Saturday, 5 April 2014

EGX Rezzed 2014: So I played Alien: Isolation.


The bitch is back. I am Charley, the lone survivor of a single playthrough of Aliens: Colonial Marines. It was one of the biggest disappointments in my 20 years of gaming that left me horrified, bitterly disillusioned and now a raging alcoholic. Now, a year later, I've been coerced by Sega and Creative Assembly to go against my better judgement to return back to the series and play yet another Alien game. Maybe this time? I awaken from cryosleep after a long journey southbound on the M6, past all the needless 50mph speed restrictions, and now find myself in orbit of the Birmingham NEC - preparing to drop on EGX Rezzed 2014 where the 'alien video game' menace is believed to have resurfaced on an unsuspecting crowd of hopeful gamers. 

These are my hands-on impressions of the PC demo of Alien Isolation from Rezzed 2014. 


A weird thought occurred to me whilst I was queuing to play the demo of Alien Isolation at this year's Rezzed. A weird thought that was linked back to my introduction to the series.

The whole waiting area of Sega's Alien Isolation booth, reminded me of my local Quazar in Stoke On Trent. Back in the nineties, Quazar was the location of many a birthday party, where you would get high on lemonade before running around shooting your friends in the dark. The entire establishment just so happened to have an alien theme as well. You walked in to be greeted by a shaved headed Sigourney Weaver, staring out from an Alien3 poster. All around the cafeteria area was grim Giger-esque concept art, and flanking the entrance to the arena, were two gangly knock off xenomorphs encased in glass. Dried glue was used to depict the slime frothing from their reptilian jaws. By comparison the Alien Isolation booth, had the same black walls illuminated by green lights, dry ice filtering from out of the corner to create a faux sci-fi atmosphere. It even had the same smell! It made me nostalgic for some mid 90s serious fun with a laser gun.

Quazar was my first introduction to the alien franchise of course. A fondness that has stayed with me through to the present day. At these Quazar parties, there was always the one kid who had seen the Alien movies. Gradually, through word of mouth you learned more about the alien's unique lifestyle how humans were impregnated by face huggers, where the victim was forced to swallow the alien embryo which would then gestate in their chest only to burst out of the ribcage in an explosion of blood and cartilage a few days later. Before I had even grasped the fundamentals of sexual reproduction and where regular human babies came from, I understood completely where aliens came from. A form of oral rape from a betesticled face spider culminating in a fatal case of grisly body horror. It occurred to me there in the Alien Isolation booth that this may have had a negative effect on my emotional development...

But I feel fine don't I?

Before I could dwell on these kind of musings, it was my turn to take my place in front of a monitor to play the demo. Donning a pair of expensive headphones and picking up a trusty Xbox360 controller, it was time to play yet another Aliens game published by Sega...

Oh shit, I'm about to play another Aliens game published by Sega. What am I thinking?

I don't want to harp on about Aliens: Colonial Marines, I quite eloquently (if I do say so myself) expressed all my feelings towards that game and what it meant to me as a fan of the troublesome series with Creative Assembly's new game in the pipeline. It is probably the most read piece on my blog, I'm very proud of it, you should read it sometime. In fact go ahead and read it right now! Here is the link! Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere. I'll wait. Here's the link!

Welcome back.

So as a franchise, and I hate using that word franchise (a term fit for boardrooms yet increasingly banded around by consumers, used to describe the continuation of a story with financial legs), Aliens has been in the doldrums for the last ten years or so. A rectal cavity search would be more tasteful and entertaining to watch than the AVP movies, and despite the grand visions and big questions of Prometheus, the film was full of narrative inconsistencies and the kind of shoddy 'mystery with no resolution' writing style of Lost. Then came Colonial Marines, a game released under false pretences, hyped upon lies yet promptly selling gangbusters. No thanks to people like me, who had pre-ordered the game expecting Left 4 Dead with pulse rifles. In some ways, I came out of Colonial Marines like somebody who survived a horrific car accident or a romantic relationship that went sour. I'll never be the same person again. Video games hey?

It would be hard to accept any good from this franchise (euh...) again. But surely it can't be so difficult can it? You make enough games and movies, and eventually somebody is going to get it right. Surely?

Alien Isolation is being presented as the Aliens game we have always wanted to play. Or so says Al Hope the game's creative director in a developer session (which can be viewed here). Of course when we say Aliens, we really mean Alien, Ridley Scott's 1979 horror classic. The traditional formula of games featuring xenomorphs has been the first person shooter 'bug hunt' route, blasting legions of the beasts with the standard issue M41A Pulse Rifle. Since the movie's 1986 release, a lot of Cameron's Alienisms have become Haloisms, Aliens' impact on first person shooters cannot be understated. But it has been done to death. Returning to the original movie, Creative Assembly are taking the survival horror route, minimal weapons, alone in a big old industrial space ship, one 9ft alien creature that adapts and learns as it hunts you and the mentality that no one in space can hear you scream. To put it more plainly it is Alien by means of Amnesia. Not a bad idea, but neither was Aliens by means of Left 4 Dead...

Ah look at me, I've got to stop...  

Can you really make an Alien game or film without Ripley? Alien Isolation will be a sequel of sorts to Alien in which you play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen.
The demo was approximately 20-30 minutes long. Players were allowed to go at their own pace through a section which has already been teased online after the game's announcement in January.

The demo was preceded by a grainy VHS styled introductory video, in which you are briefed on your mission and the game's basic mechanics. The noise of your movement, your physical profile and the light from your torch, the successful management of which will make you less visible to the alien as it hunts you through the dark, meticulously designed 70s sci fi interiors. The narrator referred to the xenomorph as the creature which in itself was encouraging. Ever since the creature received the goofy pseudo-scientific moniker of xenomorph in Aliens, you could argue that the creature has lost some of its potency as an agent of horror. Nice one Gorman.

JUST LOOK AT IT!

The demo begins. It is black, but gradually a light flickers on and one by one a series of lights activate with an clunky 70s flutter like a mechanical heartbeat. You are located in a corridor, there is a door at the end of the, you should open it. It is a strong understated opening. The voice via radio begins throwing directions at you and introducing your motion sensor, you hold LB to see the interface. Technology based on the Alien movie, but the UI is reminiscent of Aliens. It points in the direction you need to be going, whilst revealing the presence of the nasty.

Entering the next area, you find yourself in a deserted lobby. Window panels open up to fill the interior with light from a gigantic orange planet that looms below. The familiar two note flute melody from James Horner's iconic score plays as you explore this larger expanse, opening up suitcases collecting parts and scrap metal that will presumably be used for crafting objects to defend yourself with in the finished game.

