Spy Party: Purloin That Guest List

Hello… are you sitting comfortably?…no, come closer… slide your chair in… closer… closer… move in to uncomfortably close territory as though you’re trying to see the flaw in a waxwork. Now start studying my behaviour intensely and try to work out if I’m doing anything devious.. am I?… 

This is what Spy Party feels like.

Spy Party is a game that has been in development for an extraordinary length of time. I first heard about it in an issue of Games tm (so back when I still bought print magazines) maybe ten or more years ago. Since then I’ve kept an occasional eye on the Spy Party website for development updates, I even bought the game in beta (although didn’t really play it at that point), and finally in recent months it has hit Steam; albeit in early access form. It was the simple, yet instantly understandable, concept that hooked my interest, held it for all those years and is what makes it a very interesting experience now I’ve finally spent some time playing. Continue reading “Spy Party: Purloin That Guest List”

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter: Love & Hate

I’ve tried to avoid major plot spoilers, but there’s a chance that there are some minor spoilers lurking in the text below. Also, for completeness, I played the Redux version of the game which has a few gameplay tweaks, slightly enhanced graphics, and loading optimisation.

I’m not sure if subliminally I was inspired by Steam’s latest “event” which is bizarrely focused on getting gamers to acknowledge their growing backlog of… well, whatever has been picked up for a bargain in the past 200 Steam sales yet never played… but I finally decided to fire up “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter”… then some hours later I finished it. The affectionately acronym-ed TVoEC (Pronounced too-voh-eck) jumped out at me x steam sales ago for being a first-person exploration game with some puzzle elements, a supernatural vibe, and seemingly coupled with some healthy reviews & recommendations. The cynical might call it a “walking simulator” leaning heavily on the negative implications of the phrase whilst the more pro-exploration crowd might also refer to it as a “walking simulator” but in a positive light of a group trying to own what was initially a derogatory term. I guess I prefer the more neutral “first-person exploration” as a genre, but given how widely recognised it is as a phrase I don’t flinch at the aforementioned divisive terminology which is a microcosm of the divide that this style of game causes. As I ambled through TVoEC I couldn’t help but begin to see it as a prime example of how and why this genre manages to split gamers. Continue reading “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter: Love & Hate”

Theme Hospital: This Hospital is no Walk in the Park

Despite “Theme Park” being one of the first PC games that I owned, I somehow managed to avoid most of the other big Bullfrog titles. My first PC gaming incarnation was during the mid-90′ which coincided with the golden age of the great amphibian developer so how I managed to steer clear of their work is a mystery …. sure, it’s not one that’s going to sell many novels, but it’s a mystery nonetheless. For anyone who doesn’t remember the gaming world of 20+ years ago, Bullfrog were responsible for a string of PC gaming success stories, many of which were ported to the consoles of the time, but given that most of their catalogue involved a mouse interface to some extent it was pretty obvious which market they were aiming for. They were responsible for the aforementioned “Theme Park”, the mesmerising 3D landscapes of the “Magic Carpet” games, “Dungeon Keeper”, and of course “Theme Hospital”. That final title is one that I only really knew from the odd “go” at a friend’s house, but it came across as a quirky cartoonish, slightly bizarrely toned, hospital management game that at the time I wasn’t remotely interested in because it didn’t involve a fast hedgehog or blasting some kind of demonic aliens; looking back I had pretty terrible taste in games at that age. Continue reading “Theme Hospital: This Hospital is no Walk in the Park”

Men in Black Retrospective: I Put My Hands… On My Head…

The second half of the 90’s was alien territory; it came after dinosaurs ruled the cinema, but before pirates and zombies made a well deserved and ultimately overstayed return. It was a revival for extra terrestrials, who had last been big in the late 60’s and 70’s following the space race, thanks in no small part to the dramatically lit FBI duo Mulder & Scully and their stories of a confusing filing system. Right in the middle of this resurgence of interest fell Barry Sonnenfeld’s movie, Men in Black, which showed moviegoers a lighter side to the alien invasion with this witty and clever insight in to the fictitious agency charged with keeping their presence a secret. It’s quirky, funny, and about as 90’s as things get with Will Smith taking the leading role backed up by Tommy Lee Jones, and has some neat ideas along with special effects which were impressive at the time. If this were a movie blog, I could easily ramble about the film for pages, but I want to focus on that always tricky game tie-in. Continue reading “Men in Black Retrospective: I Put My Hands… On My Head…”

