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!

My Top 5 Scary Characters

Muahahahaha! Welcome, dear reader, to the chamber of horrors! Well, my chamber of horrors, because this is my personal top 5 scary characters. I doubt you’ll agree with most of them because, let’s face it, what’s scary is subjective. Plus a number of these are things that used to scare me when I was younger and have just stuck in my brain. As usual I’m keeping spoilers to a minimum but it depends on your idea of a spoiler. So without further ado:

Number 5

Game: Puzzle Agent

What? A harmless little puzzle game? A harmless little funny puzzle game? What could be scary in a very simple game about an FBI agent in charge of the Puzzles division going off to investigate a crime?

Character: The Hidden People

Do not mess with these gnomes

Besides everything?! The art in this game is pretty cool but goddamn it makes for some terrifying people when they scream. But even worse than that is the little red gnomes known as the Hidden People. I think most of the terror comes from the fact that you just aren’t expecting this game to be scary. Then suddenly killer gnomes everywhere! What’s worse is that they sometimes just appear while you’re doing a puzzle. So you’re concentrating very hard on the game and suddenly these creatures appear! Not cool, Puzzle Agent, not cool.

Number 4

Game: Condemned: Criminal Origins

Maybe the only genuine horror game on this list, Condemned: Criminal Origins puts you in the role of Serial Crimes Unit officer Ethan Thomas as he investigates a series of brutal, ritualistic murders in a city that is slowly going mad. Fighting your way through armies of mad homeless and drug addicts while making your way through various abandoned locations is bad enough but one of the scariest bits of the game…

Character: Serial Killer X

Get ready for death, Agent Thomas, it will come visiting again

There is a sequence towards the end of the game where you have been making your way through an old farmhouse, locating clues and solving riddles. Near the end you are confronted and get chased by a serial killer. This sounds pretty standard but this game does this scene so well. The killer is about the same strength as your character and he’s clever, much cleverer than the other enemies you fight. He’s also a little faster meaning that once he retreats and you chase after him he’s already gone. Now it’s a game of cat and mouse as you each try to find the other and get the upper hand, waiting for him to come behind you with a rusty pipe. Oh and it’s not in some dark, dank villains lair, it’s in a house. A normal house, just like one you might live in.

Number 3

Game: Space Quest IV

The Space Quest series is amusing, oddly charming, kinda freaky, and, quite frankly, a classic. So what, in these stories about an incompetent space janitor getting himself thrust into the role of reluctant hero, could possibly be so scary?

Character: the Cyborgs

The things are bad enough to look at, and then they scream.

Quite early on in this game you get introduced to the many different ways in which Roger Wilco can die. This game is so full of ways to die that the video showing all the possible methods is more than twenty minutes long. The first death shown on that video is what happens when one of the Cyborgs finds you. The mad lip twitch, raising their hand, and then screaming at you is terrifying and it’s so early in the game that you just aren’t expecting it. It’s pretty nightmarish.

Number 2

Game: King’s Quest VII

Like Puzzle Agent this game shouldn’t be scary, it’s  high fantasy and very cartoony with talking animals and a wicked witch and royalty saving the day. Yet this game has some incredibly freaky elements, from simple giant scorpions and trolls to living nightmares, murderous children, a woman who literally cried her eyes out, and…

Character: The Bo(o)geyman

Sadly there aren’t many good pictures of him. There are some videos on youtube that show you more.

I’m English so to me it’s always Bogeyman but the Boogeyman of King’s Quest VII is unlike any other. The level of the game with him is full of sadists and undead creatures but he is the worst. If you linger to long on one screen he’ll crawl up out of the ground, leap on top of you, and eat you. With his long, thin limbs, rotting flesh, and sharp teeth he’s scary enough but it’s worse to know that he’s always there, just waiting for you to be a little slow on a screen. There is a theme to warn of his coming that just ends up creating a Pavlovian response after a while and just causes panic.

