It's the fourth, technologically superior episode of The Audible Protagonist, and as a special treat for your ear holes, I decided to read some gripping works of fiction that will literally astound you for several minutes!
We also discuss questionable election ad campaigns for Sarah Palin's inevitable Presidency, a whole bunch of wrestling talk, some junk about Double Fine's The Cave, and STEVEN HAS A NEW MIC AND IS VERY EXCITED ABOUT THAT.
Also, I need only hear back from the folks at iTunes before The Audible Protagonist is a go on iTunes!
While it might seem a little late to still be doing “____ of 2012” articles, there are some things that cannot be left un-said. Amidst each year’s appalling disasters and critic’s darlings, there sits a graveyard of games neither brilliant nor terrible; merely “pretty good”. Such games can often be overlooked by the general public, be it because of a lack of marketing, an uninteresting concept, or because it isn’t a yearly sports title.
I am not talking about small, independent games funded and developed by one or two people; blatantly overlooked because the games budget can’t support a widespread release. I am talking about mainstream titles funded by big-money publishers, and developed by large teams of skilled individuals. Games that, for all intents and purposes, should be a success, but end up drowning in bargain bins surrounded by old copies of Too Human and Imagine: Girl Band.
For me, the most overlooked game of 2012 was one that failed in so many aspects, but its successes made it one of the most unique titles of the year. Poor Binary Domain, you were doomed from the start.
To pick up a copy of Binary Domain (which you should do, it’s very cheap now) on a store shelf would be an exercise in apathy. The games artwork proudly displays burly alpha males right out of the Gears of War playbook, fronted by a man who would win first place in a Chris Redfield lookalike competition. First impressions are definitely not BD’s forte.
Insert the game disc into your personal virtual entertainment noise box of choice, and be greeted by a bland, black and white menu screen, the navigation of which is accompanied by generic bleeps and bloops. Boot up the campaign, and witness the two seemingly worst game characters ever engaging in tired, cliché ridden dialogue. They crack wise, they spout one liners at break neck speed, they say vaguely homoerotic things in a schoolboy attempt to seem quirky, you know the score; it’s Army of Two but even less well-intentioned.
After what feels like an hour of tutorials accompanied by more inane, cringe worthy chit chat, Binary Domain starts to display signs of competence. Environments are sleek, detailed and suitably bleak for a digital dystopia, whilst combat is simple, engaging and fun.
All too often in the games industry, zombies are used as a means to provide mindless, morally justified murder. Binary Domain however, tries the same trick with robots; and the results are equally satisfying if not more so. By targeting individual body parts, the player can dismember or behead their robotic foes; disabling the enemy’s movement, accuracy or weaponry (and creating a glorious shower of metal to boot).
Sure, a solid shooter is fine, but we’ve seen plenty of those. Where Binary Domain retains some of its inherent Japanese-ness is in its boss fights. Only mere hours into the games robust campaign, players will face a large, spider-like robot the height of a skyscraper and the width of a football pitch. Fighting the boss is a pretty mundane affair (target the weak spots to disable the legs), but what stands out about it is its sheer size and scale. Other bosses in the game are equally aesthetically pleasing, often resembling mechanized versions of bosses from Bayonetta.
So we’ve established Binary Domain plays pretty well, surprisingly able to hold its own against most modern third person shooters, but this is not why the game has remained lodged somewhere in the weirder parts of my brain. No, Binary Domain is truly memorable for its ludicrous, yet often poignant story. The game follows Dan Marshall and his “rust crew”, an elite squad of soldiers from around the globe tasked with eliminating “Hollow Children”; robots that believe they are human.
The crew is essentially a who’s who of familiar videogame stereotypes: there’s the wise-cracking black sidekick (Big Bo), the needlessly sarcastic British guy (Charles), the butch girl who exists so the developers could say “Look she’s not hot! That’s respect!” and barely says two words throughout the game (Rachael). Not to mention that Dan essentially resembles every game protagonist to have been created in the last 10 years: stocky, dark hair, gruff manliness hidden beneath a thin veneer of what could almost be described as a sense of humour.
The plot itself is actually a refreshing blend of Blade Runner and Terminator, and as the story progresses the team begin to question the true nature of their orders, and what it really means to be human. Without spoiling anything for prospective players, one of Dan’s crew members is actually a “Hollow Child” and as events unfold, we begin to wonder what makes them any less human than their squishy, organ filled squad members.
As these questions start to arise, the games characters start to become more fleshed out too. Dan and Bo’s idiotic jokes seem to be a coping mechanism; one that wears off as the game progresses and they start to show signs of sensitivity and (gasp!) emotion. We start to learn more about Dan’s past and his mistrust towards robot-kind.
