Rezzed: The Show Floor (Part Two)

Here comes part two of my look at the games on the Rezzed show floor. It’s below. Yep, right there.

Antichamber:

Antichamber‘s been around for a long time, and apparently it’s finally getting a proper release this year. It’s a first-person puzzle game where things don’t really work as you’d expect them to. Walk round a corner, then retrace your steps and you’re likely to find yourself in a completely new location. All kinds of objects in the world operate according to their own bizarre, unknowable logic.

Placards found throughout the game give you deliberately obtuse hints about how to progress in that area, and if something is stumping you it’s always easy to retreat to the hub and try your luck at another puzzle. It’s interesting stuff, certainly, and some of the puzzle solutions are very clever, requiring you to actively reject what the game says it wants you to do in order to succeed. But the problem I kept running up against was that the crazy dream logic of  Antichamber often clashed harshly with the puzzle-solving nature of the game. It must be extremely hard to make puzzles that play around with non-Euclidean space and standard ways of thinking without those puzzles becoming frustrating and non-arbitrary. Sometimes in Antichamber I only managed to progress through trial-and-error random actions and movements, and often I became completely stuck, quite confident that no amount of real-world logic could make me understand the odd system I was grappling with.

Hopefully the finished game overcomes this problem, but even if not this is definitely a very clever game. It just might be clever more for its ideas than for its execution. And it might be too clever for its own good at times.

Borderlands 2:

I enjoyed Borderlands, but when I looked back on it I wasn’t sure what, if anything, was so special about it all along. Sure, it had shooting, driving, and a deep, varied loot system, but I’m not sure it all came together into a good, coherent final product. So I’ve been sceptical about Borderlands 2, and after playing the demo for a minute or two I realised I wasn’t going to have a Far Cry 3-style conversion. After leaving the demo booth after around fifteen minutes I felt like I did after finishing the original Borderlands years ago: “I’m pretty sure that was fun.” Admittedly I was only given a relatively small chunk of content to play around with – a single map with some simple ‘go here and kill/find/fix this’ missions, but despite the numerous ideas and mechanics on show nothing about it stood out as particularly special.

It was fun. It was fun playing co-op with random strangers. It was fun shooting people and avoiding getting shot. I didn’t get a chance to see the inventory, skill, or loot systems but I imagine they’re pretty fun too. But it didn’t grab me at all, even if there was nothing about the game that I could point to and say “There! There’s the problem.”

McPixel:

Of all the games at Rezzed this one was the hardest to pigeonhole, despite there also being a game called Drunken Robot Pornography playable on the show floor. In McPixel you’re placed in a small stage with twenty seconds to stop a bomb from exploding. Clicking on things in the environment will make you interact with them, and it’s impossible to know what will happen when you do so. You might cover a bomb in ketchup and swallow it or attach giant dentures to a man’s leg. If you fail to stop the bomb the whole stage explodes and you’re moved onto the next.

There really is no logic to McPixel’s puzzles, and for the first few minutes with the game I was just confused, eventually stumbling across the solution to each stage by chance alone. Initially I thought this was all a problem. But no, it’s why McPixel is great. The game quickly becomes an experience of joyfully clicking around, watching something insane and unexpected occur, seeing the bomb explode, and moving on. And there’s no frustration when you keep failing to figure out a way to defuse a bomb, because every way of failing (and there are many in each stage) is genuinely hilarious. As I played a crowd of people built up around me, every one of us laughing as I threw a man out of a moving train or jumped into an active volcano. The game’s out now, so I’m going to buy it and have a longer look as soon as possible.

I’m calling it now – McPixel is the RUNNER UP FOR GAME OF THE SHOW

Hotline Miami:

This is it. The kind of game that you don’t know exists, then you see it flashing like a seizure on a screen in the corner of your eye. Then you look at it and can’t look away again. It’s the first commercial game from indie developer Jonatan Söderström (known as Cactus), maker of fascinating weird, alienating games like Mondo Agency, Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf, and the horrific, incredible Norrland

It’s a brutal, surrealistic top-down shooter set in 1980s Miami, and from its first moments the game is less an assault on than a indiscriminate carpet bombing of the senses. Powerful, hypnotic music blares into your headphones and garish colours flood the screen. Your task in each stage is to clear the building of its mobster inhabitants while avoiding your own death – something that comes easily and fast and without warning. The first time I beat a man to the floor and slowly worked about stoving in his head I felt extremely uncomfortable, and the game continues to ratchet up the violence, and this uncomfortable feeling, throughout.

It’s an amoral, gruesome world and it’s handled with stunning finesse.  This isn’t videogame violence to get up in arms about. It’s not even Saw or Hostel – it’s A Clockwork Orange or American Psycho. In full knowledge that I’m going to sound like a bit of a twat here, it’s artful violence. And though it’s married to a tense, tactical shooting game it never feels unsettling in a way it shouldn’t. And the brutal combat, moving from room to room and trying to work out the order in which you’re going to take people out, is effortlessly compelling in its own right. But the detached, almost misanthropic atmosphere of the game makes it something more than just compelling action.

It was clear to me as soon as I played Hotline Miami, on day one near the start of the day, that it’d take a lot to topple it as my game of the show. And by the end of the weekend it was clear that nothing had even come close. I’m delighted that so many sites, Rock Paper Shotgun and Eurogamer included, named it game of the show. And there’s really no doubt that I agree: Hotline Miami is, almost without competition, the HARUSPEX GAMES OFFICIAL GAME OF THE SHOW.

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