Spooky Action At A Distance – Man Of Medan

I used to watch a lot of horror films, not sure what happened, perhaps I just caught a lot of really bad ones in a row. Regardless, I’ve not had time for horror much of late. Gore doesn’t really do it for me. I’m not averse to it, I just don’t think that it makes a movie better. I like a creeping sense of dread. The idea that this horrifying thing is becoming more than 90 minutes in the dark with popcorn. Something that gets into your mind and gives you a moment’s pause in the dark, when you’re alone.

Some time early this year I finally got a chance to play Until Dawn with my fiancée. We shared time on the controller and made any decisions, that didn’t require split second timing, between us. It was a nice couple of evenings sharing moments of panic through quick time events, moments of surprise, and the all important moments of quiet in between, to build the tension. This was good horror.

Around the same time, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man Of Medan was announced from the same studio as Until Dawn. The plan was to take all the photorealistic character styling, decision making, quick time events, and exploration of the original game and create an anthology series of slightly shorter stories that can be played solo or with others in a number of different ways.

First up, there’s standard solo play. See all the things, from your currently controlled character’s perspective, explore, decide, try to keep everyone alive while you unravel the mystery of the decaying military vessel where most of the game takes place.

Next there’s couch co-op. Choose your number of players, and which characters each person will play as. As you move through the story you’ll get messages between scenes telling you who should be on the controller for the next section. Where as in Until Dawn, we made pretty much all decisions relating to the protagonists together, here we played our own characters, to our own tastes. Something very much encouraged by having the characters divided among us.

Lastly, there’s online co-op, and here’s where things change in a really interesting way.

There are sections of the game which happen simultaneously. As such, one player can be talking to another character in one area, while another person is exploring another section of the ship. Consequently you can have a moment very near the beginning of the game where two groups of characters are having entirely different stories told.

Those below the waves are finding interesting artifacts and trying to understand how a plane came down. Meanwhile above, a group of pirates are harassing those on the boat, eventually leading to an explosion, which the others see from underwater. This, in turn leading to WTF moments from the divers, which the characters can decide to discuss, or not. It’s up to the players to decide if they’ll share that information with each other or keep all explanation within the game itself. There’s a few other moments where this is used really well, but I won’t spoil you on it. Suffice to say that playing solo or in movie night (couch co-op) mode, the game takes around 5 hours to complete. Whereas online co-op is closer to 3 because of the overlapping sections.

The basic plot of the game sees two brothers, Alex (kind of a jock) and Bradley (an adorable, shy, nerdy type) preparing to take Julia (whom Alex is dating and seems like the type to ask to speak to your manager), and her brother Conrad (goofy alcoholic rich boy who seems like a total liability) out for some diving around a crashed plane they have located. This is a previously unexplored wreck and there’s excitement about what they’ll find, and in what condition. The last member of our merry band is Fliss, the boat captain (absolute badass, if a little shady) who’ll be taking them out on the ocean.

Things start off pretty gently through a flashback featuring a couple of naval soldiers on shore leave. The game uses this time to gently introduce the controls and game mechanics in a no-stakes environment. Flash forward then, to the present and we see our main cast loading their boat up for the proposed dive. Before long though, it’s all diving to the crashed plane, hearing rumors of lost gold, the aforementioned pirates showing up and dragging everyone off to and older and decaying, but still familiar ship. All aboard is very quiet and our protagonists are in over their heads. And that… is all I’m saying. You’ll have to play it for yourself if you want plot. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it a lot, on multiple playthroughs.

Just like Until Dawn, characters can die and this will very much change how the remaining characters interact and what options they have going forward. This gives the game a lot of replayability. Do you want a horror film with a lone survivor of the group? Do you want to try and save everyone? Maybe “accidently” fail a few quick time events to off that one character you don’t like? The options are all there.

The sound design and music is spot on. With great effects and cues that are well used, to enrich the experience. Graphically, the game is on par with Until Dawn. Which is to say, beautifully rendered and animated character with really uncanny teeth (why do all of these games do that?). The lighting is great and the locations are wonderfully grimey in just the right way. That said, I did experience some minor slow down in a few areas and a couple of momentary glitches, though this may be patched by the time of release.

