Top 5 Game Beginnings

A strong beginning can carry a game, it’s what will make someone excited for what to come while at the same time helping teach the player about the world, how to interact with it, and their role in it. For the purposes of this little article I’m being vague about my definition of the ‘beginning’ of a game. I’m mostly going for the opening sequences and that little tutorial section that exists in pretty much every modern game, where it teaches you what to do. So let’s go ahead with the top 5 beginnings:

 

Number 5

Fallout 3

Bethesda are pretty famous for the opening sequences to their games. They like to create a pretty dramatic starter and generally it does a good job of getting you into the story. Unfortunately they also have a tendency of creating some of the most boring tutorial sections ever. The opening to the fourth Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, is excellent from a narrative view but oh my did I ever just download a mod to skip it as soon as I could.

Fallout 3, for me, is the exception to it. For those that don’t know the Fallout series is set in an alternate history post apocalyptic game where you’ll spend most of your time scavenging the wastelands of America shooting raiders, super mutants, and giant scorpions. Fallout 3 begins with your character being born, which is awesome! It the proceeds with your childhood growing up with your dad, played by Liam Neeson.

Although where Liam Neeson comes from will not revealed until you decide it.

Although where Liam Neeson comes from will not revealed until you decide it.

I think this is what makes Fallout 3’s opening better than it’s sequel, Fallout: New Vegas. It gives you a much greater attachment to your character because you are there during their life. Yes the same thing will happen all the time with only minor changes, the robot will always mess up the cake and you’ll always get a BB gun from your dad. But it just gives this real impetus to continue the story. When stuff inevitably goes wrong it does feel important and exciting. It also gives a very good reason why an adult knows so little of the world around them. It makes sense that you constantly have to ask who Three-Dog or the Enclave are if you’ve spent your life in a vault.

Fallout 3 is probably my favourite beginning to a Bethesda game, better even than Morrowind, and is probably the only one that I don’t try and find a way to skip. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it sets a good tone, what more could you ask for?

But would it have killed you to maybe teach me a bit more about surviving in an apocalyptic wasteland, dad?

But would it have killed you to maybe teach me a bit more about surviving in an apocalyptic wasteland, dad?

 

Number 4

Dark Souls

I have struggled with Dark Souls, and not just because it’s meant to be very hard. I keep going back to it but I find it difficult to get my head around all the mechanics and working out exactly how I want to play the game. Before I started playing it (and watching Vinny from Giant Bomb play it) all I really knew about Dark Souls was that it’s hard. What I didn’t know was that it has an awesome opening cinematic! I’m serious I haven’t been so impressed by an opening cinematic for a long while.

This guy turns up and the whole thing kicks off into an epic tale of awesomeness!

This guy turns up and the whole thing kicks off into an epic tale of awesomeness!

I think I was just impressed by the lore involved in everything. The opening cinematic really kicks you into this hostile world and gives you an idea of exactly what sort of fantasy scale you’re dealing with here. Beyond the opening cinematic the tutorial area is pretty good at teaching you about the game but did not impress me as much as this first scene. That’s why I put it lower on this list, if the tutorial built on how amazing the opening scene is then it would have been one of the best beginnings ever. But as it stands I found the whole Undead Asylum thing didn’t quite grab me as much as I’d hoped.

I’m sure I’ll keep going back as I’m still trying to find my playstyle for Dark Souls which requires making lots of different characters. I don’t know what sort I’ll end up with but I do know that I will watch that opening scene in full every time.

I did have someone laugh out loud at that line.

And a shout out for the Furtive Pygmy, so easily forgotten!

 

Number 3

Alice: Madness Returns

So I’ve already reviewed Alice: Madness Returns so you may well know my opinion on it. Objectively it’s a pretty good game but has some glaring problems. Subjectively however I would consider it one of my favourite games of all time. Pretty much everything just works and I have so much fun with it. It’s also one of the few games that I am pretty determined to complete 100%. The beginning of the game gives you a very good idea of what to expect from it, it’s big, it’s confusing, it’s disturbing, and more than a little scary. It is a bit of a slow burning beginning, really letting you get into the setting and style before actually giving you any real gameplay.