All of this culminated in a bat-shit crazy finale filled with death, totally unexpected betrayals, triple crosses, and (sorry but I’m going to have to SPOLIER ALERT here) the reveal that new robot human hybrids are being created that possess the ability to birth children. Robots; giving birth to robo-human children. Seriously, this happens.
I thoroughly disliked Binary Domain at first, but the deeper I delved into the story of Dan’s “rust crew” and the games intriguing sci-fi pseudo-utopian world, the more hooked I became. Binary Domain taught me that first impressions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I implore you dear reader, if you’ve the cash and time spare, please check out Binary Domain, and hopefully, you won’t regret it.
Another episode of The Audible Protagonist is here, bringing with it fun, frolicking and fro-licking!
In this episode we each pitch ideas for games resulting in such game of the year contenders as: Job Interactive, Jewish Rats, Not-RPG and M From James Bond. We also discuss WWE 13, The Sims (Steve can't get enough), Assassin's Creed 3 and big moves for feminism.
It's time for the second episode of The Audible Protagonist you crazy kids!
In this episode, we look back on the best games of the year, and look forward to what 2013 will bring. We also talk about motion control sex toys, Pokemon sexual offenders, Far Cry 3, The Sims (again) and Darwin disagrees with everything anyone says.
As a new year unceremoniously kicks us in our collective groins and barks at us to get back to work/school/being poor, we can look back on 2012 and the gaming stories it brought with it. There were public relations nightmares, development companies going under, and a ton of terrible games.
On the bright side, though, whilst many game collections might have felt somewhat devoid of great titles earlier in the year, the final quarter of 2012 saw the release of some real corkers.
What follows is a list of my personal favourite games of 2012, and the reasons for such choices.
[Please be aware that these are the opinions of one person, and as such you are free to disagree or agree accordingly (duh). Also, nobody can play every game that releases in a year, so before you ask: “Where’s Journey?” or “Why don’t I see Far Cry 3 on this list?” it’s because I didn’t play them. ¿Comprende?]
Mass Effect 3
While this might seem like a controversial decision for obvious reasons, I still firmly believe that 90% of Mass Effect 3 was fantastic. With the most streamlined combat the series has seen, deep yet simple to use customization options, stellar character and level design, and brilliant writing for established characters, I can’t help but look back fondly on most of ME3.
Also, I thoroughly enjoyed what turned out to be a surprisingly solid multiplayer mode in Mass Effect 3, so much so that I played it for 100+ hours (not something I do regularly).
Sure the ending sucked (it was lazy, it didn’t make sense, there was no payoff, you know the score
by now), there weren’t enough interesting squad members to pick, and James Vega, but despite all of these problems, I still firmly believe Mass Effect 3 was one of the best games of 2012.
Drew Karpyshyn would have made that ending work though.
Finally released back in April after what seemed like a lifetime of waiting, it’s quite possible a great many people have forgotten about FEZ, not least because the games release was marred in
controversy after reportedly “racist comments” made by developer Phil Fish.
Despite its misgivings though, FEZ managed to deliver one of the most unique and awe inspiring platforming experiences you could ever hope to have. The game was essentially one of the most mind bogglingly inventive gameplay mechanics wrapped up inside breath-taking, retro visuals, an insanely catchy soundtrack, and some of the finest level design imaginable.
It may not have set the world on fire like a lot of people were expecting, but, to me; FEZ was a refreshingly beautiful splash of colour in a murky sea of brown.
So rarely does a game manage to provide the thrill of brutal violence whilst simultaneously making you care for the characters or the narrative within said game. The Grand Theft Auto series tries, but often struggles to create sympathetic characters out of people who are essentially ultra-violent sociopaths.
Enter Hotline Miami, an unnerving, frustratingly fun, dark, edgy and overtly shocking top down 16 bit splatter fest. Even describing the game is fun.
Hotline Miami follows an unknown protagonist as he mindlessly slaughters people. Why does he do it? He’s been brainwashed into it. Such a simple plot device allows the player to commit atrocious acts of violence whilst still feeling connected to the main character.
For a full run down of the game and its qualities, read my full review, but I’ll just say that the way the game messes with your head will change you as a person, and how you view your attitudes towards
One of the drawbacks of playing games predominantly on consoles is that there are so few strategy
games to be found in console space, and even fewer are worth writing home about. XCOM: Enemy Unknown manages to bring deep yet accessible strategy gameplay to consoles and it makes it work, even up to the point where some players prefer the console controls to the PC alternative.
