Good Job! – Missing the Office Life?

Have you been working from home? I’ve been working from home. I’m guessing a whole load of you have been working from home, and if you’re one of those key-workers who have been heading out there day after day to keep the rest of us safe and sound then you absolutely have my gratitude and assurance that I have been doing whatever I can to stay the heck out of your way.

It may not be much, but the best that most of us can do in the current situation  is to think about how our actions impact everyone around us 

… but, whilst I’m normally a fan, working from home does deny me the simple pleasures of being in the office or lab. Pleasures like mashing the buttons on a vending machine and sending canned beverages flying out across the room or merrily driving a forklift through a warehouse wall. Luckily a short while ago, a super-accurate workplace simulation game, ‘Good Job!’ was released on Switch and, as most jobs are better with a colleague in tow, my wife and I picked it up on a whim after watching the trailer in order to enjoy a bit of couch co-op workplace recreation. Continue reading “Good Job! – Missing the Office Life?”

Realm of the Dead (PS2): A Random Game Encounter

A few months ago, the fabulous Kim from Later Levels and I had made plans to meet up at March’s London Gaming Market. Being on a bit of a retro kick recently, but not having access to a rich vein of retro-gaming shopping where I live, she suggested the market as a place where I could enjoy some good o’ fashioned spending and judgement free revelling in my own retro tastes with the promise of giving in to some impulse purchases for items that were unnecessary, but nevertheless ‘necessary’. After chatting about me almost definitely giving in and buying yet another obscure port of a certain game, Kim hatched a fun retro-plan: We would set a price limit and during our market visit buy each other some obscure retro game to play; the weirder the better! (and bonus points if neither of us had even heard of it).

… and then, you-know-what happened and we both ended up cancelling our London travel plans… Continue reading “Realm of the Dead (PS2): A Random Game Encounter”

Doom 64: New Old Doom

Way back in the pages of a physical print magazine some time during the 90’s are the few screenshots of ‘Doom 64’ that were my first knowledge of this game. Despite some more recent interest in the console, at the time when it was relevant I was fairly indifferent to Nintendo’s last big player in the bit-wars. Something about these screenshots stuck with me however; I’d played Doom on PC of course, but this… this looked so… different. Even without my recent exploration of the Doom back-catalogue, I think the grainy memory of those screenshots would have drawn me in to picking up the (very reasonably priced) ‘Doom 64’ re-master-release that appeared on the Switch store a couple of weeks ago. Eagerly I downloaded it on release day, desperate to step in to, what I recall being, some dramatically new and cutting edge re-imaginings of the Doom universe…

… before playing it for about 10-minutes and switching it off, having not been very impressed… 

   … the fact that I’m writing this kind of gives away the reality that I picked it back up a few days later to give it a better shot; even then I had to push through a certain amount of ‘meh’ before I began to enjoy it; Doom 64 hides its true colours behind a pretty lacklustre couple of opening levels. Continue reading “Doom 64: New Old Doom”

Return of the Obra Dinn: Brain Nod

The backstory is set; characters parade out one-by-one, each with their own motives and shady affiliations; the intrepid detective studies the clues and picks apart alibis; a red herring; summation and accusation. A master of the detective story, Agatha Christie had this formula perfected and, alongside the escapades of a certain Baker Street dwelling detective, our well thumbed copy of the adventures of Hercule Poirot is a favourite of mine. There’s a comforting completeness to the story: the mystery is laid out, we get to see all the clues, and finally the pieces are all put together. Unfortunately, satisfying translations of this premise to video-game form are few and far between. Sure, there are some good attempts; LA Noire and Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments all take a crack at the detective formula in a more interactive setting, but inevitably the story tends to linearity (or very limited outcomes) largely because of the implausibly large number of permutations that even a few small decisions can produce. It’s impossible to give the player entirely free reign of the deductions, dialogue, or direction of the story, so we’re guided down specific paths inevitably meaning that sign-posting of the correct solution becomes painfully obvious. Continue reading “Return of the Obra Dinn: Brain Nod”

Things Aren’t Regular

I’ve been staring at a blank page for a while, not quite knowing how to start this. It’s not normal is it? I mean, at this moment, things aren’t regular. Most of us are currently under some unusual restrictions about how we live our lives. The phrase ‘Social Distancing’ is something that 99.999% of us had never even heard until a few weeks ago, and now we’re living it. I know that for some of you out there in other countries this may have been your reality for a while but here in the UK we’re just getting warmed up. And yes I’m going to talk about videogames, but before I get to that (and why that’s important) I want to cover the basics:

We’re doing this because of a new virus. It’s something that most of us don’t have to worry about but it makes a small, yet significant, percentage of people really sick and, even with medical care, sadly there’s a small percentage of those people who aren’t surviving. The problem is not the percentages, but the actual numbers. As far as we know nobody has any immunity, so when you scale those numbers up there will be thousands of people who will need specialist hospital care to survive – something that our health system (or indeed any health system) is not designed to cope with. This means that if we just let it pass through the population unhindered, thousands of people who could survive this with the right care won’t be able to simply because of the huge burden on the system. 

This is where ‘Social Distancing’ comes in alongside increased hygiene and cleanliness. By dramatically reducing the contact we have with other people, we slow the rate of infection through the population giving our medical services the best chance to save the most lives. 

… And the big thing to remember is that this is a sustained effort. To be effective we’re going to need to keep these measures in place for months.  Continue reading “Things Aren’t Regular”

Heaven Dust: Esidentray Evilway

‘Heaven Dust’ is a game that makes me smile. It’s a game made by fans. Not just any fans; fans after my own heart, whose affection for the original Resident Evil games shines through in every polygon. Some twenty-x years after Capcom’s seminal survival horror hit the scene, this tribute made by ‘One Gruel Studio’ manages to hit all the right notes needed to evoke the feel of that first tentative shuffle through the Spencer Estate whilst still doing it in a new and distinctive style. Given how much the series has evolved and diverged, there’s something refreshing about a game that rewinds time back to what hooked-us in the first place.

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…oh, I’m sorry, you wanted an objective review?? Nope.. none of that here thank-you very much… 

Of course this type of thing is so in my wheelhouse that it’s basically an oak panelled part of the decor, but I ended up playing it mostly by chance after some fortunate browsing of the Switch store. In recent months, the Switch has become a staple gaming platform for me and I’m perpetually on the lookout for new releases that are compatible with my commute. ‘Heaven Dust’ was a delightfully stumbled upon discovery that has appeared on the store in the past few weeks and fills the super-niche of being a great choice for anyone who wants to play ‘Resident Evil’ on the go, but wants something just a little more causal than just playing ‘Resident Evil’ on the go*. Continue reading “Heaven Dust: Esidentray Evilway”

Doom 3: Hello Darkness My Old Friend…

… the dropship touches down on Mars and you tentatively step out. That murky gantry over some deep chasm your first taste of this isolated research outpost. Up ahead two shady characters mutter and plot; they’re altogether too suspicious. Unbeknown to you the suspicious characters go and talk to an even more suspicious and sinister character whilst you make your way to a suspicious commanding officer and…

Oh heck, everyone you meet in this damn game is suspicious & sinister. Someone desperately needed to tell the writer in Doom 3 that writing tense dialogue doesn’t mean each character tries to out gravely voice the other and that if you make everyone sinister then it kind of loses its impact. Anywho, where was I in the plot synopsis…

You get sent off to investigate some missing workers and then one of the sinister people does a thing that releases… “Doom”… (I guess) which possesses most of the humans in the local area and starts spawning in demons. Sadly for the demons their spawning accuracy is a little off and many end up trapped in a tiny cupboard waiting for some hapless space marine to touch the pressure plate just outside the hidden door and set them free. From this point on you are playing chase the objective, being sent hiking across the Mars facility to meet up/find/stop any combination of some people/evil force/object. It’s one of those games where whenever you get it the place you were trying to get to, you find an empty room, or a dying person, who lets you know that you just missed the person/thing/entity you were looking for and they’re now on their way to some new location about 5 levels away.  Ultimately you go to hell (because it’s a Doom game) and retrieve an object which helps you destroy all the demons.

… and if it sounds like my plot summary is a little thin on details I’d like to remind you that this is supposed to be a Doom game and plot really isn’t the reason that I picked it up; not that anyone told Doom 3 that. If you really want to know what’s happening then you’ll need to sift through the mountains of PDA’s that belonged to the crew reading though emails and listening to audio logs (most of which revolve around ‘strange goings on’ and ‘crew members behaving oddly’) to get hints as to the reasoning behind the path you’re inexorably being sent along. Whilst Doom 3’s plot might not be the reason it has had a mixed reception over the years, the very fact that it has a plot attempting to be more complicated than shoot demons could be indicative of some of the underlying difficulties it faced finding its identity. Continue reading “Doom 3: Hello Darkness My Old Friend…”

Doom 2: More Gore, Less Focus

Following an exploration of the original Doom and John Romero’s unofficial fifth episode, Sigil, a couple of weeks ago, I still felt as though I hadn’t digested quite enough Doom. It seemed like just the right moment to pick up the sequel, Doom 2, and answer a few of my own questions that I had about it. Firstly, just how different is it from the original? and is it the better game?