For some people this may be a point against it but Alice pulls off the grimy setting of London, the bizarre nature of Wonderland, and the fear and unsettling images that Alice is suffering from. The very first scene is pretty disturbing and those not knowing what sort of game they’ve let themselves in for may be seriously unsettled but I think it fits the game perfectly.

Yeah it's only going to stay nice for another two seconds or so, then the blood starts flowing... I'm not joking.

Yeah it’s only going to stay nice for another two seconds or so, then the blood starts flowing… I’m not joking.

After this scene you get a fairly long sequence of Alice’s London which is gritty and dirty and full of grotesque character models. It’s pretty glorious and in a way reflects Alice’s disgust with the world around her. There are also a few very subtle clues to the game’s conclusion which, when looked at during a second playthrough, are pretty clever. When you get to the actual gameplay the game still does well at keeping a good tone and pace. People who didn’t play the original American McGee’s Alice may find references going over their heads and may well become confused by the references and character changes. But to these people I say that you should play the original game. Find some way to get it and play it because it is an excellent game as well and well worth it.

Well, time to head back to Wonderland and back to the old murderin'

Well, time to head back to Wonderland and back to the old murderin’

 

Number 2

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

The very first thing I reviewed on this site and another of my favourite games. The opening scene of XCOM sets up the admittedly simple story beautifully. You have aliens, scared people, and the para-military organisation set up to the stop the invaders from space. The opening cutscene is good enough but the great thing about XCOM is that the tutorial mission really builds on what you’ve already seen.

What's that? Most of the soldiers died on the first mission? ... Hands up for volunteers to go on the second I suppose.

What’s that? Most of the soldiers died on the first mission? … Hands up for volunteers to go on the second I suppose.

Yeah you shouldn’t get attached to the soldiers on the tutorial mission because XCOM is almost as punishing as Dark Souls. The first mission shows you exactly how vulnerable your soldiers are and how likely they are to die: very and very. The only real problem with the tutorial is that it’s a great scene that I want to see again but it does last for such a long time and beyond the first mission I just want to get on with the game. There is an option to just start with a random mission and forget the tutorial entirely but I really love that scene with the first contact and the sectoids appearing, it’s brilliant.

To be honest there’s not much more to say than that. XCOM’s opening really gets you in the mood of the commander and prepares you for a lot of tense moments and, of course, vast quantities of death to come.

 

Hidin' behind this pillar, mind controllin' yo friends!

Hidin’ behind this pillar, mind controllin’ yo friends!

 

And Number 1

Bioshock

Oh my but the Bioshock series is excellent. Good gameplay, thought provoking themes, fantastic environments. The Bioshock franchise has always been viewed with excitement and interest. To my shame I still have not been able to acquire a copy of Bioshock Infintie but I have heard excellent things about it. But it is the first Bioshock game that I want to talk about here. I remember seeing Bioshock for the first time, it was amazing. Going into the lighthouse and heading down into Rapture, hearing Andrew Ryan talk about the ideals behind the underwater city, only to discover the place in chaos and filled with some pretty terrifying enemies.

The opening to Bioshock is wonderful and it is creepy. The first introduction to the Splicers made me not want to leave the safety of the Bathysphere and it is only because of the comfortingly sane voice of Atlas that you feel at least a little safe leaving in search of ‘a crowbar or something…’ What you might call the tutorial section doesn’t last particularly long because most of the gameplay is pretty easy to explain. What Bioshock does better than many other games is how it draws you into its world.

This is also the game that taught me that I hate Ayn Rand.

This is also the game that taught me that I hate Ayn Rand.

The first view of Rapture is one of the most iconic parts of the series and this is a series with more than a few iconic moments. Then once you start playing you quickly learn that you’re pretty much alone here in Rapture and this is a very dangerous place. This doesn’t mean it’s as punishing as Dark Souls or XCOM. No, what Bioshock does well is that it keeps you tense but at the same time shows you exactly what to do to beat the game. There aren’t heaps of nuances to learn in order to master it. You don’t have to learn what Poise does or that not getting into cover is a death sentence. You learn that these are your plasmids, these are your weapons, those nasty looking people over there are the enemy, knock yourself, or preferably them, out.