One thing I was really happy to see was the number of accessibility options. I have a number of sensory processing issues which can make a game like this frustratingly difficult at best and unplayable at worst. First up, you have the ability to remove time limits from QTE button prompts. As long as you hit the correct button, you won’t fail. Additionally, there’s the option to replace button mashing sections with just holding the button down. Next up, there’s options to change how subtitles appear. Do you want the subtitles on a background rather than just overlayed straight onto the action? Do you want to change the colours for a more manageable contrast? Those options are here for you. Lastly, there’s the sidebar, which will put text from the various documents you find lying around into a more legible format, in a pop-up sidebar. These are all great considerations that I hope to see making their way to other games of this type in future.

The Dark Pictures Anthology has the potential to be to the interactive horror genre, what Telltale Games were to, well, all the many many genres things they worked on (though hopefully, it won’t end up collapsing like an incorrectly assembled deck chair as TTG did).

Pros:

  • Stunning graphics and sound design
  • Lots of replayability
  • Great story to unravel

Cons:

  • Some minor slow down in a couple of places
  • Pirates are mean
  • I’m struggling to come up with my usual 3 of these.

Final Score: 9/10

Premium Fire

This weekend I was at CoxCon in Telford (helping out with selling early copies of Uncomfortable Labels with Laura Kate Dale) and I got a chance to go hands-on playing firefighting “un-simulator” Embr by Muse Games.

If you’re the kind of Silicon Valley tech type who thinks things like “what if there was a private security force that kept just my neighborhood safe?” Or “what if we made an Uber but for transporting you to hospital?” Or “what if there was a premium, for-profit fire and rescue service, which was available 24 hours, and staffed by anyone aged 18-85 who signed up?” Well, do I have news for you?

I do, in fact, have such news.

The gig economy called and there’s a capitalist system that needs oiling with the blood, sweat, and tears of the working class. Woo! (You probably say, because you’re a parasite (unless you’re not actually the hypothetical tech type I proposed earlier (in which case, welcome, help yourself to one of the guillotines, we march at dawn to overthrow capitalism))).

How about, instead of trained, professionals, we have (probably self-employed, so we don’t have to offer any kind of benefits) Respondrs™? A Respondr™ can hire equipment from us, and we connect them with contract holders who are in need of fire fighting services. We’ll have a clause in the contract that says we get to keep any money or valuables (with a cut to the Respondr™) and the Respondr™ will have to rescue a percentage of the contract-holder’s household.

Whoever though of that probably had some equally insidious tech friend who turned to them and called them “a fucking genius”. To which they likely replied, “I know”, because they’re like that.

Anyway, enough of the plot, what about the game itself?

I only played one level of Embr, but it was a lot of fun and had a certain dark humour. There I was, a bespectacled, elderly person known only as Granny, dropped off on the lawn of a burning house. According to my choice of load-out I was a hero (*blush* I’m just doing my job a Respondr™) with the axe being my first port of call.

With a comforting cry of “Here’s Granny”, I turned the door turned to kindling and set about rescuing at least three out of the five people living there. Stopping only briefly to look for any money they might have lying around the place that I could rescue (can’t be leaving cash about, it could get hurt in the fire, and Embr are very against such things).

With flames rising higher, I had to disable electrical supplies to avoid getting shocked, and engage ventilation to avoid poison gas clouds. At one point I found that an upstairs floor had collapsed, so I thought to bridge the gap with my ladder. Happily, this was a viable option (always nice when games let you improvise like that). No way a little thing like there being a lack of flooring was going to stop a cunning octogenarian like myself.

As I pulled out the third person from the blazing remnants of their home and hurled them into the designated safe zone I had to ask myself “do I want to just reel up my hoses and pack away my ladder, or can I earn myself a few more pennies by running back in and looting the joint?”

In this gig economy, the answer had to be “yes”.

Braving a further trip inside I found things were really heating up (yes, yes I am pleased with myself). Beams had started to fall, the floors, wall, and ceiling had been hurriedly redecorated in a charming shade called Raging Inferno (I checked the colour chart). I figured it would be worth hosing some of the hot stuff with wet stuff. Even deploying the odd water grenade (refillable at a sink) to make my way through the most aggressive parts of the blazing domicile.

While doing so, I did encounter another resident so I guessed they had to be rescued too (*sigh* I didn’t have all day. Ethel and I were due at the new action movie at 4 so I’d have to wrap up quickly). As I was upstairs, the quickest option was to deploy a trampoline and yeet my client out the window, as you do.

It was about this time I was starting to find all the fire a bit much. Despite having thrown water grenades into the heart of the hottest part of the flames, it was clearly well out of control at this point, and since I wouldn’t get paid if I died, I decided to head home. I briefly considered calling an Embr to deal with it, but who has that kind of money?