At this point it has to be said, the game looks utterly fantastic in terms of graphics, with the lighting amidst the dark environments especially mesmerising. The sound is also of a supremely high quality, booming through the earphones, nearly every movement and action associated with the ship can be heard. Similarly, the feel of movement and your actions was very tactile, you feel every footstep, whether you walk, crouch or run you can feel the weight of each step. You look down and you see a pair of skinny legs in mustard coloured 70s space trousers. You feel that much connected with your character and the world she inhabits. Whilst survival horror has typically relied on a limitation of controls, its newest genus relies specifically on this connection. You are human and are frail as a result. It was because of this, I was progressing very cautiously and was crouch walking everywhere in typical video game stealth mode. Amanda Ripley would surely have the quadriceps of an Olympian goddess by the game's end. In fact she will probably be in a better position to break the alien's neck with her thighs. This is obviously going to be the ending. I'm calling it right now.

For the first half of the demo you are effectively exploring the space station's interior being taught the game's basic mechanics. All the while the tension mounts, the creature's presence is implied, with bloodstains and dead bodies lying around the place. Occasionally you'll see a shadow flutter in the distance. All very unnerving. God, I wish I had a shotgun... NO! I chastised myself, that isn't the point of the game. I have to be scared, the game wants me to be scared. It wants me to progress under this pressure. At the end of which I will be of a stronger character because of it. The interiors are familiar, you come across the living section and a very familiar dining table. This is all cluttered with the same kind of brick-a-brack crap Ridley Scott adorned the space trucker's interior of the first movie.

"The first thing I'm going to do when I get back, is to get some decent food."


In contrast, I remembered the beginning of Colonial Marines, in which you explored the Sullaco. In the first room you see a range of lockers each labelled with the names of the Aliens squad - Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez, Dietrich, Apone. This was exciting originally, a sign of legitimacy and tie to Aliens. The further I went through the level however, the more I kept noticing the same lockers cut and pasted throughout the level. Did the Marines just have multiple lockers stationed around the Sullaco? Why? What did Spunkmeyer stow away in this locker that he wouldn't stow away in the other one? Why would a Colonial Marine require so much locker space in different areas of the Sullaco? The kind of questions I shouldn't really be asking when faced with hordes of aliens. Even these kind of aliens which didn't really pose a threat to begin with, crawling towards you like dumb cattle to the trademark stacatto din of the pulse rifle. Alien Isolation felt the polar opposite in other words. This environment felt used and lived in. At least once upon a time.

Picking up a repair torch suddenly triggers all the lights to go out. Quite a big jump scare. I moved very quickly to hide in a locker expecting Mr xenomorph to be making an appearance.You couldn't hide in those stupid Colonial Marines lockers. These Alien Isolation one's however were good high quality Metal Gear Solid 2 lockers. God, I wish I had a shotgun... NO! I chastised myself, that isn't the point of the game. I have to be scared, the game wants me to be scared. It wants me to progress under this kind of pressure. Sometimes in life, you have to go through scary ordeals, but you will be a stronger character when you come out at the other end. I have to accept the fact that I will have a stronger constitution as a person upon completing this game.

So I must have remained hiding in this locker for a good 5 minutes before it gradually dawned on me that nothing was coming. Not yet. The power outage was a small scare preluding to the real confrontation. Stepping out of the locker, I turned on my torch the game tutorial prompting me that I could focus my beam to illuminate over greater distances. This could be perhaps the greatest torch known to video games ever. I was to take the welder to open the locked door at the other end of the corridor. Then, I assumed, the alien would enter.

Best torch since Doom 3. Hands down. Torches all over the world celebrate. 
After cutting off the door panel and opening the door, I moved into the next section, you get a brief glimpse of something big as it whooshes into an air duct. Well shit. I am reassured by my supervisor via radio to turn on the power to the console so that I may hack into it. It is the only way, he affirms. At this point I realise I'm standing in a puddle of milk that had drained from the torso of an unlucky android. Effectively, the next part introduced me to the area in which I would soon be evading the alien within. A large corridor that wrapped around a central control room. The space was very open, with entrances and shortcuts through to areas and convenient cover to hide behind.

After restoring the power, I had to interface with the central control through a hacking mini game via a suitably 70s sci-fi looking device. Things starting blaring because of my actions and eventually, the alien revealed itself, gracefully dispensing itself from a ventilation shaft. The creature is huge, jet black, with long spindly links and a shiny smooth dome for a head, just like in the original Alien.  

The second half of the demo had you facing the alien creature. Facing is perhaps the wrong word, since the objective is to keep as far away from the creature as possible whilst anticipating its movements as it stalks you, knowing that every sudden move or interaction could alert it. By clicking in the right stick you crouch. By holding B and a direction on the left thumbstick you can peek out of cover.

It's at once refreshing and immensely stressful that the alien is scary again.

On my first attempt the alien walked out of the door of the control room, whilst I proceeded to creep my way out of the door opposite. Spying a locker, I was comforted by my earlier initiative and climbed inside. I was aware that the creature was far away on the opposite side of the level map, but gradually he revealed himself, as I peered out of the slits.

The phallic shaped head came into view slowly like a submarine. Every move was slow and deliberate, yet curious in that Alien way. No jaunty blind Aliens T-rexing around this place.

I was prompted to hold LT to hold my breath as it came closer to the grill to inspect my hiding place. I did so immediately. How long can I hold my breath? Will it hear me gasping after I run out of breath? Then I was prompted to pull back on the left stick to stand further back from the locker door. This was not a good sign. It was too late, the creature was on my case, and it opened the door and found me.

Dead. I would not try the locker again.

The game had a fairly routine checkpoint system, taking me back to the start of the section. This time, I was to head directly to my objective. The door that I first came through. What could possibly go wrong? This time I used my motion sensor and placed some distance on my foe. As I crept within sight of my objective, I could see that the creature was advancing on my position.

Turning around I could see it checking around the scenery, so I crouched and looked to put cover between us. It stood there for a little bit as if uninterested. At this point the door was very close by and I decided to sprint to the door. By this stage, I could hear the creature react behind me.

You reach the door but it shuts suddenly. You bang a fist against the pane, and there is an explosion, the entire structure in which you are confined is suddenly jettisoned, like an escape pod. Is the alien still behind me through this scripted sequence? A brief stint in zero-G brings us crashing to the ground to the sounds of more sirens.  

And then... the demo froze on me.

A bit of a buzz kill to say the least. Much of the tension evaporating, which admittedly was a bit of a relief.

Looking round I viewed the proper ending of the demo. You are forced to traipse back through the area to yet another door, an airlock. For this one you have to open it first. Then you have to wait for it to open as yet more alarms ring alerting the creature to come running. Gradually the door opens, but the alien remains stationed there with his back turned. Most players saw the opportunity and ran for the exit. Entering the door way seemed to activate another scripted scene, in which the door is closed just before the alien lunges.



