Monday, 30 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #9: The Walking Dead: Season One

The Walking Dead: Season One Telltale Games/Telltale Games (2012)

The zombie apocalypse is probably the most over-used of video game settings because it provides an excuse for players to gun down thousands of enemies in morally unambiguous abandon. They're zombies! They don't even feel pain. The mechanics of ripping thorugh mindless bodies are so seductive that the devastation such an infection might cause to individuals and society as a whole has been left largely unexplored.

Thank goodness then, for The Walking Dead, which uses player choice to bring Robert Kirkman's comic book series to life and throw the player into the midst of the emotional fallout from the apocalypse. By limiting gameplay to pointing and clicking, The Walking Dead renders the player (as escaped convict Lee) relatively helpless, or at least as helpless as any normal person would be in the face of such horror.

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #10: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Square Enix/Eidos Montreal (2011)

In most media, science fiction stories often suffer from placing concept ahead of character. Because the genre - which also goes by the name of speculative fiction - is devoted to the exploration of ideas through alternative and future universes, this is not surprising. It is difficult to deliver compelling character-driven narratives when characters must necessarily exist as representatives of certain demographics or viewpoints.

This is a problem because in most narrative media, empathy is required for a story to have any impact because the reader/viewer/listener is a passive participant whose only way in is through the characters. 

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #11: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks (2011)

I reviewed Skyrim for GodisaGeek back in 2011. Here's what I had to say:

Fans of fantasy often cite mythology, symbology or history as reasons why they spend their free time immersed in fictional worlds instead of, you know, going outside. I know I do. But although there’s truth in that, at the heart of the matter is the desire to remove yourself entirely from the real world, and get lost somewhere altogether more lonely and dramatic. It’s hard to think of a game that makes it as easy to do that as Skyrim. [...] It isn’t quite perfect, but if you want to play it, you’ll want to turn a blind eye to its eccentricities for the sake of staying immersed in its enormous, snowy world.

I could explain what gives the game this power, but I'd be repeating myself. Instead, I refer you to the full review and Andy Kelly's Other Places video of the gameworld, below.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #12: Gears of War

Gears of War, Microsoft Studios/Epic Games (2006)

The first I, like most people, heard about the Xbox 360's first big shooter, it was in a cinema as a preposterously burly man ran through a darkened cave to the melodramatic tones of Gary Jules' Mad World, the emo cover of the Tears for Fears song that had made Christmas #1 in the UK three years earlier.

The juxtaposition of post-Schwarzenegger brawn with an angst-ridden song about social alienation and psychological breakdown was irresistible. Though it looks like a blunt instrument, Gears of War actually maintains a deft balance between strong art direction, a sharp, character-driven script and extreme violence.

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #13: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 2K Games/Firaxis Games (2012)

Here's why I don't like strategy games:

  • They don't end.
  • They don't have stories.
  • They make me feel stupid.
  • I find their reward loops too compelling.

In other words, I lack the patience and willpower to enjoy them, and prefer to stick to games where I can pretend to be a wizard/explorer/starship commander, wandering freely around a fantasy world not worrying about the long-term consequences of my actions.

And yet XCOM: Enemy Unknown drew me in. This was partly due to the near-future alien invasion aesthetic and the way I could customise each member of my squad and give them names like "Karl Bloodfountain" (Assault) and "Caesar Sparklefart" (Medic), but mostly it was because the game was simply so good that even someone as unenamoured with the genre as myself could enjoy it.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #14: Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider, Square Enix/Crystal Dynamics (2013)

Although I am enormous fan of the Tomb Raider series, I enjoyed this year's reboot for reasons that have nothing to do with Tomb Raider.

For a start, the motion-captured protagonist was immensely fun to control. She felt satisfyingly heavy and interacted believably with her environment. The action was tactile and fun, making the exploration hugely enjoyable rather than a chore. I liked the fact that she was a woman, and looked like one. Never have I felt more like I was controlling a person, rather than a video game character.

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #15: BioShock

BioShock, 2K Games/Irrational Games (2007)

Despite its RPG-lite elements and the supernatural plasmids that fly from the player's fingertips, BioShock is a plain old shooter, and a pretty pedestrian one at that.

