences that, while not perfect, don’t deserve the criticism fired at them by critics and fans alike.  Besides, if no one plays these campaigns anyway, what does it matter?

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The Sims and its sadly short-lived sojourn into co-operative split-screen multiplayer

SimsBustinOutI find it funny the lengths video game enthusiasts go to put people in arbitrary pigeonholes based on the games they play.  Not only is defining one’s worth on what games they play ridiculous, but from where I sit no one type of video game is more or less legitimate than any other.  As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so the enjoyment of a videogame experiences is a function of so many exogenous variables that one man’s trash can literally be another man’s treasure.  That’s what makes games so exciting.

If you’ve played video games long enough you’ll also know how its trends ebb and flow in a way that almost dwarves the fickleness of the fashion world.  You’ll hear the phrase “hasn’t held up well” bandied about all the time about the games of yesteryear, partly reflecting the fast pace at which the industry and technology moves, but also demonstrating just how dynamic gamers’ tastes (and tolerance levels) are.  To those that lived through them though, the memories forged by hours spent with these now ‘archaic’ trends are priceless, and you’ll seldom mention the good old days of videogaming without eliciting some sort of sentimental story from a nostalgia-filled gamer.

Split screen multiplayer is one such artform – one that has largely died out but defined for so many their gaming memories of yesteryear. I have no doubt that anyone that was around long before Call of Duty was the behemoth that it now is has some fond memory of split screen multiplayer.  Many will cite the formative console FPS experience ,Goldeneye 007, as the zenith of that style of gaming, while others will recall the rambunctiousness of the sillier-than-balls Timesplitters series on the PS2 and Xbox.  Whatever their poison though, gamers of yore swear by those formative experiences sitting on a couch with a bunch of girls and guys, shooting the shit while they (in all likelihood) shoot the shit out of each other.  Friendships were built and rivalries formed on couches right the way around the western world as our television screens were segmented for our multiplayer pleasure.  It was the golden age of local multiplayer that so many of us lose ourselves in during daydreams of a simpler and better time. But for some split-screen gaming came to define a great age of couch cooperative multiplayer of more – dare I say it – casual experiences.

While I indulged in those same great competitive experiences everyone else did in former generations, it was actually a more friendly game series – one that has sold millions upon millions of copies worldwide -that defined my partiality toward console local multiplayer.  That game was The Sims.  But while most people were sitting at computer desks, mouse in hand, it was actually the console games released on Playstation 2 that captured my imagination like almost no other game before it, and had me playing to all hours of the morning.  And it was the split-screen mode in the The Sims games on console, particularly The Sims: Bustin’ Out, that are home to some of my favourite gaming memories.

SimsSplitscreenPS2

There is a very personal quality to sitting on a couch next to someone, sharing a screen, and playing the hours away.  And that’s when you’re blowing each others’ heads off and calling each other scumbags.  So imagine that same experience when you’re working together to the same end.  There is a unique trait to The Sims series that has people clambering for the next one and proceeding to spend hours upon hours building (or ruining) the life of their virtual buddies.  It appeals to the apparent human urge to build something from nothing – and the fact that it so abstractly, but in a way closely, resembles everyday life makes it instantly relatable.

But while playing The Sims alone is great fun, it is a whole new experience playing it cooperatively (or destructively if you’re so inclined) sitting next to friends or family.  Raising through the ranks of a social and socio-economic ladder is naturally something you do with others and so in some ways The Sims is built for social play.  Discussing the budgeting of your simoleons and your social life are key as you finely balance the lifestyle and career of the other player with the needs of your own character.  The Sims is a game about optimisation and so throwing another player and their own set of variables adds another layer of complexity to a game that already hides an incredible amount of depth below its casual appeal.  When you look at it that way, it’s easy to see what Maxis were trying to achieve with the latest Sim City and its focus on multiplayer.

You see like real life even the smallest decision – like one to throwing a party to satisfy the social needs of your Sim – can have a serious impost on your virtual buddy and their character’s progress.  After all, waking up tired after a night of thudding techno kept you awake is no way to win that promotion at work.  And so talking about what’s happening in your Sims’ world becomes key to success and reaching your goals. That old adage that you’ve got to work to live is no truer than in The Sims, and so buying that big screen television or that kitchen renovation requires money, and of course more money requires promotions. Discussing money and career around the virtual kitchen table becomes second nature as you both strive to reach the top of the food chain in your career in order to build your dream home.  While that may not get the blood pumping the way blowing a mate’s head off does, for mine it’s a hell of a lot more satisfying discussing how you can cooperate to ‘win’ the game.

The Sims is more complex than its detractors that decry it as casual give it credit for.  More than a game about about virtual avatars living virtual lives, it is a mathematical equation that requires a solution, and a solution that is more fun to work out with friends. But the way this cooperation parallels many of life’s decisions that makes it so unique among multiplayer games, and an experience that I personally haven’t had anywhere else.  Sadly the split-screen feature was removed from the games in The Sims 3, leaving me only with the last-gen entries in the series.  But to me its worth pulling out those dusty old consoles and booting those decade-old games up, because in my opinion, they are quite simply the best cooperative multiplayer gaming experiences around.  And bigger than that, they are a great example of how brilliant local cooperative video gaming can be, and how sad it is that they are few and far between.