Embr is pencilled for release Autumn 2020 and will feature solo or up to 4 player, cross-platform, online co-op modes. Use cash to lease better equipment and take on the biggest jobs for the biggest payouts.

A Steam Page is already up so adding to your wishlist will keep it in mind come release date.

And remember, whatever you do, rescue Pim!

E3 2018 Hype Train

Choo choo. All aboard the hype train.

It’s nearly time for E3. So let’s have a look at all the awesome things that we can get overly excited about, and start getting our pre-orders in for this stuff.

Ringo Starr [narrating]: “Oh no, there’s been a terrible accident. The hype train’s derailed and smashed into the Sodor nuclear power plant.”

Janeiac: That doesn’t seem good Ringo. Should we call someone?

RS: It’s too late Janey. Look there.

Kevan Brighting [narrating]: Ringo was right. As Janeiac looked, she saw Sir Topam Hatt’s face start to blister and melt off as he screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed. And then his eyes melted too.

KB: It was absolutely horrific. Probably most horrifying thing she’d ever seen, and she’d once walked in on her mother having sex with a hairy pot dealer when she was 12. Sometimes she still had a memory of that monumentally hairy set of bouncing buttocks. It was not a visual memory, but was still scarred into her mind.

KB: Janeiac wondered if this was perhaps more tasteless advertising from the people that brought you the dismembered corpse that came with Dead Island. She felt deep in the very core of her being that somehow, all of this must have something to do with the E3 article that she’d planned to write.

Richard Ridings [narrating]: It is pay day!

J: What are you doing here?

RR: There are unspeakable horrors unfurling. It seemed appropriate. Also, I had to get out of that dungeon, the yoghurt was starting to go off and it smelled worse than a bile demon’s foreskin after a week of humping a handful of its own faeces.

RS: I think we’re losing track of this whole E3 thing.

Morgan Freeman [narrating]: They were, in fact, losing track of the whole E3 thing. People were supposed to be getting excited about the latest electrical wizardry, but sadly, everyone was too distracted by the fact that, Thomas was on fire, nuclear waste was turning biological matter to cancerous soup, and Richard Ridings had forced me to think about a bile demon’s foreskin.

RS: At that moment, Spencer pulled up and expressed his disappointment in the assembled narrators.

RR: A tory has entered your dungeon!

Spencer: I’m very disappointed in all of you assembled narrators.

J: Oh, do fornicate off, you David Cameron looking twunt.

RS: Spencer had to admit that he did rather look like David Cameron. Right up until the meteor fell from the sky and turned him into sheet metal.

All: [4.27 minutes of riotous laughing]

MF: Such laughter in the face of a world falling to pieces was a much needed tonic. Everything had gotten rather dark of late in the world and laughter was really all anyone had left in the face of utter unpleasantness.

Edward Norton [narrating]: I never felt so alive as when the earth began to spew boiling lava that pushed up the train tracks, causing Gordon and Percy to go flying at high speed into the air. The whole world was tearing itself apart and I couldn’t help but notice Reggie Fils-Aimé, sitting on his horde of ill-gotten Amiibo and wrapping gaffer tape around his head like a discount balaclava, while laugh-crying and bleeding from a small graze on his knee, which he got while running too fast with an untied shoe lace.

J: Wait a minute!

RS: Said Janeiac.

J: Shush you.

KB: Ringo had been suitably chastised by Jane…

J: and you

RR: [laughs evilly]

J: [glares at the assembled narrators]

Narrators: [uncomfortable silence and awkward shuffling]

Does anyone have any information about E3?

Andrea Libman [Pinkie Pie voice]: I don’t!

J: Oh, hey Pinkie.

AL: Actually, I’m Andrea Libman.

J: Sorry, it was because you did the voice.

AL: I suppose that’s fair. I do do other voices though, you know.

J: I did know that. You’re a very talented voice actor.

AL: Thanks.

KB: Somewhere in the distance, Annie and Clarabel exploded into a billion splinters, which flew through the air and fell around the duck pond like a rain of needles.

J: So, let’s get this straight. None of us have any information about E3, or any idea about what’s coming.

[silence… apart from the sound of all the fires and screaming and exploding and general awfulness]

J: Right, well, thank you everyone. This has been fascinating but I’m heading home.

AL: Wait, I have a thing!

J: You do?

AL: Pretty sure we’re going to see more of that Yoshi game from Nintendo.

J: That’s a fair guess.

