30 Nov 2011

Gunpoint or: What Gamers Want

Here's a something that's looking rather splendid: Gunpoint. A game that its creator - PC Gamer writer man, Tom Francis - describes as a 'stealth puzzle game that lets you rewire its levels to trick people'. I've not previously covered it here on the blog, but I have been watching - ever watching - as it has grown from something merely promising to something that simply demands to be played.

Francis has provided a new video which perfectly outlines the way in which Gunpoint plays so there's little reason for me to go into much detail here. I will, however, respond to one of the questions ventured in the clip. That being: 'Is this a game worth paying for?'

It's an interesting thing to ask. In current times, when the indie market is saturated with freebies, bundle deals and standard sales of all things fun and downloadable, I actually think now more than ever gamers are able to assess and spend exactly what they want on any given title. And this doesn't mean just waiting for offers to drop prices to a sensible level. We witnessed exactly how generous people can be in the light of indie talent when the recent Humble Voxatron Bundle raised almost £1 million dollars in a sale that lasted only two weeks.

Already I've seen comments in response to the below video and almost exclusively the answer is: yes. Yes, I would like to pay you for putting the time and effort into making this game for me. Buy yourself something nice. Or, even better, make me something else with it. And when the community around us is doing this sort of thing - when the people playing and supporting the indie treats we've been party to over the last year are generally that way inclined - you know that PC gaming has such a long way to go before it dies the death that a few of the larger corporations had previously prophesised.

So yes, Mr Francis, I would like to buy your game please, based on what I've seen so far. £5.99 has always seemed like a nice price.

28 Nov 2011

Terrarian on Cadillac: The House on the Hill

It’s been a long while since I’ve diarised my exploration of a single game and I thought Terraria, given its recent massive update (and the fact that it was going for pennies in the recent Steam sale) was an excellent choice to start one off.

I’ll say now, at the time of writing this I have absolutely no experience of
Terraria. Other than pictures or news articles that I’ve skimmed over in the past six months my knowledge of how the game is played and how the open world elements pulled together is completely barren. I am a blank slate ready to be filled with dreams and desires by this rather sweet looking - although, I suspect, incredibly daunting - game.

First things first, let’s get me a character created. Now, usually, when I’m playing roles in games I quite like to use a female protagonist. I’m not embarrassed about admitting that - at least, I’m not embarrassed about admitting that on a gaming blog. I just think it adds an interesting perspective to any game, puts the character’s struggle in a more interesting context. It also turns it away from becoming some manly power fantasy. By the looks of it the character models here are essentially sexless, so I’m not sure if it makes a difference, but I’m going to go woman anyway.

So there she is: Martha of planet Cadillac. She’s pretty awesome because I created her.


The scene opens to a beautiful day on Cadillac. My guide and I stand on a cliff edge and he fills me in briefly (very briefly) on how to get started. First things first, it seems: chop trees for wood, build workbench, make stuff. So off I go, and as I’m indulging in a spot of deforestation without a care in the world a green blob bounces in from nowhere and attacks me. My sword deals with it, no problem, and I find myself wealthier as a result. Score. Onwards I go, chopping through wood, knocking through stone and earth as I climb to the tallest point on the hill on which I stand. This, I think, is a wonderful place to build shelter. The Sun is on its way down. I should get something built.

After some brief foraging - on the internet this time - I learn how to construct walls, a door and some rather natty dining furniture. It’s not complicated, but I needed the direction. Just in time for nightfall I put the last bits in place and, although the zombies are beating on the door, it’s far better than them clawing at my face. I decide to make it my goal on Day 2 to convert my naturally formed cellar into something a little more practical.


I head out west to look for trees to bring down. I’d stayed up all the night, crafting myself some fancy wooden tools: a new sword and a mallet for knocking in walls. A couple of deep ravines slow me down on my way, but wooden platforms I’ve brought along allow me to bridge any gaps. I make my way through a wall of cobwebs before I finally happen across a perfect woodland plateau filled with the tallest trees I’ve seen so far. I work fast to bring the them to their knees.

It darkens as I head back and, once I return home, I notice a new guest in the cave beneath it. A fluffy white rabbit. I instantly decide to make it my pet and hurriedly knock together some wooden walls and a door below to barricade the thing inside. Just as I finish darkness falls again. There’s more trouble tonight. I’ve a zombie trying to chew its way through my cellar door and, every time I take a break from building to deal with it, it flees as I open the door. Several times it does this, but on the fourth attempt I nail it. More money for me! Hoorah! Just as I’m celebrating my victory however, another one - a disgruntled relative perhaps - arrives to do exactly the same thing. I’ve never experienced rats this big before.


I’ve been so busy putting the finishing touches on my marvellous shack that I haven’t planned what to do today. Somehow, now that I have this piece of the world that is mine alone, I don’t want to leave it. I want to decorate it, make it homely, invite the neighbours round for tea. Well, perhaps I can look into that.

Before this though, I head out to deal with an irritating green blob left over from last night and just as I open the door - just as I go to swing my sword - something white bounds past me. “Bonzo, noooooo!” But it’s too late. He throws his tiny form at the blob and now lies split in two, entrails oozing onto the green grass below. I shut the door immediately. I don’t know why. To shield my eyes from the horror perhaps, but in 2D nothing remains hidden behind walls.