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – STAAARRRSSSSS

Two things happened recently: I revealed how appealing I find rain in games, and the Later Levels Gameblast stream featured the HD Resident Evil Remake. The former reminded me how much I enjoyed the rainy section of Capcom’s Resident Evil 3 and the latter, whilst maybe not the best choice for sleep deprived brains, made me long for that classic brand of obtuse puzzle solving survival horror. With the gentle swirling of these two ideas in my mind I decided to revisit Resident Evil 3; it had been some years since I guided Jill Valentine’s “Last Escape” and I remember it being a good rounding out of the original trilogy before things went all “Resident Evil 4“.

… veteran readers of the blog will see this next bit coming, but it’s impossible for me to talk about Resident Evil without mentioning the second game, my personal undisputed favourite of the series. For those curiously looking at their calendars trying to work out how it took me so long to get to this point, I can reveal that before I replayed number three I decided to once again complete the second game… you know… for context… Continue reading “Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – STAAARRRSSSSS”

Bully: Bully for You Sir!

Bully is a game that deserves a gentle preamble for anyone not familiar with it, or the controversy that surrounded Rockstar games in the early 2000’s. Two years prior to Bully’s release, Rockstar bestowed upon the world GTA: San Andreas, another link in their lucrative GTA series served with lashings of violence, murder, and crime. Strangely however it wasn’t any of these nuanced facets that attracted the public’s attention, it was the “unintended” inclusion of an erotically charged polygon-ey mini-game in which the player could QTE their way through some awkward sexy-times. Rockstar had removed the mini-game prior to release but the modding community being what it was quickly found out that the code remained on the disc and just needed to be reactivated. Various moral advocacy groups erupted in outrage, politicians had a fresh pinata to beat with their anti-gaming stick, and Rockstar were forced to make some costly gestures to try and fix the damage. The whole thing smooshed together to become what we now know as the Hot Coffee Controversy. 

Having never played any GTA games aside from the original top-down PC release, I can’t comment on how detrimental to the moral fibre of the world this digital intimacy was, although I doubt it did more damage than the player’s illicit activities in the rest of the game.     

Two years later in 2006, Rockstar released “Bully”; a game with a similar sandbox structure to the GTA games set in the fictional boarding school, Bullworth Academy. Already on high alert from the previous controversy, and with Rockstar still squarely in their sights, the same groups immediately branded Bully as GTA set in a school with further objections raised from anti-bullying groups. The complaints rolled in before it was released leading to some UK high-street shops refusing to stock the game, more political debate, and Rockstar changing the game’s name to the less provocative “Canis Canem Edit” (Roughly translated to “Dog Eat Dog”) in the PAL regions. Continue reading “Bully: Bully for You Sir!”

Cooler Master MasterMouse MM530… is not a good name for a mouse…

Some time ago, I mourned the loss of that ever-present manufacturer responsible for everyone’s “other” controller; Mad Catz. I can’t comment on the commonly held view that their console controllers aren’t up to par because I’ve never owned one, but from a PC gaming viewpoint they did make my R.A.T. 5 gaming mouse that faithfully served me for several years…

… and that’s kind of a weird PC/console divide that’s rarely mentioned. On a console, in general, the official controllers rule supreme; tell me I’m playing an XBox and I’ll instantly know which controller I’ll be handed. Sure there are some pretty snazzy branded or skinned controllers available, but in the most part 90% of players will all use the same hunk of plastic to move their pixel-men around the screen. On a PC, for keyboard & mouse gaming, the same ubiquity doesn’t exist.  Continue reading “Cooler Master MasterMouse MM530… is not a good name for a mouse…”