It’s a game that’s very easy to pick up and that’s why the beginning is so streamlined, you’re not spending hours being taught exactly how to play the game because the mechanics are very easy to learn. The game teaches you as you go along by letting you experiment with plasmids and weapons and combinations of the two, it doesn’t lead you by the hand and it doesn’t leave you completely alone. You know enough to enjoy it. Add this to an absolutely beautiful art style and atmospheric introduction and you have, in my opinion, the best opening to a game.

If Big Daddy is watching you then it's probably best to just cut your losses and leave... until you learn how to shoot bees from your hands!

If Big Daddy is watching you then it’s probably best to just cut your losses and leave… until you learn how to shoot bees from your hands!

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Alice: Madness Returns

Remember, Alice, not all here is as it seems. I’m not even here, nor a I speaking right now. In fact, you’re saying everything you think I’m saying. And now I’m a giant hippo or something weird… wooooooo….

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is amazingly recognisable. It’s one of the staples of childhood literature and has been adapted many times (even into a porn parody). People will probably have seen the Disney adaptation and it’s highly likely that you will have seen the Tim Burton adaptation of 2010 (which I hate but we can go into that another time). Because of the weirdness of the story it is almost always one that people like to twist, to make dark and scary. Surprisingly few manage to do it effectively.

Enter American McGee, an American game designer with an interesting childhood and just the right experience to make a dark and twisted version of Alice in Wonderland that actually keeps the ideas of the original story. The resulting product was a game called American McGee’s Alice. It’s still a pretty excellent game, though it has dated, and well worth the high reviews it received. The story is set after the events of Through the Lookinglass and features a slightly older Alice. A fire breaks out in Alice’s home, destroying everything and killing the entire Liddell family apart from Alice who is so wracked with survivors guilt she is institutionalised. To reflect Alice’s shattered psyche, Wonderland has become twisted and the Queen of Hearts has become even more tyrannical. Thus Alice is forced to return to Wonderland in order to help restore it, and in the process herself.

Wonderland's a little bit different

The sequel to American McGee’s Alice came some 11 years afterwards and is entitled Alice: Madness Returns. Alice is now 19 years old but is still haunted by her guilt and her insanity. Now, after her stay in Rutledge Asylum, she is being treated by Doctor Angus Bumby who is trying to hypnotise Alice into forgetting her trauma. But the treatment seems to be having little effect as Alice is hurled back into Wonderland where she is informed by the Cheshire Cat that there is a new evil destroying Wonderland and Alice must, once more, defeat it. Along the way she must piece her memory together so she can try and learn what really happened on the night of the fire.

The game itself is an third-person action puzzle platformer. As Alice the players must navigate the unusual environment of Wonderland, battle the various hostile creatures within, and mostly go from one character to another as they give her cryptic messages and, generally speaking, add greater confusion to the story. There is a real theme of industrialisation, with horrific mechanical monstrosities making up large areas of the environment. Many of the enemies themselves are made of Ruin, a sort of black, polluted sludge. The combat makes use of Alice’s agility as well as four weapons, which can be used for combo attacks.

She is not messing around with that Vorpal Blade

The combat is entertaining but can get a little stale. It’s mostly a matter of learning cues so you can dodge enemy attacks and then wildly swinging at them until it’s time to dodge again. There are quite a number of enemies with different forms of attack so there is variety and the animations on both Alice and her opponents look excellent. Even the designs are interesting to look at, from the sludge and machinery of the ruin to the Eye-Pot, a giant teapot with one red eye and sharp legs for stabbing and a nozzle for firing boiling liquids (maybe tea, who knows) at you. The platforming is well done, making use of Alice’s excellent manoeuvrability. There are some frustrating moments with the platforming but not usually anything that ends up with controller-snapping frustration.

But the best things about the game are the style and the art. This is a beautiful game with absolutely amazing environments. Each section you play through looks unique and incredibly imaginative, fitting the theme of Wonderland very neatly. But even the dreary look of Ol’ London Taaan is imaginative in a very bleak way.

No seriously, she is NOT messing around with that Vorpal Blade

Besides the moments of frustrating platforming the game’s biggest flaw is probably that the combat can get a little same-y. However people will experience this to different levels and it is somewhat lowered on higher difficulties. Playing on some the hardest difficulties makes an enemy’s attack very punishing meaning that you have to keep yourself focused. But even with this the limited number of weapons, attacks, and combos mean that players with a more action-oriented mind may find themselves a little tired of the hack n’ slash methods by the end.