I don’t feel like doing anything today. Nothing besides immortalising my late friend’s memory.

First look: KarBOOM

KarBOOM is the type of game that will brighten up anyone's day. Even if you're a miserable old dog who only plays solitaire three times a day to keep your mind 'active'. Even if you're one of those wretched men, dismissive of PC gaming as something entirely nerdy except for that one endlessly recurring interactive spreadsheet, Champion Footballship Sports Leader Man, another activity involving a spherical piece of leather which allows you to briefly forget the awfulness of your own existence. Yes, even you will stop and stare and possibly think 'coooool' before going back to your most tedious forms of entertainment.

I speak the truth. Here is a game that could easily be described as sumo wrestling with Micro Machines, and both of those things are great. Better than solitaire, infinitely more exciting than football. Matches are played on a circular arena of some kind, all cars facing inwards and then... you're off! The goal is to smash any other players out of the ring and accrue the most points before time's up. Variations to this theme are provided by mutators which can be added together in any combination to mix things up a bit. With these active you can play capture the flag or tag, or give everyone nitro boosts, or all three of these things.

To play online you'll need to register at the official site. Generally only platinum accounts are able to access the servers, but currently all standard accounts are being automatically upgraded to platinum status anyway, simply to get people online and playing the game. With any luck, KarBOOM will take off because it's a short, sweet and solid little arcade brawler.

It's colourful and friendly enough to get the whole family involved and that, it seems, is creator Jibb Smart's intention. He explains: '[Having] two brothers close in age to me, I grew up playing games with or against the people next to me, and that's really where the fun is at', a point with which I absolutely concur. In any case this sort of thing does seem to be on the rise, what with Trine 2 on the horizon and Renegade Ops already allowing us to race alongside our comrades. The difference here is that KarBOOM allows for competition between eight players at once on one PC - something so incredibly rare for the platform that it really does deserve a special mention.

KarBOOM is still very much in development, but you can dowload the latest version, here.

S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G F-U-N: Wordsmith

Here’s one for the creative spirits amongst you. Wordsmith by Cheers Games gives you an opportunity to let your imagination run wild as you traverse the land conjuring food, weaponry, vehicles and more to aid your cause, which typically involves bothering things until they die (your ultimate goal being to slay that dragon up in the castle to the east). But Skyrim, this ain’t. What it does offer is a chance to create a large number of items from nouns spelled with Scrabble-type letters collected whilst playing. These can come from almost anywhere: Bash a reed to bits and you’ll be rewarded with R-E-E-D, knock a crab out you’ll get C-R-A-B, boff a skeleton and, well, you get the picture.

From then on you’re spelling your way to victory. Press the space bar, type something in and you’ll be rewarded with the chosen object - yours to place anywhere you wish or to equip if it’s equipable. Not surprisingly, this ability creates a phenomenal level of brain-freeze. When ten or so different letters have been collected it should be easy to think of at least one useful noun, but the capacity to make this happen consistently alluded me. Alluded me, that is, until I discovered I could make a space rocket and flew off to eliminate a bothersome bird that had been taunting me from the air. So then I had B-I-R-D and my options to progress had expanded.

This is something that Wordsmith does particularly well; puzzles are created on the fly. That previously unreachable goal - to fish for a fish, or to chop a tree - is one step closer to being realised with every new item you make and it’s great fun to mess about with. I haven’t come anywhere close to completing the available demo, but it’s been a blast to experiment with, constantly testing the game to discover what it will allow you to make. And, Laurie Cheers - sole developer on the project - is adding in new content all the time, filling in the gaps between what’s available in the game and what people are requesting.

The game is currently available for pre-order for $5 but will retail for $10 once released. A beta is in production, details of which are here, but if you like the sound of it (and why wouldn’t you?) check out the demo, here.

25 Nov 2011

Everything in its right place: English Country Tune

English Country Tune by increpare games is a brand new puzzler with a fairly abstract design aesthetic. The menu screen itself is a collection of interconnected spherical worlds around which you almost float as you select each part to play. But it works terrifically.

The completion of the puzzles themselves can centre around several conditions. You might be maneuvering little orange balls into their wireframe cages, or you may have to remove solid blocks known as ‘whales’ from the world by knocking them from the edge of existence. Although victory conditions may differ, the kind of structures that the game takes place on remain the same, albeit becoming far more elaborate as the game progresses.

Each level is made up of a collection of cuboids over which your avatar - a flip-flopping square of equal size to each cube’s side - can travel over in any direction (providing their are no barriers). It’s a really interesting game to control, simple in its visual stylings and only the arrow keys are required to move. After a few tutorial levels, you’ll start to get the hang of just how things work and, despite how complicated navigation could have been in this environment, increpare has done great job of keeping things simple here.

The variety of puzzles in English Country Tune is commendable considering how restrictive the basic mechanics initially appear. The game does a good job of adding in little tricks and twists as you progress and, although things can become overwhelming, for the most part I found the puzzles to be far simpler than they first appeared. It’s an interesting feeling, spending ten minutes on a puzzle, racking your brains, only to discover that the solution was only a few short steps away, down some pathway that somehow just didn’t occur to you.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some real brainteasers here. There are many. I’m completely stumped on several puzzles, but most solutions do come with great elation and often a facepalm as punishment for your own stupidity. Problems do arise when complexity of the setup of an individual puzzle makes it tricky to pre-plan a solution, after which you end up madly testing directions for some kind of undeserved epiphany, but this is not often the case.

