a portfolio of videogame writings
It’s both encouraging and a little worrying that after having played fifteen minutes of Honeyslug’s whimsical PlayStation 3, 4 and Vita exclusive,Hohokum, I’m not entirely sure what was going on.
I do know that I was controlling some sort of flying, rainbow coloured snake, and that by gliding directly into objects in the sky – be they trees, strange spheres or wobbly armed people – I could make things happen. The trees twirled and spat out giant acorns, the spheres blossomed and opened up portals into new areas, and the people hopped on-board my psychedelic snake-train and collected those acorns with a joyful dance.
The airy, clear sky area in which I begun this surreal trip gave no clear objectives, but this lack of guidance in a world so pleasantly vibrant was an invitation for experimentation. Only after having toyed with the reactive, beautifully bold scenery for a good ten minutes did I discover anything tantamount to progression. The jelly-limbed passengers that I now taxied on my back seemed to want dropping-off on green platforms high in the sky, where they would take great pleasure in turning those acorns I’d just collected for them into kites. Yes, you read that correctly – acorn kites.
The substantial demo for Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls (a nearly half hour slice of the game) being shown at Eurogamer Expo this year had two distinct halves, one of which was enjoyable, the other of which was tolerable. This is largely down to the fact that the game has two primary protagonists.
The face of Beyond is Jodie Holmes, portrayed by and modelled on Ellen Page. Jodie also has a supernatural sidekick/tormentor ghost called Aiden, who is the second controllable character, linked to Jodie by a strange force that manifests itself as a chain of particles.
When in control of Jodie, Beyond plays much like Heavy Rain did. You’re free to move around its environments and interact with specific objects in pre-determined ways through controller inputs designed to mimic real life actions as closely as is possible through the abstract lump of plastic that is a DualShock pad.
Where Heavy Rain explicitly signalled the inputs required to perform certain actions, however, Beyond now appears to hide some of these away, presumably in an attempt to further immerse you in a world where you need to move the right joystick upwards to open a door instead of just pressing circle (both inputs are equally arbitrary in my opinion). The biggest problem with this lack of direction is that Jodie’s controls lack consistency. There were a few motions that remained the same throughout the demo – opening doors was always up, for example – but there were also some actions that didn’t seem to have a consistent directional input.
Videogame conventions are stressful affairs, all headache-inducing neon maelstroms of forty inch plasma screens, each one vying for your attention amongst a crowd of similar looking plasma screens. For the past three years at Eurogamer Expo, Sony has provided the perfect antidote to the predominance of frenetic, action-orientated titles on show. In 2011 it wasJourney, in 2012 it was The Unfinished Swan, and this year their soon-to-be-released PSN title Rain was that welcome and very promising refreshment.
That Rain’s theme song is Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune should tell you something about its tone. There’s a light melancholy to its simple boy meets girl tale, one told through both the muting desaturation of its mostly grey art style and its simple mechanical premise, which is plucked straight from H. G Wells’ 1897 novel, The Invisible Man.
You play as a young, unnamed boy, who, upon first viewing the silhouette of an invisible girl on what looks like a rainy Parisian back alley circa 1960, turns invisible himself. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent many hours daydreaming about the mischief you could get up to if you were granted invisibility, but this young fellow seems to have no such appetite for misconduct. His only desire is to reach that mysterious silhouette, so she becomes his guiding beacon through these puddle-lined alleyways.
One of the most exciting things about going to a videogame convention is the chance that you might happen across something new, exciting and unexpected. This year at Eurogamer Expo, that something was Chroma.
It’s easy to reel off a list of comparisons that describe the feel of this independently developed puzzle platformer. Your protagonist looks like a pixelated Super Meat Boy; its mostly monochromatic aesthetic is reminiscent of Limbo; and its sound design, all synthetic resonating notes, reminded of Fez. See, that was easy. But simply describing Chroma though its inspirations doesn’t convey the promise that it showed in the short ten minutes I spent engrossed by it.
And when I say engrossed, I truly mean it. I commented to its developer, Mark Foster, that his demo was the only one that I had played after two days at the show that I felt really compelled to complete. If you’re read this Mark, I wasn’t lying.
Chroma’s central premise is elegant and full of potential. You have two forms – light and dark. The former illuminates the two-dimensional world, creating shadow and light; the latter can walk on top of the dark, shadowy platforms that your former form has created. In essence, it’s a puzzle platformer in which you have to create your own platforms to progress by using the interplay of light and dark.
Two years ago, when the original Dark Souls was being showcased at Eurogamer Expo, it was one of the few games that you could stroll up to and play without having to shuffle at the pace of a snail through a cordoned off maze. From Software’s Demon’s Souls had accrued a modest cult following, but its spiritual sequel was still flying low on most people’s radars. Fast forward to today, however, and appreciation for all things Souls has reached critical mass.
This year, waiting in line for Dark Souls 2, I witnessed the full extent of the franchise’s new found popularity. In front of me stood a man with a bonfire tattoo on his upper arm, more than happy to show me his ink and wax enthusiastically about his adoration of the series. There was a Namco Bandai employed cosplayer, fully kitted out in the Warrior class’ animal pelt and iron armour, stalking the booth and its surrounding areas. And a stretch of patient fans coiled around the display arena and its sixteen screens, some of them having waited for two hours, all of them eager to see if From’s first numbered sequel in the series could still serve them that mysteriously addictive brand of punishing gothic fantasy. The answer, deduced from a survey of those patient fans, was emphatic: yes, yes it does.
The twenty minute slice of Dark Souls 2 being showcased at Eurogamer Expo 2013 was the same as that shown at E3 earlier this year. There were four pre-defined characters to choose from – Temple Knight, Warrior, Sorcerer and Dual Swordsman – and a crumbling, grassy castle to explore, with a gauntlet of tricks, traps and treacherous inhabitants. I chose The Warrior, partly because the Great Sword was one of my preferred weapon types in Dark Souls, and partly because I overheard a fellow queuer suggesting that this was the only class capable of defeating the Mirror Knight – the shiny, white-gold armour clad boss who awaited at the end of the demo.