Also, if you do not enjoy looking out for secrets and collectibles then this may not be for you. The game is full of things to collect, teeth for upgrades, memories to piece together the story, bottles for… well, bottles mostly. The environments are fun enough to explore and interesting enough to look at but trying to find that one last hidden memory in the entire level can be very frustrating.

Beware the Eye-Pot, my girl, the legs that stab, the spout that spits.

If you are a fan of Alice in Wonderland then you’ll enjoy the many interesting approaches to the characters. It’s true that many people try to darken the stories of Alice but this is one of the very few times that it’s done well. Why? Well it’s mostly due to how Alice is portrayed. She doesn’t stare in wonder and everything around her but is just generally quite annoyed at how silly it all is. Very few adaptations seem to realise that this is how Alice is supposed to act.

Anyway, as a game it works well but the repetition and collectibles may put some gamers off. But there are much worse ways to tell a story of Alice (I’m looking at you, Tim Burton).

 

Sorry this one was a bit late, friends, various stresses have been catching up with me and I completely forgot to upload yesterday. Will continue with regular article tomorrow.

 

Zeno Clash

I am the mighty polar bear! I will crush all of you with my mighty paws! So run in fear… strange chicken-human thing, living statues, creepy eye things… what the hell is a Corwid? … Father-Mother? I think you lost me somewhere.

Zeno Clash is a first person action game being primarily focused on melee combat. Most first person shooters have some elements of fighting up close as well as using guns, from the chainsaw of Doom to the knife of Call of Duty, but very few games use it as their core mechanic. It used to be considered a great challenge but in the past few years we have seen a number of first person games successful employ hand to hand fighting. The Condemned series and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare both gave us very gritty and hard hitting (har har!) looks at close quarters combat. Zeno Clash takes a slightly lighter route in terms of tone but then instantly sprints down the avenue of absolutely bizarre.

Says it all, really.

Zeno Clash is set in a strange fantasy world with bizarre hybrid creatures, most of whom are the children of Father-Mother, an odd bird-like humanoid creature that is both father and mother to its children. Or else the mysterious Corwids of the Free who have compulsions that they rigidly stick to, like Oxameter who only walks in a straight line, or Erminia who”Peed on herself and died anonymously”. You play Ghat, one of Father-Mother’s children who left the family and learned from Corwids. At the start of the game Ghat murders Father-Mother for unknown reasons. Aided by his companion Deadra, Ghat seeks to escape the wrath of Father-Mother’s children and along the way we learn more about Ghat and the secret purpose he had to murder Father-Mother.

As far as gameplay goes the game is a lot of fun. The fighting is well executed and simple enough to learn quickly and it gets very adrenaline pumping during the larger fights. The fact that the game tends to change to a first person shooter did throw me because the shooting mechanics are nowhere near as streamlined as the melee combat. It does provide an extra challenge while fighting hordes of enemies, you have to constantly keep an eye on that one bastard with the rifle, but in the end I found it more annoying than anything else.

Muahahaha! Let Father-Mother haunt your nightmares!

The game’s visual style is unique, I have never seen this vague tribal-punk-fantasy mashup before and it does create a world unlike any other in gaming. The problem, however, is that this world is never fleshed out enough for me to get involved in it. Occasionally you meet new and ever more bizarre creatures but we learn nothing about them or truly what most of them are. We get hints and impressions but they are few and far between. Clearly we’re just meant to go along with the characters who do know the world around them. While it is striking this does mean that the creepy imagery and little explanation makes Zeno Clash feel like a fever dream.

Another problem is that the voice acting is pretty damn awful. The characters that sound the best tend to be the ones with heavy alterations made to their dialogue: Golem, Father-Mother, and Metamoq. Ghat and Deadra, our protagonists, however are pretty dire with some genuinely cringey moments. It becomes slightly less noticeable as you go further into the game but that is mostly because you’re used to it and are too caught up in the fever dream to care.

Zeno Clash: The game about punching abominations of nature

Zeno Clash is the debut of developer ACE Team and so many things can be forgiven about it. It’s entertaining and the fist fighting is a lot of fun. But the number of problems with the gun fights, the voice acting, and the lack of any real knowledge about the world are very prominent. It only took me a few hours to complete and has been an interesting experience but I can’t say I would have bought it had it not been on a massive sale on Steam. I may well check out Zeno Clash II but it’s not very high on my list at the moment.

