It's the first Sunday of 2013, the first end of weekend of the New Year. We experience it every week, that panic as we know Monday brings work/school/deadlines/commitments; you need to make the most of these last few hours of empty time.
Here's how we've spent it:
Jeremy Peel: Rayman Origins
I don’t know whether it’s the pervasive subtitles, the relinquishment of comic timing to the player or what - but this medium’s grip on humour is loose at best. So what Rayman Origins does is very clever and very French. It turns to something like the bug comedy that fills up YouTube - the glitches that send NPCs flying and have their bodies contorting this way and that. It turns to slapstick.
The tools of slapstick aren’t swears or innuendo - gaming’s go-to chortle-inducers. They’re animation and sound design. Rayman Origins knows this, and makes use of Ubisoft Montpellier’s UBIArt Framework - software which more or less allows concept art to be transplanted directly into 2D games by a tiny, close-knit team. It’s a world away from sister studio Ubi Montreal’s homogenised everything - rather an elastic world of squishy, wobbly parts, of platforms with bulging eyes that follow the player across the screen.
The sound design, meanwhile, benefits from 60 years of Tom and Jerry. Rayman’s default attack is a roundhouse slap, an onomatopoeic THWACK straight outta ‘60s Batman. It’s accompanied in-game by all sorts of sonic collisions: variously FLUMPs, POKs and WHAMs.
This week I’ve remembered that Rayman Origins is best played in local co-op. Player bickering and infighting is practically encouraged, and the game becomes a cacophony of noises sourced from half-remembered children’s cartoons. And it really is very funny. Observe:
Paul Dean: EVERYTHING
I’m not even kidding. I was originally just going to write about how I moved house before Christmas and, finding myself without an internet connection for four days more than my ISP had first told me (thanks, Plusnet), I had a whole host of problems trying to play games. But then I got back online and, after that terrible withdrawal period, I played games like a madman.
My Christmas break started like this: Even though it was in Offline Mode, Steam became temperamental and kept popping up error messages, while the Enhanced Edition of Baldur’s Gate kept searching for updates and I couldn’t play my new copy of Far Cry 3 because I needed access to the internet to register for UPlay. Naturally, World of Tanks wasn’t an option and I had no way of accessing any Minecraft servers.
So instead I ended up digging into a directory that was marked “Games for later” and trying Christine Love’s two free visual novels, Digital: A Love Story and Don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story. I’d put these off for months because I didn’t really think I’d enjoy them that much (and I’m not a big fan of visual novels), but hey, it turns out Love is a very good writer and I found I was really enjoying myself as I was slowly drawn in by the characters that she had created. I think I’ll try Analogue: A Hate Story next.
When I eventually regained access to the internet (and after programs like Steam had finished going crazy with their updates) I think I overdosed. At one point I played Far Cry 3 for twelve hours straight and I can report that the game is as nuts as I am. It feels like a first-person version of Grand Theft Auto, with its living world frequently doing all sorts of ridiculous things around me. Tigers attack pirates. Friendly guerillas accidentally run down a wild goat and then swerve off the road and even off a cliff. Someone misses me with a Molotov cocktail and suddenly half the jungle is on fire. And that’s just fifteen minutes of play. Sure, I don’t think the plot is anything special and the game world is a bit too silly to be truly engrossing, but I’ve still had a lot of fun out there on that desert island.
World of Tanks, complete with a festive reskin, tore me away from my first-person overdose, and I resolved to make more progress on The Witcher 2, which I was writing about here a few weeks back. I slew quite a few monsters, but then some guy from PCGamesN called Nick started playing some game called Dota 2 with me and sharing all his tips, and that has now become something of a focus of my evenings. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of it?
I also played some Greed Corp, some Minecraft, some of the open source version of Transport Tycoon and even Master of Orion. Yes, the original Master of Orion. From 1993. It turns out it still stands up pretty well.
Anyway, in short, I played ALL OF THE GAMES as part of a massive binge and NOBODY should EVER TAKE THE INTERNET AWAY from a gamer because so much of our software now assumes that, by default, we have it available to us wherever we’re playing.
Rob Zacny: Far Cry 3 and XCOM
I always feel shy when I start repeating myself on the weekly playlist. I feel like I really should be out there sampling new games and having new insights (especially in the wake of a Steam sale), but the truth is I’m not quite finished with some old business in Far Cry 3 and XCOM.
In Far Cry 3’s case, I think I might be reaching the point where I wish I were finished. My chief disappointment with this game, I think, is how much of it ultimately becomes irrelevant. The crafting system has been dead to me for over half the game, because there simply aren’t that many items I need. I also have all the weapons and gear I need, so money has been irrelevant for some time, too. I’m enjoying hunting people for sport in Far Cry 3, making it my own personal Most Dangerous Game simulator, but even that pleasure is dulled by the obtrusive minimap and Far Cry 3’s attempts to minimize the role of skill.
If that sounds excessively negative, I’ll just note that I tend to get more frustrated with very good games that are almost great, because those flaws tend to become more grating and noticeable as I spend more time trying to enjoy the good stuff.
XCOM is another matter. I quite simply don’t want to stop playing it, and and really looking forward to trying to get a successful Classic Mode playthrough going this year. I feel like I’ve hit my stride with the right tactics for my squads, and am ready to lead my boys and girls to hell and back without paving every step with their corpses.
Tim Edwards: Far Cry 3
As an addendum to what Rob talks about with Far Cry 3 - I’ve got something I’d like to add. I did all of the base crafting missions within a few hours of starting the game - it seemed ridiculous heading into battle without the maximum allotted storage. While it lasted, it was a fun diversion.
But my work was completed way too fast. It’s a real disappointment. Part of me (and I’m waiting for the howls of rage) wishes that the developers had taken a leaf from World of Warcraft’s crafting mechanics, creating specific crafting trees using more diverse pickups than just skins, and allowed you to level them up independently.
Broadly, I think you can get away with at least three separate trees: a skinning tree for making bags, clothing, armour and bandages, a blacksmithing tree for weapon mods, grenades and different types of ammunition, and a herbalism tree for the potions, lotions and bait. Give each tree at least 50+ skill points, and distribute the craftable items at five point intervals. Every action taken in that tree would give at least one skill point.
At the end of each tree would be a unique game changing reward of the equivalent of the wing-suit.
Et voila: 150+ things to do to level up your crafting until you unlock amazing end-game rewards.
Basically, I just really like crafting. More crafting please!
Julian Benson: Minecraft
Speaking of which, I returned to Minecraft this Christmas. Though I'm not sure I can think of it so much as a return, when I last played the sandbox'em'up I bounced off it. I was gripped by the sense of exploration and discovery for a day or two but lost interest. The thing that's pulled me in this time, well, the two things are Tekkit and multiplayer.
I've managed to sneak into the Tekkit server Paul wrote about in the last Playlist, and its completely changed my interest in Minecraft.
Tekkit adds a vast array of new ingredients and recipes to Minecraft's crafting system. Along with the traditional search for rock and wood, I fast found myself on the lookout for rubber trees and copper (the two are necessary for copper wires, which in turn are necessary for computer chips). I find myself playing with more and more wiki pages open, there's a vast and sprawling chain of items I need to build, ingredients I need to collect.
Rather than being a tiresome grind, it's compelling. I finally managed to build my first macerator last night, once powered it refines ore into dust, essentially doubling your ore. Now I just need to find all the elements necessary to build the solar panels that will power it.
I might have got the macerator built a little faster if I hadn't spent quite so much time making a three-story, glass-ceilinged flower tower. Still, in a multiplayer game the priority is always to impress.