And Number 1

Game: Thief: Deadly Shadows

The Thief series is probably the best example of a stealth game done right. Very few games have been able to implement stealth even half as well as these games, meaning that they have a pretty well deserved reputation. You play as Garrett, master thief, who is mostly just looking to rob enough people to keep himself in luxury for the rest of his life. Yet he seems unable to go even a few weeks without getting involved with zombies, trickster gods, cultists, and even robots. But there is one challenge that is probably the most memorable part of the third game.

Character: The Shalebridge Cradle

The Cradle remembers you now….

But wait, that doesn’t sound (or look) like a character. Well yes, you’d be right there. The Cradle isn’t like a character like the others in this list but it is a character in a very real sense. There is a malevolent presence there that manifests itself in a whole load of different ways. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Cradle was originally an orphanage and then became an insane asylum, while still functioning as an orphanage. This is an abandoned orphanage/asylum, how is that not the best horror combo ever?

The house manifests itself through Puppets, the remains of the nine insane patients which are wrapped in linen bandages and wear cages on their hands and heads. There are schools of thought which sat they aren’t undead like zombies but are just plain dead. Except the Cradle is controlling them. Oh and they’re almost impossible to kill. If they detect you they will scream and run at you and beat you. So you’re practically always on the lookout for them, holding your breath in case they can somehow hear you in game. But the Puppets aren’t all the Cradle had to throw at you. Beyond spirits of the dead, and the silhouetted Cradle Staff, you have to contend with viewing the awful history of the place and it’s methods of treatment. Quite literally re-living them. But the worst thing *slight spoiler alert* once you have completed the level, once you’ve done all your objectives, you can’t leave. The Cradle won’t let you, it remembers you now and it’s not going to let you go. This is the main reason I can give for calling the Cradle a character in it’s own right. *Spoilers end*

You do not want it near you. Ever.

So there we have my top 5 scary characters. Hope you enjoyed them and next week I promise we won’t be looking at another adventure game.

So see you soon, and don’t have nightmares.

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Top 5 Adventure Games

So I’ve focused a lot on adventure games so far, unsurprising considering it’s quite possibly my favourite video game genre. So, what with me thinking it’s about time I did some articles other than reviews and publicising my novel, I’ve decided to generate a list of top 5 adventure games as voted for by me.

Number 5

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars

Revolution Software was pretty well established in the 90s what with the success of their previous games Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky. But probably one of their most famous works, in adventure games circles, is the creation of the Broken Sword series. Specifically here I am talking about the first game which is by far the best. It is set in Paris and centres around an American tourist by the name of George Stobbart who witnesses the bombing of a cafe. Together with the assistance of journalist Nico Collard, George is drawn into a world of intrigue, conspiracy, murder, and enough Templars to make Dan Brown blush.

Did I mention terrifying clowns as well?

The game has a great sense of danger as it draws you in, being one of the number of adventure games where you can actually die, but it keeps this light-hearted tone as well such as being chased by mad kebab salesmen, the rivalry between George and a museum curator, and just George’s funny and often sarcastic musings on the situation. There are other games in the series but it’s a downward slope in my opinion, though the fourth game does improve on the third. The first has amazing characterisation and a pretty fun art style coupled with interesting puzzles and a gripping storyline. The Director’s Cut has also been released with some extra content and a fifth game is on the way.

That’s why his briefcase is so big, it’s full of secrets!

Number 4

The Blackwell Series

Ok so this is a little cheaty one since this is technically four games but it’s impossible not to lump them together. There is a bit of an overarching narrative and to be honest I couldn’t imagine playing one and not playing the others. I’ve already done quite an extensive article on this one so I’ll keep my point brief. The Blackwell games are not only fun in terms of puzzles but there is a real sense of growth with the characters. They change and develop as the story goes along and it’s really hard not to immediately move on to the next game when one finishes.

Moti the dog is also a reason this is awesome

It’s really great to go back to these games, especially with the commentary by Dave Gilbert, and it’s interesting to watch them develop. If I had to pick which game was my favourite out of them then I would probably just say “All of them” and change the subject. But if forced I think I would have to say the third one, Blackwell Convergence, this is where the overarching plot really starts and also where a lot of the gameplay mechanics really start coming together. Some of the set pieces are fantastic, who doesn’t love a metaphysical diner floating in space? This is not to sell the other games short as they are tons of fun and I couldn’t imagine someone liking adventure games and not liking these.