You are safe for now, but then you turn round to see the airlock open and you are jetted off into cold space... Then the demo ends.

I'm sure Ripley Mk.II will be okay... She died in her old age, without ever really knowing what happened to her mother. Oh.

First impressions of Alien Isolation were good, but I have been wrong about an Aliens demo before... Putting that game out of mind, because lets face it Charlie, we have to move on. Alien Isolation, is an experience perfectly authentic to the original movie. It is not a game I was expecting to come from a publisher like Sega, a triple A game that seeks to disempower the player through a lack of firearms and juxtaposition against the perfect killing machine. It is encouraging that the bigger studios are taking on the bigger IPs with a degree of originality and new ideas. For Alien Isolation, I guess we have the influence of the indie gaming scene to thank, especially Frictional Games (who incidentally are working on their own Alien styled sci-fi horror game SOMA). However, in its own right, Alien Isolation feels like a meticulously crafted game, whatever research Creative Assembly put into their Total War games, it feels as if they have done the same with all the design material from the Alien production.

In summation:

What was good:
  • Excellent graphics with the best lighting of dark space corridors since Doom 3 and Dead Space.
  • Amazing sound, investing in a pair of decent quality headphones might be a good idea for this game, as this is where most of the horror comes from. 
  • The game makes the most out of the first person perspective without the need of a firearm bolted at your hip. Instead you are given precise control of your movement and equipment. And it all feels very tactile and immediate. The opposite end of Resident Evil style tank controls. You feel exceptionally human with all the frailties that entail with the mortal condition.
  • Authentic to the 1979 Ridley Scott aesthetic: cushioned walls, computer monitors, old chunky hardware that feels extremely fallible. Just how on earth did these people get into space in the first place?  
  • The feeling of atmosphere, tension and claustrophobia is intense and exactly like Alien. Stiflingly so.   
  • The Alien is scary again.  
Concerns:
  • This game is going to be very stressful to play through. Remember the atmosphere surrounding Ripley at the end of Alien, it is that, but now it's interactive. This game will not be for the faint of heart.
  • We are yet to see how the deeper mechanics will play out, crafting will feature and it has been stated that weapons will feature as well. Though it looks unlikely that the game will turn into a shooter at any point. Maybe you'll get a flamethrower to shoo the creature back or scare it away for example. I look forward to seeing exactly how the player and the creature will push and pull against one another, this could lead to some great emergent play and gameplay anecdotes between friends.
  • After dying so many times and watching as the alien finishes you off. I wondered whether this will become old very fast? With the alien becoming less terrifying and more just irritating. I can't imagine that this game is going to be very long.  
  • I hope this isn't just going to be an interactive version of the Alien movie. These are some good free forming mechanics but I hope Creative Assembly are able to do something new rather than just present us with the air duct bit, or the confrontation with a malfunctioning android, before escaping the ship before it self destructs before the final confrontation in which you blast the alien out of an airlock with a harpoon.
  • It did crash on me. Maybe this game is just too scary for your computer...  
Overall, I am excited and maybe a little nervous to play Alien Isolation when it is released later this year. The demo left me scared but in a good way, we're a weird bunch we horror fans aren't we?

Although, before we get too hyped for this game, let's just wait to see what the reviews have to say before pre ordering? There is still much more to see.



Alien Isolation is scheduled for release on the 7th October 2014. 



Thursday, 3 April 2014

Face to Face with Jeremy Wade (on the phone)


If you don't like River Monsters, you and I aren't going to get along. We're just not. I'm sorry. In the age of netflix I've all but abandoned scheduled television viewing, with exception to River Monsters of course. Every week I settle down to watch presenter and extreme fisherman Jeremy Wade travel to some remote location in search of an elusive river dwelling super predator. You never really know what he is going to catch, sometimes it might look something like the picture below.
The Goliath Tiger Fish

So I am a big fan of River Monsters. You either conform and play the River Monsters drinking game with me or you get out. Period.

My first introduction to River Monsters was in 2010, just before I went travelling to Thailand. This was the episode in which Jeremy goes off in search of the Piraiba catfish, one of the largest breeds of catfish in the world and native to the rivers of Thailand. In this instance, a Piraiba was documented as swallowing an unlucky fisherman whole. The fish did choke on the man in question, this isn't exactly Jaws we're talking about, there was a pathetic dimension to this great creature that didn't have the mental or physical capacity to spit the guy out. As a result, both man and fish died. The show introduced several species of catfish, all varying in size and all utter bastards, seemingly. A smaller variety of catfish featured in the show actually latched on to a man's private parts with its tendrils by swimming up the man's urination stream as he relieved himself by a river.

Last month, I had the opportunity to speak to Jeremy Wade over the phone. This was amidst his busy post production schedule putting the finishing touches to season six of River Monsters and on the eve of going on a live tour across the country for Face to Face with Jeremy Wade.

I have transcribed the interview here in full, it was also used for a feature I wrote for the Tamworth Herald. This one's for you River Monsters fans. 

Q. Hi Jeremy, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. So I guess the first question is, let's start logically, how would you describe the show?

A. The first thing I’d say, is that it’s not a fishing program! I think a lot of people pidgeon hole it as a fishing program. The next thing to say is that it’s sort of exactly what it says on the tin! It’s about large creatures, large fish that live in fresh water and monsters, you wouldn’t think live in freshwater. Until we came along and did this, no one had really turned the spotlight on freshwater. The reason being because you can’t see into a lot of rivers, so you can’t do your Jack Cousteau styled programmes. So a lot of the stuff that was in the murky depths simply hadn’t been featured on television before. Some of the creatures are quite astounding both in terms of size and appearance. 

Obviously, yes, it is about river monsters. If you wanted to go into more detail I would say that they are mystery stories, its not just ‘lets go and find this thing that we heard about’. We tend to start each one with, as you know, a story, a fisherman’s tale that sounds very unlikely and exaggerated. That’s our starting point, we talk to people, some people have been bitten or pulled under, otherwise molested in the water, so we ask what on earth could be responsible? I go on to talk to some witnesses, maybe people who were generally in the area. I assemble a suspect list and narrow it down to the prime suspect and eventually arrest the prime suspect, who normally doesn’t want to come quietly. 

And then we have the final twist in which we let it go. It’s about motive as well, not whodunit but why did they do it and the fact of it is most fish won’t deliberately go for people for no good reason it’s normally because the person has gotten too close to it, or stepped on it or whatever. And the message from that is – yes, there are fish that are potentially dangerous out there but our way is not ‘don’t get into the water’ it’s taking the trouble to find out about these things and understand why they attacked so you don’t do anything stupid in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Q. In you’re life you have been a biologist, but I guess the thing that has drawn you into the science has been fishing. How did you get into fishing and extreme angling in the first place?

