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The Weekly Playlist: fantasy and violence bring us together. And XCOM, still


We gained an hour this weekend, giving us a scraping of extra time to throw at games/sleep/ever-threatening essay deadlines and with the only major release this week being Hotline Miami its given us a chance to spend our time on games other than XCOM and Dishonored. Well, except for Jeremy, he insists on filling our list with the populist games over and over. And would we be so petty as to hold that against him?

Paul Dean: The Witcher 2

Geralt of Rivia has been waiting patiently on my hard disk for about three months now, while so many other games have come and gone, and now it’s a great pleasure for me to finally have the time to sink myself into this big, dirty, scrappy and thoroughly nasty RPG.

The first Witcher game was so much of what I’d always wanted from RPGs and yet so rarely got to enjoy. It’s not just the maturity, the grittiness, the ugliness of the world that the series depicts that works for me, but also how it illustrates that so much of what is fundamental to RPGs would make for a very nasty experience. So many adventurers either are (or are at risk of becoming) unpleasant people doing unpleasant things.

Just what kind of a person are you if you spend your time wandering from town to town, solving most of your problems by killing things, taking great pleasure from the gradual increase of your murderous and manipulative skillset? What sort of things would you see? What choices would you make? How many of your decisions would be easy ones and how many would have unforeseen and possibly far-reaching consequences? Would people really celebrate you, or would they fear you and, in time, who or what would be able to stand up to you? The Witcher games feel right to me, examining the genre the same way that Watchmen examined superheroes.

That said, Geralt could’ve turned out much nastier than he is, though I still have much of The Witcher 2 to play through and there’s still plenty of time for him or his friends to fall (further) from grace.

Nick Wilson : Guild Wars 2

I have to say ArenaNet know their stuff when making holiday events in MMO’s. Out of all the MMO’s I would be playing, the original Guild Wars would be the one to take priority. Now I’m playing the critically acclaimed sequel, and again ArenaNet have shown why I’ll be making Tyria my fantasy world of choice this Halloween. The event is currently in its second phase right now, which has squashed any worries from the underwhelming first phase. Everyone is joining in the festivities which makes me wonder what is happening to all those dynamic events out there.

My favourite addition so far has to be the Mad Kings Clocktower, It’s one of the most infuriating jumping puzzles out there. Regardless, I love the challenge even with threatening to quit the game on multiple occasions.

Phase three begins today at 19:00 GMT and is going to be the finale of the event. If I was you Iwouldn’tmiss this for the world as it sure is going to go out with a bang. Trust me.

Rob Zacny: Fallen Enchantress

It’s likely to be a busy weekend for me, so while I have a stack of games I want to play, Fallen Enchantress is probably going to monopolize my free time. It’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. My initial impression was one of boredom and disappointment, and I had a hard time motivating myself to continue with it.

Then something clicked and I spent an entire day on one particularly successful campaign. I started to see how different parts of the game fit together, and how decisions I’d questioned suddenly made a bit more sense. More importantly, I was just having fun fighting border wars, sending heroes and armies out into the wasteland to conquer new resources, and fine-tuning my city management to meet all my needs.

Right now I’m in a war with all the “evil” aligned nations in the game, and due to the vagaries of my spawn position, my empire is nothing but a long, single-axis row of cities running along a north-south coastline. It’s almost impossible to defend and I’m badly outnumbered, so naturally I’m attacking with everything I have. Casualties are enormous, but I just took one of my enemies’ key research centers, and now I’m hoping to use my economic power to rush another army into the field before they can rebuild. It’s exciting stuff, and I’m quite looking forward to seeing if I can manage to save this game.

Jeremy Peel: XCOM Enemy Unknown

Early this year, XCOM series originator Julian Gollop was worried about this new Firaxis game he kept hearing about. He was totally reasonable in his concern, too – he’d spent an entire 20 years building the genre, and thought he saw Firaxis making mistakes only somebody with his experience knew how to navigate. And they were making mistakes with his baby.

I play XCOM: Enemy Unknown now, and I think of Julian Gollop. I try to imagine how he must feel playing it too. Because on PC at least, it’s all there – the grids, the isometric camera, the invisible horrors in the darkness. What’s more, the elements Firaxis have streamlined show they really know their subject material.

There’s the cover system, for one thing. In the original game, there was no surefire way of parsing the environment and the benefits it might offer. Who but the dedicated men and women who wrote UFOpaedia knew whether it’s shrewder to park yourself behind a balsa wood barn or in front of a window in a farmhouse, for instance?

Firaxis have made cover as explicit and simple as possible – a three point scale of protection. And now I never want to go back to the confusion of balsa wood and brick-houses. I never again want to manually disembark my squad of ten from the landing craft (was there ever a right way to do that?), or re-equip my soldiers before every new mission.

XCOM improves on greatness by ironing out its most irksome creases. In that, the new Enemy Unknown actually reminds me most of Julian Gollop’s own Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars on 3DS. It really is the sort of game a Gollop might make, given the time and funds. And I hope that he can see that.

Julian Benson: Hotline Miami

I like a lot of things about Hotline Miami but the only thing that stays in my mind is GO TO CAR.

Each level is made of three parts. You’re woken in your drab, messy apartment by a phone call. It tells you in a coded message to go a building and kill everyone in it. That’s part one, the set up. The second part is the actual action, you working through the building brutally murdering every inhabitant. Driven by the dirty lo-fi, dark disco soundtrack.Dying a hundred times before you finally brain that last white-suited thug with a crowbar. As soon as their head cracks, the music switches, mid note, to a calm synth tune.


The instruction flashes on the screen and you need to walk back through the building, passing every dismembered body to get to the car you rode in on. That’s part three.

It sticks because Dennation know how to do an ending. Level complete plates areshit. They keep your brain going at one speed, like a metronome, not letting you to stop for a moment to reflect: level one and two and three and four. What GO TO CAR does isit makes you change pace, halt for a moment before doing onto the next part of the game. Look at the level that when you started killed you time and again, it lets you look back and see from where you’ve come.

You realise you can’t even remember the order in which you killed these pixel people. You can’t remember your route through the building. The bodies don’t form a trail of murder, they make a mess. You were a beast of reactions as you went forward, now going back, your mind can actually engage, actually see what you did.

Buy it. It’s fantastic.