You’ve Got the Love: 6 Upcoming Games From #EGX2017

Last week, I spent Friday and Saturday at EGX. It’s the biggest games event of the year in the UK with blockbuster publishers such as Ubisoft, Square Enix, SEGA, and more set up alongside the varied and exciting indie contenders. Live national eSports tournaments are broadcast and talented cosplayers enjoy the spotlight all crammed into Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre (NEC). I came, I saw, and I played some really excellent games from odd gems to triple-A giants. Here are six of my favorite upcoming releases from the festival. I hope you find something that catches your eye, too!

Etherborn

What’s it like? A mind and gravity bending puzzle platformer that offers challenging and rewarding gameplay, supplemented by a meditative soundtrack.

Etherborn is not only gorgeous to play, but watching it over someone’s shoulder is similarly captivating as the glowing figure traverses low-poly ethereal environments. At the beginning, there is a bit of trial and error to understand where gravity lies, but as the puzzles become increasingly intricate, it’s a quietly gratifying experience. It’s never punishing – in fact, I really appreciated the beam of light underneath the character, as it shows where you’ll land and enables you to quickly rectify a mistake. Spinning the cubic levels around really showcases every angle of Altered Matter’s achievements, and it’s like the player enjoys an integrated photo mode as a tourist to these dreamy worlds.

Fans of Monument Valley, Proteus, and Portal will feel absolutely at home in Etherborn.

When’s it out? 2018.

Continue reading “You’ve Got the Love: 6 Upcoming Games From #EGX2017”

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‘The Arcana’ Developers Cast a Spell Over Fans & We’re So Here for It

When it comes to mainstream gaming, being late to the party is not usually considered a badge of pride. Although attitudes are thankfully shifting, it can sometimes feel as though the flurry of initial engagement has waned for players who discovered an older title too late. Reviews, livestreams, Easter eggs, entire walkthroughs of each and every ending — they’re published with such immediacy that the impact of all this content can bleed into the expectations for a game way before the player has even reached for a controller.

By contrast, The Arcana welcomes latecomers with a gripping episodic storyline, enchanting setting, and gloriously enthusiastic community of fans. And that fandom is still going strong for one very important reason.

The development company is Nix Hydra, which is based in L.A. and founded by women. They are committed to “making magical, colorful, bold products for young women and anyone else traditionally ignored by the gaming industry,” as per their Kickstarter. One of the team’s latest ventures is The Arcana, which is an otome-inspired visual novel for iOS and Android that flirts with a sinister mystery beneath its rich illustrations.

The player character is an adept magical apprentice, honing their natural gifts in fortune-telling. The wandering, secretive Asra is your mentor, and while packing up to leave on another mysterious journey, he entrusts his prized tarot deck to you. Whether you challenge Asra’s repeated disappearances or defer to his judgement, he becomes dreamy and melancholy, tangled up in thoughts of words he should have said.

Continue reading “‘The Arcana’ Developers Cast a Spell Over Fans & We’re So Here for It”

‘Even the Ocean’ Offers a Message of Hope When We Need It Most

Even the Ocean

[Author’s Note: I was generously given a key to the game by the developers.]

Three years in the making, Even the Ocean is the artistic successor of Anodyne, and the result of talented developers Joni Kittaka and Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan. The protagonist, Aliph, is a young power plant technician who is subjected to a mysterious event that places her on the frontlines of an energy and environmental crisis. It probably takes about ten to fifteen hours to complete both gameplay and narrative, but this estimate could vary wildly due to the multitude of features.

Checking the options against the moody backdrop of the opening menu offered settings to turn off flashing or shaking scenes, change controller mapping, player immortality, and more. In addition, there are narrative and gameplay style choices. Whether people prefer to just hear the story, want to speedrun, or give the default way a try, there’s a preference for all kinds of players. Personalization of playstyle is paramount.

Even the Ocean’s primary gameplay mechanic is a double-edged sword. To complete the levels, a balance of light and dark energies must be maintained and manipulated to access areas, up and down, left and right. Energy is radiated from mists, plants, and ghosts — to name but a few sources — and these energies permeate everything in the world. Everything has its place on the continuum, and the balance is Aliph’s life bar. Exceed too much light or dark energy, and she will die.