English Country Tune is both minimalist and calmly executed. The persistent ambient music makes a decent attempt at soothing any brain-ache from particularly difficult puzzles and generally the game is thoroughly pleasant to dip in and out of. It’s hard to take for long stints as it rarely lets up in required concentration once it gets going, but there’s plenty to be rewarded by here and a good deal of content to make your way through.

Burning down the highway: Freeway Fury 2

You know that feeling when you're so angry to be stuck in traffic that you just want to put your fist through the windscreen, climb atop your car and surf your way from A to B? No? That's because you haven't played Freeway Fury 2 by Serius Games.

Play consists of pelting down motorways from an early GTA perspective and every time you hit trouble - which generally consists of traffic blocking each lane - just hit the 'Z' key and ride on the roof. Time will slow down in this mode to allow you to decide which other roof to hop onto. Then it's a quick yank out of the previous owner and you're merrily burning your way along the tarmac once more.

It's neatly constructed, easy to control and, although you'll probably start off bashing bumpers with every vehicle around you, you'll quickly be breaking all kinds of traffic laws without a scratch on your bonnet. It's thoroughly satisfying to plan a perfect route between cars and there's a natural rhythm to play which is easy to slip into, but rather hard to maintain. Crashing into others slows you down or kills you outright and, naturally, missing your jump can result in some very colourful skidmarks.

Check it out via jayisgames.com

Buy: AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome

Not the most imaginative blog title, I'll give you that, but I just couldn't think of a tagline that wouldn't be dwarfed by the immensity of Dejobaan Games' latest game title.

You see AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, despite being the scurge of journalists and amateur video game bloggers the world over, is actually something we need to be writing about right now. I covered the original game back in 2009 and found it be a perfect mix of high velocity freefalling and instant comedy death. This week Dejobaan have released an updated version of the first release with all new content and what appears to be some tweaking of the visuals.

If you've never experienced the delights of AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, the premise is straightforward but typically abstract. You jump, you fall, you flip the bird at the jeerers or give the cheerers a friendly thumbs up. After that, it's all about points panels, looking to tag them at insane speeds whilst trying to avoid every single piece of matter looking to pop your body out of existence.

As a concept it's solid, as an experience its a serious rush, leading you to believe in your own superhero powers of perception and avatar manipulation if you actually manage to reach the ground unscathed. It's also on Steam right now under the sale, which is exactly why I've decided to post about it. Just make sure you get in there before it ends on the 28th November.


AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome is available to purchase on Steam, £6.99 standard price, £4.68 until the sale ends.

24 Nov 2011

Late to the Party: Renegade Ops

Of course, I would have reviewed Renegade Ops were I provided a copy to play with, but it was clearly not to be. Still, I picked it up for sale yesterday thanks to Steam's autumn of awesomeness and I can safely say that I'm glad I did.

If you're not aware of the game's ins and outs, the action in Renegade Ops is top down - driving for the most part - shoot 'em up fun. It's explosions every two seconds, shooting in a constant stream of fiery lead from whatever buggy you happen to fancy. Each one comes with perks, be it mortar strikes or shield boosts, heavy machine guns or ant lions. Yes, Gordon Freeman is here, fabled scientist from that series that time (and Valve) forgot.

Most of all, it's heart pounding good fun. I'm only a couple of levels and - although it's not the sort of game you can take for hours on ends - it very much sits in the back of your minding begging for you to return once you leave it for a bit.

And it looks fantastic. Remember, this is from Avalanche Studios, creators of the excellent and beautiful Just Cause series. Based on the same engine, we're once again treated to luscious jungle scenery and beaches where you'd happily holiday were it not for all the raucous warmongering going on.

Tasked with putting an end to hilariously overplayed villain, Inferno - and the comic book storyline is firmly tongue in cheek - you'll be set objective after objective by the magnanimous General Bryant with an aim to snuff the bad dude's venomous flame. And the mission orders really don't let up. Often you'll have multiple targets - hostages to rescue, mortar trucks to destroy and minions to slaughter - but it all comes together well enough and your thumb will happily twitch between the lot of them as your little vehicle careens about the screen.

This is satisfying, well meant shooty fun and I haven't even tested out its biggest selling point yet - the co-op.

Renegade Ops usually retails at £9.99 on Steam, but is currently available at £7.49 in their autumn sale.

First look: A Walk in the Dark

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I bloody love cats. I like having cats around the house because, no matter how shit your life might feel at any given moment, at least someone's having a damn good time, even if it is at your own expense.

A Walk in the Dark is a game, due for release next year, which casts you as one of these miniature beasts, fighting through a dark fantasy world in search of your abducted owner. Something demonic is afoot (and probably some cream or treats as I'm pretty sure no cat would ever aid anyone if there weren't a delicious reward involved).

