It's the weekend! A time to reflect, rest, and play. Here's what we have been playing, and what we will be playing for the rest of the weekend.
Tim Edwards: Planetside! 2!
Just stunning. I’ve been waiting years for Planetside to be remade, and I just assumed it would never happen. But it’s here, right now. I can just press a button and log in. Amazing!
Anyway, I’m training myself in the Reaver, the New Conglomerate’s VTOL right now. I’m basically a bit rubbish, but getting better. My kills mostly come from hits on other aircraft who have exactly the same reaction I do when being shot at. They get scared. Then panic. Then crash into the nearest tree/mountain/enormous science fiction terrarium.
What’s interesting is how ad hoc it all is.
The other night, I joined up with a phalanx of about a dozen tanks as they left the NC warp-gate and marched up the hill. On the way, they picked up a few AA Maxes. By the time we reached the front-line, we had a hefty contingent of AA, tanks, and five or six vanguards, all buzzing around. It wasn’t planned, or co-ordinated - it just happened. The Vanu didn’t have a hope.
It’s put me in the mood for more organised sport. I got a real kick from running a guild in WoW, but don’t have the time for that now. But, I figure a few nights of platoon level fun-times is easy to arrange. Who wants in?
Steve Hogarty: Kerbal Space Program
I've been doing my usual trick of being absolutely backwards and playing old things rather than new things. So forget Planetside, forget Guild Wars, I've been sending tiny green dudes into space in Kerbal Space Program. It's a physics-based, rocket building, space exploration sandbox that allows you to snap together dozens of different components to create a multi-stage rocket of your own design.
It's still in beta, so there's not much guidance on offer here, but the moon (or Mun, in Kerbal's world) is an obvious first target. Thing is, KSP is an accurate enough representation of space flight that just getting a ship into orbit is a huge challenge in itself, never mind touching down on another world. You need enough thrust to escape the Kerban atmosphere, a means of safely detaching your spent solid fuel boosters, decent second stage liquid fuel thrusters to control your ship in space - everything you add increases the weight of your craft too, and so the amount of thrust needed to lift it off the pad.
Every failure (and subsequent dead astronaut) has you crawling back to the drawing board, adapting and updating your rocket’s design until it's slightly less likely to explode on the launchpad. Each successfully launched ship is persistent, too, so you can admire your fleet of orbiting spacecraft from the safety of your tracking station. I've only just managed to put a crew on the surface of Mun. Now I'm trying to build a ship capable of bringing them home.
So vote for Kerbal Space Program. Votes, is that what we're doing? I've no idea.
FTL: Faster Than Light
It may have only come out on Friday, but I was one of those insane people who reckoned it would probably be pretty good when it was being Kickstarted, and I laid down COLD HARD MONEY all that time ago. So I’ve had access to the game as it’s evolved, playing the different betas, watching new alien races get added, and it generally grow from a somewhat minimalist roguelike into something that just burgeons with things to do, and random events to stumble upon.
Just today I’d managed to ram five sweaty Ensigns into my Kestrel Class ship, which is one more than I needed for the subsystems, so Ensign Andov got put on repair duty. Only the problem was I was moving through Mantis territory, which is full of dangerous bug-like aliens that like to board your ship. And because they’ve got razor-sharp claws for arms, they’re a bit better at close combat than my guys.
So they’d board me, and every time I’d have to retreat to the med-bay, so that my men were being healed as they fought. The problem was the only way to get the fight to the medbay was to depressurise everywhere else, forcing the Mantis boarders to run to my medbay just for a gasp of air before they suffocated. So each time they boarded, I was having to vent my oxygen into space.
Which is all well and good until your O2 room gets hit, and your ability to pump fresh air back into those rooms is gone. Cue half my crew dying to over-exposure to vacuum while trying to repair it.
The third died trying to put out a fire once we got oxygen back in the ship, which left a single crewmember to pilot and manage the ship. Which is really not the situation you want to be in. Ever. And when pirates decided to board, he was all but done for, except I’d upgraded my doors so they were tens of inches thick, and decided to vent everything but the cockpit.
I survived one system after that my limping wreck of a ship blown apart by Rebel forces, but the idea of a guy strapping himself into the one room with air left in it while all the boarders choked on nothing made me smile. That’s FTL.
All right, this might seem a strange one, but bear with me, okay? Spelunky, that beautiful indie platformer with random level generation, is my game of the week. No, no, it’s not the XBLA remake of Spelunky, it’s the original Spelunky, from three years ago. So, uhm, exactly how much space do I have to talk about how much I love this game? We could be here a while.
