Hi, I'm 17 years old and live in England, just outside London. I grew up in India, and grew up in PC gaming (as well as handheld Nintendo consoles) thanks to my older brother. The games I have fondest memories of were Worms, Counter Strike, Mortal Kombat and Pokemon. And Super Mario 64.
All in no particular order:
Favourite Music Artists Pink Floyd
Jeff, Who Lives At Home
Favourite TV Shows
Avatar: The Last Airbender
How I Met Your Mother
Favourite games: L.A. Noire
Assassin's Creed I†is my favorite game in the series. There, I said it. Before you leave in horror, I agree, it isn't the best game in the series. That honor likely goes to†II†or†Brotherhood, but nonetheless, for me,†Assassin's Creed†is my favorite. It has an undeniable charm that, in my mind,†II†or†Brotherhood†didn't recreate.
Sure, later games tweaked, fine-tuned and altogether polished the gameplay and structure of the game, but in the process it lost the mystery and inherent freshness that the first entry in a series brings.
For me it all begins with Desmond Miles and the modern-day scenes that take place in Abstergo. In the original, the mystery of what Abstergo were up to, and why you were there, was more intricately and subtly revealed. If you wanted to, you could finish the game knowing very little about the goings on of the modern day storyline.†Assassin's Creed I, unlike its (many many) sequels, was more content focusing on the ancestor-protagonistís story. Yet there still existed a story in the modern day. Instead of the story explicitly being told to you, you could snoop around, reading Vidic and Lucy's emails on their computers, which allowed you to piece together information and come to a conclusion, in your head, of what was going on. It ended up feeling satisfying just by the process itself. It's as if the game merely expected you to go to your bedroom, sleep, and re-enter the animus, and I was the one working outside the box, and discovering information that I'm not†supposed†to know.
Even if many players ended up doing this, in the moment it captured the feeling of being a prisoner and doing covert reconnaissance without the knowledge of the captors. This form of storytelling, where you are interacting with the environment to find out more, worked beautifully in parallel with the meat of the game, playing as Altair, with a more traditional, straight-forward narrative. The effect of longevity, that these modern-day sequences were sparse intervals in the whole game, meant that there was this gradual, slow discovery of the truth. In contrast, the second game explicitly explains a lot more about the ongoings of Abstergo, and, while it continues to divulge nuggets of information (and characterization) from reading emails and such, there is less of a reliance on this. For me, throughout the series' Abstergo story arc, the most interesting section is of Abstergo being a mysterious, dangerous corporation, one that is using you for who-knows-what-purpose, especially as it's revealed very subtly and slowly.
However, I also ultimately enjoyed the way Altair's story was told. Of course, it felt repetitive and monotonous once you hit the 4th, 5th, or 6th assassinations. The game was, undeniably boringly structured. Each section began with finding out information about the target, through a series of (mostly) boring investigation missions, before finding the target and then delivering the killing blow. There wasnít even much meat to the plot until the very end of Altairís story in the game. Once I got to the 7th or 8th assassination, it was a struggle not to put down the game, and it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I persevered through the thick sludge of starting-to-get-boring gameplay and was rewarded with, what is, to this day, an incredibly memorable finale.
The bait-and-switch of the final assassination, rapidly riding across the beautiful countryside in search of the final target, the reveal of the plot twist; the pacing of the final hour or so of†Assasinís Creed†is truly thrilling and memorable. The game pulls itself out the slow tedium and suddenly speeds up, spewing juicy bits of wonderfully-paced and -crafted material. It is unfortunate that the game struggles with staying interesting and enjoyable in it's middle portion, but it's not all terrible, since the finale is only so much better in comparison. Of course that doesn't excuse the boring gameplay, but perhaps it's one positive way to view it.
The game shakes you out of your boots. For so long, throughout the game, you have blindly followed the commands of the Brotherhood leader, Al Mualim, and the gameplay reflects that. Each assassination feels as meaningless as the last; the only reason youíre doing it is because the game tells you to do so. Even if I questioned it internally, the game never addressed it, and that in a way encapsulates the mindset of Altair, until his world is shaken and both he, and the player, are forced to rethink the situation with newfound information. This acute and abrupt switch in the pace and structure of the game, then, fuels the motivation to keep playing and see it through to the end.