 

 

 

…YoU WEre mY SOn, GhAT!…

Alan Wake

The dark presence shifted before my eyes like a great swirling abyss, I could feel it gnawing at my mind like a rat on a scrap of bone. Then it turned out it just represented my father and I punched it to death whilst reciting the names of birds… What did you expect when this is heavily influenced by Stephen King?

My triumphant return! Yes I haven’t updated in a while, I’ve been working on a big project which may well appear within the next couple of weeks (at least I hope it does). But since it’s in the weekly Humble Bundle deal (Link at the bottom) I thought it would be fun to restart my regular features with a look at Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake.

Alan Wake is a third-person action psychological thriller where the player controls Alan Wake, a celebrity horror writer who, after a severe attack of writer’s block, takes a holiday with his wife Alice to Bright Falls, a small mountain town. It is meant to be a holiday but after a mysterious force drags his wife beneath a great lake, Alan is forced to battle against creatures composed of darkness to find his wife and rescue her. Along the way Alan find s a number of allies to help him but still has to contend with the great dark presence and its army of Taken.

Kill it with light!

While the game does have a few puzzles it is primarily an action game with a very heavy and, in some places, complex plot. As Alan you have two main weapons, guns and light. In order to even hurt the enemies with bullets you have to remove the shadowy shield around them with flash-lights, flares, and flash-bangs. The game mostly focuses around you following a linear path, holding off waves of enemies as Alan tries to make sense of what’s happening. It’s a simple style with some fun mechanics.

What it does very well, however, is the atmospheric experience it provides. While not the scariest game I have ever played it is certainly tense, frantically trying to get a generator working while enemies are only a few steps away from you makes for quite an experience. In fact the tone of the game is one of the best things about it, making for quite a cinematic experience. It has an interesting blend of horror, comedy, action, and drama that does make it feel like a film. But unlike other cinematic games the gameplay doesn’t take second place. The very streamlined and simple combat system is easy to learn but still challenging enough to be entertaining.

I wasn’t lying about the “Kill it with light!” thing.

The game is heavily influenced by the works of Stephen King and while King’s stories are iconic they tend to be prey to  a number of faults, at least in my opinion. Most of my experiences with King’s body of work has shown terrific build-up for the first half and then thorough disappointment in the second. Fortunately Alan Wake doesn’t suffer from this problem to the same extent but those who are looking for a satisfying ending may be annoyed at the number of questions left unanswered, and sometimes not even raised by the characters, as well as the rather annoying “The End…?” nature of the finale.

You’ve really got to get absorbed into the world to properly enjoy it, the Stephen King references, the Twilight Zone style television shows and this idea that anything could be happening and you don’t know who to trust. If you’re not the sort of person who likes to get absorbed in a game’s world then you may find you have some problems with Alan Wake, most likely due to cheesiness in some of the dialogue. There is also a strange disconnect when you start a new chapter in the game and it plays a Previously on Alan Wake as though you were actually watching a TV show. It’s a fun stylistic choice but sometimes odd.

He’s so intense and moody

So Alan Wake is good for those that like to get absorbed in a different universe, it’s got simple but often challenging combat systems and a very pretty art style. If you’re not the sort that enjoys heavy plot and a whole bucket o’ moodiness then you may find yourself a bit let down. But at the end of the day while it is on the Humble Bundle (for one week, link at the bottom) then you can pay whatever you like and get the collector’s edition, with a whole load of bonus features as well as the two DLC missions. You also get Alan Wake’s American Nightmare which I have yet to play but certainly seems worth giving it a shot.

 

Humble Weekly Bundle:

https://www.humblebundle.com/weekly

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Ia Cthulhu! Ia Dagon! There, am I part of your little cult now, you crazy fish people?

Cthulhu is practically a household name. So many people know or have heard of H.P. Lovecraft and his series of stories about the strange inhabitants of Earth before the age of man. Cthulhu is the most famous among these but if you read enough of the stories you can see almost all of his creations have been a huge influence in many designs in games, books, and films.

