We have all been there. That point in a game where you have absolutely no clue what to do, and seem to have exhausted every possibility. Running around in looping circles, pressing the same buttons over and over and over again. You continue to try things despite the fact you know they won't work as you have attempted them ten times before already. You are stuck.
This is a perennial problem faced by gamers, and one that is generally dealt with in two ways. The easiest, and probably most common, thing to do is quit the game. Just do it, rage quit. You know you want to. Maybe throw the controller at the wall, or swear under your breath. You could shout some hate-filled bile at your closet loved-one, family pet, or even that wall that just recovered from a controller to the face. Some gamers even punch cushions, or kick chairs in order to vent their frustration levels that have been building up for hours. You tell yourself that all you need is a break, get refreshed, and when you reattempt it later somehow the answer will present itself towards like a finger pointing to your destiny. Many gamers will play a more relaxing, less mentally challenging game just to chill out and let-go, and will take up the cause of advancement at a later date with renewed aplomb. That brings us to the second option, a dark and shadowy path many gamers will travel along, but not many willingly admit to it. After a period of futile experimentation and tempered frustration, you relent and look it up on-line, or ask a friend. You succumb to the power of the walk-through. ''It's OK!'' is what you tell yourself, it will be just this once, and you won't use it again.
Getting stuck has been a staple component of many games since Atari ruled the world. Back in the day, there weren't on-line guides, FAQs, or websites devoted to intricate game tactics and step-by-step strategy. Games would punch you in the gut, stamp on your face and kick sand in your eyes and expect you to like it. You would simply dust yourself down, and try again. Then you would die again, but at least this time you made it slightly further along. You were making progress, and given the fact that you only had two other games and there was no other way of finding out what to do, you waded through the bog of unending frustration one inch at a time.
Those times have changed. The explosion in popularity of gaming over the past decade has brought with it many new elements to the gaming experience. Developers and publishers now have to appeal to a far wider spectrum of people, and this has resulted in what can only be described as a severe dumbing-down in the amount of problem-solving you are expected to participate in. Most games these days will hold your hand for a huge amount of time, showing you what to do, what those buttons are for, and explain in meticulous detail every mechanic and operational function in the game. If you actually get stuck, all you have to do is look around for that shiny/glowing/flashing/pulsing piece of scenery, or maybe even just press a button and follow the vibrant neon trail that appears on the ground. Sometimes you won't even need to push a button, as their is a constant bread-crumb trail for you to follow so you could not possibly get off course. If after all these hints, tips, way-points and guides you are still struggling, getting lost and forever dying, you could always just pause the game and let the games artificial intelligence do the rest. Just sit back and watch an N.P.C complete the level for you.
What have we become? What is the point of even playing games anymore? We have got ourselves in such a situation that complete blueprints are released before the game is even out, and many games will have an official guide as a bundled extra. Whilst it is good to have these options, and it is up to each individual to decide for themselves how they want to play a game, it seems that getting stuck simply isn't a dilemma for people to even contemplate anymore. There are too many other games to play, too many other distractions to fill our day. People just don't have time to be stuck anymore.
The next time you do get stuck in game, try and embrace the difficulty and frustration. Rather than automatically look for the hint button, or click on that website for tips, just take your time. Run around in endless circles, keep trying the same thing over and over and over again, and most importantly - get annoyed. It is only through struggle that we can improve, and sometimes it is good to be lost in the darkness. The only things worth achieving in life (and games) are difficult. It is supposed to be that way. The battle and strife through the wilderness just makes the moment you see the path again all the more profound.
No-one should want to have their hand-held whilst being pointed towards the bread-crumbs on the illuminated pathway. Go and get lost in the virtual woods, you never know what you might find.
Yesterday I played Dear Esther on my Descrutoid Live stream over at http://www.twitch.tv/destructoid I stream at 6pm GMT, Midday US Central, 10am Pacific, Monday to Friday.
Trying to comprehensibly explain 'what is art?', or make a reasoned argument for why something is artistic, is tough. What is beautiful, inspiring and thought-provoking to one person can be a pile of pretentious nothing for others. It is the very nature of trying to define the undefinable, or explain in words something that cannot be described, that is the biggest problem. Art is a number of things, and yet the simplest thing of all. It is everything and nothing. It is exactly what one individual sees through their own eyes, and is resonate and inspiring to them alone. How can anyone possibly try to cheapen such a profound emotional, mental and physical reaction in an easy to read sentence, paragraph or article. Why would someone even attempt to do this?
Released on Valentine's Day on Steam, Dear Esther is a Source mod that has existed in a free-to-download form since 2008. The recent release on Steam ties in with a major graphical update, and will now set u back £6.99. The update and re-release has once again started debate and controversy amongst gamers, as they find it hard to accept whether a game can be art, the limitations and expectations of the medium, or whether it is a game at all.
