There are no spoilers in this article. Except Bruce Willis’ character in the Sixth Sense was a ghost all along. Sorry
Huzzah, it’s that time again where I introduce a new article in what seems to have been donkey’s months. During these months belonging to said donkey, I have come across some video games for your consideration that must be highlighted. I understand that these may have been played by you already as they are increasingly popular but I feel the need to explain why I think these are the best. Prepare to be enlightened!
So let me elaborate; whilst reading an article I discovered that the story/campaign mode in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 happens to be over quicker than England’s World Cup dreams (including penalties). Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that Call of Duty’s tend to be solidly made games and that its unique selling point is the multiplayer and I agree with that; I have had many enjoyable occasions shooting and being shot. But some games can be elevated with either the use of a good script; a good set of mechanics; or both. Military based shooters like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Killzone and Destiny, no matter how much you dress them up, will always be good but it takes a special game to mix up the formula. These games hit the marks whilst putting you in the forefront of the action.
THE UNFINISHED SWAN
I first heard about The Unfinished Swan at E3 a few years ago and proceeded to watch the previews of it. Released on the PS3 and later the Vita and PS4, this indie game literally gave you a blank canvas and you were made to fill it in. Armed only with a contraption that fires paint pellets, Monroe must hunt down the elusive unfinished swan that escaped from his mother’s painting. And you are made to paint the surrounding areas to reveal walls, buildings, furniture and of course, the path which you are meant to go and as you progress the story unfolds. I’ve never seen a game so invitingly lush with so little present. Each splat gives identity to your environment; the more you paint, the more you discover. It’s unashamedly humble in that fundamental mechanic; you can’t help but think that such came from something so simple. Like some of the greatest indie games such as Journey or Flower, complexity isn’t really an issue; it’s supposed to lull you into drinking it all as slowly as possible. Of course you can speedrun it, but where would the fun in that be? Giant Sparrow made this world to be coloured-in, why blast through it and miss it all?
THE STANLEY PARABLE
Not so much of a game but more of a walking simulator? Erm, a discovery simulator? A, ah… You see, you can’t just play The Stanley Parable once because each time it could end with different results. The great thing is, is that this package it comes in is a different level of story design. You play as Stanley. Stanley is controlled by the dulcet tones of the narrator who… well, he tells the story and you fill in the gaps or fills in the gaps left by your incompetency. Basically, if you think you’re in control of the situation, you probably aren’t. With multiple endings, you lead Stanley through on many tangents and twists and turns, it’s hard to keep up. But my lord is it funny! If you like your Douglas Adams type humour; slightly dry with a dash of cynicism, you will absorb this game and try to find everything you have missed just to hear the facetious put downs from your narrator. It’s dark, silly and just wonderful. Not sold? Go play the free demo (downloadable from the link below); it’ll handily put the game into perspective for you. If you enjoyed that then you have no excuse to not play through the gloriously meta, odd world of Stanley.
If MC Escher was to build a video game, Antichamber might be the result. For those of you who are unaware, Escher was the artist who liked to make his audience go “well how does that make sense?” to which he points out “look, the water goes under the interconnected towers and falls out of the top whilst still remaining on a linear plane just as you see it” so you reply “oh.” Antichamber is full of brain benders that put your mind to the test. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and design; stark white walls, basic outlines and bold colours make up your path with little instruction to follow. You only have your own intrigue to propel you forward. It’s a testament to prove how good a first-person puzzler can be, regardless of how psychedelic the journey may seem. You can appreciate when it teaches you how to use your noggin almost three-dimensionally and that sometimes the easiest route may appear to be more complex than what you think. It allows you to experiment with its seemingly endless chocolate-box of teasers where any combination is possible if you’re brave enough to pursue it in the hope of it reaching the end goal. Satisfying, clean and well made, Antichamber takes the rules and your brain and throws them into the washing machine on a quick spin cycle. Y’know, one of them really loud, fast cycles that sound like they could pull the Moon out of orbit.