This goes to show that a great environment can make the difference between a disposable experience and an unforgettable one. Rapture, an art deco underwater city envisioned by objectivist madman Andrew Ryan, is a visually arresting combination of 1920s architecture, marine imagery and menacing decay.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #16: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Sony Computer Entertainment/Naughty Dog (2009)

Spoiler alert

There are two things I really love about Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The first is its spectacular rendering of an ersatz Kathmandu, which brings back a lot of memories of the time I visited the (real, not war-torn) city back in 2007.

The second is its treatment of Chloe Frazer, who has the distinction of being one of the few women in a video game who is allowed to show sexual interest in a man without being either fetishised or punished as a result.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #17: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Square Enix/Eidos Interactive/Crystal Dynamics (2010)

This game's clever co-operative puzzle-platforming is unmatched by anything else this generation.

The plot, in which Lara and Totec, the titular Guardian of Light, make their way through a booby-trapped temple to bring down a vengeful Aztec god, is unimportant. What matters to me is the way in which the players need to interact with each other in order to complete the quest.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #18: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, 2K Games/Bethesda Game Studios (2006)

For me, the last console generation began in a dank prison cell not far outside the walls of Cyrodiil's Imperial City.

Never having been a PC gamer, the sheer size and depth of Oblivion's world astounded me. Never before had I been able to run freely around such a vast map, going where I pleased, talking to any character that interested me and becoming the hero I wanted to be.

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #19: Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII, Square Enix/Square Enix (2010)

For a blog dedicated to narrative through gameplay, it seems contrary to place a game almost universally condemned for a lack of interactivity on a list of games of the generation.

But what I did not convey in the last entry is something that I hope will become clear as the rest of the instalments emerge: that these are my twenty favourite games, not the ones I consider either the most influential or the best. And by that entirely subjective metric, this strange tale of branded fugitives makes the list.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #20: Catherine

Catherine, Atlus/Atlus Persona Team (2012)

Spoiler alert

The story of a weak-willed man-child who can't be bothered to make decisions and would rather go to the pub, Catherine has an unusual premise for a video game. Its protagonist is Vincent, a software engineer in his early thirties with an over-achieving girlfriend, Katherine.

Katherine won't stop talking about marriage and babies, and as a result he starts spending more and more time in The Stray Sheep, his local bar. There, he meets the outrageously sexy Catherine whom he proceeds to take home for a night of unbridled passion.

That's when the dreams start.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Can't you just let a story be a story?

"I don't understand this at all. I don't understand any of this. Why does a story have to be a socio-anything? Politics... culture... history... aren't those natural ingredients in any story, if it's told well? I mean... can't you you guys just let a story be a story?"

Stephen King, from "Bill Denbrough Takes Time Out" - It (1988) 

This quote is taken from a flashback scene in It where horror writer Bill Denbrough takes a creative writing course and becomes frustrated by the dismissal of his thrilling work by his classmates and the teacher.

Bear that in mind while you read this description of the Centre for Creative Writing at the University of Kent:

It is extremely disappointing to see Kent dismiss "children's fiction" as not worthy of a course that purports to teach its students "high quality literary fiction" that is "full of ideas". I would also like to know what is wrong with "mass-market thrillers", or "old fashioned ballads" in a literary context.

I understand the drive to want to write fiction that isn't disposable, but to dismiss more accessible forms is pure snobbery. As Bill Denbrough points out, a story that's "told well" contains truth, and the best literature should always be more than just a vessel for delivering ideas.

Final Fantasy VII Playthrough: Part 13 - Mount Corel, Gold Saucer, and the Prison

It seems everywhere we go people are talking about a "man in a black cape" who was there right before us.

Why is that? Is there only one black cape on this entire planet?

We can only hope that's the case because following reports of a black cape has led us into some pretty hairy situations, and if the cape doesn't contain Sephiroth, it's going to be really annoying when we finally catch up with it.

It's not just Mount Corel's terrain that is hostile. The entire area is infested with evil eggs.