The finale itself was simply delightfully crafted, arriving at the footsteps of the hilltown of Masyaf, the story ending where it all began. You slowly make your way through the town, fighting off the enemies on the way to the final confrontation at the castle at the summit. It feels very scripted and authored, but not in a bad way. It works, because in the moment all you can think of is what is right in front of you, and in that way, Ubisoft did an incredible job creating the climax, aligning the mindset of player and character.
I found scripted moments like this throughout the game, but none stick with me as much as the first time you arrive at Damascus, the first major city you do your line of work in. I remember sitting atop a horse and riding through a narrow passage that leads to the gates of Damascus. Before you get down to the gate, however, the game presents you with a wonderful spectacle. Back in 2007 this was breathtaking, and incredible. Perhaps it doesnít live up to the graphics of today, but I can nevertheless envisage finally seeing the destination, where Iíve been riding to. I took a †moment to stop, from atop my horse, to look at the overhead view of Damascus, in all itís vast entirety. The game plays a sweeping orchestral piece, accentuating how grand and beautiful a sight this is.
Nonetheless, this game is terribly flawed. It fails to execute on so many ideas, ideas that were half-baked, ideas that were fleshed out, improved and made altogether more enjoyable in the gameís sequels. Yet I still canít help but have a sweet spot for†Assassinís Creed, the game where it all started.†Assassin's Creed II†is perhaps the purest and most complete incarnation of the franchise, but thereís something intangible about the first game that I canít truly put to words, something that wins me over. This was the first next-gen game I played, and Iíll always have a place in my heart for those great moments, those great memories.
Hmm...I just realised that the title seems excessively profession-of-love-y. Nevertheless, I shanít hide this secret from the world. I†do†love†Catherine, and believe it or not, it is my favorite game of all time.
Iím well aware that no one hated†Catherine, what with itís flurry of 7ís, 8ís and 9ís from reviewers, but heads usually turn when I tell people that itís my favorite game, and somewhat understandably. Without having played it, the marketing for this game made it seem much more - even comically - sexual, infatuated with sex†in and of itself, and generally something that would be classed under oneís guilty pleasures. The reality is quite different, and whatís hidden underneath is an amazing puzzle game with gorgeous visuals, fantastic music and excellent writing.
At the end of the day, even if people didnít hate this game, I just want an excuse to write about it. Allow me this, won't you?
Let me start with Stray Sheep.
Youíll spend a lot of time here. The game is split into two halves: the nightmare sequences, where you frantically scramble up a tower of falling blocks in an abstract dream space, and waking reality, a bar named Stray Sheep where you hang out with friends, drink booze and piece together the mystery of what the fuck is going on in your weird-ass dreams.
There isnít actually†that†much to do here. You talk with your friends at the booth which you always occupy, you can go and talk to other patrons and the bartender, watch the news, play an arcade version of the nightmare sequences in preparation, and check and reply any texts from the titular character, Catherine. Yet even though there are only seven or eight interaction Ďhotspotsí in this small bar, as I returned to it each night, I became more and more familiar with it, as if it were†my†local watering hole, as much as it was protagonist Vincent's. This great thing happens, then, of knowing and understanding the layout of a small space, and walking around it with ease, as if it were oneís own house, school, or office.
The intricate layout of the bar is only strengthened by the gameís camera work, which the player doesnít control; instead, the camera is on an ever-so-slight overhead dolly, creating a constant tracking shot of Vincent, smoothly moving around, producing cinematic and elegant viewing angles. This, of course, allows the player to move around without having to constantly readjust the camera, as well as creating a very purposeful and stylish scene.
What I wanted to focus on is the mood and atmosphere of the bar. It simultaneously oozes nocturnal drowsiness and an ever-growing sense of dread. What these sections represent for the gameplay is clear: downtime, a chance to relax before the onslaught of the frantic meat of the game. For Vincent, the player-character, it represents a place where he can go to relax, but with the beginning of his nightmares, it also represents a safe haven of sorts, before the daily nightmare resumes. And as the game grows on, to itís 4th, 5th, 6th night, it feels just that. The structure of the game sets in, and Stray Sheep, for the player, represents a time to collect your thoughts, to stay up as late as possible before hesitantly returning home, and letting the nightmares continue. This is felt as the number of patrons dwindle, or as the†music†becomes slower and quieter, or as each of Vincentís friends gradually (and inevitably) turn in for the night. Eventually, so must you.
