It's a week on and Dishonored and XCOM are still tugging at the strings of most of the team's lives. You'll find a couple of curve balls in there though
Tim Edwards: XCOM
XCOM is turning into my favourite game in years. It’s magnificent.
Some unconnected observations:
1) Naming your team is an exceptionally bad idea. When I started, I named a hotshot sniper after my wife. As you do. Unfortunately, my wife was in the room when this happened, and now she refuses to let me put her near any danger.
2) Don’t get cocky. I thought was doing pretty well until I shot down a barge. I went in with five of my best troops and a rookie. A few turns in, the rookie ran into a group of Sectoid Commanders. I was expecting the mind control. I wasn’t expecting her to also awaken a group of Mutons, a Beserker, and a crowd of Floaters. The mistake I made was thinking I could win the fight without killing the rookie. After losing all of my best squad, including a top rank sniper and heavy, I won’t make the same mistake again.
3) The economy is everything; but I’m not sure it’s quite as fun as it needs to be. There’s a very specific way to win the economic game in XCOM, that I can see: build your satellite network as rapidly as possible while teching to laser. Once you’re there, you’re probably got the firepower you need.
4) I really want a Terror From the Deep DLC campaign. I have this recurring dream where 2K smoosh the XCOM and Bioshock licenses together, leaving us fighting Big Daddys inside and outside Rapture. It would be ace, if only because if you squint a bit, a Big Daddy and a Muton look a little bit alike.
Nick Wilson: Dishonored
Stealth games have a special place in my heart. When I was young I was absolutely consumed by the universe that Thief provided. I would hazard a guess that I’ve sunk around 300+ hours across all three, not that impressive these days but back then I was truly enamored. Back to present day and I’m still waiting with baited breath for more information on Thief 4 (no not Thi4f, that’s silly).
Until then I have Dishonored, which is giving me enough nostalgia to keep me happy. I’ve recently completed the game, only on normal difficulty and slaughtering everything without mercy. I usually do that on my first playthroughs of stealth games if they offer the chance, getting it out of my system before the real thing. The real thing is a playthrough on very hard, without killing anyone, not being seen, leaving no trace where possible, using absolutely no magic and turning off the entire HUD. I’m also toying with the idea of restarting the entire mission again if I fail any of the above.
Why would I do this to myself? To me this is how Dishonored should be played, as my previous playthrough took all of eight hours to complete. I’m now on the second mission on my second playthrough and already I’m hitting the four hour mark. I’m learning so much more about the inhabitants of Dunwall and Corvo just because I’m forced to take my time. One thing that I will stress is that if you attempt this sort of playthrough, equip and use the heart as much as possible. It’s something I overlooked on my first playthrough but boy did I miss out on half the game without it. Trust me.
Paul Dean: Home
I’ve been playing a little bit of everything this week, but I think the most interesting thing to talk about would be Home.
You wake up in a strange house on a stormy night. You’ve no idea where you are or how you got there, but you do know that you need to get out. As you start to make your way left and right through the different rooms, your torch held high in the darkness, you discover that some very unpleasant things have happened here. Somewhere in the blackness behind you a door slams and you realise that this pixellated, side-scrolling adventure is actually rather spooky.
What I like about Home isn’t just the surprising amount of atmosphere that’s packed into a modest game that has only relatively simple mechanics, but also how bleak many of its choices are. Should you rifle through a drawer to see what you can find inside? Sure, why not? Then the game tells you you’ve left your fingerprints over everything. Then you find a splatter of blood across the wall. Oh, lovely. Lovely.
Jeremy Peel: Dishonored
Ever since we didn’t review Dishonored last week, I’ve had a doubt gnawing at me like a rat at a carelessly disposed corpse (seriously, hide those stiffs up high if you want to enjoy your dinner). Not about the Game of the Year thing; every daring Blink and relocated snoring guard reconfirms my rightness on that one. No. It’s that people - not least Nick, above - keep suggesting that merely by accepting the objective markers the game turns on by default, I might be playing it wrong - or at least, less enjoyably than I might.
Let’s get one thing straight first. There’s nothing wrong with using the markers, which henceforth will be referred to affectionately as Mark. In fact, I’ve spent many hours in Mark’s company. His hook has dragged me betwixt bone charm buffs, runes - essential for the acquisition and improvement of skills like time control and possession - and, eventually, the unlucky sods that have become Corvo’s targets. With Mark’s help, I’ve uncovered obscure corners of the map - some enlightening, others inspiring. I’ve better planned my approach during the hunt, knowing exactly where it is I’m approaching.
But it’s been a few days since I last turned Mark on (steady), and I’m starting to suspect that he was a concession made late in the day for the Lost and Confused rather than a core piece of Dishonored’s design. His is a perfectly noble cause, and a necessary one. Yet if you’ve been lucky enough to spend any time with the game, you’ll know that you’re also provided with a living, beating heart, which can be whipped out at any time and given a good squeeze for advice and insight (make sure you do - the game’s very best writing is contained within). Further though, it’ll shine a dim light on the location of any charms or runes in a wide radius, and beat fervently when either are nearby. The heart does Mark’s job, then, only more subtly - on call when needed, invisible when not.
As for the assassination targets, like Nick I’ve had a whole new side of the game opened up to me. To find the Pendleton twins in a Dunwall whorehouse I was forced to scope the place inside and out, before tracking down each individually via educated guesses about the place’s layout and an overheard conversation or two. This Dishonored is more time-consuming, more wildly meandering than the last, and it’s not necessarily better. But the truth is that, despite his many real virtues, I’m enjoying life even more without Mark.
Rob Zacny: Dishonored and League of Legends
I was not enjoying Dishonored as much as I thought I would until I realized something: obsessively pursuing a nonlethal playthrough was ruining the game. I was spending so much time saving progress and reloading after mistakes that I never really lost myself in the world. I never really felt suspense, either, because I was never more than a moment’s play from my last save.
I started to really get into the game when I stopped worrying so much about having “perfect” game and started rolling with my mistakes. A botched sneak attack leads to a gunbattle and swordfight in the street? So be it. Guns and swords are fun, too. What’s most fun of all, however, is just inhabiting Dunwall and forgetting about the score screen that follows each mission.
My other game this weekend is League of Legends. Attending the championship last weekend got me back into the game, and now I’m feverishly grinding bot matches to improve my skills as AD Carry. My new plan is to form an elite freelancer team, win the next championship, and retire. Once I finish up with these intermediate bots, I think I’ll be ready to show those Taipei Assassins a thing or two.
Julian Benson: Spec Ops: The Line
Hearing my character's voice devolve from spattering orders early in the game to guttural, animalistic screams in the latter half is such a simple idea, yet brilliant. There's a lot which is special about Spec Ops, the setting, the soundtrack, and the story all stand out, but everything it tries to do is captured in that simple change of register in the voice actor.
Yager question why stories in shooters have no effect on the player, why the main character goes through these games unchanged by their actions; your actions. You slaughter hundreds, thousands of enemies in games. There was an article yonks back in PC Zone where the writer tried to quantify how many pixel people they'd sent to their grave, it was ridiculous. Yet, that actions of killing never links back to us as a player, it never affects us. Do we just not care, or does the screen between us and events we engineer prevent us from connecting?
There are moments in Spec Ops where I found what I'd done very affecting. They were only glimmers but it was something that most games never come close to managing. Games are a unique medium in that we don't just witness events but have a part in them. Some designers are playing with this, the potency of this connection, and Yager are among them.
I don't think Spec Ops is perfect as a game, nor do I think it's entirely successful in its themes, but I'm happy it was made. That an attempt was made to question how we play games.