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The collectible is a staple of videogames. They’re scattered across maps, offering a little, typically optional incentive to further explore the environment, solve miniature puzzles, or otherwise increase the time spent playing a game. Because most collectibles are usually pretty disposible–extra scraps of text or, in the most cynical instances, nothing more than quota-filling glowing objects–they’re usually pretty safely ignored.
Uppercut Games’ Submerged attempts a subversion of this by centring its design around what is essentially a prolonged exercise in merging story and collectible hunting. Read the rest of this entry »
2K Boston’s BioShock came out in 2007. In the nearly ten years that have followed, mainstream, big-budget videogames haven’t changed as much as might be expected. This isn’t all that surprising, given that BioShock is the rare game that manages to marry (relatively) lofty narrative ambitions with the sort of mechanics and storytelling style that appeal to a wide-scale audience. It’s a summer blockbuster with something to say–serious enough about delivering its message that it gives an aura of importance while also full of the kind of action and plot twists that make an experience engaging on an immediate level.
Given this, it makes a lot of sense that BioShock casts such a long shadow.
The first level of Apostrophe’s Sylvio begins with an upbeat pop song playing over the camera’s long, slow pan of a reddish nightmare scape. The music is a surprising change of pace from the introduction’s breathy monologue and Carpenter-esque keyboard drone, and it doesn’t last. As the view fades out, replaced by a chapter opening title card, distant wailing and the reverberations of some industrial hell-piano increase in volume, eventually overtaking the cheerful guitar strumming. This effect–the gloom of atonal distortion drowning out glimpses of reassuring structure–is Sylvio‘s central motif. It is horror that understands that, more than anything else, disorientation and confusion spark the most primal fears. Read the rest of this entry »
Something like gods exist in the world of From Software’s Bloodborne. They’re hanging out in ruined chapels and atop castle walls, often just waiting for the hapless player’s Hunter to stumble upon them. Some of these gods are gruesome beasts–the kind of unthinkably horrible, bizarre things that inspire a genuine sense of awe. Others are humbler creatures, taking unassumingly human forms. Whatever they look like, the power these beings exude is felt constantly in the game’s setting, the city of Yharnam. Despite the intricately crafted mechanisms and finely detailed buildings that suggest the application of advanced, scientific human knowledge in this city, unknowable forces are felt in the margins of even the most recognizably familiar of the game’s environments.
There is a sense, in the modern world, that we are always being watched. Our web browsers, our phones–nearly everything we do in our daily lives is monitored to some degree. For the most part, we manage to push this knowledge aside by making jokes (“I just said ‘bomb’ on the phone: they’re listening now”) or supposedly acceptable rationalizations (“I don’t do anything illegal online anyway”).
But then something happens that forces us to reevaluate. Something like Edward Snowden revealing the staggering breadth of the NSA’s international surveillance practices in 2013 demonstrates the frightening extent to which the average, supposedly private citizen is being watched. When we’re reminded that we’re living in a world where so much of our lives are recorded, tracked, and monitored, the effect is chilling. We are forced to confront the fact that true privacy is gone–that it seems to have vanished without us truly noticing.
Camouflaj’s République is meant to shake us in this way. It’s meant, in the tradition of all dystopia fiction, to show us how bad things could be if the reality we live in was exaggerated by only a minor degree.
There’s something nearly sacrilegious about trying to describe the sensations involved in moving through NaissanceE‘s world. It is a game of measured exploration–of private, lonely introspection. Whether squeezing past low openings in piles of cube-shaped rubble or dropping from one barely visible precipice to another down an enormous grey-scale pit, the pace of understanding and navigating the game’s bizarre architecture is slow. And because NaissanceE‘s setting is comprised of such unearthly sights and sounds, the time it provides for personal reflection often leads the player’s mind to strange, numinous places where awe and terror commingle.
I first played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time when I was 12 years old–still very much a child. It was the first Zelda game I went through on my own, which was a very different kind of experience than trying and failing to penetrate the 8-bit dungeons of the series’ debut one week at a cousin’s cottage. Ocarina of Time, its colourful world rendered in (what was then) astoundingly full three-dimensions, was a more inviting kind of adventure. Its version of Nintendo’s grand monomyth dropped the player in a land where strange fantasy creatures and secret temples hid beneath placid lakes, behind cracked stone walls, and on plateaus that hung just out of reach overhead. Exploring and uncovering this world was the draw back in 1998.
Now, returning to it almost 20 years later, Ocarina of Time feels like a different game, appealing for very different reasons. After brushing away the cobwebs of nostalgia that covered the first few hours, Link’s journey to save Hyrule (yet again) from the evil Ganon+ is filled with less of a sense of environmental mystery–it’s tough to see beyond the mechanical framework of the world design as a grown-up–than a bit of commentary on the process of growing up.