Here's the trailer:-

That cat has some mad skills, no question. The developer, flyingturtlesoftware, are apparently looking closely at how the little mog controls to keep it at as near to the feel of feline grace as possible - although I'd suspect the transition from floor to ceiling and back again involves some sort of artistic licensing. Either that or my cats are broken. Stupid cats.

Final note: This particular bundle of fluff is called Bast which is possibly the best half-swear you could ever employ as a name for one of them.

23 Nov 2011

First look: Crashtastic

The favourite pastime of most modern gamers is shooting other things to death with guns that, in the real world, wouldn't fit in your wardrobe, let alone your hand. Just behind that? Probably ragdoll abuse. Truck Dismount and Stair Dismount first opened our eyes to this joy of joys. Trials 2 kept the ball rolling and now we have this here to light up our lives once more:-

Crashtastic clearly isn't beating about the bush when it comes to its own brand of polygonal mannequin abuse. And what a pleasing trailer - the plinkety plonkety piano work lends a nice serene edge to the rocket car smash action occuring onscreen. That's right: rocket action. From the looks of it cars will be custom built and rockets attached to provide carefully calculated propulsion to guide our brave little man to his goal... or straight into a wall.

The game is being developed by Mark Smith and scheduled for a soonish release according the website. Full details are apparently incoming. Could be one to watch.

Tested to perfection: Egress

If you're after something thoughtful to play this evening and you've about an hour to kill then you won't go far wrong with this short and perfectly free space adventure from Krams Design.

Egress sets the scene for a simple repair mission in which you, as shuttle commander, are tasked with fixing up a drifting space probe. Cue some brief point-and-click puzzle solving and a big fat space disaster. Fairly obviously things don't quite go to plan and very soon you'll find yourself stranded on an unusual planet receiving desperate messages from your crashlanded crewmate. It quickly becomes clear that this won't be a simple case of search and rescue. Instead: metaphysics and melodrama.

Egress can be a little slow moving at times, but the Space Odyssey vibes are - for your first attempt at least - well worth taking the time to appreciate. Without giving too much away, there's replay value here and you'll likely restart the game as soon as it ends. Some really nice touches keep this from being just another nuts and bolts adventurer.

It also looks and sounds great. A superbly subtle music score compliments the bleak hand-drawn art style and both lend a real sense of mystery and intrigue to the proceedings.

Even if you only spend twenty minutes with this game, if you're a fan of science fiction you'll likely get a kick out of Egress.

Egress is downloadable from the developer's website, right here.

22 Nov 2011

Prettiness abounds: Trine 2

Excitingly, one of my most anticipated releases this year - Trine 2 - has almost arrived. It's due in December and from the little I've played of it in preview, it seems to be shaping up rather nicely. Of course, it's dazzlingly beautiful - your eyes will undoubtedly have hit the screenshots below before you were even aware of this post's subject matter. You'll also likely have seen demo vids scattered across the internet like pristine jewels on a monumental turd. But the most striking thing I’m finding so far with Trine 2 is how easy it is to slip back into over two years after its predecessor allowed us to swing, shoot, bash and magic our way through such gloriously vivid fantasy stages.

The similarities so far appear to be favourable. Cobbling together your own puzzle solution is still very much the order of the day and the trim, tight co-op mechanics of the original have definitely been maintained, but I haven't yet delved far enough into this world of physics fun to get a good impression of the new additions to play. Certainly the levelling appears to be more sensibly structured than I remember, offering several new abilities split between the three distinct characters (knight/thief/wizard). One unlockable ability allowing the wizard to yoink monsters into the air looks particularly appealing.

But the visuals. Oh, the visuals. Once again Frozenbyte appear to have extracted a fairytale world from the minds of woodland folk. Whether they've achieved this through torture or bribery I guess is their secret, but to be honest I’m fine with waterboarding nymphs and fairies if it produces something this exciting to behold. Water cascades pleasingly off whatever it falls upon. Plants unfurl and flourish, bending with creaking stems as you manipulate them for your own uses. The intricacies of each individual scene are consistently worth stopping and admiring, even if a couple of goblins do happen to be bearing down upon you.

When it comes to combat the controls are as responsive as they ever were. Your options for dealing out death differ with each character. The knight is naturally the toughest with hammer, sword and shield, but if you can find a safe spot to snipe from, the thief with her thwunking arrows is equally satisfying. Early on in the game there's not a great deal more the wizard can do than conjure boxes to drop upon the heads of your enemies but naturally, with levelling, this looks set to change.

All in all this is exciting stuff. Once I've the time to sit down and stomp through the campaign, girlfriend in tow, I'll provide a full write up.

21 Nov 2011

REVIEW: Jurassic Park: The Game

Do you remember when Spielberg’s original film was released - the jungle landscapes filled with the kind of creatures you’d only ever seen sketched in the educational books of your childhood, or crudely animated in early twentieth century monster movies? It was awe inspiring cinema, terrifying at times, always encouraging you to believe that such things were a possibility in this strange world of ours. Also, dinosaurs are cool. Above all, that was the message.

Amazingly, Jurassic Park: The Game inspires none of the emotional impact of the original film. Fear of raptors all too often becomes annoyance at lizards, depth of character becomes featureless friendships. and even the T-Rex - a legend amongst beasties - is reduced to little more than action filler.