A. A lot of that kind of thing is sort of down to accident at birth! There’s that famous expression mountaineers say – “because it’s there”. I can imagine growing up somewhere, say the Alps or somewhere in sight of mountains and just thinking; I’ve got to go there! the next thing you know you're a mountaineer. In my case it was living in a village in South East England in Kent, that had a river running through. My parents at the time thought ‘how do you keep a young boy with lots of energy out of trouble? And y’know none of my family were fished but I was given a fishing rod and it was actually left to a school friend of mine to show me what to do. It was just the fact that it was there. And like with a lot of interests, you need to experience it and see the appeal of it. To be honest, for quite along time I thought fishing was a complete waste of time, because you stand there and you get cold and wet, and what is the point of that? But as soon as you catch your first fish, something happens and you just want to see what else is out there? I want to catch a bigger one, I want to see what I catch in a different place and from there it’s never ending!

Q. You have this live show coming up. The first date is this weekend. How do you translate the river monsters experience into a live show?

A. Good question. I don’t do an awful lot of talks. I used to do a couple of slideshows many years ago, I’ve done a couple of one off things recently. I think what it is, is a lot of what you see on TV is really the tip of the iceberg. It takes roughly between 2 to 3 weeks to film each program for what is in the UK a half hour program and there is always some good stuff that we leave out. I think a lot of people also like to know the process, not just how you catch a fish but how you capture that on camera. A lot of people also, just like you asked now, are wondering how I got into this and so it is to give them a lot of background. I’m planning to do a couple of interactive demonstrations. Not sure how well they will go… but I’ve done a lot of practice with the people at the production company here and I think those will be highly interesting. There will also be time for questions and answers.

Again, because the audience for river monsters is quite diverse. It includes a lot of people who fish but also a lot of people who don’t fish, so I think, like the program, it’s how do you pitch it to be something different.

Q. Will any river monsters be making an appearance at the show?
A. I would like that to be the case… [laughs] But yes. Traveling with fish is not easy. So unfortunately not, I’m afraid. If our thing was snakes, it would be quite easy to transport them in a fox, but fish unfortunately is a lot more difficult.

Q. So no live Goliath Tiger Fish imported straight from the Congo?
A. [laughs] No unfortunately.

Q. Something I’ve always wanted to ask you. I love the episode titles, 'Demon Fish', 'Face Ripper'. These are obviously there to excite the viewer but at the heart of the show you do always exercise a zoological curiosity towards the creatures. I think, in the episode with the Tiger Goliath Fish you very clearly state the show's intention, to venture forth in the name of understanding these creatures. Is there a line between the zoological curiosity aspects of the show and the TV horror murder mystery formula?

A. Yeah, well exactly. I think the thing is, we do tread a bit of a tightrope in lots of different ways. We have two different types of audience, those who fish and those who don’t. And we want it to be educational. But at the same time you don’t want to be preaching to the audience and boring them, you have to entertain them as well. I think a lot of people who watch the show understand that. What it does do, is something quite serious, there is a reason why people pay attention when the story starts off with somebody getting attacked or their leg bitten off. It is actually hardwired into everybody to be interested in predators. We come from ancestors who paid attention. You look at the more blue chip upmarket natural history programs its filled with imagery of lions tearing into zebras, or crocodiles chomping down on wildebeests, and people watch that.

I used to work in advertising for a while and I’ve brought a certain amount of that into this. Although I have to stress its not just me, it’s a huge team who know a lot more about television than I do. But what we have to do is get everybody’s attention in the first place and once you’ve got that you can start to go somewhere else with it. I think there is a very strong message there, we don’t totally spell it out. The thing I said a few minutes ago - here’s this dangerous animal, its bitten and attacked people and all that but in the end I put it back into the water. In the entire history of the show, only a handful of people have asked me well why do you do that? I think most people by the end of the program get it.

The message is, having an apex predator in an ecosystem is normally a good sign. It normally means that everything in the food pyramid underneath it, is good and healthy. The time to be worried is when you haven’t got that predator in the water, because that destroys the whole system.

I think the other thing to say is that it is primarily made for an American audience. We do make the program with an American style and then de-Americanise it for the UK. I think a lot of people who fish are very pleased that something that contains fishing is on terrestrial TV. It does a good PR job for fishing, even non anglers are able to see the worth in it.

Q. So what can we expect from Series 6?

A. Ooh… I have to be quite careful there, because there is such a delay in having it appear. One thing I can say, the list of fish that we feature on this program isn’t infinite. It’s actually fairly limited. So every year, we sort of think, well this is going to be it. And then we find enough to do another year. And actually last year, we got some of the best programs that we’d ever done. I think part of that is that it makes you look that much harder. I mean we have revisited a couple of species but come at them with a different angle or story. We thought we might be scraping the barrel, but actually we’ve hit quite a theme of stories.

Q. So it’s getting harder to find creatures to feature. Is there anywhere the show hasn’t gone that you would like to go?

A. Again, my other slight concern for the program is that we do give the impression that there are 7 foot creatures that are going to bite your leg off living in rivers everywhere you go. But you obviously have to look very hard to find these things. If you go to most places, you won’t find anything. And if you make a program where you can’t find anything, nobody is going to be interested. We have this track record of actually producing something each year.

We’ve not been to China, which would be interesting to go to. But sadly, I think everything of interest has sort of disappeared from China, unfortunately and a lot of parts of the world. People have no choice to eat what is in the rivers. It’s actually a big thing that is happening in the Amazon, it is a shadow of what it was fifty years ago. You really have to pick you places before you go there. I mean China had the giant Yangtze paddle fish, it was huge, but its sadly been officially declared extinct over the last few years. That’s not a fish you could catch on a rod and line, it was an amazing creature but they no longer exist. So China is a big blank on our map and will probably remain so.

Having said that. I’ve got a busy year this year. I’m making some more programs but I think they will change a lot. I’m not exactly sure how, but I think they will mutate into something maybe slightly different. I can’t say too much, but definitely watch this space.

Q. Exciting! Well thanks very much for talking to me today. Do you have any concluding thoughts you would like to say?

A. Well. One thing that just occurred to me when you said where you would like to go. There almost like crypto-zoology programs, where we’re looking for the yeti or something. The difference with these programs is that we go there and there’s the yeti! We have been extremely lucky and looking back we really have produced stuff against the odds. I think apart of it is, we don’t have a huge amount of time when putting together the program, so we really have to concentrate the mind, its about being very realistic about what you can get.

