Category Archives: gaming

Thoughts: Horizon Zero Dawn

For the last week or so I’ve been making the joke that Horizon Zero Dawn is an open-world game whose major innovation is that the towers that you climb to uncover the surrounding area on your map now walk slowly around the map themselves. This crack is only slightly unfair. In terms of mechanics there is almost nothing surprising about Horizon Zero Dawn as it fuses bits and pieces from the rest of the genre together into something that developers Guerilla Games are clearly hoping will turn out to be more than the sum of its parts, and my initial impressions of the game were somewhat unfavourable. It looks absolutely stunning, to be sure1, but aside from the robot dinosaurs there didn’t appear to be a huge degree of difference between it and Far Cry Primal. Does the world really need another fairly standard open world game, even one as pretty as Horizon Zero Dawn?

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  1. And Guerilla have been smart enough to include a dedicated photo mode from the get-go instead of waiting nearly eight months to insert it in a patch like certain other games I could mention.
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Thoughts: Torment – Tides Of Numenera

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I have something of a bone to pick with the Numenera setting. By extension I also have something of a bone to pick with Torment: Tides Of Numenera – as is implicit in the name, this is a spiritual successor to the immortal Planescape: Torment that replaces the oddball worlds of Planescape for the even weirder reality-bending madness of Numenera. Planescape: Torment is considered by many to be the Best RPG Ever; I don’t go quite that far and merely consider it to be the best-written RPG ever, but nevertheless these are extremely large shoes to fill for Wasteland 21 developers InXile. The strategy equivalent would be trying to make a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri or Master Of Orion, and I’ve completely lost track of how many contenders have shattered themselves trying to ascend those heights over the last couple of decades. Doing something like this is all but setting yourself up for a fall, in other words, and so I’m not all that surprised that Torment ultimately fails to attain the lofty goal it has set for itself. What is interesting here is the manner of that failure, however, as it hasn’t fallen down quite the way I expected it to.

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  1. And Hunted, which I still haven’t forgiven them for.
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Replay: XCOM 2 – Long War 2

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I’ve not dabbled with mods for many years. That might sound a little strange considering the high volume of PC games that I get through, but it’s partly because of the high volume of PC games that I get through: I usually play games with an eye to reviewing them, you can’t review them fairly if they’re plastered in mods, and over the last few years I’ve had little time to revisit games I’ve already played to see how they change. With the slightly more relaxed (or less obsessive, anyway) attitude I’m taking this year, though, I have the opportunity to do ridiculous, time-expensive things like reinstalling XCOM 2 along with the recently-released Long War mod for it to see what all the fuss is about.

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The Hentzau Review Of Books

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(About video games.)

For a medium that’s been around for a good 35 years at this point there are surprisingly few books that do a good job of exploring the various facets of videogame history. I’ve always found this a little bit odd; modern videogaming has found itself inextricably linked with the rise of the internet and so you’re far more likely to find retrospectives on games and developers somewhere online, but the catch here is that anything published on the internet is going to be 1) superficial by its very nature (and I don’t mean that as a slight at all, it’s just that the amount of effort you’re going to put into researching even a long blog post or news article is always going to pale in comparison to what you’d do for a full-on book1), and 2) distressingly hard to find unless it’s got really good search engine optimisation. No, I much prefer the old-fashioned approach of sitting down with a book that’ll do an in-depth exploration of one specific area, even if the authors can’t seem to resist giving them cliche titles like Game Over or Insert Coin; the act of reading a book has a permanence that scrolling down a webpage lacks and which leads to my assimilating the information far more readily, and as I like reading history books in general I’ve ended up reading rather more books about the history of video games than a normal person should. As I’ve hit something of a slow period when it comes to writing about games, I thought I’d change things up slightly by writing about writing about games instead. Here are a few books that I liked (or didn’t), and why.

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  1. Okay, so I have a very low opinion of Games Journalism these days, but I should balance up the constant dunking by mentioning the exception to this rule: Eurogamer occasionally put up some really good retrospectives that are easily ten thousand words plus. The one on Tomb Raider was fantastic.
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Thoughts: Shenzhen I/O

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Well, it finally happened. After carving out a niche in the market by making puzzle games that were secretly about programming, it was inevitable that Zachtronics would eventually cross a line and make a puzzle game that was actually about programming.

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Thoughts: Shadow Tactics – Blades Of The Shogun

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Back in 1998 a small Spanish developer called Pyro Studios released the first Commandos game. Commandos was a strategy game with a difference: instead of jumping on the Command & Conquer RTS bandwagon that was trundling along at full speed at around about this time, Commandos was instead a World War 2-set Mission Impossible-style series of infiltration missions where you took command of a small squad of 4-6 Allied operatives as they blew up various bits of critical German infrastructure and assassinated key personnel. It was a game notable for the massive strength asymmetry between your squad and the opposing forces — each level was infested with dozens and dozens of guards and your commandos were unfortunately rather realistically squishy, quickly succumbing to just a couple of rifle bullets — which in turn engendered an extreme focus on stealth and on using the unique toolkits available to each individual commando to unpick the enemy patrol paths so that you could reach your objective.

Commandos was successful enough that it spawned its own real-time tactics sub-genre. As well as two sequels (Commandos 2 arguably perfected the formula, while Commandos 3 was a bit of a cash-in from a studio that was running out of ideas and talent), it inspired two Desperados games, Robin Hood: Legend of Sherwood and even Star Trek: Away Team. But then a funny thing happened: after the initial rush of imitators, this particular strain of stealthy strategy game died an abrupt and premature death. Save for Desperados 2 in 2006, nobody has made a Commandos-style game in almost fifteen years.

That is, until Shadow Tactics was released last month. And oh my goodness, it is Commandos to the core.

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End Of Year Retrospective 2016

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Congratulations! If you are reading this, then you have (just about) survived 2016, which was a monumentally shitty year in almost every respect except for videogames. I remarked at the end of last year that I thought 2015 contained some games of exceptional quality, and yet 2016 makes it look like it wasn’t even trying; I’ve played so many good games this year that it’s actually difficult to think of any actual bad ones, and while that’s partially a result of the industry saturating the market with new titles (to the point where I suspect we may be headed for a mini-crash sometime in the near future as there’s only so much money to go around and the sheer volume of commercial failures could become unsustainable) it’s also a pleasing indicator that many previously-moribund development houses have rediscovered the internal spark that made their games fun in the first place. And there’s no better way to examine this phenomenon than through the usual medium of the Scientific Gamer Completely Made-Up Awards Ceremony 2016!

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