And fuck me, those nightmares certainly are frantic. Theyíre not necessarily scary, but itís fast-paced action; the image of hounds chasing and snapping at your heels at each moment wouldnít be far off from understanding the pace of these sequences. What stems from that, however, is exciting gameplay. You must be on the move at all times, learning to simultaneously be observing and recognising patterns, and deploying skills that youíve learned to scale those blocks. It only improves as the game progresses, with more block-types being introduced, as well as an array of obstacles. However, skill and improvisation remain at the heart of this, being able to assess the situation and quickly use the most efficient means to climb up.
One thing Iíve always hated about fighting games is the requirement to know specific button combos, especially those long and complicated ones. What†Catherine†uses is not knowledge of a series of button presses, but knowledge of tricks, of how to manipulate the environment and morph it into something scalable. If youíre smart enough, you can suss out how to do these Ďmovesí before theyíre taught to you in the game, as they are natural ways to move around. Theyíre not a button combo that is locked from you until you get to a certain point in the game, nor is it something that requires guesswork.
One of the first techniques you're taught in the game
In fact, many techniques are not taught-in game, and have been discovered and logged by the community, through experimentation and practice. And that is, in essence, whatís great about it. This very simple and elegant mechanic allows freedom of expression from the player, and thatís what, to me, drives the gameplay.
Needless to mention, too, are the slick graphics,†the†diverse†music†used,†and the well-written and memorable quirky characters that you interact with at the bar in human form, and their sheep counterparts during the dream (sounds kooky? It is!)
Perhaps it is†just†the time at which I played†Catherine, a thoroughly unique affair after having played the (relatively) straight-faced grunts that are†The Last of Us,†Uncharted 3, and†Heavy Rain. Perhaps it is†just†that Catherine came at a time, where it stood out from the crowd and dazzled me with its dashing personality and damn fine weirdness. Perhaps, though, it isnít†just†that.
The Last of Us†was good, but it didn't amaze me. The gameplay was solid,†and at times really good, but it was nothing out of the ordinary or especially innovative. I enjoyed the non-linearity of some of the later areas, as well as exploring old record stores and long-forgotten neighbourhoods. Objectively, itís a 10/10, and everything is perfect about it - the writing and acting, the visuals and soundtrack, the gameplay and the general design. I just donít feel excited when I talk about it, and I donít pester everyone about why they should play it, like I do with†Dark Souls†or you do with†Ocarina of Time/†A Link to the Past/†Super Mario Bros. 3. It just doesnít do it for me.
I really donít want to talk about†Heavy Rain†for too long. The voice acting was bad,†the story was full of plot holes, and the camera and controls were awful. I canít forgive a game that has to lie to me for its plot twist to work. Still, it has a decent soundtrack, so I came away with something good.
I had actually played†Uncharted 2†before, when I stayed at a friend's house for a couple weeks, so I wonít talk much about that. However, contrary to popular opinion, I found†Uncharted 3†to be generally better than its predecessor. The story was deeper, the writing and voice acting was charming and wise-cracking as always, even dipping its feet into questioning-Nathan-for-being-a-mass-murderer territory. I must admit though, my favourite Uncharted scene still takes place in†2†- Iíll never let go of getting on in a lush jungle, and seamlessly being taken to the snow-capped mountains - it was one long beautiful section of platforming and gunplay mixed together. I am, of course, talking about the train sequence.
I was always intrigued by the oft-talked about social aspects in†Persona 3, and†Catherine†seemed to have a lot of that, even if simplified a bit. I came to†Catherine†for the anime-story and the beautiful art style, but stayed for the excellent writing, challenging and addictive gameplay, and a†wide†selection†of†music. Iím so used to playing very similar-in-style and structure games, so†Catherine†came as a refreshing and unique game. From getting trivia about cocktails/sake/beer/whiskey to quickly rearranging and scrambling up falling blocks to the expressive characters at the bar and the wacky boss design,†Catherine†has it all. Even Troy Baker voicing the main character. He really is in everything.
On a side note, I enjoyed playing a meta-game where I tried to remember where I had heard different characterís voices before, since theyíd all voice-acted in various animes.
I actually played†Journey†a while ago on my own at my brotherís house before I had a PS3 for myself. However, this time, I played it with a friend who primarily plays†Call of Duty†and†Fifa, and it was really enjoyable for me to show him a really different game, a game that told such an emotional and wonderful story without words, which illustrates the connection you can have with another player, without knowing anything about them. The first time I played the game, I thought it was overrated and appreciated what it did but didnít truly understand it. After playing it again, I view the game as a work of genius. It does SO much, so well, in such a short time and all non-verbally. If youíre interested at all,†you should check out this talk that the gameís designer, Jenova Chen, gave at GDC 2013.