Released in 2005 for the Xbox and 2006 for the PC, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was one of the very few games released by British developers Headfirst Productions. The game was a critical success but unfortunately not a financial one and though a sequel was planned, Headfirst was dissolved before any work could be done.

Or could it have been the work of eldritch monstrosities? Only time will tell.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a first person action adventure, stealth, puzzle, horror game. It’s quite the mash of genres really. The player is put in control of Detective Jack Walters, once a police detective but now a private eye after a mental breakdown. The first scene shows Jack in Arkham while a brief bit of narration hints at the terrible horrors he has witnessed. It then flashes back to Jack’s time in the police and a raid on the home of a cult that have planned a mass suicide. Jack has been asked for specifically by the cult leader and is forced to investigate the strange house.

During the events of the raid Jack suffers a mental breakdown. We re-join him a number of years later, though he suffers from amnesia and cannot remember the events after the cult raid. He has become a private investigator and gets called to Innsmouth to investigate the disappearance of a clerk. Innsmouth, as Lovecraft fans will know, is not a place to visit, you don’t want to be there unless you are a local as Jack soon discovers. Following an assassination attempt Jack is left with very few allies, trying to escape the town and its strange, violent people.

There’s something fishy about these people (Yes the joke made me feel smug)

The game is an odd blend of good and bad mechanics and story. Visually it hasn’t aged fantastically well but the overall design, with washed out colour and very foreboding locations, stays pretty fresh. It also features a pretty well realised sanity system, as one would expect from a Lovecraft inspired game. Though there isn’t quite the depth to it that some of the early trailers suggested, no hallucinations of people turning into monsters, it is still very well done with camera distortion, muffled sounds, and the very unsettling things Jack starts saying to himself as he gets crazier. The combat in the game is designed to be realistic with no heads up display (HUD) at all. When using guns you have to either judge the shot or aim down the sights for accuracy and if you are injured you don’t have a health bar telling you you’re about to die.

In fact the health system is one of the things I really enjoy about the game. It’s a blend of regenerating health and a health bar. When you are injured your character suffers actual injuries, broken bones, lacerations and such like, which you have to heal using various medical supplies, bandages, sutures, splints, and antidotes. It means you can generally ignore lighter injuries but if you take a bad fall or get hit hard by a bullet you’re going to bleed out or be seriously affected.

The overall feel of the game is pretty great. There is a sense of wild desperation in combat and when you’re trying to sneak by enemies the tension is palpable. The storyline is pretty good and deep but there isn’t always a great deal of time dedicated to helping the player know who this ally of theirs is. I suppose it’s part of the realism, it’s implied that Jack already knows about most of these people and so doesn’t need expository dialogue to identify them.

Besides, they probably have more important matters to deal with, like finding that missing tooth of theirs.

I’m not wholly fond of a game that grades you at the end on how well you played it but I am ok with that. What does annoy me is that the game basically punishes you for saving, if you save your game more than a certain number of times then it penalizes you on your overall grade. I suppose the idea is to increase tension, so when you mess up a certain bit you can’t just reload to five seconds beforehand, but if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t always have the time to sit down and do a good few hours of gameplay then you’re not going to find out or unlock everything in the story.

The stealth mechanics can also be a little bit dodgy. It could be another attempt at realism which is a very strong possibility but as it stands the stealth sections can be a little bit fiddly to navigate without being spotted almost immediately. If you think about it as realism, however, it takes a bit of the edge off the frustration.

Unfortunately for me the biggest complaint I have is the story and atmosphere in the second half. It is still good, don’t get me wrong, but once J. Edgar Hoover turns up with the FBI and Innsmouth is now being raided by the government you lose a bit of that tension that the game has been so good at building up to now. It by no means ruins the experience but it makes it feel less like a Lovecraft story.

Although I suppose when you’re fighting nightmarish monsters from the sea having an armed squad of FBI agents is quite appealing.

If you’re a fan of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos you’re going to get a lot out of this game, lots of extra details and references are all gained from reading the stories and it’s good to see some of Lovecraft’s work realised on screen. There is still some very good gameplay here but some people might find the combat and the health management system frustrating. If you’re a fan of survival horror you’re going to have a good time because unless you’re careful Jack’s story is going to end in suicide or bleeding to death with broken limbs in an Innsmouth alleyway. So enjoy and remember, if you’re staying in a creepy town full of hostile people, bolt the door before going to bed.

