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The Weekly Playlist: the one where Steve is part Mongol and Matt plays Portal 2 with a scientist


Hello! We know it’s been a while since our last weekly playlist of joy, but it’s been really busy lately. The good news is that we’re back and playing more games than ever before. Matt has been gushing over Portal 2 and the Steam Workshop. Rob’s currently batting for the other team, but we don’t mind if it’s for The Last of Us. Steve has been getting cosy with Genghis Khan in Civilization V. Finally our overlord Tim has been playing Crysis 3, but getting rather frustrated with it.


Matt Purslow: Portal 2

Inevitably we’re all talking about consoles at the moment, so in the brief moments I’ve had away from E3 this week I’ve been reminding myself why the PC will always be my home. Steam Workshop is a thing of constant amazement, and despite next-gen supporting many PC-born ideas such as free-to-play, modding is something I doubt we’ll ever see. So this week I returned to Portal 2 so check out some community built co-op maps for the first time.

I feel bad for neglecting Steam Workshop, but my brain felt worse. Valve’s puzzles may have had their tricky moments, but Portal has never been exactly super difficult. The community on the other hand seem adamant to be total bastards and make progressing through their chambers a neuron-melting experience. Within a couple of maps I’d gone from being confident in my understanding of Portal’s mechanics to feeling like an idiot child. Thankfully I’ve been playing Portal 2 with my long-term gaming partner Dr. Bob (so called because he’s actually a scientist), and thankfully having the mind of Tony Stark at the end of TeamSpeak prevents these user-created brain-bafflers from defeating me entirely.

As our night of thinking with portals progressed I began to see beauty in the community rather than cursing it for making overly-difficult puzzles. Many are exceptionally fun, offering pure experimentation without the boundaries of a narrative to keep pushing you on. One chamber demanded you completed every puzzle with perfection, and cocking up on one would result in you starting from the beginning again. We must have done the cycle of this chamber seven or eight times, but never tired of it because its design was practically flawless. Another map had a variety of interconnected rooms, each with one objective, that would allow a ball to progress through a maze in order to open the door. Each room’s puzzle seemed to break the conventions of Portal’s mechanics, relying on goos and gravity tunnels to engage switches rather than constant portal placement. Yet another work of genius involved a ball in a tilting table maze, with each player jumping on and off switches to tilt the table and ensure the ball didn’t roll off the edges.

I’ve gushed for long enough. I guess what I’m saying is forget about what you’ve seen at E3, Steam Workshop holds the key to joy.


Rob Zacny: The Last of Us (PS3)

Look, I’d love to tell you I’m playing a PC game right now, but I am on a weekend layover in Seattle on my way home from E3 to see some old friends. In between helping train their new dog, visiting Seattle restaurants, and transcribing E3 interviews, we’re spending our gaming time playing The Last of Us together on PS3.

It’s a surprising game, for a major release. It’s slow-paced, almost dangerously so, and your character is defined more by his limitations than capabilities. You can fight, but only poorly, and there is nowhere near enough ammunition and weaponry to go around. Stealth is a better option, but your character moves at a crawl and, if it goes bad, it’s very hard to recover from an unfavorable start to a fight. So it is a lavishly produced Playstation game that is mostly about waiting, watching, and listening. It’s also straining mightily against the limits of what a gamepad can do intuitively, crowding the poor thing with commands and relying heavily on context to make the controls work.

I kind of like the fact that The Last of Us feels a bit awkward. Things rarely do on the PC. Its controls are so precise that the slow, wobbly aiming I’m experiencing in The Last of Us would probably turn into an easy series of headshots with a mouse. Managing my inventory and weapons in a taut moment would likely a snap, allowing me to act on decisions with scarcely more than a keystroke, rather than a deliberate sequence of “open inventory, select item, hold X to switch item, R1 to use item”.

I can’t help but wonder if part of what draws people to DayZ and ArmA games is the borderline clunkiness that comes from overwhelming players’ controls. Things we take for granted in most shooters, moving, aiming, and shooting, become tests of muscle memory and nerve. It just takes more commands to get there than it does a console game.

The Last of Us gives me a comparable challenge without too much complexity. I’d like to see more PC games do the same. Because when you take the kind of controls that are easily mapped to a gamepad over to mouse and keyboard, players become superhuman in ways that perhaps they are not supposed to be. The Last of Us is striking such a chord with me because its controls are what most of us would consider far inferior to what you can do on a PC, and in that inferiority resides much of its tension.


Tim Edwards: Crysis 3

God, I wish Crysis 3 was better than it is. It’s such a frustrating thing. There is no question that it’s one of the most technically accomplished and beautiful games I’ve ever played. It’s just ridiculously pretty. It’s vision of New York under triple siege: from vegetation, from military incursion, and from alien entities, is just stunning.

But it’s mechanically bereft, plodding and ultimately pointless. I kind of hate it.

I’m finding that beautiful shooters aren’t enough: there has to be more than just clicking on mens/aliens/robots faces and watching them fall over. Part of it is scale: even Crysis 3’s arenas are considerably wider and more open than Crysis 2, they still don’t come close to what Crytek achieved in the original Crysis. Part of it is just sheer boredom: I really couldn’t two shits about the trials and tribulations that suit guy and Psycho are suffering. Crysis 3 takes itself way too seriously: you simply don’t give a monkeys about the end of the planet when the remaining populace are so irritating.

And part of it is that the shooting just isn’t that good. The fundamental unit of interaction in Crysis feels a little bit shit. It doesn’t sound right, men take too long to fall over and die and the aliens are crap. More importantly, I think the bow might break the game a bit. Previously, you had to choose your shots carefully because the noise of a rifle would break your invisibility. With the bow, you can fire without breaking stealth. The only inconvenience is that you’ll need to go and pick your arrows back up when you’re done. At first, it sounds like you’ll feel like a predator. In reality: it just turns the game into a turkey shoot.

It’s a shame. You can buy Crysis 3 in the Origin sale right now. I wouldn’t bother.


Steve Hogarty: Civilization V

This week I have been learning all about Genghis Khan and playing Civilization V, which I now understand to scarcely represent exactly how fantastically brutal the Mongol leader was. He’d put entire populations of cities to death for refusing to immediately surrender. He’d leave the bones of his enemies where they fell, so that years later travelling merchants would look upon a mountain where a city once stood and think it snowcapped, rather than littered with millions of sun-bleached skeletons.

He’d encircle whole armies, deliberately leaving a small gap through which the trapped soldiers, in a blind panic and knowing of the Khan’s ferocity, would try to escape by shedding their armour and weapons and sprinting for their lives. Then he’d ambush the fleeing troops with his cavalry, scything through them and laying waste to tens of thousands of men at once. He was incredible and terrible, the greatest military strategist ever to have existed. He raped and pillaged so extensively that more people can trace their ancestry back to him than cannot. He is perhaps singularly responsible for more death and destruction than any other human ever born, and irreversibly trampled the crap out of the course of history for better or worse. If only for a few chance and timely deaths in the Mongol leadership, the entire planet would arguably be united under a Mongolian banner today. Gosh, what a guy.

In summary, every game of Civ V in which I have played as Genghis Khan and lost has been a result of the game’s historical inaccuracy and so no longer counts.