Dear Esther has no real central game-play mechanic, there is no need for twitch reflex or pattern recognition, and there are no bosses to fight or weapons to unlock. The only thing you actually need to know is that its set on an island, and it might be the prettiest, most bewilderingly beautiful game you have ever seen. Literally, that's all you need to know. Seriously. Go play it now.
Actually, that should read 'Go EXPERIENCE it now.' This is not a game. So, what is it then? That's were the problem arises, much like trying to define what art itself is, trying to categorize or define this experience ultimately cheapens and lessens it. Even the simplistic constructs of words and sentences would defile any attempt to explain what makes this experience great. However, like a rambling drunk ranting over a piece of wordless music, sometimes mindless opinion cannot be ignored. In that case, its time to drink up and get back to the ranting...
There are moments in Dear Esther where just the beauty of the world created overwhelms the 'player' like a painting by Monet. There are vistas and views that you stumble upon that rival the composition of any film of Kubrick or Malick. There are events in the game that will send shivers up your spine, make your hair stand-up on end and start you heart-racing. This is all done with a subtle let explicitly realized cinematography, location and design. Like an expert magician, Dear Esther uses a 'smoke and mirrors' technique to lead you down interesting visual paths, and mental highways. There are echoes of 'proper' games like Half-Life 2 or Wind Waker, where you will be following a direction or gaining your bearings, and the beauty of the environment before you will just hit you like a storming epiphany. Comparisons to these games are unfair as this is not an experience to try to categorize or define, it is something to be lived, to be breathed in, like the chilling wind on an abandoned beach or the view from a top of a mountain.
Dear Esther does suffer from overly-wordy dialog at times, something that many of these art games are guilty of. This is however a nature of the limitations of words, especially when set against a backdrop of ethereal and transient delights. This is an experience that doesn't fall into lazy definitions where we can set the parameters of our expectations based on what genre it falls under, or what category it fits into. You cannot explain why the Mona Lisa is beautiful, or why Pink Floyd can take you breath away. Sometimes the best lyrics are those that cannot be explained, the best paintings are the ones where you don't really know what your looking at. The most vibrant emotions are often the ones we cannot decipher or rationalize.
The overwhelming feeling Dear Esther gives off cannot be surmised in an article, or explained in any literal way. Just go and experience it. It is truly a stunning, emotive and ultimately up-lifting journey that you will not regret taking. Either that or it's a load of overblown, pompous waffle with some nice graphics.
I recently played through Undead Nightmare on my Destructiod Live show at http://www.twitch.tv/destructoid (I cast at 6PM GMT, Midday Central, 10am Pacific Monday-Friday)
Here is a review I wrote this morning...
Let me know what you think, 1st proper review I have wrote in a few years...
UNDEAD NIGHTMARE PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Reviewed)
Whether it's barricading yourself in an empty pub, navigating an abandoned shopping mall, or setting up a camp in a remote location, movies have been preparing us for the (inevitable) zombie apocalypse ever since Romero's first undead minion rose from the grave.
This infestation that has been feasting on the brains of cinema-goers for generations had largely been resisted by a few hardy heroes of the video game world.
Leon Kennedy. Jill Valentine. That spiky-haired dude with 3D glasses. G. This is all we needed to protect us from the slavering horde. Then all hell broke lose. Like a zombie outbreak itself, suddenly they were everywhere.
It started, like it always does, from a few clever/mad individuals messing around with stuff they probably shouldn't. In 2005 Alex Quick released a demo, based off the Unreal Engine 2, called Killing Floor. It was a simple game, survive wave after wave of zombie attacks whilst upgrading your gear as you go, but the central mechanic was great and people couldn't get enough of the 'just one more go' game-play.
Before the world had a chance to realize what was happening, it had begun.
Frank West (he covered wars, you know?) was using anything he could get his hands on, or body in, to smash hundreds of the undead into a festering soup in the Romero inspired Dead Rising.
A small group of unknown developers by the name of Valve, started experimenting with mob-spawning in the Source Engine in-between coding sessions. They quickly discovered the power of the undead tide was too strong to resist, and Left 4 Dead was born.
Before we knew it, the zombies had infected even the Call Of Duty franchise, with World At War's defining zombie-mode fully establishing a legitimate undead presence in the video game world, which now extends to an official George A Romero DLC for Black Ops entitled Call of the Dead.
Now we have a plethora of games, covering every platform and game type, shuffling, stumbling and/or running ceaselessly toward us. The survival-minded gamer can take on these abominations as a plant, a tourist, a tycoon, the army, a wrangler, a Japanese Yakuza, a driver or even a cowboy....
Released both as an expansion for the lauded cowboy-em-up Red Dead Redemption, and as a stand-alone game, Undead Nightmare is Rockstar's attempt to reanimate the (SPOILER ALERT) corpse of John Martson.
The story is totally separate from the main canon storyline of RDR, and sees Martson and family at home on their farm. Before you can ask 'What's that smell?' his wife and son have been infected, and John must set out again into the Wild West in order to find a cure for his family.