Shadow of the Colossus
Iíll be honest.†Shadow of the Colossus†had too much hype on it to ever succeed with me. Still, I never felt wondering ďwhat the big deal isĒ, I just didnít have as much of an emotional reaction as others did. I didnít, for example, cry at the ending, or when I felled the beautiful bird colossi that circled the lake. However, I still enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed riding around an empty - 16 colossi aside - and massive land, and the somewhat unclear map leading me to develop a relationship with the actual land (Ďthis is that waterfall I jumped down for the hell of ití or, Ďthis is that crevice that leads to Colossi 6í).†
And, speaking of the landscape, I would often ignore the way my sword was leading me, to see where a certain man-made or natural structure in the land led. Rather than exploring to find collectibles, I was exploring to find out more about the world and be rewarded with newfound knowledge or a beautiful view, something that more recently,†Antichamber†and†Proteus†did well.
Metal Gear Solid
Due to a lack of funds, I havenít gotten round to picking up the other†Metal Gear Solid†games, as I surely will, hearing great things about†Snake Eater†and†Guns of the Patriots, as well as wanting to catch up before†The Phantom Pain†is released. Nevertheless, I had a chance to play the very first†Metal Gear Solid, and let me tell you, it was great. The stealth, and even more, the controls, were quite modern for a game from 1998. This mustíve been one of the best looking PSOne games, because it looks superb, even today. By comparison, I canít bring myself to play†Ocarina of Time†in its original form due to how badly it has aged. I canít think of much else to say about this classic, but I will leave you with a question, ďDo you think love can bloom even on a battlefield?Ē
Apart from the games themselves, I found myself liking how lightweight the PS3 controller was, and it felt strange holding the bulky 360 controller after a while away from it.
In general, the Playstation has impressed me. Maybe itís just playing all these stellar games in a short span of time, but the quality of these very diverse games simply amaze me. And donít worry, thereís still plenty more for me to play - I just havenít gotten round to it yet. Leave me a few suggestions of what I should consider picking up next - on my list are the remaining†Metal Gear Solidís,†Ni no Kuni†and†Valkyria Chronicles.
First and foremost, the game not only allows, but encourages creativity and experimentation.†You can go about problems however which way you like, and after the first few levels, once all the basic mechanics have been introduced, the game feels less like a puzzle game with one or two set solutions, and more like one where the open-ended nature allows you to come up with original solutions to problems.
There are enough things in the level and ways to make those things interact with each other and with the guards that youíll be coming up with new (and better) ways of dealing with situations.†And youíll feel crazy clever when youíre able to link the multi-colored circuits through one simple button press (or in the case below, just walking). For this example (illustrated below), I got both vault doors (they close after 3 seconds) to open simultaneously for me just by walking towards it:
I, the shadowy figure on the left hand side (on the lower floor), walk in front of the camera, which calls an elevator to the floor above.
Once the elevator arrives, the red signal opens the red vault door simultaneously as the blue noise detector (the elevator caused a noise) opens the blue vault door.
I get in, hack the computer, by which time the doors have closed, but thatís okay, because the camera on the right recalls the elevator, which reopens both the vault doors so I can exit.
Easy-to-learn level editor.†I tried it out and you can pick it up in a few minutes.
The soundtrack is fantastic. It quite perfectly reflects the gameís setting, predominantly jazz with, as it's in the near-future, electronic music mixed in, without becoming chiptune-y.
Despite not being the main mechanic of the gameplay anymore (it was early in development),†you feel like the biggest badass when you arrive on a floor from inside the elevator, walk out with your gun pointed at a guard, hack the whatever, and walk back into the elevator, with the guard unable to do anything for fear of death.
Iíve seen people complain about the gameís short length. I actually appreciate it more for this.†Thereís no bullshit in the campaign - each level is important and has interesting idea behind it.†Like†Braid, thereís no filler material, and unlike†Braid,†Gunpoint†has multiple ways to solve puzzles. Youíll find yourself coming back to the game for the 3rd, 4th, 5th time playing it in different styles (speed run, psychopathic run, pacifist run, etc.) and still finding new things about how the game works, and using how stuff works to your advantage in new ways.
