Clenched in the jaws of a bright blue lizard, Rain World‘s slugcat looks tiny–a ragged doll whose furry body seems insignificant in scale next to the other creatures it shares a world with. The slugcat, a snowy little animal that finds the natural meeting point between the boneless malleability of bug and cat, is meant to seem less powerful than everything around it. It’s small. It doesn’t have sharp teeth or claws. It’s midway up the food chain, eating plants and plucking opportunistically from swarms of bats. The slugcat isn’t much of a hunter, which is a point the player realizes quickly. Remembering it is important.
There’s a Riot Goin’ On opens to the sounds of an urgency it desperately wants to hold on to. “Luv N’ Haight”‘s chorus is a continual climax, moving up and up and up toward something that’s just out of grasp. The bass hammers toward some indeterminate end point instead of thumping and popping around the margins of Sly’s shouts. It works in purpose with the upward swell of the backing vocals and strain of horns to suggest that this is a band with some real optimism–the kind that can play “Higher” and “Dance to the Music” with honest, unfeigned conviction. But, the climax is abandoned partway through the song, and the delirium that swirls around the edges of the entire album takes over. Purpose and clarity is lost and the song nods off into something sloppier and darker.
It’s in this tone that “Just Like a Baby,” the following track begins. A lazy day of a song, it (along with the unimpeachable groove of “Family Affair” and the caged aimlessness of “Brave and Strong”), comes close to defining There’s a Riot Goin’ On‘s ultimate theme: pretending at a happiness that can be hard to believe in.
Yakuza Team’s Binary Domain hasn’t made a lasting impression. The third-person shooter garnered favourable, but not glowing reviews upon its 2012 release (the PC version holds a 68 on Metacritic), but it seems to have been largely forgotten in the years since—a shame for something that, however imperfect, deserves far more attention than it’s received.
There isn’t much of 2015 left and, as always, that makes me feel a bit reflective. So, in the spirit of looking back while preparing, too, for what’s ahead, I’ve rounded up some of the stuff I wrote about games throughout these last 12 months.
Doing this feels a little self indulgent, but I think it’s a good idea to have a snapshot of 2015 in videogames all rounded up in one place, even if it’s just my own work.
So, here are a few of the pieces I wrote this year, collected:
Playing Cibele is profoundly uncomfortable. The game’s subject matter is innocuous enough—it follows a young woman as she falls in love with an online friend—but, the way developer Star Maid Games presents this story turns what could have been a dispassionate anecdote into an experience that feels as intimately invasive as snooping through someone’s diary.
Apologies for the continued self promotion, but, well, I’d love for you to read SHOOTER and will take any opportunity to help make that happen. And here’s a good one! The latest StoryBundle brings SHOOTER together with a number of other great books for a very reasonable price. The charity funds raised from sales of this bundle also go to Prisoners Literature Project, which sends books to American prison inmates.
If you’re interested in SHOOTER and the other books included in the current StoryBundle you can (and probably should) buy it here: https://storybundle.com/games
Reid McCarter is a writer and editor based in Toronto. His work has appeared at Kill Screen, Paste, VICE, Playboy, and The Escapist. He is also co-editor of SHOOTER (a compilation of critical essays on the shooter genre), runs Digital Love Child, and tweets @reidmccarter.
Patrick Lindsey is a game critic and occasional developer whose work can be found on Polygon, Unwinnable, and Paste. He co-founded Pixels or Death and co-hosts the Indie Megacast. Read his tweets @HanFreakinSolo, if you dare.
I think I understand the fundamental appeal of online role-playing games (or MMORPGs if you like unwieldy acronyms). There’s a definite attraction to the idea of embarking on some grand adventure–the kind traditionally offered through popular offline series like Final Fantasy or Dragon’s Quest–while engaging with other players at the same time. The dozens of hours spent fighting monsters can be made less lonely online. Games that are sprawling and time-consuming turn from solitary to social activity when other people are thrown into the mix.
Despite understanding the draw of this design on a theoretical level, I’ve still never managed to get more than a handful of hours into an online RPG and remain invested. The process of building up a character–earning new equipment and skills-in these games has always seemed unnecessarily convoluted. The stories of those I’ve played have been uninteresting. Instead of presenting the kind of fiction that encourages long hours of exploration, they seem content to entice players with the dangling carrots of experience points and always-close level ups. None of this is what I look for in games. But, still, I’ve always been fascinated by the online RPG. I’ve always wanted to understand what keeps players returning to them.
So, I took two recent, apparently popular, and, most importantly, free games for a spin to try the answer the question: why bother playing an online RPG?