The game-play is much the same as the main game, albeit more focused and with less variety. Zombies are considerably more hardy than your average cowboy, as body shots will only provide a brief respite from attack before they stagger to their feet again. The best and only advice is, like Shaun said, 'Aim for the head.' Whilst you may have spent most of the time in the uninfected world lazily picking off cattle-rustlers and bandits with easy kills, each and every zombie kill feels like an achievement, and packs of zombies present a real challenge.
Undead Nightmare uses the original games 'Dead-Eye' system, which with a press of the thumb-stick allows the player to slow down time, and carefully pick your shots to maximize killing efficiency. It could be argued this was a rather redundant feature, as RDR's shooting mechanic and aiming system was such that you never really needed to use it except to show off or save time. This is not the case anymore, as you will need every advantage you can get your hands on to prevent Martson from becoming lunch. Even the generic, everyday zombie can be a problem at times, and when you add in large groups containing more advanced mob-types with refined attacks, it won't be long before your chewing tobacco to refill your dead-eye meter like a zombie will chew threw your brain if you don't.
Its not just the humans who are suffering in this outbreak, as RDR's much celebrated environments have succumbed too. Zombie bears and sasquatches will stalk you in Tall Trees, bats fly away when you disturb the bushes, and all the towns have been over-run. So it's up to you to save them.
Saving towns is the main non-mission mode in Undead Nightmare. You will see a town become over-run by an icon on your map, and upon entering you will need to help the last surviving residents by killing zombies. A bar will appear at the top of your screen, telling you how many undead you have to kill before you can claim back the town for the living. When this is done, you will be rewarded with ammo, the respect of the town, and the ability to save and fast travel. Be warned though, as those zombies don't give up easily, and it won't be long before the town is under attack again.
You will spend a great majority of your time in the Zombiefied West saving these towns from the ever-spawning masses, or attempting to stem the rise of the undead by burning graveyards and taking out boss zombies. There are a number of actual scripted story missions too, featuring some of the more memorable characters such as West Dickens and Seth. The cut-scenes that accompany these missions are on the same high level as those from the original, with returning voice actors and premium production quality shining through. Unfortunately, the cut-scenes, like the missions that follow them, are over pretty quickly, and it wont be long before your back saving towns and burning graveyards.
The single-player campaign will take around six hours to finish, but if you want to unlock and see everything (you will) that time is greatly extended. Even after that you could play endlessly if you desired, such is the compelling nature of the world. There are plenty of new challenges and tasks available so there is always a fun distraction to be had. These include the rather awesome Four Horses of the Apocalypse - War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death - unique-themed and skinned mounts that spawn around the world at certain locations. They are well worth the effort to track and break, and if you are able to tame all four, a pretty killer surprise awaits. You also get two new game modes for multi-player, Undead Overrun and Tilted Land Grab, and some new skins for your avatar too!
Undead Nightmare packs in more content than maybe any DLC that has come before. It can even could be argued as a stand-alone game it offers more fun and varied game-play that most full-price releases. Red Dead Redemption was a game that had a truly beautiful, cinematic world. It was an environment where you didn't need to do main story missions in order to have fun, in fact many people will have more fun just messing about and riding around, and Undead Redemption extends this sense of exploration, creativity and imagination.
Overall, this is a stellar piece of DLC, and the few concerns you may have about repetitive game-play is totally overcome by the brain-hungry, action-packed, content-filled experience that awaits you. Zombies might be taking over, but if this is what the Undead Apocalypse will look like, serving your brain up on a platter for the horde to feast on maybe a better option than hiding in the pub.
Here is a review for LBP2 i wrote about a year ago....
LITTLE BIG PLANET 2
There should be a school to prepare you for this game. Engineering, construction, social ethics, and art could be courses, and Stephen Fry would be the velvet-tongued tutor. There would be no fees required; the only price of admission is imagination.
Little Big Planet 2 is the sequel to the 2008 GOTY, released with the defining mantra ‘’Play. Share. Create.’’ Since then thousands of devotees have joined the cause of creativity, armed with their variety of costumes, levels and contraptions. The fact that there are already 3 million levels made (they aren’t all shark survival levels) is testament to the devotion of Media Molecules army of inspired revolutionaries.
To some, it may seem all MM have done is sharpen the visuals, added a few contraptions, and padded it with a basic story mode that is essentially one great big tutorial. Unfortunately, these souls have the Negativatron in their hearts.
The new contraptions such as bounce pads, sackbots, a grappling gun, and the creatinator ( a gun that can shoot anything) add large amounts of fun and challenge, and have huge scope for inventive community interpretation.
However, the biggest game changer is the new ‘Direct Control’ feature. This allows a inspired disciple to map the control of an object onto your PS3 controller. Aside from the inevitable ‘you ARE the shark’ levels, expect RPGs, shooters, classic game re-inventions and everything in-between to be dreamed into existence over the coming months and years.