The controls are spectacularly simple.†What couldíve been a fairly complicated endeavour was made incredibly easy and intuitive - scroll up or down to enter crosslink mode where you just drag lines to and from electrical components to wire them.
The autosave system works beautifully.†And itís not just a neat feature, itís so much more than that. It frees your mind from having to think about quicksaving so that if you die you wonít lose a bunch of progress. The autosave system works such that when you die you can load the game 5, 10, or 15 seconds before you, and thereís no wait time - itís an instant thing. Itís part of games like†Hotline Miami,†VVVVVV,†Super Meat Boy†and†Braid†- they respect the playerís time with instant respawns and no loading screens every time you die. This is especially important since youíll be dying a fair amount as you get to grips with the mechanics.
Leaping is done so well, and is so intrinsically enjoyable†once youíve upgraded it to the max. I think it stems from the idea that you know exactly where youíre going to land. It has this feeling of catapulting, holding the left mouse button until youíre ready to release, flying through a window and pouncing on a guy, throwing someone seven stories, or leaping from the high-security building into the subway just as someone is about to shoot you.
The writing is incredible.†It manages to be hilarious and light-hearted and easy going, whilst not getting in the way or compromising the gameplay. But man, Tom Francis knows how to write funny words.
There are 8 different ways to beat the boss.†Unlike†Deus Ex: Human Revolutionís bosses, which forced the players to play one way, contrary to the rest of the game,†Gunpoint†teaches the players its mechanics and systems and actually allows you to use that knowledge and freedom in the final level and boss.
Kentucky Route Zero, for those of you that donít know, is an allusive and weirdly magical 5-part episodic adventure game.†Act II, in theme with the gameís tone, has been†secretly released overnight, with no press release or official launch trailer. To my delight, I found it sitting in the Steam version of†Kentucky Route Zero, whilst I was simply installing it and not at all expecting the second act to have arrived.
Letís get this out of the way - †I have a lot of good things to say about†Act II. Iíll be spoiling minor cool moments from†the Act†to illustrate why I love it, so PLEASE do yourself a favor and spend the hour that it takes to play this magical thing.
If you havenít heard of†Kentucky Route Zero, let me get you caught up. You play as Conway, a truck delivery guy, trying to get to 5 Dogwood Drive, which lies beyond the mystical†Route Zero, to deliver a package.†KRZ†is an adventure game without puzzles and is more laid back and relaxing, focused on telling a great story. You travel the roads of Kentucky at night with a woman named Shannon and your loyal canine buddy, named in†Act I. Conveniently,†Act II†doesn't rely too heavily on†Act I, and a newcomer could dive into it with little to no discomfort.†
Act II†resumes where†Act I†left off, not in narrative, as you begin with a short prologue giving an insight into the life of a clerk and a new character, Lula Chamberlain, but rather in style of storytelling - multiple pseudo-perspectives through which the story is told. After this brief foray into this new character, the game's first 'scene' goes back to Conway and Shannon, shortly arriving at the Bureau where Lula works. It's here where the game's slightly magical tone comes to place, with an office floor full of bears and a wall of TVs with interesting thoughts, such as that a well-lit elevator contributes to the lack of motion that a passenger should not feel during a ride.
As the act develops, youíll choose the words in conversation for Shannon, a little girl named Ezra (who by the way is fucking fun to control due to the simple fact that sheís youthful and can run fast), the aforementioned Lula and perhaps most interestingly, a couple of ghostly museum security guards conversing and describing as they watch Conway, Shannon and your dog (mine named Blue), as you, the player, control Conway around the museum.
Although the story and characters are intriguing in itís own surreal and beautiful way - a huge eagle that carries a brother and sister, who are more concerned with moving houses than finding their parents, for example - itís the way that itís told and presented which astounded me the most.†
The gorgeous and striking visuals (not to mention some great sound design) come together with some really ingenious writing in ways - ways I won't spoil - that must be played to be understood. Despite being, in a way, minimalistic, the small cast of characters come off as genuine and unique with down to earth personalities of their own, due to the eloquent and sometimes poetic writing.
The Second Act†not only matches the wonder of the first, but develops on ideas in new and exciting ways. Simply said,†Kentucky Route Zero†excels in atmosphere and storytelling, inviting you into it's bizarre and beautiful world, and you must†go play it†now.