This Sunday may well find you much like the writers of PCGamesN, burnt out, tired, and feeling the effects of 5AM clubbing. Having not crawled out of bed till well past 12, there is no question of being a productive worker. Instead the only form of activity our wasted bodies can manage is to spend many long hours in front of a computer game or two. These are the ones we've chosen, join us in their rejuvenating qualities.
Paul Dean: Holiday World of Tanks (with added fame)
If you’ve wondered where I’ve been the last two weeks, I’ve been away on holiday, putting my feet up and doing very undramatic things around the flat, things like tidying and unpacking and sorting out the last of the long-running fuss and fiddle that comes with moving home. I’ve explored the area that I live in a little more and I’ve had a chance to enjoy some of the coffee shops, the parks and even a restaurant or two. I also bought myself a laptop and now I can work anywhere that I can find wifi, so expect me to file features from all corners of the earth, something that I hope will give my work a rather windswept quality.
I’ve also been playing games, naturally, and while I told myself I’d finish some of the single-player titles that I really must get round to, my evenings still see me playing with other people and it turns out that I have some sort of addiction to playing online. Once again, I’ve found myself climbing into my tanks, but this last week something a little different happened..
After a particularly successful week where I earned a chestful of medals, I also found I was not only playing online, but on TV. This wasn’t terrestrial TV, those big backward things that you have in your living room, but the TV of the future, the streaming service Twitch TV. Wargaming’s video host, Pico Mause, was hosting a feed and inviting players to join her on the battlefield. I stepped up, closed the hatch of my tank and we drove to war together, fans watching as we brought the carnage.
It turns out I do pretty good when I’m thrust into the spotlight and I had a run of good luck, leaving the smouldering carcasses of my enemies in my wake. I also got my first taste of how it feels to be streamed online and, let me tell you, I could get used to this fame thing, the world watching as I show them all how tanking is really done.
My next stop: fame and fortune, and I don’t care who I have to kill along the way. In the game, I mean. In the game.
Tim Edwards - Lego: Lord of the Rings
I don’t think there’s a developer in the world with as finely tuned sense of what fun is as Traveller’s Tales. Their Lego games are my truly guilty pleasure: a platform game with a little bit of puzzling that can while away ten minutes or five hours at a time. They’re charming, silly, varied and playable as anything. With Lego: Lord of the Rings, they’ve developed a rare ambition, too.
Here’s what’s interesting about the games. In the Lego Star Wars series, you could see through their design ticks quite quickly: use the force to assemble a thing to get you to the next bit. Along the way, you’ll see hidden content that needs to be unlocked in the free-play mode. Easy.
But with Lego: Lord of the Rings, there’s more to it. There’s an open world, for one, in which you can explore Middle Earth at nearly your own pace. It feels like a true journey.
There’s a crafting system, allowing you to create Mithril weapons and tools.
The characters are varied and interesting: not split into force users, blasters and dark side baddies. Here, you have archers, and warriors, and midgets and dwarves and orcs and a wizard, all with their own abilities that have to be combined.
It’s technically impressive: the very first scene has you fighting with hundreds and hundreds of orcs on screen at once.
And it’s just plain fun - a weird combination of reminiscing about the films and books, all while taking the piss.
But there’s one thing I want from it.
Right now, the art of the games is in a weird place. It combines semi-natural looking (or at least, as natural as the current gen of consoles can manage) landscapes with brightly coloured Lego figurines. The Lego feels like a layer on top of a normal videogame landscape. For the next generation of Lego games, I wonder if the improved tech of the forthcoming consoles might free their artists to make something with the look and feel of kiddy toyset.
The Lego games often feel magical. I’d love them to look like Lego, too.
Rob Zacny: Saints’ Row the Third
I’m just starting to get back into gaming after an enforced hiatus, and Saints’ Row the Third has been just the ticket so far. It’s also proving to be an effective cure for my post-Far Cry 3 funk. It’s a relief to play a game that actually delights in its own gameyness, in its ridiculous violence, its artifice, its possibilities.
Saints’ Row has had me jumping of out planes and getting into mid-air gunbattles, beating zombies to death with a giant dildo, and running from a GI Joe-like occupation force in the the heart of a major city. Just the other day I met Mayor Burt Reynolds, and watched as my character gave into hero-worship and fanboyism. There is not a trace of self-loathing in Saints’ Row the Third, of thwarted artistic ambition and borderline contempt for those of us who play videogames. It’s smart enough to know games (particularly open-world games) are ridiculous, and respectful enough to trust that we know and appreciate the absurdity. It is exactly what I need in early 2013, as I recover from a hangover of self-seriousness and unearned superiority.