The game is divided into four chapters, each essentially an hour long quick time event which you’ll experience from a number of perspectives. For those unfamiliar with QTEs, it's worth me advising that your only involvement here in moments of peril is to watch for symbols flashing up on the screen as you hurry to manipulate the corresponding action on your chosen method of control.

I'm not making it sound boring for comic effect - this is technically all you have to do when you’re not working your way through the odd static puzzle section. Admittedly, something frantic and usually dangerous involving huge lizards might be happening onscreen, but any excitement is tempered by the tedium of keeping your eyes peeled for the next sequence of controls you'll be required to mash. There is a reason that this doesn't sound fun on paper. It isn’t.

As an introduction to gaming, Jurassic Park might offer a small child an hour or so of face-twitching enjoyment - it might even educate them in some minor way. But then, when they fail to respond quickly enough with a button press they may just witness a young girl having her spine snapped in two by the jaws of a Tyrannosaurus rex. And that's quite the contrast. The action sequences and workaday puzzles are too simple for adults, but the extreme violence portrayed in the death scenes is completely unsuitable for kids.

Without a doubt though, these (mostly) accidental sacrifices provided my only moments of joy throughout the entire experience. Watching any one of these whinging arseholes getting pasted and guessing as to what the twisted minds within Telltale's Department of Sadism would come up with next was a hook. In the darkened depths of their development offices someone at some point had definitely said, ‘No, you’re not seeing the bigger picture: I want nothing left of this guy after he gets crushed between two battling dinosaurs. And the little girl needs to be watching’ and I can respect that. I enjoyed these little moments. I also give it a month before Jurassic Park: The Game: The Snuff Movie makes it onto YouTube.

The characterisation is where Jurassic Park completely falls apart. For the amount time you spend with each of the islanders you should feel something for them by the last chapter of the game, but it’s impossible. Here is the father/daughter team. Here is the mystery woman. Here is the ruthless paleobiologist. Here are the macho mercenaries. If they weren’t so completely unreliable in their motivations and emotional responses there might have been a chance to see them grow. But they’re dull, obvious stereotypes and completely unfathomable in their intended appeal.

Take the dino doctor, Laura Sorkin, who we discover is an animal rights activist and wishes for all the lizards to flourish on the island. She wants the biological kill switch within each one of them destroyed by treating the water supply with a special solution. But the question is, if she’s so incredibly fond of animal rights, how could she possibly be involved in the park project from the outset considering the extent to which these creatures are experimented on and manipulated and restrained? An explanation is never once attempted.

And further on when she becomes involved in a heated discussion over the water incident with our hero, Gerry Harding, the player is required to enter the argument as both characters simultaneously, picking one person’s lines before rebutting their own point a moment later. The result is a confusing sparring match which makes as much sense as playing poker against yourself. Where does the player stand in all this? At this point, they’re not so much a gamer as an underperforming film producer.

This just one select example of how hard it is to become involved in the experience on offer here, but the truth is this sort of thing is typical of the entire game. Shoddy dialogue, underdeveloped protagonists, repetitive action... I wanted to like Jurassic Park: The Game. I wanted the John Williams score to stir something within me and carry me through this dreadful experience if nothing else, but at the end of the day not even a brand as big as this can save such lacklustre game design.

Jurassic Park: The Game is available for purchase on Steam for £21.99, here.

16 Nov 2011

REVIEW: Rochard

The country rock song that opens Rochard is, in some ways, a perfect analogy of the excellent mix of entertainment it introduces. This is a game that is as bouncy and lighthearted as it is a parody of everything that has come before it. The song gives a good idea of exactly what will follow, which is: space hicks and silliness.

You'll take the role John Rochard, an asteroid miner in search of some precious something or other... I'll be honest, you won't be playing Rochard to follow its story. It’s not as if I wasn't paying attention to the cutscenes that join level to level, just none of it was apparently worth remembering. What’s important here is that things have gone bad in space and it’s up to you to right those wrongs with guns and physics manipulation. I rarely need an excuse to engage in platform puzzling and mass brutality and this game has plenty of both.

Rochard has a fancy gun, you see, one that was apparently swiped from the hands of fellow game man, Gordon Freeman. With this you have the ability to grab onto objects, pull things towards you and swing ape-like from conveniently placed crates. It’s a weapon as well as a tool though, offering you laser power and a multiple grenade launcher in case any of that mining work requires the firepower more readily available to the Starship Troopers.

Of course, you won’t actually be doing any mining here. Each chapter is divided into a series of rooms, more often than not with puzzles to solve to allow you to move on to the next screen to further your quest. It’s formulaic in a sense, but owing to the tools available it’s generally up to the player as to how best to approach each problem. Crates can be grabbed and thrown to make stepping stones or to boost jumps, fuses can be switched to power any number of devices or to avoid hazards. Gravity can be turned on and off at the press of a button to allow you to float serenely about and reach tricky ledges. Enemies can be shot in the face.

There are so many different aspects to the abilities with which Rochard allows you to experiment that I won’t be able to lay them all down here. Suffice it to say, there can be a great deal of freedom as to how you mix them up to achieve your goal. Much like Frozenbyte’s Trine, Rochard understands that there’s fun to be had in letting the player experiment with a varied toolset.