RB: Jane felt an amazing sense of relief at hearing at least one thought on what might be appearing at E3. This was because she kind of liked the idea of writing about games but didn’t really have time to do proper research. Or rather she did, but she seemed to prefer oddly written improvisational pieces to actual journalism.

J: Hey, I’m not against journalism. I just prefer to get hands on before I write about games and stuff.

[distorted voice of Jigsaw]: Hello narrators. I want to play a game.

J: Not right now Jigsaw.

[Billy the puppet dejectedly rides his tricycle away, a single tear running down his cheek]

[Fade to black.]

[closing title card, overlaid with some visual scratches and picture jumping, to imply old timey black and white film]: fine

[Fade out]

[Fade in]

[Title card is on fire]: …this is fine.

So there you have it folks, all the good good E3 news you could want ahead of next week’s big event.

Zombies Ate My PC Gamer Weekender

tl;dr get Basingstoke! Here’s a link

Image result for pcgamer weekender 2018

This past weekend I got the chance to visit the PC Gamer Weekender at London Olympia. Not a venue I’ve been to before, so it was nice to explore a bit. The door staff were helpful and pleasant; the lifts were huge, certainly enough room to not only get a couple of electric wheelchairs in, but to turn around easily too. On the event floor, there’s a cloak room café area, and toilets are well sign posted. A seating at one end for refreshments and a large tabletop gaming area near to stands selling collectable cards, general nerd merch  (including the legally required number of Funko Pop figures for such events), and a good selection or tabletop games (damn you Pandemic and your many tempting variants!). In addition there were two stages – quite close together – which hosted a number of panels for game reveals and tech talks that I largely missed. And Finally, the most important area, the bit most people came for: the glorious corridors of game stands *crowd makes excited oooooh sound*. Luckily, the event wasn’t too crowded, so it was easy ish to get to try things, and wasn’t too overwhelmingly peopley.

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Game I actually went to see – 2 Point Hospital.

I played a lot of Theme Hospital in my youth. Like, a loooooot of Theme Hospital. Its quirky humour, charming graphics, and involving gameplay kept me coming back for more, even though I wasn’t very good at it. It’s one I came back to again and again and had only recently been wishing that someone would update. So the recent announcement that some of the old Bullfrog team were getting 2 Point Studios [www.twopointstudios.com] together and would soon be releasing 2 Point Hospital, a spiritual successor to Theme Hospital. The panel introduced some members of the team and their mission statement.

Good news everybody, 2 Point Studios want to re-imagine sims and be the home of “little people games”. For those who loved Populous, Powermonger, Theme Park, and Theme Hospital, this is excellent news. Personally, I’ve felt the industry has been lacking good games in this genre for some time. From what the announcement trailer has shown, and the gameplay footage shown at the Weekender, the game is looking fantastic. The graphics are clean and colourful, looking great from a distant overview, right down to fully zoomed in; the interface is simple and clear; and for those familiar with TH, it’s looking like everything we would want from a successor.

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One of the main draws of TH for me was the wacky afflictions which patients could come in with. Bloaty head – a massively swollen head that needs to be popped and lightly re-inflated to normal size, slack tongue – a huge lolling tongue that personally I’d just learn to live with for… reasons, and invisibility to name a few. 2PH has new conditions all of its own. Including light headedness – waking up to find your head is now literally a lightbulb which will need to be unscrewed and replaced with a new head, and mummification – wandering, bandaged horrors that need to be popped into a casket, and have their coverings unwound. The devs announced that the final game will be filled more of these punny illnesses for you to cure with unusual and entertainingly animated equipment. Do try not to get embarrassed at people seeing your skeleton when passing through the x-ray machine.

I was excited before, seeing this at the Weekender and nothing I saw did anything to lessen that. It’s looking great and I’m very hype. Devs are not yet ready put an exact date for release, but my body is ready just as soon as they are ready to put it out.

2 Point Hospital will be available on Steam at some point in 2018.

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Pleasant surprise of the show – Guns of Icarus Alliance

I’ve not played GoI for some time. I got quite into it for a while, but I just didn’t have the time and too many other things that ran better on my PC (To be fair, the PC I was using at that time was junk and GoI just chugged on it).

This new game is very much more of the same first-person, steampunk/dieselpunk multiplayer, airship crew simulator. Take to the skies and battle rival crews in huge areas. Take the high road, or sink as low as you can and into clouds to avoid detection, then sneak up on your enemy. Take on specific roles as gunner, engineer or pilot – though anyone can do any job in a pinch even put out the occasional fire.  The original game featured 7 magnificent airships, with Alliance adding a further six to date. Each is differently manoeuvrable and having varying amounts of guns and armour.