Undoubtedly, it’s a challenging platformer, and perfecting a particularly foxing puzzle is very satisfying. The levels are varied and constructed with an admirable attention to detail, and save points are sprinkled sufficiently. Some instances of leaping and sliding and timing are a little ornery, but there is an option to turn on helper blocks if you’re stuck. The fusion of platforming with the romantic and atmospheric soundtrack makes for an introspective playthrough.

Continue reading “‘Even the Ocean’ Offers a Message of Hope When We Need It Most”

You Should Probably Skip ‘Watch Dogs’ Before Playing ‘Watch Dogs 2’

Watch Dogs 2
Our hero. The blood on his hands usually isn’t literal.

Watch Dogs 2 (or WATCH_DOGS 2, as it’s stylized) is coming out on November 15, so if you’re among those preparing for the launch with its selfie reveal app, you might be wondering if it’s necessary to play the first game to get the full experience. My answer to that? No, not really. I’d even personally recommend against it, because there are lots of problems with the original both in terms of story and gameplay, but especially in story.

Spoilers ahead (some major).

The main carryover from the first game is DedSec, a group of rebel hackers who really love their skull motifs. While DedSec is the main focus of the sequel — and also more keen on branding than ever — they barely factor into the original game at all. They’re out there, they’re watching, and they’re even nominally represented by one of your hacker accomplices, but they’re ultimately inconsequential.

Despite what its title implies (y’know, who watches the watch dogs … particularly in the fully networked surveillance state that is the game’s backdrop), Watch Dogs is mostly about one man’s quest for revenge. That man is Aiden Pearce — perhaps one of the most unlikable video game protagonists ever written. Everything about his demeanor suggests Ubisoft was aiming for the cool lone wolf type, but overshot and depicted the other type of lone wolf: the type neighbors inevitably describe as a “nice, quiet man” before adding they never dreamed him capable of such terrible things.

But the terrible things in Watch Dogs don’t begin and end with Aiden. One of the game’s most prominent gameplay elements — apart from hacking almost everything in the world — is the ability to scan any person in sight. By hacking into Chicago’s Central Operating System (CTOS), Aiden’s phone can bring up anyone’s age, occupation, income, and a random fact about them. The tidbits vary wildly and can reference everything from nationality to sexual peccadilloes. They can also out an NPC as HIV positive, asexual, or trans — all traits that frequently lead to real-world harassment.

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Blanket Fort Chats: Boosting the Games We Love

Analogue: A Hate Story
Analogue: A Hate Story

Blanket Fort Chats” is a semi-regular column featuring women and nonbinary game makers talking about the craft of making games. As “Blanket Fort Chats” nears its one-year anniversary, we’re doing a bit of a retrospective. In past Q&As, we’ve asked folks which games they think have pushed the boundaries of the medium. In this week’s post, we’re going back into our archives and highlighting these very games.

Analogue: A Hate Story & Hate Plus by Christine Love

Tanya Kan: “In visual novels, there’s nothing that captures my imagination as much as [these games]. Christine Love has woven political intrigue with heartfelt stories in a wonderful mystery. She has also managed to include some comedic turns in a broader melodramatic story, which is no easy balance of tone and pacing.”

Antichamber by Alexander Bruce

Diane Mueller: “I have an appreciation for games that have come out lately that force the player to un-learn typical game conventions. Antichamber attempted to do this in the same way — changing areas when the player looked away, making the player walk backwards to progress, and such.”

Bastion by Supergiant Games

Tanya Kan: “[This] hit all the right notes: a resounding sense of adventure, a tinge of regret lost to the passage of time, and a lore that is intensely and uniquely its own.”

The Beginner’s Guide by Everything Unlimited

Vaida Plankyte: “I absolutely love The Beginner’s Guide. It has a completely unexpected structure — a bundle of games with an overarching narrator — but it works perfectly. I love the fact that its creator focused on telling the story in a way that worked best without feeling like he needed to comply to what a traditional game is.”

Continue reading “Blanket Fort Chats: Boosting the Games We Love”

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