And despite this complex arrangement of actions, the controls (at least with a 360 gamepad) fit sublimely. For those tied to their keyboards I would say that mouse aiming leaves something to be desired. Instead of a reticule with which to aim, any movements made simply decide the character’s facing, so it can be tricky to be accurate, especially under pressure. Truth is, you should already have a gamepad if you’re interested in PC platforming - these days it’s essential.

What’s interesting about this game is how much of it has been lifted in spirit from those preceding it. If you have any interest in physics puzzling, you’ll likely have seen half the moves on offer here, from the gravity gunning, to see-sawing and energy fields, very little here is brand new. But that’s not to say it’s not enjoyable. Rochard is entirely derivative, but its constituent parts are so finely manipulated to fit in with the bigger picture that it doesn't ever become dull or obvious in its solutions.

The story is a different matter. It's entirely skippable. When you’re playing a fat miner with a gravity gun you really shouldn’t need any further motivation to become inventively sadistic to those who oppose you.

Few people may fall in love with Rochard, but many will find it impossible not to smile at its clean, cartoony nature and the increasingly elaborate puzzling antics. It may not be the most original game released this year but it's packed with variety and a desire for fun that is frequently refreshing. It's also a decent length of play for the price you'll pay and when time equals money for certain video gamers, this should be where they're looking.

Rochard is out now and available to buy on Steam, here. (£7.99)

12 Nov 2011

Ready, steady, glow: Nitronic Rush

As hangover cures go, having my senses battered by a symphony of light and a fair few pounding beats is the last thing I would expect to help. Problem is, once I saw Nitronic Rush this morning I couldn’t keep my clicking finger from that download link. And then it seemed unjust not to play it right away. Advertised as an ‘experimental, survival driving game’ by the game’s student devs, I’m certainly expanding on its experimental uses.

Nitronic Rush was created by a group of students at the DigiPen Institute of Technology. It’s Tron for the Trackmania generation. It also evokes some strong memories of 90s racers like WipeOut, Rollcage and Extreme-G. In fact, it’s only in playing this game that you realise how much we’ve lost that lust for blistering stunt racing that used to be such a strong part of the genre mix, even on the PC platform.

So it’s an arcade racer, which gives you the power to fly and flip for points around a number of absurd neon tracks. You also have a nitro button which affords you a limited amount of rechargable fuel before your car shakes itself to pieces.

You’ll be happy to hear that Nitronic Rush plays as good as it looks. And it really does look incredible. Your car, equipped for flying and teeth shattering speed boosts, is incredibly responsive when winding itself around these roads, flipping from wall to floor and generally driving like a total bad ass. That’s ignoring all the crashing you’ll definitely do, but that’s fine. Like Trackmania, you’ll have fun playing this game to perfection.

I’m not mentally equipped this morning to understand quite how the scoring is calculated from the various stunts, but points are tallied up alongside your finish time for the high score board. Personally, I just like the colours and the way this game makes me smile as I zoom across mind-melting landscapes. It’s relentlessly noisy, visually and aurally, and contains enough little features and set pieces to keep you wowed throughout.

There’s a short and knowingly daft story mode which sends you off to destroy a virus core in order to protect the cyber city. You drive into it or something. I don’t really know, but it was cool and that’s all you really need to know. If you’re after something to liven up a particularly dreary afternoon, this game will more than do the trick. There are several game modes and a multitude of pretty diverse tracks. Online access allows you to pit your skills against ghost racers across the globe and there’s always your previous best to have a go at if you’re happy endlessly bettering your past self.

Best of all, Nitronic Rush is completely free. So why are you still reading this?

Nitonic Rush can be downloaded right here.

10 Nov 2011

Running down a dream: Fragmentation

From wall bricks to floor bricks. From moving upwards to moving forwards. Let’s keep this fun theme going! Must give credit to IndieGames.com for this find.

Fragmentation is a nifty piece of freeware gaming created in forty eight hours by Riley Adams for the Ludlum Dare 21 compo back in August. Racing down a straight corridor is the easy bit. Moving fast enough to avoid the crumbling floor behind you is where things get tricky. Pillars are placed in your way to keep you thinking and you also have the ability rotate the room and duck and jump to ease your passage through the world. Play well and you’ll speed up. Play badly and you’ll fall into the abyss beyond. Just like in real life.

It won’t keep your attention for long, but it’s a thrill whilst it lasts and manages to place you in that zone of awesomeness that allows you to act on instinct to survive. Plus, such a colourful time-sapper it’s not to be knocked when you consider the time constraints on its creation.

Download Fragmentation from Ludlum Dare, here.

The only way is up: Against the Wall

Not enough games make enough use of the vertical plane. Remember the first Call of Juarez? I don't think anyone in the world agrees with me on this point, but I still think it the highlight of the entire series - clambering to the submit of that weathered mountain to retrieve a single eagle feather for some mystical trial. Some said it was a misstep. I thought it was an unexpectedly inventive change of pace. There's not enough tranquillity in video games. Or scaling of awesome heights.