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Are the 3DS StreetPass games any good?

The other day I took a quick peak at my playing stats on the 3DS, and I was surprised to discover that the StreetPass Mii Plaza was right up there in second place in terms of hours played. It turns out I’ve spent and inordinate amount of time gathering Miis via StreetPass and then *ahem* playing with them.

I bought the four extra Mii Plaza StreetPass games around a year ago, so including the three original ones (Puzzle Swap and StreetPass Quest I and II), there are seven games in total. Living in London, I tend to gather Miis via StreetPass fairly regularly, and it’s always a pleasure to see that green light blinking on top of my 3DS. But the StreetPass games are a definite mixed bag… Here are my thoughts on which ones are worth buying.

StreetPass Squad (Mii Force in US)

StreetPass-Squad

This is a genuinely fun little shoot ‘em up in which the variously coloured Miis act as different power ups. The graphics look great in 3D, and it’s an accomplished, if simple, shooter. But having said that, it was also the first one I stopped playing, mostly because when I finished all the levels, I never really felt the need to go back to it. You can head back in to improve your high score or gather more treasure, but eventually it gets a little repetitive. Also, each level takes a while to play, so it’s probably the most time-consuming of the games, which isn’t ideal when you’ve got half a dozen StreetPass games to play through – these are meant to be bite-sized gaming chunks, after all. It’s worth a purchase then, just don’t expect to be playing it in a year’s time.

StreetPass Garden (Flower Town in US)

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In this game, you grow plants and cross-pollinate them with those of the Miis you meet to create new varieties. Surprisingly for such a dull-sounding concept, this is a brilliant and well-layered game, and it’s probably my favourite of the bunch. There’s a satisfying thrill to creating a new breed – especially the rare ones, which look like cakes and Easter eggs – and there’s more depth than you’d expect to the breeding mechanics. Plus there are tons of ‘quests’ on offer if you get bored of the main game, and plenty of ways to decorate and photograph your various gardens. A must buy.

StreetPass Battle (Warrior’s Way in US)

StreetPass-Battle

This is simply scissors-paper-stone but with soldiers. And that’s it. The game never really strays beyond that level of simplicity, and it quickly becomes incredibly dull. I lost interest fairly early on, but I stuck it out to the end just to see what happened. Nothing much, it turns out. Avoid.

StreetPass Mansion (Monster Manor in US)

streetpass mansion

I wasn’t sure what to make of this one at first, but it ended up becoming one of my favourites, just behind StreetPass Garden. It’s sort of an RPG where you gather, combine and level up weapons, with the aim being to reach the top of a haunted mansion. Each Mii that arrives gives you a ‘room’ that you can place in the mansion – fit two rooms of the same colour together and they make a bigger room with more loot in it. Trying to make the biggest room possible becomes addictive, and the mix of puzzles and fighting is a great recipe. The only downside is the disappointment of gathering a host of Miis in colours you don’t ‘need’, which can be frustrating. Otherwise though, a worthy purchase.

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Retro throwbacks can learn a lot from Regular Show’s treatment of nostalgia

Regular Show is like Clerks for kids, and I am always surprised by how clever its writing is. Like a lot of Nickelodeon’s output in the mid-to-late nineties it appeals on two totally different levels, often simultaneously, to capture the hearts of the kids and the minds of (often) their parents.  While it is a genuinely funny show with great writing and excellent physical comedy –   it is Regular Show’s references to pop culture and phenomenon more familiar to anyone over the age of 30 that is most admirable, and in many respects, is what lifts the series so high above its contemporaries.  No matter where you look it brings back iconic images of our collective childhoods – from hair metal to tape decks – paying homage to multiple decades of culture built by Generations X and Y.  It is a decisive victory for the strength of the cultural milestones built by more than 20 years of youth culture.  It is a cartoon so thoroughly steeped in nostalgia that I can basically smell the Cottees Cordial and my mouldy old Competition Pro.

And it doesn’t rely on cheap visual aesthetics to convey a convincing portrayal of life in the 80’s and 90’s, rather it is the clever use of period-specific pop culture and technological milestones that brings this nostalgia trip to life.  A reference to the 1979 cult classic film, The Warriors, is cleverly juxtaposed onto a storyline that in and of itself feels utterly modern, yet does just enough to really tickle that nostalgic itch.  It never feels the need to rub nostalgia in the face of the viewer and in doing so never feels forced – rather it feels like an homage to a time and a generation of Western culture.  And a bloody good one at that.

