Thoughts: Cloudpunk

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I really, really want to like Cloudpunk. You’re playing Rania, the driver of a flying car in a cyberpunk city on her first day of work for underground delivery organisation Cloudpunk. You drive around the city, taking packages from point A to point B, while people talk to you over the comm about the city, the world, corporations, identity, AI, androids, the rich getting obscenely richer, the poor being trapped by debt and prejudice and left to die the moment they’re not economically useful — all of that classic cyberpunk shit that’s becoming uncomfortably real as we hurtle headfirst into a capitalist dystopia of our own. Where modern “cyberpunk” properties tend to co-opt the look but not the themes, Cloudpunk at least understands what cyberpunk should be. It’s clearly a labour of love made by real people who have been on the receiving end of some of this stuff themselves, and unlike certain other big-ticket cyberpunk releases that are scheduled (for now) to come out this year, Cloudpunk’s heart is definitely in the right place.

I just wish it was a better game.

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LucasArts Time Machine: Maniac Mansion

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I haven’t been playing much that’s new recently, so after a gap of several years I have decided to do another one of my concept pieces whereby I play through an older game series to see how it evolves over time. Unlike my prior attempts, because we are currently in the middle of a pandemic, and more importantly because I have half of the games already played and written up, I’m 90% sure I’m actually going to finish this one. The series in question is the point and click adventure games made by LucasArts in the late 80s and early 90s, and the reason I decided to do this is because I haven’t actually played most of them — I haven’t played anything before Monkey Island, and I haven’t played Full Throttle, or Sam & Max, or Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis. So this is going to be just as much a learning experience for me as it is a trip down memory lane, as I fill in some missing gaps in my gaming history and hopefully learn a little something about the evolution of adventure games in the process.

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Thoughts: Spelunky 2

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Spelunky 2 poses a problem rarely encountered by videogame developers: how do you follow up a game that’s already perfect?

Note that by “perfect” I do not necessarily mean “the best”. Art is subjective, and not everyone likes Spelunky, and that’s fine. However, I struggle to think of a game that hits all of its design goals with the unerring accuracy that Spelunky does. Everything in Spelunky meshes together so well to create an endlessly replayable dungeon-delving platformer roguelike, and there’s no wasted effort on extraneous, unnecessary features that bloat the game and don’t contribute anything to those design goals. Doing the usual sequel thing of adding new levels, items and features is going to be like adding a fifth wheel to a car, while taking anything out to make room for those new features is just going to create the dreaded Reliant Robin of games.

Having to make a sequel to a perfect (or almost-perfect) game is not something that happens often; of the few examples that do exist, the one I’d point to is when Nintendo had to follow up Super Mario 64 with a launch Mario title for the Gamecube. Mario Sunshine was a decent game which tried some new and interesting things with its water-spraying mechanics but which, ultimately, did not come together anywhere near as elegantly as the dead simple 3D platforming mechanics in 64. That’s fine. You can’t make every game a classic, and Mario Sunshine is still a lot of fun to play and a very worthwhile experience even if it ended up standing in the shadow of its predecessor. I think I would have understood if Spelunky 2 had ended up being the Spelunky series’ Mario Sunshine; I would have been a little disappointed, sure, but I would have respected the attempt and probably, eventually, enjoyed the game for what it was, just like I did Mario Sunshine.

Instead, what Derek Yu has made here is essentially Kaizo Mario 64. It’s the same game as before, but with all of the dials turned up to 11, and then turned all the way around again until the dial breaks. It’s Spelunky 1 for streamers and speedrunners; it’s Spelunky 1 if it were squarely targeted at the 1% of players who think Hell runs are too easy. It’s Asshole Spelunky. And I do not like it.

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Thoughts: Hades

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The impossible finally happened: Supergiant Games have made something that I unambiguously like.

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Thoughts: A Monster’s Expedition

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A Monster’s Expedition is a charming little puzzle game about pushing logs.

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Thoughts: Wasteland 3

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I’m not sure if it’s the current state of the world or simply my getting older, but I find my perception of time is starting to unravel a bit. For example, my first reaction upon learning Wasteland 3 had been released was something along the lines of “Wow, it wasn’t that long ago that I reviewed Wasteland 2!” only to then realise that that was back in 2014 and that developers inXile have had time to put out two more RPGs in the intervening six years – Torment: Tides of Numenera and Bard’s Tale IV — both of which I have also played and reviewed and then immediately forgotten. While all of these games have been heavily flawed they have, at least, demonstrated that inXile are on a generally upward trajectory; there’s been a noticeable process of slow improvement with each one as they gradually figure out how to best put together writing, structure and systems design to create a compelling RPG. So my general expectation for Wasteland 3 was that it was going to be okay, even if my previous experience with inXile’s games has also taught me to expect bugs and combat balance issues and entirely missing chunks of game. I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be more than that, and probably wouldn’t have bothered if I’d actually had to buy the thing for fifty quid instead of getting it as part of my £4-a-month GamePass subscription.

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Thoughts: Death Stranding

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The first time the words “A Hideo Kojima Production” popped up during the opening credits of Death Stranding, I merely greeted it with a raised eyebrow. It’s always struck me as a particularly pretentious thing to try and put your own name front and centre on a game that’s been produced by a team of hundreds, but it’s also par for the course from Kojima at this point. I let it go.

The second time the words “A Hideo Kojima Production” popped up during the opening credits of Death Stranding, I did a bit of a comical double-take. Hadn’t he already told me this was A Hideo Kojima Production? Maybe it was a bug. Surely the man’s ego couldn’t be large enough that he’d put his name on it twice1.

The third time the words “A Hideo Kojima Production” popped up during the opening credits of Death Stranding, my eyes rolled back so far in my head I think I caught a glimpse of my brain.

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  1. Well, three times, considering the dev studio also has his name on it.
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