Posts filed under Review

By A Thread - A Review of Beyond: Two Souls

Many game developers have a style. Shigeru Miyamoto tends to gravitate toward the whimsical, whereas American McGee likes to twist children's tales. David Cage pushes heavily toward the cinematic. Like Heavy Rain before it, Beyond: Two Souls is more readily described as an interactive narrative than a video game, but that isn't a bad thing. The vast majority of video games use heavily recycled tropes ad nauseum, and although David Cage's work is never as fun to play as peers, it is every bit as compelling.

Posted on October 24, 2013 and filed under Review.

Family Matters - A Review of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

 

Sweden-based Starbreeze Studios is probably still best known for 2004’s well-received Chronicles of Riddich: Escape from Butcher Bay, as well as The Darkness. Over the summer, they released a short game called Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Envisioned by Swedish director Josef Fares, it’s an original adventure that features unique gameplay that is best described as single-player co-op. It is is available for Windows, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

The control scheme for Brothers is intuitive: the player controls both brothers at the same time. The older brother is controlled by the left analog stick, the younger brother by the right. Each brother has a single action button, which is the trigger button(L2 or R2 on the PS3) on their side of the controller. In addition, the camera can be rotated by pressing the left and right bumpers (L1 and R1 on the PS3). Although this initially seems quite simple, the task of controlling both brothers at once requires a sort of concentration that most games rarely call upon.

Posted on October 18, 2013 and filed under Review.

Our Fair City: A Lighthearted Dystopia

The Our Fair City logo

This article was written by me for, and originally posted on, Forward Compatible

 

Outside the walls, things are grim: New England is a frozen wasteland. Things aren’t much better within them, but your chances of survival are better. Slightly. The denizens of HartLife’s community — better known as Policies — live to work. At the very least, they work to live. The corporation keeps its Policies in line through oppressive bureaucracy, brazen propaganda, and a multitude of unnatural threats. Those who do not bend to the will of HartLife often contend with the like of giant ants and carnivorous mold. A strict social order maintains some semblance of order, and HartLife’s Orwellian monitoring systems prevent the order from being questioned.

Our Fair City is a podcast produced here in Chicago. The cast recently performed a live episode for several nights at Chicago’s Fringe Festival. This special event was presented as a live taping of The Archibald Funnypants Variety Hour, a popular radio show designed to entertain HartLife’s Policies while keeping them mollified. The venue wasn’t perfect; the lack of air conditioning made the room muggy and slightly uncomfortable. It was underground theatre in its most raw form, and I do not think it should be used to judge the show. I only mention it because, in a way, it suited the concept of the show. An audience of HartLife Policies would likely view the show in a less-than-comfortable climate.

I gave the show’s web site a quick glance before the performance, but I did not listen to any episodes beforehand. Though a thorough understanding of the show would have likely lead to a deeper connection to Our Fair City’s live production, I am happy it was not necessary.  The story is easy enough to get into, and Archibald Funnypants, portrayed by Mark Soloff, does a fantastic job of acclimating the crowed to their world. The majority of the show was a series of moralistic short stories, skewed to suit the interests of HartLife. As a radio drama, actors stood in front of microphones while performing, and a foley artist created an aural landscape onstage to accompany them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show, which included parables about the proper place in society for mole-people, the dangers of carnivorous mold outbreaks, and the dire need for Policies to donate their discretionary income back to the company. It piqued my interest in the podcast itself, and I would jump at the chance to see another live performance.

Our Fair City presents the lighter side of corporate-sponsored dystopian misery, and it’s worth checking out.

 

Posted on September 15, 2013 and filed under Review.

Everyone Needs To Play Gone Home

I went into Gone Home blind, and I’m incredibly glad I did. News about the game was blowing up for a while, and I had to avoid reading articles and listening to podcasts about it. It was a little maddening. I am the type to do all sorts of research into something that catches my interest. I enjoy being engrossed. I don’t need a hype machine; I get myself hyped. I obsess.

With that said, Gone Home may be the most enthralling thing I’ve every played.

You don’t need to know much about Gone Home. It takes place in 1995, and overflows with references to the culture of the time. It’s a first-person exploration game that follows Kaitlin (Katie) Greenbriar, a young woman who has just returned home from traveling abroad. No one picked up the phone when she called to announce her return, and no one met her at the airport. She arrives at the front door of her family’s relatively new home at about 1:15 am, and no one is there to greet her. Throughout the course of Gone Home, you will learn about Kaitlin’s family, and why no one is there.

Because her family moved while she was traveling abroad, the building you’ll explore is as new to Kaitlin as it is to you. Everything here is as much a surprise to the character as it is to the player. Nearly everything in the home is interactive. Every drawer and door can be opened. Almost every object can be inspected. Most of it is incidental, but it builds a convincing world to explore.

A lot has happened in the time Katie has been gone. It’s hard to know what to think, early on. The game is vague, and no outward indicators have been left to tell Katie why no one is in the house. Each hallway and room you explore will deepen the mystery. If you’re anything like me, you will speculate wildly until the very end. By the end of your journey through the mansion, however, you’ll be left with no questions.

Gone Home is intense, due in no small part to its tightly-integrated story and well-planned path through the mansion. As you make your way through the house, a voice over of Samantha, Katie’s sister, tells the story of what has happened to her over the past year. She is clever, witty, and utterly engaging. Less a game and more a piece of interactive fiction, Gone Home is superbly written, acted, and scored. The visuals, while not groundbreaking, are very good. A great deal of the game is about lighting, and is more about presenting a believable world than wowing the player. It succeeds in every aspect.

If you have $20, around 4 hours free, and a relatively recent computer (Windows, Mac, or Linux!), Gone Home should not be missed.

Posted on September 2, 2013 and filed under Review.