Saturday, 30 October 2010

Games for All Hallow's Eve

Wow I've been absent, haven't I? Again. Again, again, in fact. You know what I need? Someone with a hammer and chisel knocking on my door every 9pm and asking 'have you posted on your blog today, Christopher?' And if I say 'no'... well, I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

So, Frictional Games had a good old post about recommended plays/watches/reads for this, the darkest and most devilishly delightful of holidays. Both the post and the accompanying comments have a great selection of material if you're looking for dread and disturbing nightmares. One of the comments put me on to a new (to me) game which I thought I should share with others, and which reminded me of another little-known game well worth playing.

Below I give you a few of the lesser known examples of excellent horror-based games, all available for free!

The Marionette (thanks to Dylan for recommending it) is the first game by Team Effigy, a doing-it-for-the-love-not-money group of friends. Released back in late '09, Marionette is a point-and-click adventure where Martin, a sculpture, finds himself trapped in a series of places where 'time and space meaning nothing'. Someone or something seems to want to use the world to send him a message and with the help of the mysterious Guillaume, Martin must find some way to escape back to his life and the reality he knows.

The mechanics of the game should be familiar to anyone who's glanced at a point-and-click before. You have three main icons: eye (look), hand (use, move, push, attack) and speech bubble (talk, of course). Combining these with the environment and with the inventory allows you to solve puzzles and these puzzles are pleasingly logical for the most part. The writing, meaning dialogue and plot, is solid and often enthralling. Beware that you are playing a character with his own ideas and attitudes - his interpretation of a dialogue option may not be exactly how you imagined it. As for Guillaume, he can often be incredibly frustrating. While that seems to be intentional, he is still frustrating.

Marionette has especially fine graphics and musical accompaniment. Both are highly detailed and evocative, deftly manipulating emotions and amplifying the experience of Martin's journey. You can listen to the music online or, if you donate to the team, you can download the score.

Team Effigy and volunteers are currently working (slowly) on a fully voiced version so it's worth keeping an eye on their blog. Check out a preview of the voice work here.

The White Chamber was released back in the Summer of 2005 by the now-defunct Studio Trophis. It's another point-and-click, this time about an amnesiac protagonist on an abandoned space station. But this is less System Shock, more Silent Hill as she, and you, soon discover. Blood on every surface, everyday tools rusted into the worktop, bloody limbs scattered throughout and it only gets worse from there. Why is she here and what in hell happened?

Playing through it, I realise White Chamber's greatest asset is its ambient soundtrack. The thrum of unseen generators, the horribly suggestive thumps help root the sense of place, which is all the more powerful given you really do not want to be anywhere near things making sounds like that.

At first the anime-style characters seem to jar with the environments. While the backdrops are hardly naturalistic, it doesn't immediately mesh well with crazy purple hair or such but this is a relatively minor niggle.

General gameplay is made of logical puzzles (make sure to read all item descriptions if you get stuck) and several imaginatively designed console screens. While there are very few, possibly only one, truly deadly scenarios, the choices you make throughout play will impact the ending and decide which one of four you get. Even playing it again just now, knowing the solutions, I ended up with a less than stellar result. The effects of your actions are not always immediately apparent but that would be giving the game away.

And one which I think more of you might have hard of: Don't Look Back by Terry 'VVVVV' Cavanagh. An in-browser flash game platformer inspired by the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. It's not as fiendishly hard as you might expect but challenging enough and its mechanics directly echo its narrative, which is nice.

You know, I'm not going to talk too much about that one. Just go play it. Oh, and avoid the comments until you've finished - you know, spoilers.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Eurogamer Expo: Gemini Rue

So as you might have noticed I was at the Eurogamer Expo today. And only today, and not the whole three days that the event took place over because A) the weekend tickets were sold out before I realised it was happening and B) spending three days in London might just be enough to finally send me round the bend entirely. As it was five hours was more than enough in that place.

And more than enough to see everything at the show that I wanted to see. I had missed the RPS meet up and the presentation of Deus Ex: Human Revolution on Friday and Shogun and Rage really aren't my kind of thing. Because I'm not getting paid for this, I can make the decision to ignore them. :)

Here is something I did not ignore:

Gemini Rue (previously known as Boryokudan Rue) is a point-and-click future-noir story created by Joshua Nuernberger and, if I am not mistakenly remembering the flashed-up names in the intro cinematic, to be published by Wadjet Eye Games. Set against a galaxy explored and colonised by man, the story unfolds through the eyes and actions of two central characters: one a retired assassin who, in the demo I played, is searching the downtown blocks of a rainy, oppressive city on a distant planet for a contact who has gone underground; the other is a prisoner of a mysterious organisation (aren't they all?) who has suffered repeated memory wipes in the course of his jailers' investigations.

The immediate sensation is of place, of the characters really inhabiting a world. It looks used and lived in, it feels like a not-so-distant world captured through (beautifully painted) CCTV cameras or seen from across the street. It is the little things that make the difference: the way water drips from a ceiling or the weariness in a store clerk's dialogue. Even in the logic of the puzzles. This is not a game of infinite-pants and obscure combinations. If you want some information, the most expedient way is to think logically about how you would find it out in a real world. Sometimes asking gets you a long way. That said, I did miss a fairly obvious solution early on and spent some time attempting to brute force the answer to the puzzle. This actually did work, but only because the answer provided a different kind of 'no' to the others.

I did not get far, however, as I feel distinctly nervous with a queue forming behind me and even in the Indie Arcade's out of the way corner of the floor there were plenty of people looking to play, but in just 10 minutes or so Gemini Rue made a big impression on me.