I guess Against the Wall is here to correct that. Here we have an early alpha build - not much more than a concept at this point - of a game which requires you to climb. Where to? And for how long? Your village and I'm not sure. Although I'm hoping you might reach the top to find David Gilmour there, banging out some aged guitar riff before the whole thing comes crashing down. And the kids stop singing that bloody chorus.

Speculation aside, developer Michael Consoli has released his project into the wilds of the web to interest gamer folk and inspire others to lend a hand.

Despite being so much of a blank canvas at the moment, playing through this early build there's no escaping the sense of scale that the game already provides. Your goal is to travel upwards across the side of an infinite brick-lined barrier, pulling out bricks with your magic sceptre and skipping from one to the other to gain height. It's a neat idea, strained slightly by the vastness of the world and the repetition required to climb, but it's easy to see how this manner of play can be built upon and enhanced by a few more oddball environments and development of the basic mechanic.

It's promising then and there are already a few surprises even at this early stage in development. Here, in Consoli's own words, is how the game works and what he needs to happen:-

You can download the alpha of Against the Wall here or play it in your browser on the very same page.

9 Nov 2011

Gamer's block or: How I braved the Abyss of Uninstalled Games and saved my soul

I'm definitely riding a To the Moon come down. Recently I've been struggling to find anything to play. I've no review codes to game at, no desire to explore something epic. Gemini Rue is waiting for me, Bastion has bored me. I'm an addict with so many drugs to choose from that I can only sit back with my arms folded and wish I was high.

When a game like To the Moon comes along it's a funny thing to figure out. Afterwards, when the credits roll, you're left with thoughts that will continue to pester you for days. And I don't want any old run-of-the-mill run-and-gun hit-and-run action to destroy that feeling. I want love and sorrow and laughter and tragedy to continue onwards. Where do I get that? How do I safeguard its destruction? It's almost as if I'm scared to embark on a new adventure in case it ruins something I've already experienced, clouds my memory.

I have so many unplayed games to pick and choose from it's pathetic. The various sales and bundles over the last couple of weeks have levelled my bank balance as well as my ability to become enthused by video gaming. Where do I start? How do I end this?

Well... by trial and error. By staring at the screen, hovering my mouse pointer over shortcuts on my desktop and trying to imagine what it might feel like to hit that main menu and drop right into that game. Most of the time I'll turn my nose up, or I'll be repulsed by the very thought of giving up all my good staring time to something that certainly is not To the Moon.

Argh... get over it. Get over it. Get over... hey. What's this? Oh. Something on Steam I bought but dropped right into the Abyss of Uninstalled Games. Should I click? Aye, go on then...


Let me tell you about Painkiller.

Painkiller isn't incredible. It's a game I've tried to love over again and over again, but found to be of little substance. It’s creaky and uninspiring. Even on initial release I disliked how it presented the devolution of video gaming, taking it back to the primal stage as if the developers, People Can Fly, had crawled right back into the ocean because they found the trees to be dizzying.

So I loaded it up out of desperation, hoping that something I knew I couldn’t love could lift me from this hole. A shot of stupid to cure my ills, waxing my boredom and obliterating any other emotion I might care to feel. And somehow I'm thirteen again, stalking through the most stripped down form of our favourite entertainment: Point and shoot, point and shoot, pick up ammo, lay down hell. It's not great, but it could be frenzied enough to flush this feeling of malaise from my mind. It’s overkill. I’m using acid for mouthwash. I’m amputating limbs to kill itches I never had. I don’t know what’s going.

But do you know what? It’s working. It’s my medicine. I’m self-prescribing and kicking ass. Shoot this demon, shoot that witch. I don’t care what I’m shooting, I’m just fighting back until I’m ready to climb up to whatever pinnacle of entertainment it was that knocked me down here in the first place.

My love for this hobby rolls in cycles and it’s a funny thing, but I’m a total sucker for this kind of punishment.

5 Nov 2011

First Look: GTA V

Saturdays are for sitting at home after a slow and sorry week at work and wondering what to play next. Whilst I'm at it, you should check out the new trailer for this game by Rockstar which flopped its terrifying e-penis onto the internet this week:

How often does one and a half minutes of very little convert into a billion words of over-analysis and absolute presumption worldwide? Every three or four years when this happens, of course. It clouds minds. It renders common sense redundant.

Well, step by step, I'll offer my own thoughts on what we can expect from the game after watching this trailer for the very first time. Straight from my mind and onto the screen. When you're done reading, watch it again and admit that I AM RIGHT ON EACH AND EVERY POINT. AND IT IS EXCITING:

0:07 Man and lady walking dog! This is new. This is BIG. Do they kiss? Do they cuddle? Is Rockstar's next goal to portray true loving relationships in place of seedy fucks and lady lust? Maybe.

0:10 Ladies looking at men's bottoms! Perhaps the game will cast you as a woman who... no, that's ridiculous.

0:15 Palm trees! You play a tree who lives with other trees and grants wishes to the ghosts of dead truck drivers who wander the streets below.

0:17 Golf! You play a golfer who hates homosexuals and air travel. Kills things with razor blades.

0:19 Jet skis! I've pre-ordered at this point. By which I mean I've written 'buy GTA V' in big letters on my forehead because it's not yet possible to state my claim on Amazon or will myself into the future. How do they top jet skis?! Clearly you'll be playing as a porn star with a violent past and a penchant for travelling places and doing things. My excitement levels have hit the roof!