TheRegularShow the warriors

Contrast that to the treatment of nostalgia If Regular Show was a video game, sharing the same aim to bring back something iconic of our youth, it would be far less subtle (and dare I say clever) about doing so.  There’d be pixels and chiptunes and it would well and truly feel like a product of its time rather than an homage to it.  It isn’t enough to reference a time and place it must be painstakingly recreated – pixel for pixel – to be something of the era.  I have a lot of respect for this approach in some ways – but in others it places misguided (and often intrinsic) value on nostalgia over and above respect for a product of the past.  Somewhat paradoxically the game based on the licence – Regular Show: Mordecai and Rigby in 8-Bit Land  - breaks the rules seemingly set out by its source material and goes for misplaced nostalgia over clever writing.  It was created to be a product of the 8-bit generation rather than one that pays respect to the time, resulting in something that brings the weakness of the games of the time right to the forefront.  It looks the part, but unfortunately also ultimately plays the part, resulting in a shallow and cardboard representation of a decade of video games – a trap that far too many retro-style games  fall into when trying to bring back that time and place that so many of us hold dear.

The dawn of video games was an exciting place that should be explored, restored and remembered – but few do it with the delicate touch required to elicit real feelings of nostalgia or fondness.  Rather they rely on visual and sound aesthetics to simply recreate the time, often at the expense of the sentiment required to truly do more than a decade of popular culture justice.  Regular show is more than just Clerks for kids, it is a victory for the strength of the culture built by Generation X and Generation Y, and proof of the enduring nature of the time and place we grew up in.  But it is also the template for how nostalgia should be treated within creative mediums.  The sooner the game industry catches onto how to better catch that intangible but insatiable feeling of nostalgia, the better we’ll all be for it.

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From the Armchair: Forced to Quit

ArmchairWhat ho, chums!

There has been a fair old gap since my last communique, but of course this is only to be expected as we approach the zenith of the summer season, and thoughts turn from computer screens to outdoor recreational activities (I speak of course for myself and not for my winter-locked, Antipodean co-author Sir Gaulian). One such activity took the form of a highly entertaining outing to Longleat Safari Park, where Ms. D and I drove in stately procession around some impressive grounds while monkeys ripped off all non-essential trimmings from our motor vehicle. It was a highly entertaining day.

As well as coming face to face with our nefarious simian cousins, I have been joyously blasting and romancing my way through Mass Effect 3, and even Ms. D has been getting into this most magnificent of gaming series. Well, I’m not entirely sure whether she’s enjoying it or whether she’s so used to the sight of me playing the game that it has become a part of daily life which it would be unthinkable to be without, even if one doesn’t have a trace of interest in it – like listening to The Archers on Radio 4. At any rate, she says it’s “comforting” to see me saving the universe one species at a time.

Mass Effect continues to be my game of the moment, but I also worked my way to the end of Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate: One More Subtitle for Good Luck on the 3DS. I say ‘worked’ because it really did start to feel like a chore at the end, which is a shame because otherwise it was a very entertaining game in the Metroidvania style. Two things let it down: a dreadful map and frustrating boss fights. The former meant that one of the game’s main pleasures – hunting out secrets – was ruined because it was impossible to work out how to get anywhere. The game itself was 2.5D, meaning the controls are 2D but Batman sometimes moves into the screen, yet the map is top down, and doesn’t show levels below you. Either the map should have been in 3D or the game should have been ‘proper’ 2D, but the current combo makes for eventual frustration.

And speaking of frustration, it was the final boss that made me give up entirely on the game in annoyance – what I call a ‘force quit’. I was right near the end, but the ludicrously precise timing needed to finish the game meant that all fun was sucked out from the experience, which is usually my signal for putting the kibosh on a game. Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate: Subtitleacular is by no means the only game that’s elicited a full-on force quit recently: here are a few more that have been cast aside, never to be revisited.

Outlandscreen1OutlandSir Gaulian loved this game, and I too found it highly entertaining, particularly the joyously intuitive control system and stylish graphics. Sadly, one of the later bosses – a giant flying dragon – proved just too irritating with its ‘bullet hell’ attacks, prompting a force quit.

Kid Icarus 3d ClassicsKid Icarus 3D Classics – I’m just about old enough to remember when the original Kid Icarus came out, although I never played it at the time. I got the 3D Classics remake as a freebie download for my 3DS, so I was looking forward to sampling this classic game, but I was baffled by how hard it was. After dozens of attempts, I couldn’t even get past the first level. Apparently the game gets a lot better, but the frustration just isn’t worth it – I dread to think how long it would take to finish.

castlevania-nes-ingame-41834Castlevania – I’ve written about the ludicrous difficulty of this NES game before, and in the end it proved too much for me. I eventually managed to get past Frankenstein’s monster and his leaping pal Igor, but not much further.

Liberation MaidenLiberation Maiden – This wasn’t so much a force quit as a gradual waning of interest. The fact that the game is by Most Agreeable Pastime favourite Goichi Suda was what initially made me buy it, and the story is brilliantly bizarre – the female president defends her country by hopping in a spaceship and blasting everything in sight. But after a few goes I found it quite repetitive, and I simply couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm for a return visit.

Trauma Center New BloodTrauma Center: New Blood – This is a brilliant game, but it’s hamstrung by its obscene difficulty. I really enjoyed the first few levels, but this zany surgery simulator gets rock hard extremely quickly, even on ‘easy’. A shame, because it’s a fun – and funny – game otherwise.

So over to you – are there any games you’ve been forced to quit?

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