Not only that, XCOM also managed to revive a franchise many people once cherished, without resorting to excessive dumbing down of gameplay elements. Playing Enemy Unknown reminded me of my childhood days; assembling Action Men to embark on treacherous missions to stop Dr X.
Each Action Man had a story, a life, a background, none of which was provided by the toy company; I simply improved upon the blank slate they had given me.
This is what XCOM does. It manages to marry intense gameplay to a feeling of personalization, and
in doing so created some of my favourite gaming moments of 2012.
Looking back (through my special time window) to the end of 2011, I never would have thought that an episodic, point and click adventure spin off of a franchise I was only mildly interested in would be my favourite game of the year. Despite the respect and adoration I hold for such games when done right, I really didn’t envision The Walking Dead being the gripping, emotional revival of adventure games it was touted as. How wrong I was.
No other game this year made me laugh, cry, scream and curse as much as The Walking Dead, and no other game managed to craft an emotionally engaging story so effortlessly either. The most important thing for any game to achieve is to impact you emotionally, but thanks to lazy writing, poor characterization and a general lack of good storytelling, few games managed to succeed at this.
The Walking Dead is a game changer, and might even be the answer to a lot of the problems the games industry has today. It has helped to popularise the downloadable market, indie studios, episodic gaming and may have even drummed up interest for future adventure titles.
Despite all of these grand claims though, what matters most is: the story of Lee and Clementine is one that I will never forget, a story so honest and heart breaking, it is un-paralleled.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Amnesia Fortnight is an annual event held by legendary development studio Double Fine. In this two week period, the studio takes a break from whatever game they are currently working on, and divides the company into five small design teams. Each team is then tasked with developing a prototype for a completely original game.
In previous years, the projects prototypes have led to successful games like Stacking, Iron Brigade, and Costume Quest. This year, however, Double Fine has teamed up with the delightful folks at Humble Bundle, to deliver a pay-what-you-want bundle of prototypes; with a customizable portion of the payments going to the Child’s Play charity.
Twenty three game ideas were pitched, but, after a week of public voting, only five made the cut.
As a supporter of Humble Bundle, and the work of Double Fine in general, I decided to contribute and give the prototypes a try. My thoughts are as follows:
[Please be aware that all games are prototypes and contain various bugs and teething problems]
Pegged as “Dwarf Fortress in Space”, SpaceBase DF-9 is a stylish, top-down simulation game wherein the player must build a space station populated by simulated citizens (usually called Spock Kenobi or other similar sci-fi references). While these citizens can’t be directly controlled, they can assist in the building of new structures, and the player can assign them jobs to fit in with the buildable areas in the SpaceBase. If a citizen gets sick (diseases like “Cosmic Chlamydia” never failed to make me laugh), you’ll need an infirmary, and a doctor to work there. Want a pub so your citizens can socialise? You’ll need a bartender to serve the drinks.
DF-9’s building tools are simple and easy to use; the player uses a grid selection tool to place new structures, and a similar tool to insert “zones”, the different coloured floors that highlight the type of area being built (e.g. Lab, Garden etc.) In game time can even be sped up by x32 to make building times fly by.
Double Fine’s signature sense of humour is as prevalent as always in SpaceBase, usually in the form of the notification-style information delivered to the player regarding citizen status, meteor collisions, and the occasional murder (oooh).
Since this is only a prototype, there aren’t really many things to do from here on in. There are never any interesting interactions between citizens, and the areas and jobs you create don’t seem to have a noticeable impact on the base as a whole. Since the citizens are powered only by their own free will, I also had problems, when trying to expand my base, with citizens just refusing to build essential structures.
At the end of the day most of these are teething/timing problems rather than design oversights, and to create a fully functioning simulation game in two weeks is nothing short of impressive.
The Verdict: Promising. Conceptually simple, yet delivered with charm and enthusiasm. I’d be pretty pleased if this got the green light.
Hack ‘n Slash
Standing proud as the prototype with the most votes, Hack ‘n Slash, had a lot to live up to. Lead designer Brandon Dillon promised a Zelda-esque adventure game with a twist: the player could use in game items and glitches to essentially “hack” their way through the game (hence the “hack” in Hack ‘n Slash). As somebody who has absolutely no interest or aptitude for coding/hacking/programming, this game held absolutely no interest for me. Now that I’ve played the prototype, I really hope Double Fine follows through with a full game.
