The Best First Person Video Games That Don’t Include the Words ‘Call,’ ‘Duty,’ or ‘Of’ That Shouldn’t Be Overlooked

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

credit: Giant Sparrow

credit: Giant Sparrow

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

credit: Galactic Café

credit: Galactic Café

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.


ANTICHAMBER

credit: Demruth

credit: Demruth

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.


MIRROR’S EDGE

credit: EA Games

credit: EA Games

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!


SUPERHOT

credit: SUPERHOT

credit: SUPERHOT

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.


PORTAL/PORTAL 2

credit: Valve

credit: Valve

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

The Unfinished Swan Website

The Stanley Parable Website

Antichamber Website

Mirror’s Edge Website

Superhot Website

Portal 2 Website

Geek 2015 – Margate, Kent, UK

Los Angeles has the Electronic Entertainments Expo; PAX stretches from Massachusetts to Texas; San Diego is home to Comic-con; London houses the MCM expo every year; and then there’s the small seaside town of Margate in Kent. Although don’t be put off by the apparent David amongst Goliaths, GEEK (which stands for Game Expo East Kent) is the hugely popular exhibition of everything related to ‘play and games;’ a celebration of classic and modern video games, board games, card games, cosplay and stalls packed full of merchandise, memorabilia and crafty novelties. We certainly couldn’t afford to miss out on the greatness that was practically on our doorstep. Nerd is the word…

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Nestled in the Winter Gardens on Margate’s seafront held between the 19th and 21st of February, the three-day event that is GEEK 2015 accommodated a plethora of old and new gaming consoles from around the world. Set into different zones, there was a chance for paying members of the public to play different types and genres of games. From action, sports, simulations, shooting, fighting and puzzle games spread over all generations of Nintendo, XBox, PlayStation, PC and Sega systems (to name but a few). It was hard not to be spoilt for choice on what you wanted to have a go on next. Ever wanted to play on a Nintendo Famicom with a mouse? Never got round to playing a Dreamcast? Want to know all the fuss is about with the new Call of Duty? Felt the need to show off your battling prowess in Pokémon against real players? All of these questions could be answered. With the main hall featuring the massive selection of gaming consoles, another full of exhibitor’s stalls with a secondary stage set up for interviews and a final Chill zone complete with niche indie games and mood lighting, there was always something worth your time.


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Starting with the exhibition hall, you could get all your game and pop-culture related merchandise from this opening hub allowing you to purchase retro games, character prints, and mugs, wallets t-shirts or even classic sprites made out of Hamma beads. You could also pick up your copy of the Geek Gazette – a useful souvenir guide full of articles, interviews and information on all that was happening over the weekend. Set to the other side were board games and players teaching others the ins and outs of their favourite past times. Another hidden gem was the simple computer arrays made of old egg boxes and some that replaced input devices with forks and knives. The stage headed the front of the space which held informal interviews with YouTubers and indie developers as well workshops with cosplayers and the Saturday afternoon’s cosplay masquerade (other days held talks about video game narratives, a showcase of the Unity gaming engine and storytelling workshops over the weekend). On the upper gantry, more board gamers were set out and there was also an opportunity to meet with the previously mentioned YouTube personalities and ask them questions one-on-one.

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The main hall held the meat of the event; a vast room full of the consoles before and during our existence. We jumped straight onto Puyo Pop Fever on a GameCube – a colourful but crazy falling blocks game – and although we had no idea of the controls, we picked it up very quickly and were battling it out to see who could get the highest score. Saturns, Mega Drives, PlayStations, NES’ and SNES’ caught our attention the most as we played through some well-known titles such as Clockwork Knight, TOCA 2, EA Hockey and Yoshi’s Cookie. The sixteen XBox 360’s playing Halo deathmatch tournaments centred the room; Hearthstone had a few machines dedicated to its own mini-contests and newer blockbusters such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, WatchDogs, Far Cry 4 and Need for Speed Rivals on current generation consoles were contained in an 18+ area for obvious reasons. Having never played some of these on a newer system, this gave us the opportunity to try them out. It was also good to see some of the greatest and newest indie titles such as Fez, Thomas Was Alone, Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy, I am Bread and Screamride hold their own against the likes of FIFA 15 and Halo’s Masterchief Collection. Although no-one could compete with the greatness of Minecraft. It had its own special area with a queue to get in and its own tournament. Not hard to understand as it’s one of the biggest selling and most popular games. Another selection of stalls then sold modified Gameboy’s, figurines, cartridges and table top games which included our personal favourite, Rory’s Story Cubes (review imminent).


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And if you wanted to take things a bit easier and remove yourself from the scale of the event, there was also the Chill Zone filled with ambient lighting and independently developed games that reflect on the cool and calm. Whether you wanted to jump from cloud to cloud as you drift through the storybook world of Castles in the Sky; explore as a rolling cube in a geometric domain in Cube and Star: An Arbitrary Love; sore over Journey’s sand dunes; float through the neon-rainforests of The UnderGarden or simply watch a projection of someone else wander through a world of beautiful glowing particles in A Light in Chorus. This zone also became a small theatre later on in the day as it showed the 2012 documentary, ‘Indie Game: The Movie’; a nice change of pace from the hectic Main Hall.

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But of course this was only the tip of the iceberg since we only went for the Saturday. Earlier that morning there was a Guinness World Record attempt to beat the quickest time in completing Bricking It in Time Splitters II. There were different retro gaming tournaments running throughout each event too with a Sonic challenge each day, a Mario Kart 64 challenge on the Friday, Street Fighter II on the Saturday and finally a Super Smash Brothers Melee closer on the Sunday with prizes from each awarded to the best player. With enough differences each day to warrant a subsequent visit it made for a very unique day out. We had missed the early ticket sales online but on they were reasonably priced at £15.50 on the door and you definitely got a lot for your money. Friday and Sunday were slightly cheaper but only by a pound or so but with it being the start of the weekend, it was easy to see that the Saturday was priced the way it was. Either way, no matter what day you could have chosen, you wouldn’t have felt any less out-of-pocket.


Getting around was fair also; the map included in the guide was clear but having a list of what was on offer from the off would have been a great way to go around and essentially tick off our favourites or finding something that sounded good. Luckily a lot of what we played was found with our eyes and that was probably and arguably a better way of discovering. A few machines did cease to work but that’s only understandable when a twenty something year old console is running throughout a day of a busy play through and lots of play styles. On the other hand, seeing older Master Systems and NES’ continue through it all just shows how they can continue under pressure.

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And so our time at GEEK 2015 was a pretty epic trip down memory lane, reliving some of the nostalgic games we used to play and also getting a chance to try something different which may have otherwise been overlooked. We have both been avid gamers for a long time and so this event has given us a taste of gaming exhibitions; something neither of us has experienced before but it’s something that we would wholeheartedly recommend to gamers and pop-culturists alike, no matter what the scale. Although compact, GEEK 2015 offered us a new insight into one of the world’s biggest and best mediums. Hopefully we’ll get chance to go to the event in 2016. It certainly beats sitting inside and playing video games all day.

Words by Jimmi and Kat

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