Everytime we go away, there is always a certain amount of desperation but we’ve set ourselves some very difficult challenges, but touch wood, everytime we do come up with something and I think sometimes it is good to put yourself under pressure.      

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

My reaction to Alien: Isolation

Sega have announced Alien: Isolation, a new Alien game with a particular emphasis on Ridley Scott's original 1979 masterpiece. I react in the only way a scorned Alien fanboy can, by quoting almost verbatim from James Cameron's classic 1986 sequel.

INT. CORRIDOR

CARTER BURKE From SEGA stands in the narrow, dingy corridor with LIEUTENANT GORMAN, CREATIVE ASSEMBLY. Young and severe in his officer's dress black but maybe slightly obsessed with large scale historical total war strategy games. The door opens slightly.




BURKE
Hi, Charley. This is Lieutenant Gorman of the...

SLAM. Burke buzzes again. Talks to the door...


BURKE
Charley we have to talk.
(pause)
We've got a brand new Aliens game coming out. 

The door opens. Charley considers the ramifications of that. He motions from inside. 

INT. CHARLEY'S APARTMENT - A LITTLE LATER

Burke and Gorman are seated, nursing coffee. Charley paces, very tense. 
CHARLEY
No. There's no way! 

BURKE
Hear me out...

CHARLEY
I willingly sat through those two Alien Versus Predator movies. I got all hyped up for Prometheus and came out woefully disappointed. I pre-ordered and played through that piece of shit train wreck you called Aliens: Colonial Marines, and now you want me to go back out there and play another Alien game? Forget it. 


We see that he's gut scared, covering it with anger. Burke sees it too. 

BURKE
Look. It's not going to be another shooter. It's a survival horror, a canonical sequel to the original Ridley Scott Alien movie. Y'know I think we're really onto something here. That's all.

GORMAN
It wouldn't be another space marine shooter. It'll be a true survival horror experience. Like Amnesia, but set in the Alien universe.

BURKE
This game stays true to the spirit of Alien. No weapons. Just one alien and one big deserted space ship based on the architecture and set design of the original movie. It's going to be a pure horror game. You're going to be extremely disempowered in the face of this perfect killing machine that stalks you around each and every corner. Just like you always wanted. 


GORMAN
We've been working on it for quite sometime. Before the whole debacle of Colonial Marines. The original vision for this game has remained consistent from the beginning of development. And we've got the rights to include the original Jerry Goldsmith score.  

CHARLEY
(To Burke)

So you're making a canonical sequel to Alien now? You going to soil that masterpiece too? What's next? Maybe you could do a canonical sequel to Alien 3! Where Ripley wakes up to find it was all just a horrible dream... She wakes up with Hicks and Newt and they go off to the Alien homeworld, and find out that the aliens aren't actually all bad, just misunderstood. Just like Renny Harlin wanted? I like Alien 3 just fine! Especially the director's cut edition. It's a real dark underrated movie! Don't mess with Alien 3. 



BURKE
You're upset. I get it. This is a sore subject under the circumstances. After that last game. But look. In this new game, you play as Ellen Ripley's daughter Amanda Ripley. She lost her mother aged 11 when the Nostromo disappeared. From her perspective she has no idea what even happened to her beloved mother and now 20 years later she gets a call from Weyland Yutani who tell her they've found the Nostromo's black box and what happened to her mother. Its a real great setup for, I think, a real compelling story, a young woman travelling across the black recesses of space to search for the truth of what happened to her mother. But of course, when she gets there... she meets the horror her mother faced. Wouldn't you watch that movie? I'd watch that movie! 

Burke is revealing the skills of his early days in sales. Charley is almost convinced. Almost.

CHARLEY
Yeah, yeah. Nice try. But the franchise is dead to me. Why can't you understand? I'm just trying to move on with my life. You know, maybe some new IP or franchise will reveal itself. 

BURKE
Yeah. I heard you were really getting back into Nintendo in a big way. Mario and Animal Crossing? That kinda stuff?

CHARLEY
(defensive)
That's right.

BURKE
Collecting stars and mushrooms? Jumping on goombas... Rescuing the princess? Little cute animal people? That sorta thing?

CHARLEY
(shrugging)
It's all I can handle. It certainly keeps my mind off the betrayal... fuckin' Colonial Marines. Nintendo have had a really good year and Mario never disappoints. You should see the new game for the Wii-U, you get a cat suit and everything. It's adorable. What would Sega know about good games anyway? Aliens is one thing, but look what you did to Sonic the Hedgehog. 

He makes a good point and Burke knows it. 


BURKE
(changing the subject)
What if I said that Alien: Isolation could reinstate your hopes in the Aliens franchise? And that from here on we're going to treat the series with the respect it deserves. We will enter a new golden age for the franchise. Maybe we could even make the Colonial Marines game you always wanted?

CHARLEY
A 4 player Left 4 Dead co-op shooter with xenomorphs?

BURKE
Exactly. 

CHARLEY
Well that does sound nice.

BURKE
You're damn right it sounds nice! 
(pause)
It's a second chance, kiddo. And I think it'll be the best thing in the world for you to get back in with the xenomorphs. You gotta get back on that.... charging bull alien thing... 

Charley suddenly appears visibly repulsed. Memories of a glorious walkthrough demo juxtaposed with the sad reality of a tragically broken game, sold on a lie. 

CHARLEY
(frosty)
Spare me, Burke. I've heard all this before. I've had my psych evaluation this month. 

Burke leans close, a let's cut-the crap intimacy.

BURKE
Yes, and I've read it. You wake up every night, sheets soaking, the same nightmare over and over. The sluggish combat, the dated visuals, the weyland yutani mercs, jaunty blind aliens t-rexing through the sewers... The bit when you see a poorly modelled Bill Paxton cocooned chest bursted on the wall, as if Hudson's heroic death meant nothing... 



CHARLEY
(shouting)
No! The answer is no. Now please go. I'm sorry. Just go, would you?

Burke went too far, he nods to Gorman who rises with him. He slips a translucent card onto the table and heads for the door. 

BURKE
Think about it. Check out all the previews and teaser trailers. The press embargo has lifted. We'll be trickling out a lot of details over the next coming months before its Q4 release. Lots of really really compelling stuff. So follow us on twitter and facebook... you know what to do. 