It’s a horrible addiction for me and I’m afraid that all my friends talking about how much they’ve enjoyed the XBLA remake has caused me to relapse, and relapse badly, relapse in a foul, grouchy mood. Do you know what they say when they tell me they’ve been playing? They say “Oh, I reached the ice caves last night! Oh, I managed to get some climbing gloves! Oh, one of those man-eating plants got me!”
Do you know what I do when hear these stories? I sneer.
I feel like a Vietnam vet hearing about people’s paper cuts. Sure, I know the XBLA version is different, I know it’s tighter and it’s tougher, but I’d explored every corner of those ice caves before you even knew what they were. I’ve massacred all the shopkeepers in the the black market more times than I can count, and if those man-eating plants are still getting you? I’m sorry, you need to step up your game.
I must’ve played for at least ten hours this week. I play when I’m not writing, I play when I’m thinking about writing, sometimes I play it when I am writing. I play when I have a spare half hour and then I find I’ve lost sixty minutes. It’s endlessly inventive, it’s always challenging, even for someone like me who can boast a high score of almost $1.3m and, for my money, it’s one of the best PC indie games ever. It was the game that got me into indie, and for that I’ll always love it.
If you’re a PC gamer and you’ve never tried Spelunky, you need to do so now. You’ve no reason not to, since it’s free and it makes no demands of your PC. Just don’t come back here and say to me “Oh, I managed to kill a flying saucer without getting hurt!” Kid, you ain’t seen nuthin’.
Nick Wilson: Planetside! 2!
I think it's the scale that has my jaw hitting the floor. Three factions, one continent (soon to be two) and hundreds if not thousands of players all marching to the frontlines.
Like Tim I’m quite smitten with flying the various machines of death the New Conglomerate have in their arsenal. I’ve sunk the majority of my certification points into the Galaxy, huge drop ships that can carry entire squads from skirmish to skirmish. If you want to assault a base you’re gonna want a Galaxy. When they land they can deploy to receive increased shields which essentially makes them immovable until the enemy brings enough considerable firepower to dislodge you.
But what really gives me goosebumps is when I get to look at my surroundings while traveling to our various destinations.
In my cockpit I look to my left, two Reavers are on my left wing read to fend off any enemy VTOL’s that want to ruin our day. I look below and I see a squadron of tanks ahead of me, keeping the enemy anti-air suppressed. Just on the cliff on my right I see a small group of Infiltrators, spotting possible threats that I wouldn't otherwise see.
The dropping of said jaw comes from one simple fact. All of the above is being done without any prior planning or knowledge. Everyone knows the objective, and they know exactly what they need to do. Awesome.
Joe Robinson: L.A. Noire
To be fair, I could have also said Planetside 2 as it is a fantastic game. But since Nick and Tim have already bummed it to death I thought I might as well pick something else – you see I’ve finally gotten around to playing L.A. Noire.
I bought it mainly because it was high time I actually played one of the most critically acclaimed and unique games of the past few years, but also because I knew it would be a game that my girlfriend could actually get behind.
She being a closet nerd, I usually just get ridiculed for my gaming habits (whilst she secretly plays Portal and Facebook games like Magicland *shudders*) but with L.A. Noire’s unique approach to gameplay, and with the fact that she’s actually studied Forensics at University, I figured it would be a great game for us to play together.
I was right. Sort of. We are having a blast, and she’s much better at spotting who’s telling the truth and who’s lying… the only problem is she’s terrible at, well, actually playing the game. She can’t drive, she keeps forgetting what the controls do, and the shooting segments just make her panic… plus I’m being a bit of a perfectionist and insist on trying to get all the questions right, so there’s a lot of repetition, a lot of shouting and frustration but, ultimately, a lot of really, really good times.
If you’re like me and you’ve yet to give L.A. Noire a go, you should definitely try and rectify that – see which non-gaming family members/spouses you can get involved!
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead is a fantastic game, as Steve says, a masterpiece, but it’s also made me do something no other game has: I don’t want to talk about it.
In my mind, I’m the only person in the world who’s experienced that story. All the decisions I made, and their effects, is the single outcome, the only narrative. The moment I talk to anyone about it and hear what they did instead, that illusion is shattered. I don’t want to know who they have in their party because then it might mean there was someone who I left to be chomped on that could have been saved.
So I’ve found myself recommending it to everyone - speaking of which, have you played The Walking Dead, it’s fantastic - but immediately hushing up and not saying anything about the game.
Oh, one thing I will say, when the zombie apocalypse comes I make terrible choices and if you value your limbs you should steer well clear of me.