I’m also fascinated by how deft writing and pacing along with a judicious use of set-piece action sequences conceal a lot of the repetition that comes with open-world games. If I’m being honest, a lot of what I’m doing in Saints Row is the same from mission to mission, or the same stuff I’m doing in GTA IV. But what I remember is that mission where I was driving a pissed-off tiger around the city in a convertible, appeasing its growing fury with bootleg turns and high-speed drifts, or the time I impersonated a general to get aboard his aircraft carrier long enough to blow it all to hell. Really, what I’m doing in a lot of these is driving around or running around and shooting people. But Saints Row’s cast of oddball characters and colossal action sequences have kept it fresh even after something like thirty hours.
Jeremy Peel: The Cave
If you’re wanting to play The Cave - and I really wanted to - you’ll have to cut a path through the disappointment of other people. Lots of well-qualified people, many of them ultra-familiar with Ron Gilbert’s previous, have already given up on The Cave - and they want you to give up too. Maybe don’t, is what I’m here to tell you today. Consider this short, qualified recommendation a faint light at the other end of that field of disappointment, past the doomsaying and the stormcrowing - a note to say: it might be worth it, if you’re into this sort of thing.
Much of what isn’t brilliant about The Cave lies in its control scheme. Gilbert and team have thrown out clunky point-and-click verb interfaces, and instead cooked up a direct puppeteering-cum-platforming system. The result is something that simulates the seamless simplicity of a Limbo or a Braid, but forgets to swing by ‘intuitive’ first. Most of the frustrations of local co-op - the best way to play, if you can manage it - revolve around the confusion of who can move when and which key does what.
Now I’m a couple of hours in, and over that. The puzzles thus far have proven to be good fun, if not especially challenging. If the notorious sellotaped cat lies at one end of the traditional point-and-click puzzle design spectrum, The Cave’s navigational jigsaws lie someway up the other end of the scale. And their solutions are frequently devilish, subverting the game’s collection of playable archetypes to sometimes powerful effect.
It might be a concept that Gilbert’s been incubating for twenty years, but it’s astonishing just how closely The Cave replicates the appeal of Psychonauts - to voyeuristically explore the heads of characters you think you know and come out the other end surprised, delighted. And forgetful that the mechanics of the thing were unexceptional.
Oh, and is it ever gorgeous, in that chunkily twisted Double Fine fashion. The Cave’s mastertouch is that it treats your monitor like a glass pane propped against its world, and subjects you to a cross-section of its underground goldfish bowl environments - a fantasy archaeological site of undiscovered dragon bones and secret labs.
Don’t listen to those other guys. The Cave: you should probably play it.
Julian Benson: Super Hexagon
The past few days have been riddled with fear; I introduced my flatmate to Super Hexagon this week. The first few days were happy, we were able to talk about a game that has consumed my life for the past few months. I’d watch over his shoulder as he worked his way through the first three difficulty settings, giving him pointers when he needed them - “Switch off V-sync to make the controls more responsive”, “The first wall of the spiral can be glitched through is you enter it from the opposite direction”, “Take the staggered spiral slower, it’s easy to hammer the key too fast.” It felt good to see someone become so consumed by the game as I have been.
Then it turned sour.
I’d completed the first five difficulty settings but the final mode, Hyper Hexagonest, was proving my undoing. There was a new pattern that I couldn’t work out and the game moved too fast for me to trial techniques for navigating it. I’d been stuck for almost a month. Not passing 20 seconds. Still 40 short of completion. I’d been stuck before so I knew eventually I’d work through it. Except, now I didn’t have till ‘eventually’. My flatmate, my protege, was working through the modes faster than I had expected. He’d been watching me play and learned how to overcome the patterns, the patterns I’d slaved over to learn. This had to be it, he was stealing my techniques.
By Wednesday he had got to Hyper Hexagonest.
When he’d completed the third difficulty mode his whoops rang through the house. So loud, so arrogantly loud. I knew it wouldn’t be long till he completed the mode. I had to beat him to it. I couldn’t bear the thought of hearing those same shouts before I’d seen the end, witnessed the end of Super Hexagon.
I watched him from the doorway as he played the final mode. I watched as he, without batting an eyelid, threaded through the pattern that had caused me so much trouble. He did it again, and again. He had worked it out; what had I created? Two staggered rights, three staggered lefts. It was so simple.
I played till five in the morning on Wednesday night. His pattern worked, I went to bed sitting at 58 seconds. Two short of victory. I knew he hadn’t completed the game either. The fool had to go to labs the next day and couldn’t play through the night like me.
Thursday. This would be it.
My brain, scored with coffee and fast food, now knew the patterns by rote. I just needed the stars to align. That wasn’t working so I took two medafonil (essentially what would happen if you gave pro-plus an espresso and a shot of adrenaline). This did the trick. I started getting consistently high times, largely in the 40s. Then it all just clicked.
That'll teach a my housemates to mess with a sore loser.