INT. LOUNGE - LUCID DREAM SEQUENCE

A hundred YouTube video players broadcasting demos and promotional material for Aliens: Colonial Marines. Randy Pitchford begins laughing heartily whilst doing magic tricks. The promise of a Left 4 Dead styled co-op shooter with xenomorphs. Charley dreams of himself happily playing with friends, reeling off Aliens quotes back and forth, as they get overpowered by waves and waves of deadly aliens. Every death is glorious under the din of pulse rifle fire. Randy Pitchford, is still laughing doing magic tricks. His laughter is gradually becoming more maniacal as he goes into the biggest magic trick of all. The launch day of Aliens: Colonial Marines. Dumb AI, bad lighting, dated visuals, shoddy writing, character models stuck forever glitching in scenery. Michael Biehn's sleepwalked return as Corporal 'not dead' Hicks. JAUNTY BLIND ALIENS T-REXING THROUGH THE SEWERS... Randy Pitchford laughter reaches feverpitch, throwing his head back madly with the veins in his neck pulsating. His kind bespetacled Santa Claus eyes completely at odds with his deranged cackle. 


But the nightmare grows - flashes of the tasteless hospital scene from Alien Versus Predator: Requiem. Suddenly Charley is falling through infinite blackness, the gaping plot holes and unanswered questions of Prometheus. He crashes onto an alien planet. He gets himself up and looks around. But what's this? He looks behind him, a monolithic structure blocks out the sun. The space jockey's ship is rolling towards him. Its rolling! It's going to crush him. But instead of running to the side, all he can do is look up in terror as the ship comes crashing down upon him. But lo! What's this? He's suddenly at the cinema, queuing up at the box office buying tickets. But for what? Oh no... It's Prometheus 2 - Prometheuses! Promethei? 

IT NEVER ENDS. 

CUT TO: INT. APARTMENT

Charley lunges into frame with an animal outcry. He clutches his chest, breathing hard. Bathed in sweat he lights a cigarette with trembling hands. 

TIGHT ON PHONE CONSOLE as Charley's hand inserts Burke's card into a slot. "STAND BY" prints out on the screen and is replaced by Burke's face, bleary with sleep.

BURKE
(on video phone)
Yello? Oh, Charley. Hi...




CHARLEY
Burke, just tell me one thing. There are going to be no pulse rifles, smart guns or sentry guns. No predators or pred-aliens or company mercs... It will be a true survival horror game. Amnesia with xenomorphs. Just a brooding isolating atmosphere, plagued with scarce resources with some stellar lighting and sound design. 

BURKE
That's the plan. My word on it. 

CLOSEUP - CHARLEY taking a deep slow breath. Surely it's time for someone to make good use of the Aliens IP once again?    

CHARLEY
All right. I'm in. 




Monday, 6 January 2014

10 Good Games of 2013

WHAT YEAR? As Kyle Reese furiously demanded from the lowly Police officer at the start of Terminator.

The festive season has ended, giving way to yet another January. The festive glow and holiday cheer fades like the twinkle in the Eleventh Doctor's eye as it is suddenly replaced by the frowning bewildered brow of Peter Capaldi. It's cold, it's dark, time is forever moving on and the future is largely uncertain and scary. Happy new year!

In all this end year excitement I forgot to post my top 10 favourite game list of 2013. It is my understanding that everyone who aspires to write about games must have a top 10 list. So here it is.  


10. Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon
Luigi ain't afraid of no ghost. Psyche. He's petrified of them. The big wuss.
Nintendo have released some great games this year across the 3DS and Wii-U. I took advantage of Nintendo's summer 4 for 3 promotion, getting Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Animal Crossing, Donkey Kong Returns and Fire Emblem: Awakening. Four stellar games that had me engrossed for hours. To pick just one feels wrong, but Luigi's Mansion 2 was probably my favourite. The game is a sequel to the original game that was released alongside the GameCube back in 2001, but feels like a complete expansion of the format and more of an actual game. As Luigi, you are tasked with going around a number of haunted houses in search of ghosts, treasure and the old MacGuffin, a shattered crescent moon, you must put back together to restore peace to the galaxy (I think). 

The 3DS's 3D functionality was once seen as a gimmick that was detrimental to the developing eyes of children. In Luigi's Mansion the 3D is used to draw you into the immaculately conceived interiors, giving a depth and immersion to the cartoony shenanigans that feels great, almost like peering into a doll's house. Levels typically involve the hapless green plumber tasked with some objective which usually involves backtracking from one end of the mansion to the other in search of a mandatory item like a bucket full of water to make a plant grow. The real delight of the game is exploring each of the rooms for treasure and rare gems, as well as capturing the many ghosts that haunt the premises. The mechanics are surprisingly deep and elaborately expanded for a wealth of different purposes. You startle ghosts with the torch before sucking them up with your vaccum cleaner, causing Luigi to fly around the room like some kind of paranormal rodeo. Basically, Luigi's Mansion is Nintendo doing Ghostbusters and its great.   

Incidentally the Luigi's ringtone is now my ringtone.       

9. Tearaway
Supposedly Tearaway isn't selling so well. This is a tragedy. The game is a little miracle.
Despite Sony’s valiant efforts to transfer the full PlayStation 3 living room experience to a portable device, the real strength of the Vita has been Sony's relentless pursuit of all your indie favourites. Here's a list, Hotline Miami, Lone Survivor, Thomas Was Alone, Proteus, Spelunky and Terarria are all available on the Vita. And Fez, Rogue Legacy and Minecraft are on the way… The Vita is fast becoming my favourite platform, a luxury device to enjoy all these indie titles. Who needs a PS4 or a Xbox One, or even a souped up PC, when you have a Vita? You don’t even need Tearaway really, or any of these games on this top 10 list. Just get yourself a PlayStation Vita and, y’know, walk the earth… and miss all of it because you are knee deep in Terraria.  

We've had Uncharted, Little Big Planet and a Vita tailored Assassin's Creed, but for the first time, Tearaway feels like a game unashamedably made for the Vita. The game incorporates all of those gimmicks – the rear/front cameras and touch screens in new and imaginative ways. You play as this envelope person who must travel through a world made completely of paper populated by all manner of origami beings to deliver one simple message. It’s not very challenging and at times feels more like a tech demo, but every so often you capture a glimpse of the game world’s sun, in which your face is captured via the inbuilt camera, teletubbies style. It catches you off guard, but when it happens you are nearly always smiling. And you can’t argue against that, can you?

The ending is also one of the best endings to a video game this year.

8. Tomb Raider
These days all women carry bows. 
I’m strictly an old school Tomb Raider fan. The original game was what got me into gaming and indeed tomb raiding in the first place. Despite the clunky controls there was a calculated precision to the platforming. Lara had a particular distance she could jump, you could extend this with a run up and sometimes you would need to grab the ledge on the other end of the jump. Some times you would have to perform a series of backflips and sideways jump to navigate timed gauntlets. Miscalculate and you overshoot the jump and you fall into a spike trap or pirahna infested rivers. You always felt more accountable over your actions making the accumulative progression through the game feel like a challenge and a journey you were in charge of. This level of precision is missing in Tomb Raider's contemporaries, your Uncharted trilogy and yearly Assassin’s Creed, where climbing and jumping are practically automated. You’ll press the jump button, your character will jump, and automatically grab the ledge, they’ll show signs of strain as they dangle precariously over a chasm, perhaps a bit of the ledge breaks next to them, perhaps you have to press 'Y' to correct your grip, but you don’t really feel the drama like you did in the first five Tomb raider games because you can’t fail the jump.  

