GamerGate has developed something of an image problem. When the movement first came into the public eye in mid-2014, it was used to frame all manner of disparate narratives. If you go on any number of popular games journalism sites, it’s likely to be labelled as some sort of hate-fuelled rampage by a bunch of sadistic internet misogynists, primarily targeting women in the games industry. Other sources refute this, claiming that the whole thing is solely about promoting ethics in games journalism. Then, of course, there are all the people who fall somewhere other than these two bounds, muddying the waters even further.
The Guardians are back once again with a new chapter of their adventures. After their painfully average first outing, things were starting to look up in episode two. The story began to branch out, the choices were more thought-provoking, and the characters, well, had more character. Sadly, this uphill trend doesn’t seem to have carried over into episode three, which ends up suffering from several of the same issues that plagued the first episode.
Season two of Minecraft: Story Mode got off to a surprisingly strong start, with some fun new characters, welcome gameplay tweaks, and an intriguing new story. It did an excellent job at feeling like an interactive cartoon, with an overall sense of light-heartedness, punctuated by just enough seriousness to keep things interesting. With the pace set, though, can episode two keep up the momentum?
Another day, another new Telltale series. It seems that every franchise is getting adapted to the tried-and-true “interactive movie” format, and with the first season of Minecraft: Story Mode, the formula was starting to show its age. The series wasn’t without its high points, but these came with tonal inconsistencies, technical problems, and some downright cringe-worthy moments. The prospect of a second season didn’t so much appear as a chance at redemption as another cheap cash grab on top of the first season’s questionable Adventure Pass. However, completely out of left field, Telltale actually seems to have made some changes with this one! The question is, are they enough?
Of all the franchises that Telltale has tackled, Minecraft seems to be the one that was met with the most scepticism. There’s no real plot in the original game; any sense of story comes from the player’s own creativity. The world is randomly-generated, with a distinct lack of memorable landmarks and locales. How can a game that amounts to a digital toy be turned into a linear, narratively-focused adventure? Well, Telltale seems determined to find out, even if it must build a new world from scratch to do it.
Randomness in games is an excellent method of promoting custom story generation. The fact that nearly everyone will have an experience that is at least marginally unique means that there’s always something new and interesting to talk about that many players may have never seen or heard of. That’s the goal with The Long Journey Home, a rogue-lite space game that channels FTL: Faster Than Light and No Man’s Sky into a challenging, galaxy-trotting, survival experience.
The titular Guardians aren’t the only thing under pressure in the second episode of the ongoing point-and-click adventure series. Following a painfully average first outing, Under Pressure is tasked not only with continuing the established story, but also with giving players a reason to care. Featuring new characters and locales alongside some far more dramatic emotional beats, is there enough here to help the series claw its way out from mediocrity?
Pulling off good horror with pixel art is difficult. Titles like Lone Survivor come to mind as somewhat recent examples of pixelated horror done right, but such games are far from the household names that Outlast, Amnesia, and even Slender have become. Part of the reason for that may be that it’s difficult to properly set up jump scares when playing from what is generally a pulled-out, third-person view; giving the player so much vision can undercut the effectiveness of such surprises. To combat this, many “bit horror” games choose the same tactic chosen by The Count Lucanor: the horror comes from the imagery and circumstances rather than their sudden presentation.
Telltale Games cut their point-and-click teeth on comedy, with Sam & Max and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People becoming early breakout hits. As time went on, though, they headed in a more drama-focused direction, with the most publicized catalyst being the first season of The Walking Dead. Its focus on life-changing decisions made under tight time constraints created an emotional rollercoaster of an experience, with a plethora of scenarios whose outcomes were a far cry from black and white.
With this pedigree behind it, Guardians of the Galaxy: Tangled Up in Blue feels like a huge step back. That’s not to say that it’s a wholly worthless experience, but it feels like a game that largely ignores the developments made by its predecessors.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life” is a quote that appeared on my new browser tab this evening. In a way, it’s appropriate. Here I am at 10 PM, realizing that I have no games ready to review, and homework that I should really be working on instead of fixing that. The insanity of the last week has left me feeling at loose ends this weekend, despite knowing full well that I have work to do. Maybe it’s warranted, though. Multiple 1-2 AM nights, one 3:30 AM night (is it even considered night at that point?), and probably something like five litres of hot chocolate. Thinking back, I barely know where half the time went. There were frustrating university assignments, final classes that seemed to last for an eternity, and the joys of crunch time on a video game development project. Yet it’s all just a blur.
On the other hand, I feel motivated. I know that I’ll never truly stop being busy, yet it seems like the worst may be over for the time being. Coming out of last week, I’ve realized that, aside from three exams and presenting the aforementioned video game, I have very little on my plate, at least from a school standpoint. In its place is something that I find far more exciting.
I mean, the title really says it all, right? But seriously, I know that it’s been a while since I last posted. If you follow me on Twitter (@Olivigarden, for those of you that don’t know…hooray, self-promotion!), you may have seen my tweets about how everything basically went to hell and back. Well, at this point in my prolific (HA) games journalism career, I feel that it’s probably in my best interests to keep my personal and professional (HAHAHA) lives separate for the most part. Unfortunately, certain events have a way of making it so that focusing on anything (including being a functional human being) is extremely difficult. I’ll avoid going into the gory details, but since February 11, I’ve been dealing with some…ahem…distressing personal circumstances. Don’t worry, nobody died. But, well, something did.
Simplicity in design is something that can be truly magical for games. Sure, it’s possible to keep things fresh with complex, deep mechanics and ever-changing rulesets. However, experiences that are equally enjoyable (or sometimes moreso) can often come from games that focus on a single idea and do it extremely well. Reigns is a perfect example of this philosophy; the gameplay amounts to little more than “rule a kingdom via Tinder”, yet it still manages to be engaging and intriguing through much of its duration.