The beauty of Hack ‘n Slash, apart from its fantastic 2-D art direction, comes from the ever humorous juxtaposition the game provides. You start off wandering around forests and castles in typical Zelda fashion, only instead of being gifted swords and magical artefacts, you receive laptop recording software (used as a sort of auto-save mechanic), time slowing devices (similar to those found in Braid) and an input device (used to interact with enemies, then access the game’s code to decrease their health to zero.) The contrasting elements of high fantasy and programmer tools are a constant source of amusement, and, along with the fantastic character design and hilariously irreverent dialogue, make Hack ‘n Slash a charming little adventure game.
Puzzles, so far, are simple but challenging, and do a great job of highlighting the potential of the games mechanics. The prototype does have a few (unintended) glitches and collision problems, but nothing that isn’t understandable given the development constraints.
To top it all off, Hack ‘n Slash like most of the Amnesia Fortnight entries, features a fantastic soundtrack, one that harks back to older game soundtracks that relied more on simple, memorable melodies, rather than epic, sweeping orchestral movements.
The verdict: Excellent. The culmination of brilliant design, execution and art direction; the prototype itself is an impressive feat, and a full game would surely be even more impressive.
From the get-go, it is apparent that Black Lake is the brain child of an artist. While Hack ‘n Slash is a programmer’s wet dream, Levi Ryken’s Black Lake is trying its best to arouse the senses. It does a pretty great job.
In Black Lake, the player steps into the shoes of a young, Russian girl, who, with the aid of her trusty accordion, must track down a mysterious fox through a dark, atmospheric forest. Black Lake is probably the most beautiful looking game of this year’s Amnesia Fortnight; the use of darkness and light when switching the girl’s lantern on (for tracking footprints) and off (for heightening other senses) is incredibly satisfying to look at. The game’s environment has also been designed with great care and attention, at times feeling like some of Skyrim’s more enchanting woodland locations.
Tied together with solid controls, a fantastic soundtrack, and some truly terrifying enemy design (which I won’t spoil for anyone interested in playing), Black Lake is a prototype that succeeds practically as well as conceptually.
It is also satisfying that, even in a game’s early development stages, it can be a terrifying experience, despite not being presented as an overtly “Horror” game.
The verdict: Excellent. Equal parts relaxing and frightening, Black Lake is like taking a bath in milk, then having the bath invaded by wasps (in a good way.)
The White Birch
The White Birch is a 3-D puzzle platformer, set inside a large tower that must be scaled by the player. Conceptually, this game held great interest for me. I really enjoy puzzle platformers, and something that sounded like an artier, more abstract version of Tomb Raider seemed right up my alley.
Unfortunately, The White Birch fails not in its design or ideas, all of which are pretty sound. Rather, the game is rendered near unplayable by dreadful collision detection, clunky controls, poorly placed cameras and various other glitches. My friend and I spent around half an hour trying to solve a simple bridge puzzle (one that we had already figured out how to solve) because the bridge either: reverted to its state from before my last death, appeared as a large texture-less oblong (it was supposed to look like a ladder), or just failed to behave like a solid object.
Many other times, I would push the analogue stick a certain way, only for my character to move a different way because the camera had swung round into a rather unhelpful angle. I understand the time constraints of the Amnesia Fortnight developers, and I feel like a real negative Nelly for speaking ill of such a game, but I’ll admit: I couldn’t even finish The White Birch.
The Verdict: Disappointing. A game that feels like it could be fun and interesting, if it wasn’t fundamentally broken.
Autonomous puts the player in an open world setting populated by large hostile robots and clusters of energy. Through the game’s first person perspective, the player must collect energy and robot parts, both of which are used in the creation of personal automatons. These automatons can be programmed with different attributes and skill sets, before being sent on their way to patrol the area, hopefully protecting you from any hostiles in the area.
The aim of the game is survival. While the player cannot directly control the automatons, they react based on the programming assigned by the player, leading to an almost 3-D tower defence experience.
Featuring solid controls, a fantastic 80s inspired, synth-laden soundtrack, and a rather Tron-esque aesthetic, Autonomous is a polished, balanced experience tailored to those of us who have always wanted our own robot pal. Out of all the games in the bundle, I could see Autonomous being swept up by a publisher first, purely for its broad appeal.
The Verdict: Good. While it didn’t blow me away (maybe I’m just not that into big robots?), Autonomous is a well-made prototype, with great potential for a full, open world, survival game.
To be honest, each of these prototypes tries something new, for better or worse, so I’d be pleased if any of them made it to be a full game, purely for the sake of variety in today’s market. Don’t forget to check out Double Fine’s work, and support the guys at Humble Bundle whenever a new bundle comes up. Double Fine and Humble Inc. still remain bright lights in an ever darkening world of videogames.