Like many people, my first real experiences of Doom outside of the shareware release was of the sequel rather than the full version of the first game. Unlike its predecessor, Doom 2 had a retail release which meant that it was (especially in the UK) much more widely available and I remember a friend of my sister bringing it around and installing it on our shiny new 486 PC; which let’s face it, as an early 90’s tween was my only real route to getting my hands on it. Running around the crumbling ruins of ‘Hell on Earth’ and blasting those damned minions with god-mode and all weapons was the way that I took my Doom-latte back then. Armed now with the Switch port, I cranked the difficulty to a respectable ‘Hurt Me Plenty’ and left it on mortal-mode to eliminate Hell’s forces on Earth once and for all… or until the next time… Continue reading “Doom 2: More Gore, Less Focus”

Your Dream Resident Evil Date

That magical 14th of February is upon us once again and romance is in the air; even gaming romances are slowly …oh so slowly… becoming more well developed. Games that deal with the more emotional side of the human experience have been gradually improving over the past decade or so with standout efforts such as ‘Life is Strange’ and ‘To the Moon’ coming closer than ever to capturing the nature of love, relationships, and romantic discovery in game form.

… this wasn’t always the case. Back in the retro-times (let’s not get in to how far back you have to go for that) things were quite different with polygon curves and corny dialogue crammed in to a couple of hour action game being the closest gamers got to a romantic plot line. Back in the PS1 era it wasn’t uncommon for someone to go from being ‘annoyed by’ to being ‘utterly besotted’ with a game protagonist in the space of just a handful of brief cutscenes. Then there were games that made those first tentative steps at being more ‘mature’ such as the cringe inducing sexy-time QTE minigame in Fahrenheit.

For those of us that were teenagers during this era of gaming however these characters were the object of our affections, so let me take you back to the mid-90’s and let’s have a slumber party. The popcorn is hot, we’re half-way through our regulation Bacardi Breezer, and inevitably the conversation turns to our ‘Dream Resident Evil Date’, but wait?!? how do you know which of that scintillating cast will light up your eyes like S.T.A.R.S.?? Lucky for you, I have the 100% accurate, reliable, and foolproof Resident Evil date decider – just follow the flowchart below and discover your perfect Resi-Date – Click on the image for the full size version! Continue reading “Your Dream Resident Evil Date”

John Romero’s Sigil: Iconic or Demonic?

Growing up, I played Doom… but I never really played Doom. Does that make sense? Am I making sense right now? Let me qualify that; I was too young to play Doom, I mean, of course I was too young for the violence, but the point is that I was also too young for what is effectively fast paced first-person dungeon crawling. The labyrinthine like quality to levels loaded with secrets were lost on me as I jabbed in IDDQD and IDKFA to activate god-mode, all weapons, and keys just to shoot monsters. As a result I tended to get bored pretty quickly; I’d missed the point.

I don’t know if YouTube’s algorithms extend to delving in to your childhood, but for some reason recently I’ve been recommended many videos that outline the subtleties of Doom in the form of decino’s breakdowns of different game elements (it’s like they’re trying to show me what I missed out on). Picking apart the code itself I’ve been learning about monster, powerup, weapon behaviour and, armed with this insight, decided to pick up the recent Switch port of the original game (now that many of the initial problems have been patched) to finally experience the game as it should have been played. Over the week that followed I ploughed through the original three episodes, and the fourth episode (Thy Flesh Consumed) that was added in at version 1.666; ‘The Ultimate Doom’. It turned out to be one of the better four pounds that I’ve ever spent on a game and in its current state I have no problems recommending it (aside from an annoying bug where the game freezes if you put the system in to sleep) as a solid port. Blasting through the legions of hell I found a new appreciation for ID’s classic, how they’d managed to produce something so visually impressive on the limited PC hardware of the early 90’s, the thought that had gone into the various ingame elements, but most of all how the level design brings the entire game together. Continue reading “John Romero’s Sigil: Iconic or Demonic?”