Crystal Dynamics took over Tomb Raider when Core Design closed down after the failure of Angel of Darkness (great orchestral soundtrack). Tomb Raider began to emulate Prince of Persia's quick acrobatic platforming, much to serviceable and muted success. These games were fine, but the likes of Uncharted and Assassin's Creed had taken over the throne. Something had to give, and the result was this year’s reboot, in which Lara Croft was given the full gritty origins story, in which she is deconstructed to a time before she became the twin pistol slugging ‘Tomb Raider’. She is 21 years old, na├»ve and unsure of herself and shipwrecked on a nightmarish island existing in perpetual storm populated by a tribe of nomadic woman killing cultists, wolves and sharp pointed sticks. 

In many ways the game is another Uncharted clone, a highly cinematic experience forgoing the Saturday morning action adventure style for the gritty survivalist theatrics of The Descent. Venturing through claustrophobic crawl spaces, the sharpened pick axe to the temple, the emergence and baptism from the lake of blood. It’s all here. Nathan Drake was an affable type, whitling through action sequences with a ‘crap!’ and a shrug. In Tomb Raider, each waypoint is heralded by a weary eye as Lara affirms herself “I can do this” a further test of survival that inevitably transforms. 

Along with her growth as a character, the game also contains the gradual attainment of weapons and tools which are used to unlock further areas of the island, giving you access to more collectibles. To be fair some of these collectibles feel a little rudimentary and there for the sake of it. Yeah Lara, you burn all the evil men's flags down. The game is by no means perfect. Gradually, the game does descend into the old running and gunning schtick as Lara brings down the hurt on the boys. At times the voice actor playing Lara does sound like a pissed off gap year student, and the game makers do seem to sadistically follow the mantra that she has to be broken before she can be built, hence all the impalements and beatings she faces, which is a little too excessive at the most of times. In one section of the game, you must pilot Lara as she is carried off by rapids, hit the debris at the sides and you are witness to a real sticky end, which feels overly excessive. The stick going through her chin and out the top of her head, whilst she flails about in death throes.  


Oh come on man, really?
So there are a couple of problems with Tomb Raider. More so than other games? Maybe. Overall however, Tomb Raider is an engrossing experience and a visual treat. Most importantly, this is the first Tomb Raider, in which Lara is put first, and as a fan of the series I think she deserves nothing less.   

7. Prison Architect


Get busy living. Get busy dying. Or just play more computer games. 
Technically this was released last year. Though technically it hasn’t been released yet because it’s still in beta. On paper its Theme Hospital or Sim City… but set in a prison. The tutorial involves you building an execution chamber. The guilty party is being read the last rites as you endeavour to construct the new wing to the prison.  You are told what is needed - a hallway, a solitary cell and the room enclosing the electric chair itself. Once you have connected the chair to the prison’s electrical grid you are given the option to add further flourishes. Lighting, paved path leading to entrance, maybe you fit a window into the cell, a bookshelf, little things to make the doomed prisoner’s final night a little bit more pleasant. It’s quietly affecting from this 2D isometric viewpoint.

Once you have constructed the electric chair, the prisoner is escorted to his final destination, in which you see his backstory – he was once a school teacher who after catching his wife sleeping with another man, proceeds to gun them both down. You then see how the school teacher gives himself up by confessing to a priest, who convinces him that the only way to atone for his sins is to give himself up to the authorities for judgement. So he does, and now he’s for the electric chair you just built. 

The design and graphics of the game are brilliantly subversive. The character designs are all very simple, a head with eyes and hair on top of burly head and shoulders, each given a name. They are just an entity within this prison, a bunch of numbers and data to be processed, not people of course. Well... this is your first impression of the game. The design is consistent for every character whether depicting a prisoner, a victim, a security guard, a builder, a priest, or even the statue of Jesus on a cross in the chapel where the school teacher confesses. It attaches a degree of humanity to the process, that makes you consider the morality of the justice system. Not everyone has the moral fibre to manage a prisoner but this game provides a glimpse at what it may be like. And its tough.   

6. Saints Row IV
...
You’ll notice I haven’t included GTAV on this list. I definitely did play that game this year, but as far as open world crime sims go, Saints Row IV is better. Not only is it funnier, and more fun to play, it has a better soundtrack, better characters, superpowers and a dub step gun. I think the other thing it has over GTAV is the fact that Saints Row IV just has its heart in the right place, it doesn’t need to give you a meticulously designed world or beautiful skyboxes, it isn’t permeated by a constant stream of misogyny or an ill-advised torture sequence. It just puts you into a Matrix inspired computer world, where you gain superpowers and fight against an evil empire of alien invaders led by a posh debonair overlord called Zinyak who has a love of the classical music and readings of Pride and Prejudice. Sometimes you fight rouge AIs within the system, who pose as akimbo uzi wielding toilets with a desire to kill. You also get a dubstep gun. Did I mention that already. It never once gets old. 



The series has always excelled by giving the player full control over the appearance of their character, and now, with added superpowers it is one of the few games in which you can feel empowered as a morbidly obese ginger haired man with a woman’s voice - wearing no pants. 

The superhero elements effectively mean that cars become meaningless and the game begins to emulate Crackdown, as you super jump from rooftop to rooftop, running up skyscrapers in the collection of skill points that serve to make you even more powerful. This is all pitched against a soundtrack of licensed music that just seems to work with whatever it is you are doing. Jumping serenely 50 feet into the air to Aerosmith's Don't Wanna Miss A Thing before ground stomping a group of aliens just works. Running at super speeds parting traffic to thrashing dubstep, just works. 
  
The game frequently goes back to its history, most of which I had no real context of understanding, but it only made the game more endearing. Neil Patrick Harris does one of the voices for a character who appears in one of the side missions for Christ’s sake! It may not be the best looking game ever, the world map is basically identical to the previous games with a couple of extra gubbins, but you feel the developers really care about the characters and the world they’ve built within the shadow of GTA, and you’ve got to respect that. I spent all of the August bank holiday playing this game, and I had a blast.    

5. Papers Please
Adding border control to the old CV. 
Papers Please is set in 1984 in a fictional Eastern bloc country called Arstotzka. You play as a citizen, who by means of a lottery wins employment within border control, in which you man an inspection booth and process a lengthy queue of immigrants, meticulously checking their documents against the requirements of entry. Based on this, you judge whether they are approved for entry or are rejected.  