Alliance adds more than just new ships and enhanced graphics to the original 2012 release. Developers, Muse Games are very excited that they have successfully integrated cross-platform play with Windows, Mac, Linux, and PS4. While your account can’t be moved from platform to platform, you can play with your friends, without problems, regardless of which system they’re using. Additionally, faction war gameplay lets crews to earn war effort for their faction, which in turn allows them to take over or defend pieces of land on the map. There’s time in lobby to strategize and plan for the war effort, but if that’s not your thing, you can always set up a private game and have it out with your friends.

Alliance also sees the game ported to a newer version of Unity, which has allowed them to improve enemy AI. Staff at the booth told me a great story about one of the devs loudly complaining, as they believed someone in the office was picking on them. It later turned out to be an AI player that they’d upset.

So gather your crew, inflate your balloon, and set sail to the skies to fight your enemy. For the good of [insert preferred faction] because you’re the best and most right, obviously.

Guns of Icarus Alliance is available on Steam and Humble Store

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Game of the Show – Basingstoke

I’ve played a few of Puppy Games creations. They’ve mostly been fun and engaging updates on classic games with a unique art style that is instantly recognisable if you’ve played any of their stuff. Even their most fearsome enemies have a certain adorable look about them. Like a hangry loved one on a rampage. Speaking of hangry, what monster encapsulates that idea better than zombies (phew, think I landed that segue with no problems). This brings us to Basingstoke. Well, it’s Basingstoke, but not as you know it. Unless you know it to be on fire and the residents to be rather bitey. In this case, I’m referring to, the terminally British isometric roguelike zombie survival game that makes me crave a strawberry Cornetto.

“But Jane, everyone’s tired of zombie games. They’re so dead.” Well friend, unless you sever the head or destroy the brain, only the crappy, asset flippy, BS zombie games are going to fall to something like market saturation (also, your pun is bad). On the other hand we have this, which is beautiful, charming, and wonderfully fun.

The graphics are typical for the studio, simple, stylish and cute, with excellent lighting effects.  It’s not often I get to see road signs, traffic cones, keep left bollards, and ridiculous helmeted police officers that match those I see every day, in the videogames I play. That’s because so many games are set in the US. However, it’s these simple pleasures that first drew my eye to this game.

Sneak around post-apocalyptic Basingstoke to gather all the materials you can, avoiding the cute and dopey looking enemies. Items can be crafted from the materials you find to either directly attack the shambling horde – like a pool cue or pepper spray. Other items, such as a kebab can be thrown to try and draw the attention these ghoulish creatures from your delicious bod (I’ve been out drinking in Croydon on a Friday night and can attest that this does in fact work).

Apart from the shambling undead, I got to see some of the fast and vicious monsters. And by “see” I mean, I ran away as fast as possible, flailing and hurling sausage rolls to try and distract them. They may be adorable but those teeth aren’t to be trifled with… unless there’s a trifle to be found or crafted somewhere and used to temporarily blind them. Then I would maybe consider that as a last resort.

Once you’ve looted everything that takes your fancy and found the key item, you can make your way to (temporary) safety at the exit to the area. The end of the first section allows you to escape to The Red Lion pub, and part of me hopes there will be an option to stay there and wait for it all to blow over, shoot some pool and listen to Queen on the jukebox like a super quick, waiting for the phone call to end, Far Cry 4 alternate ending.

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For the event, they had all the current classes unlocked, with each character having varying starting equipment. I had a quick look at the office worker, police officer, and tourist – who gets a distracting polaroid camera and a GPS that guides you to the level exit. Each is beautifully designed, and I can’t wait to spend more time with them, waking up in strange toilets, in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Basingstoke’s areas are a mix of prefab and procedurally generated areas, to make for more variety and replayablity. I’ve only been to Basingstoke once, but if this game is accurate, I’ll have to go again, and be surprised it seems.

Not going to lie, of all the things that I’ve fallen in love with, the loading screen was the most surprising. It’s a set of temporary traffic lights and one of those “When red light shows wait here” signs, with an adorable zombie in a hard hat and hi-vis jacket. As the level loads, the lights change. I have no idea why this charms me so much, but there it is.

You can play it right now by supporting the Puppy Games Patreon for as little as $5.  Or wait until March 30th for the Steam release How’s that for a slice of fried gold?