Though nearly two weeks late due to a mixture of work, illness, and a lackadaisical attitude to deadlines, I’ve brought you some observations from my time at Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Eurogamer’s inaugural PC and Indie Games show. Is Proteus a real game? Was Hotline Miami the best thing there? Did the press pass I managed to wrangle achieve anything other than making me feel an unjustified sense of importance? Find out below in the first of four articles on the show.
Rezzed was full of games, it may not surprise you to hear, and I managed to get my hands on pretty much every single one of them. The only ones I didn’t take a look at were those with lines longer than I could bear (the consistently amazing-looking Prison Architect among them) or those I ignored out of a (perhaps indefensible) prejudice against fantasy MMOs that try to catch people’s attention with chain-mail bikinis. The following is a collection of my (often tentative) thoughts on a few of the (often unfinished) games I saw.
I was sceptical of Proteus – a lo-fi game where you explore a pastoral world without direction or goal. But I had to eat my vaguely sceptical words, because the five or so minutes I spent with Proteus was extremely compelling stuff. The fields, woods, and hilltops were wonders to explore, filled as they were with constantly little surprises. For a while I followed a frog as it bounced musically along, then I got distracted by the ruins of a man-made tower. Towards the end of my session I saw a circle of odd animalistic sculptures cresting a steep hill in the distance. The sun was setting as I climbed, and as I reached the summit everything turned dark. Turning round, I saw clouds rolling in and cutting off the hilltop from the world below. All around I could only see the sky above and a carpet of clouds below. The stars started to expand and contract overhead dreamily, and comforting, ethereal music faded in. It was kind of a magical experience, and I left with a sense of peace and optimism that was later ruined by the sight of a man shooting a tiger repeatedly in the face at the Far Cry 3 booth.
A fair number of people have played Proteus and asked if it’s really a game, considering its lack of goals and clear-cut rules. Is Proteus a ‘real’ game? My answer is ‘yes’, followed by ‘obviously’. In fact, Proteus was one of my favourite games of the show. It’s a triumph of atmosphere and free-form exploration. More of this please.
hermitgame’s newest project can be summed up as follows: it’s 3D snake. But that simple description doesn’t really hold up when you start playing. The game flips between levels where you move along the outer surface of a cube and levels where you fly freely within the hollow space inside a cube. It takes a little getting used to, and its workings are kind of needlessly opaque, but there’s something extremely compelling to it. Having to keep track of where your ever-growing tail can be found along six sides of the cube, while picking up power-ups and avoiding other dangers, quickly becomes challenging. There are a few little annoyances that interrupt the flow of things, but a little testing and fixes should do a great deal before release.
I’m not sure how much there really is to qrth-phyl, and though it looks and feels absolutely great I’m guessing it might blow through its bag of tricks pretty quickly, leaving the player with nothing more than a fairly interesting 3D interpretation of snake to fall back on. Still, I can’t say for sure until I get the finished game and play around with it for longer than ten minutes.
Far Cry 3:
The demo started with a top-naked tribal woman mounting me. If I had been playing in the privacy of my home this unnecessary and childish flaunting of lady-pieces would have made me feel silly enough. But playing with tens of people standing there watching my screen was something else entirely. Fortunately, after all the sex and white-man-becoming-the-saviour-of-a-tribe-of-simple-natives, the game saw fit to actually let me play the damn thing.
And it was impressive. I wasn’t a fan of Far Cry 2 for a lot of reasons, and up until now I wasn’t particularly interested in playing the sequel. But Far Cry 3 looks like it could really be something, so long as it can keep from flashing breasts at me every twenty minutes. Abandoning the poorly-executed Heart of Darkness references of Far Cry 2, it seems to be focusing on a more surreal approach to things, with flashing, psychedelic tv screens and weird, twisted hallucinations. Plus, the constant, definitely-insane antagonist who appeared throughout was masterfully executed, both in terms of writing and voice-acting.
Some more observations: (1) Everything looked really pretty, even the sand. (2) Unlike the previous game stealth actually seemed like a viable tactic, though since the demo was so tightly scripted I don’t really want to make actual predictions about that. (3) At one point I killed two men with a bow and arrow while a tropical monkey sat there with a look of reproach. (4) As I waited for my turn I did watch someone playing the section of the demo where you have to escape from a burning building. And yes – instead of heeding the game’s warnings he slowly strolled up to a tiger trapped in a cage, aimed his gun at it for a good five seconds, then shot it repeatedly in the face.
Xenonauts is a top-down, turn-based strategy game that’s essentially an unofficial remake of the classic UFO: Enemy Unknown (known as X-COM: UFO Defense in the USA). It’s a matter of building bases, training soldiers, and fighting back against an alien invasion of earth. Like UFO, you’ll need to scan the planet for threats, research alien technology and biology, and be careful as all hell on the battlefield, since your soldiers are either this close to dying or are dead.
Unfortunately only a brief, early mission was available to play. Even so, what I saw impressed me greatly. UFO: Enemy Unknown is a truly great game broken up with lots of infuriating little design mistakes and user interface problems. And from what I saw of Xenonauts, it seems to be UFO without the bullshit. Everything seems clean, simple, and easy to understand. If the finished game can capture the greatness of UFO both on the battlefield and on the grander scale management, whilst avoid its big, stupid mistakes then it’ll make lots of people very happy, myself included.