Available on Steam for: £5.99

$9.99

€9.99

Hotline Miami

And who do we have here? Oh, you don’t know who you are? Maybe we should leave it that way? But I know you. Look at my face… we’ve met before… It’s hard to forget when you meet a polar bear and what are you doing wandering around the Arctic wearing an animal mask? Are you crazy? Let’s wait and find out…

Cryptic is the best word to use to describe the story in Dennaton Games’ Hotline Miami, a 2-D Topdown action puzzle game. The best word to describe the gameplay is violent. Oh yes this is a violent and gory game but don’t write it off as a cheap and lazy attempt at pulling in 13-year-old boys. There’s a lot more to this game than meets the eye.

Welp, something pretty awful happened here

Hotline Miami is set in (surprise, surprise) Miami in the 1980s. It follows the story of a character of Jacket, whose name is never used in the game, as he receives phone calls with coded instructions to go to a location and kill large numbers of people while wearing different animal masks. It’s difficult to go into the story properly without spoilers or just wild interpretation. Very little is fact.

It rarely gives the player a reliable idea of what is going on. Jacket’s mental faculties seem to decay throughout the game leading to hallucinations that make it difficult to determine what is real and what isn’t. It’s like looking at the world through the eyes of a schizophrenic. Most of the story is implied with the player having to interpret the meaning behind the various events. These don’t usually happen in mission but take place in mini prologues or chapter breaks with (possibly) imaginary scenes.

Nah this must be real, I frequently meet with three figures wearing animal masks who spout (maybe) gibberish at me

The game does a lot of things really well. The combat system is incredibly quick and incredibly satisfying when done well. Most characters are one hit kill and this includes the player character so when if you make a mistake you’re almost guaranteed to die. But this isn’t a problem because it’s just one button to respawn instantly.

This is so streamlined that you can go into room, kill two enemies, get killed by the third you didn’t see, and respawn to try again in a matter of seconds. The game is as much a puzzle game as it is an action game, with players having to navigate around the many rooms and dispatch all the enemies without a single one getting you.

The game does have an interesting design. Great clashing colours dominate with a psychedelic feel that is very evocative of the era and (potential) madness of the characters. Even the menu screen creates this haze of insanity that does sometimes make you feel like you’re a bit drunk when you’re just trying to pick a level to play.

But one of the best features in Hotline Miami is the soundtrack. When I first played the game I didn’t really think much of it. I’d heard lots of people praising it but didn’t find it particularly special. However, I very quickly found that the game and the soundtrack blended together so well that it started creating a real adrenaline rush just hearing it. Good soundtracks can do wonders for a game, Bastion for example, and Hotline Miami’s mirrors the gameplay to the point that your brain just kinda turns into this crazy mush as you just play and die and play and die until it’s about three hours later and you don’t know what happened.

I… I don’t know… I think I’ve just been playing too much of this

Of course for all that it does well there are inevitably things it does poorly. Though the game can get frustrating I wouldn’t count this as a bad point because that’s part of the puzzle, apart from two things. First is Chapter 12: Trauma which is different to all others (one of these things is not like the others…). This chapter is a stealth chapter where if you are seen by an enemy you are sent back to a checkpoint, all the while having to manage how long you walk before having to pause thanks to a head trauma

It is frustrating, really frustrating and for me it breaks the flow of the game a little. The rest of the chapters are quick and loud and adrenaline fuelled. This one is slow and quiet and patient. Changing the tone in a game can be done well but here I feel that this chapter deserved to be more of a story prologue than a full chapter.

The other problem is the boss battles. They are few and far between but they are probably my least favourite parts of the game. The one-hit kill feature for the player character does not make for exciting boss battles and since most of the bosses are preceded by an unskippable cutscene it doesn’t have the flow of the instant respawn that the rest of the game has.

Hotline Miami is a bit like a fever dream with serious violence and serious confusion. It is unlike pretty much anything else out there at the moment and I look forward to the possibility of DLC or even a sequel. I just have one question: why no polar bear mask?

I think someone slipped something in my drink…

Currently on Steam for: £6.99

$9.99

€8.49