Ever felt the need to experience motion sickness right on your sofa? Well Mirror’s Edge may fill the void that will undoubtedly be where your dinner was. EA’s masterful Mirror’s Edge is a first-person parkour simulator, essentially. It feels weighty as you fling your character, Faith, off buildings; scaling up walls and careening over rooftops of a clean, cool-as-air-conditioned, futuristic city. There’s a lot of trial and error with Mirror’s Edge as you painstakingly try to get from one chapter to the other in a tirade of button presses at the optimum time. Carving up a path and going the slow way isn’t the best bet. You are likely to get along much better if you string together your vaults, wall runs and leaps to keep your momentum going. The story was about as strong as Poundland coffee and the gunplay is frustratingly naff but if you gloss over that then you have a really good, sturdy puzzle-platformer (which is really what it is). It’s what the film industry would call a sleeper hit; not fantastic by any means but it garnered a vast following and EA recently shed more light on its sequel Catalyst, which thankfully took out that dire gunplay and replaces it with an open world. Everyone’s a winner!
This was an odd one to place because it is actually a first-person shooter but its mechanical value adds something new to the table. The free (flash) prototype I have played serves as a demo to its full-release but they both fundamentally play the same way. The act of shooting a gun in a game is quick; you pull the R2 button in front of the person you’re aiming at and a fraction later – depending on how good you are – that person is dealt with and will now only haunt your dreams later that night. Superhot takes that quick element out of the equation but only when you’re standing still. When you move the mouse or strafe, time catches up. Cue having to plan the trajectory of not only your bullet but also yourself; a feat not as easy as it seems because sure enough, you’re pitted up against enemies who also have weapons. There’s no ‘start level; bish bash bosh; next level’ vibe about it. Like a good chess player you need to think about your next move a few moves ahead. It’s incredibly unique and the success of the prototype has headed a full, shiny release for the end of this year.
I could waffle on and on about how brilliant Portal is but I’ll try and keep it short but I couldn’t write a column about how good first-person video games are without it. I’m lumping both of Valve’s efforts together because I feel that they are both as important as other; Portal 2 doesn’t feel like a sequel per se, more of a natural continuation of the greater arc. Set in the clinical testing facility that is Aperture science controlled by a sentient AI named GLaDOS, you play as Chell; who for all intents and purposes, is a lab rat. Armed with only a device that fires two portals which lead in and out of one another, you are forced to think with physics and solve each puzzle. And like all good sentient AI in science-fiction, GLADoS is wired to be hell-bent on destroying you and so you must use your newly acquired skills to escape the facility. Throw in Wheatley (a personality core from GLADoS’ mainframe voiced by Stephen Merchant) and suddenly you’ve got a double-act made in heaven but fuelled by suffering and brimstone. GLADoS’ acidic wit is sharp, smart and practically charming compared to Wheatley’s in-your-face foolishness. The puzzles have such a wide scope to keep you ploughing on and it would be a fine game if that was the be all and end all. But it’s the riffing between characters, the story (which does get a bit dark in places), an amazing soundtrack, its atmosphere and presentation which earn Portal a place on this list. GLADoS may be characteristically evil and her put-downs can be quite brutal but you can’t help but love her. She’s also a cracking singer…
Don’t think at all that this is a comprehensive list as I’m sure there are dozens of great titles I may have missed. I do like my shooters, I can’t deny it. I mean, Borderlands’ vast wastelands and unholy amount of weapons keeps beckoning me back; Bioshock’s eerie and twisted nature questions how far man is willing to go and Call of Duty blows stuff up with rockets. And when the time dictates to level up Roland, visit the depths of Rapture or blow stuff up with those rockets, then these are all worthy. But when you want to take a step back whilst still being in someone else virtual shoes, these are some of the best combinations of some fantastic storytelling, amazing visuals and crucial ideas ever to have graced video gaming. It’s something I expect to get better and better as consoles, PC’s, developers and concepts constantly evolve.
Words by Jimmi