0:20 Hiking. Hiking? Hiking! You play a malcontent with a violent past and a fetish for bivouacking and jazz mags.

0:25 Fast cars! You play a car thief with a violent past and a fetish for porn stars' hairpieces. You live in a subterranean crack den with a cat named Doug.

0:30 Wind farm! You play an eco warrior with a violent past who lives up in the hills smoking twigs and leaves with his wife and three small children who ONLY EXIST INSIDE HIS HEAD.

0:45 Crop-dusting marijuana! You play a drug lord with a violent past, who likes porn and cars and Harry Potter fan fic. Also, is a vampire.

1:00 Homeless man! You play an angry bum with a violent past, who likes patio furniture, video arcades and eating beetles. Massive racist.

1:05 Police chase! You play a police officer with rickets and a learning disorder. Cop buddies always laugh at him when he fails to spell 'pomegranate' correctly. Also, has violent past.

1:10 Hollywood sign, but not Hollywood sign! You play as a failed porn star turned actor. Crack habit, six fingers on each hand and hilarious stutter. Says things like, 'B-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-but... I don't wanna.' Always wears burgundy clothing and cries at CSI reruns.

Wow. Well, I don't know about you but I'm tuckered out after that. I'll have another look at it tomorrow and expand on each of the points noted above. What we mustn't assume is that Rockstar will simply release a GTA sequel that is a bit different, but largely the same as its predecessor.

2 Nov 2011

REVIEW: To the Moon

There's something to be said for how quickly To the Moon captured my attention. The setup is brief but perfectly executed: Two scientists arrive at a house in the woods with a box of tricks which allows them to alter the memories of whomever happens to have paid for their service. The catch? The grim reaper is breathing down the client’s neck. It's an excellent hook that instantly throws up a ton of questions as to the possibilities and limitations of such a device.

Our subject is Johnny, an old man on his death bed. He has one wish: to have visited the moon. Why does he want this? He doesn't know, so it's up to the game's leads, Drs Rosalene and Watts, to find the answer and make his dream (or rather, memory) come true.

To the Moon does not present a challenge. Essentially, it's an interactive story in the guise of a 16-bit adventure game. What control the player does have is heavily restricted by the precise experience that the developer, Freebird Games, intends them to have. There are a couple of choices they can make along the way, but the player won't be reloading through death or be required to bloat their inventory in order to progress through the chapters. They simply guide the characters and watch as the plot unravels.

This could be an issue for anyone seeking a test of intelligence or skill, or some kind of thrill ride, but for those after an interesting story told well, To the Moon rarely falls flat. It makes use of common traits of the medium to absorb the player, keeping their hands busy and their eyes locked on the screen.

For the first act of the game, you'll be tasked with tripping back through Johnny's memories one at a time. In each version of the subject's past reality you'll need to discover more about him, but also seek mementos - little keepsakes - that can be used to form gateways into earlier memories. Searching for these items is as close to a typical adventure game as To the Moon gets. It's item hunting with a dash of puzzle solving required to activate the next area.

The boredom that this sort of repetition might usually provoke is offset by the constant progression of the plot as your insight into the minds and motivations of each character develops to a point at which you genuinely care about what may - or might previously - have happened to them. Snapshots of half-recalled conversations play out in these instances, building a picture of why it was that memory reconstruction was requested in the first place.

To the Moon could easily have become a succession of saccharine moments designed to melt hearts which instead only inspired the urge to vomit. By its very nature - dying man, lost love, sentimental desires - Johnny's story is, without question, a nose-blowing sob story. But what thankfully turns this on its head is the detached viewpoint that a couple of scientists going about their day jobs provides.

Following these characters in performing what they perceive to be quite mundane work is endlessly interesting and frequently amusing. They are the ones who provide the smirks and the flippant remarks so that the player doesn’t have to. The banter between the two doctors, who are completely at odds with each other in terms of personality, provides just enough comic value to allow the main plot to breathe and to ensure that the player never feels overwhelmed with a barrage of emotionally loaded codswallop.

It also means that those moments which are truly heartbreaking are far more effective when allowed a quiet moment to play out.

Outside of the realms of fabricated memories is a reality that was never far from my mind throughout my time with To the Moon: There can only be one ending. Johnny will inevitably die and he will never have truly visited the moon. It’s a sobering thought and being reminded of this fact every now and again grounds a tale that could easily have floated away into fairyland.

But it’s not depressing. It is enlightening, charming and funny. The balance between comedy and tragedy is well trod and I commend Freebird Games on creating such a memorable and tightly written story that works so well in this medium. As I’ve said, making your way through To the Moon does not require skill. It is a work of interactive fiction, but for the four hours that it took me to complete it never struck me as lacking anything that a great gaming experience should have.

It's a brave thing for a developer to do, to expect the buyer of their game to act as a bystander to their own creation. After all, if we as gamers were after such an experience, wouldn't we just watch a movie or pick up a book? To the Moon, by it's very existence, would like to argue that point and I can confidently say that it is one of the finest games I’ve played all year.

To the Moon was released 1st November and is currently available for trial and purchase here. (£7.99)