The game plays out through the working days, at the end of which you must spend your wages on food, medicine and shelter for your family. Each day brings new challenges, a suicide bomber, a fence jumper and a host of new rules that making processing the queue of people harder and more difficult to earn your keep. On paper, it may not sound like a great game, but there is something addictive about processing through all the virtual paper work, the 16 bit cohesiveness of the visuals, trying to make sense of everything and permitting entry. You feel yourself learning the system and becoming more efficient at your job, despite the dire circumstances. 

The ways in which stories and character are implemented aside to these mechanics is also marvellous. You have the old man who is behind all the shifting legislation, appearing in line each day routinely bringing the wrong credentials. The wife trying to get to her son. You have the people trying to bribe you, visits from superior officers and the ability to detain individuals and perfom strip searches for weapons and explosives. The further you go the more abilities you unlock. Things like hotkeys that allow you to interface with your display that much quicker. Sniper fire to put down fence jumpers. The mechanics are progressive, even when the bureaucracy is not.  

This isn't a game with black and white moral choices. If you play the game right, you are submitting to the role of a humble cog in the machine of a corrupt socialist state. There are a total of 33 different endings to unlock in Papers Please and I’m not sure if any of them can be classified as ‘good’.  

4. Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
It's so very very good.
Here's a thing, until 2013 I had never actually completed a Zelda game. Sure, I've played Ocarina of Time, the Wind Waker and Skyward Sword. There just comes a moment through every Zelda game that I stop and do not feel compelled to go forward. Then came a Link Between Worlds and I literally couldn't put it down. 

Very much like the tri-force, the series revolves around, that three triangled artifact signifying the balance between wisdom, power and courage, Zelda has always been a series that has always administered fantastic balance against the myriad components of gaming. There is the 'aha' moment of puzzle solving, the reward through exploration, the snappiness of combat and slowly growing your arsenal of tools and weapons.

A Link Between Worlds feels more accessible than ever thanks to the ability to rent all weapons and tools from the outset. The game also allows you to simply have at the game world. Giving you the freedom of finding your own way. Hyrule is a compact world to roam, based of the same map as A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo, but it is brimming with secrets and challenges. I couldn't put it down until I completed it. And when it was finished I was going back to find all the things I missed.  

The music is also incredible 

3. Gone Home - PC
Feel the 90s nostalgia. What do you mean there's no references to the Crystal Maze?
Gone home is such a simple idea, it’s a wonder that it hasn’t been implemented before. You play as a woman in her early 20s, who returns from backpacking around Europe to an empty house on a dark and stormy night. The house is largely unfamiliar as it was inherited from a deceased relative, in addition your family are nowhere to be seen with little clue about their whereabouts. And so you explore the house through the first person perspective gradually piecing together what happened to your family through clues and text. It’ll only take 3 hours to complete, but Gone Home is an engrossing and heartfelt experience based on a less is more approach. The way the game manages to make you feel like a stranger, yet come to know each of the characters is one of the most satisfying experiences in gaming this year.   

2. The Last Of Us
He's the cranky old curmudgeon who would rather look after himself and she's the feisty kid who's only known the world in post apocalyptic terms!
I'm also thinking of the top 10 movies I've seen this year. But do you know what? The Last of Us probably tops that list as well. Similarly, 2013 also saw the conclusion of Breaking Bad play out through a string of episodes that was the televisual equivalent of having your head netted in a plastic carrier bag whilst somebody strangled you. In terms of gruelling experiences, the only thing that even came close to that stifling feeling was playing The Last Of Us.

There is nothing particularly original about the game’s premise of course. The Last of Us is another gritty post-apocalyptic game involving zombies and scrounging for resources within the sad remnants of civilization as the world moves on and nature reclaims the land with greenery. What makes the game great is its implementation, its characters and the story connected to them. It begins quite slowly, but as you near the half way mark, the game ramps up and simply doesn't let go. 

I’ll be the first to admit it, a lot of what The Last Of Us does great is invested within it's cutscenes. As exemplified by the Uncharted trilogy, the game takes Naughty Dog’s pioneering ability to create natural characters through motion captured actors that bounce off each other and are capable of displaying real emotional nuance. Rather than the light action movie heroics of Uncharted however, The Last Of Us goes for a harsher tone. This is a game set alit by its moments of subtlety and ambiguity as much of its scenes of enormous violence and startling vistas of decayed civilisation. 

You'll still be gratified when you blow a clicker's head off with a shotgun, but less so when strangling a man to death with your bare hands through the most protacted one button takedowns yet seen in games. Violence always feels like a last resort, because resources are so scarce but also thematically. Each of these characters represents the last of us, the last of humanity.


The giraffe sequence
Story and characters are put first, to create a thoroughly cohesive and adult experience. There are a few games that are witness to gaming's growing maturity in the mainstream market, its happening all over the indie scene of course. But in a world of modern military shooters where Call of Duty has the US getting invaded again, where budgets upward of $100M must result in the world exploding, The Last of Us is testament to what you can achieve with all the resources and a consistency of tone. It's quite simply a masterpiece.

1. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Stop whatever you are doing and go play this game. 
Anybody, could play and enjoy Brothers thanks to its control system that is so effortlessly simple yet so versatile in its application. With one stick you control one brother, the wiser older brother on the cusp of manhood and with the other stick you control the younger more juvenile brother. The left and right triggers are action buttons corresponding to each brother. That is it. 

Between these controls the games has you face myriad situations, each using the controls in different ways. Sometimes you will be controlling the characters to work co-operatively or independently of each other. It may be working co-operatively carting your sick father to the village doctor at the start of the game. It might be providing the younger brother a leg boost, it may be through fishing, or paddling a canoe, or riding mountain goat up a precarious mountain trail, it may just be stopping to sit at a bench and just drink in the scenery. 

Brothers is the latest game from Starbreeze Studios, who have made their reputation creating dark uber violent FPSs including Escape from Butcher Bay, The Darkness and last year’s Syndicate reboot which divided audiences like marmite. In contrast, Brothers feels like a palette cleanser, a bite size adventure through a Germanic fantasy world seasoned equally by moments of violence, empowerment, whimsy, wonder and despair. It is the brainchild of Swedish film director Josef Fares, the game drawing upon his own experiences, growing up in civil war. Whilst so many games are content with being an interactive movie, Brothers knows that it is a game and is prepared to work within the medium’s mechanisms and constraints to produce something that is profoundly unique of the medium.

Everything leads up to a powerful ending, which is heartbreaking but ultimately life affirming. It really is quite magical. And anybody can seemingly pick it up and enjoy it.