The Weekly Playlist: the one where only Paul and Nick write about PC games


Sunday’s come around again, you’ve been in and out of trains and snow all weekend to meet newly born family members. Taken aback by quite how small they are you feel the need to hop on the computer and reflect while playing a game or two. Here are some that we’ve been playing this past week.

Paul Dean: Crusader Kings II

I hadn’t played Crusader Kings II for a while, partly because I knew that when I did it would once again eat large chunks of my time. That’s not just because it’s such a slow-moving strategy game, it’s also because there’s almost always something going on somewhere that you need to keep your eye on or interfere with. You’re never “finished” and able to just save the game and then turn it off. No, there’s intrigue to be had, or a war to finish, or a political problem to mop up.

The original idea was for me to get involved with the new Republic expansion and get a better sense of how different that felt to play, but so far I’ve simply sidetracked myself, once again playing as the ruler of Scotland and trying to gradually paint all of the map blue. If I could, I would take all of Ireland. For now, I’ve had to be satisfied with the Isle of Man. That is, until just the other day, when something rather strange happened.

A chance marriage saw my previous ruler wed to the Queen of Hungary, with their issue in line to inherit the thrones of both countries. Of course, you say to yourself, that won’t really happen, because the endless possibilities and overlapping complications presented by the feudal system mean that someone else is bound to be born, to die, or to marry in such a way that such a great opportunity would be lost. Half the challenge of being a ruler is fighting these people off and doing your best to legitimise your own position, regardless of how genuine it really is, by force of arms.

That didn’t happen, and with both parents dead, King John of Scotland (16, unmarried) is now suddenly in charge of a large area of land in eastern Europe across which is painted the word SCOTLAND. A fragmented England and Ireland will have to wait, because this new land is a complete mess, a mass of infighting warlords who all want their part of the old queen’s territory. My problem now is how I manage to get an entire army over there to sort things out. It’s 2,000km and the year is 1110AD.

Julian Benson: Breathalyzer Marathon

You will need:
1x breathalyzer
1x set of friends that you do not mind damaging
1x large glass; or mixing jug; or bucket
All the alcohol

Not needed but helpful:
A clear schedule for the next day

The aim of the game is simple: for all that is good and holy, don’t be the most sober person in the room.

At the start of the game all players add to the large glass. This alcoholic swill is the forfeit, the dirty pint, the incentivator. Keep it in the centre of the room (the players need to know their enemy).

Every 15 minutes all the players must take a breathalyzer test. The player with the lowest Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) reading has to drink the dirty pint. All of it. In one go.

Continue taking tests every 15 minutes until A) taxis to the club arrive B) a third of the players have vomited C) one player succumbs to alcohol poisoning.

I’m sure I should say something about drinking responsibly, so:

Wine before beer,
Feel a bit queer.
Beer before wine,
Feeling fine

Rob Zacny: Serious Physical Therapy: The Game

I’m spending a lot of time with the expansion pack to Crippling Back Pain, and I have to say it’s impressive. It sheds a whole new light on the systems in Crippling Back Pain by introducing new Diet and Exercise mechanics.

Serious Physical Therapy digs into the backstory of the original Crippling Back Pain, and reveals the existence of a progenitor species called the Sedentary Overworked Games Journalist. It’s a bit sad because we may never see this exotic and magical creature again: the Sedentary Overworked Games Journalist traveled the world from his desk chair and did tons of work using nothing but his mind and his desktop computer. Entire planets were stripped bare of gin, whiskey, and pizza during his reign. But he was no tyrant. The Overworked Games Journalist was also a soft, cuddly giant.

It turns out, however, that he was sowing the seeds of the events of Crippling Back Pain all along. Now with Serious Physical Therapy, there is a chance of successor race: the Somewhat More Fit, Active Games Journalist. But to get there, you have to do missions for the Physical Therapist and The Doctor.

Serious Physical Therapy seems at first to be less strategic than Crippling Back Pain, because you can only obey. For instance, right now I have to do about 20 sets a day of 10 special push-ups in order to, I kid you not, shove a wedge of tissue back into place along my spinal column. Just as important, I should lose some weight and so I am allowed perhaps a glass of wine per day. Most red-sauce Italian food is a distant memory. I also get to practice standing and holding different posture than I’ve ever had in my life.

But once I complete the mission tree, the game opens up and I can go back to balancing the PC gaming and craft cocktails that power Game Journo abilities against the Diet and Exercise that keep the forces of Crippling Back Pain at bay.

Jeremy Peel: Nintendo Land

The big N’s virtual parkfull of attractions doesn’t come in PC flavour but is nonetheless, cue stage gasp, what I’ve been playing. Hear me out.

What Nintendo Land does is take half a score wee games, nearly all of which riff on one or another of the company’s most famous franchises, and connect them up via a theme park hub world. There you’ll hop about among representatives from the Miiverse, jump in and out of games to earn coins, and play in a central arcade minigame for prizes to spruce up your environs.

The games themselves are varied in every sense, playing as fast and loose as a company like Nintendo is able, exploiting the sort of wild headline mechanics and aesthetics we see in the most successful PC indie games. Inevitably some emerge as favourites, like a masterfully-designed on-rails Zelda shooter, and others are forgotten. But the net result is that if somebody asks me whether or not I like Nintendo Land, I think of the Zelda game. I say yes.

We should totally copy this. Or rather, PC indies ought to.

Think of a game like Little Inferno. It features an unfathomably realistic fire-physics engine and a beautiful World of Goo-inherited art style, but is incredibly slight – a barely-there game. It struggles to justify its £7.99 Steam price and, perhaps more importantly, to justify the time it takes to purchase, download and then start up something that can only ever be an hors d’oeuvre in the perpetual feast that is cheap PC gaming.

Imagine, though, if Little Inferno formed one cute, flappy T-Rex limb of a larger hub game – a logistically-impossible collection of games by different indie developers. Think of it as the next logical step up from the Humble Bundle, a means to discover something new alongside a sure bet. You’d start up for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, sure, but maybe after one setback too many you’d take a punt on a Death Ray Manta. Or an Against the Wall. Or a Proteus.

Gather the games according to genre, shared themes or colour palettes – I’m not sure it matters. But some games – often near-perfect, refined games – are too small for their own good. They need to huddle together for warmth. They deserve a Nintendo Land.

Nick Wilson: TERA Online

With the announcement of TERA going free to play, I decided I wanted to dip my feet in. One of the biggest pull from this MMO is the active and fluid combat. It feels more like a third person RPG than a traditional MMO that we know. There’s no auto attack, you have to click to swing your weapon and stay on the move to dodge attacks. Enemies have easy to read tells to show you that they’re going to perform a big attack, giving you enough time to dodge or block.

Admittedly, the quests are as grindy as they could possibly be, only the main story quests feature engaging writing and beautiful cutscenes. However with the combat such a joy to experience, this isn’t as much as a problem as I first thought. If I have to kill ten rats, I’m actually going to enjoy killing those ten rats.

It’s still early days, I’m only level 6 and I haven’t decided on what class I want to focus on. It actually took me an entire week to figure out which race/class combinations I wanted, as well as satisfactory names that weren’t taken.

If any of our lovely readers want to jump in too when TERA goes free to play, or is already an avid player willing to show me the ropes, I’m on the EU PVP Ishara server, playing as either Rosalia or Gelta.