See ya soon for the next game, dollface

Number 3

Discworld

Oh my do I ever love Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series. The books are brilliant and the characters are classic. But what got me started with Discworld wasn’t any of the books but a point and click adventure game developed in 1995. When it was first released it was criticised for its difficult game mechanics but I never found it to be a problem. Maybe this is just me looking back with nostalgia but I don’t care, this was important stuff. I’m not going to fully explain the Discworld because that would take at least a whole article but to give a breif summary: The Discworld is flat and round and carried through space on the back of four giant elephants which stand on the shell of an enormous turtle. It’s a fantasy world but it’s a light-hearted one with very tongue in cheek comedy. In the game you play as Rincewind, a rather unexceptional wizard who gets roped in to deal with the issue of a dragon that has appeared and is terrorising the city of Ankh-Morpork.

Ridcully would do it himself but he’s got a lot of fishing, hunting, and shouting to do.

The game itself is a spin on the plots of a few of the books so it’s not as though it’s really spoiled for anyone that’s read them. But what’s really great about this game is the casting and the voice acting. With British veterans such as Tony Robinson, Rob Brydon, and Jon Pertwee making up various members of the cast it’s very entertaining. The casting of Eric Idle as Rincewind, the cowardly wizard with more skill in running away than in magic, is absolutely perfect. I couldn’t imagine another Rincewind. There are two sequels, Discworld II being a direct one and a standalone game entitled Discworld Noir, they are also excellent games but to my mind the first game is the best.

Though it can be an ache to get an old game running on a new PC

Number 2

The Chzo Mythos

Another bit of a cheaty one since this is a collection of games rather than one individual one. People frequenting gaming sites may already be familiar with the work of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw and his Zero Punctuation videos on The Escapist. But Yahtzee has also done a bit of game development in his time and between 2003 and 2007 released four games that came under the heading of the Chzo Mythos. These are, in chronological order, Five Days a Stranger, Seven Days a Skeptic, Trilby’s Notes, and Six Days a Sacrifice. There are a few different protagonists but the most prevalent is Trilby, a gentleman thief of great notoriety, whilst attempting to rob a supposedly abandoned house he become trapped inside with a malevolent spirit. To say much more would spoil it and, considering they’re free on Yahtzee’s website, the full plot is far too complicated to summarise here.

Summarise in ten words or less

The games have a real sense of atmosphere and high stakes that does a fantastic job of drawing you into its universe. It is very clear that Yahtzee’s skill in design, development, and art increases dramatically as the games progress but it’s still fun to go back to the first game with its slightly clunky mechanics and art style, just so you can see how everything that happens later is linked. It’s a real homage to a complex, psychological horror in the style of Silent Hill with enough freaky, scary, and WTF moments to keep you entertained. Again if you were to force an answer out of me I would probably say that my favourite game is Trilby’s Notes. The great lore that’s in the game, the flashbacks throughout history, and the genuinely unsettling feeling you get while playing just makes it get under your skin. Pretty good for a game with no voice acting.

Oh Trilby, how innocent you were when you were just trying to stop a machete-wielding-welder-ghost-thing

And Number 1

The Walking Dead

This game is pretty much the reason I started this blog. It was going to be my first piece but I realised that I had nothing bad to say about it, nothing at all. There aren’t as many complex object puzzles as there are in some of the other games in this list, it’s not even a point and click like the others. But The Walking Dead is one of those games that makes you seriously consider games as art. For those that don’t know The Walking Dead is an adventure game by Telltale Games where the player takes control of Lee Everett, a former University professor on his way to prison just as the great zombie outbreak occurs. After his introduction to the living dead Lee comes across a young girl called Clementine and together the two try to survive in an increasingly hostile world.

And that’s no easy feat

The game is famous for the fact that choices the player makes impact the story quite significantly in later chapters, even down to which characters live or die. It makes every decision tense as you try to work out what’s the best thing to do. But what makes the game so great is the relationship between Lee and Clementine. I’m not a big fan of children, I don’t really know how to talk to them, and I’m not a fan of video game children since they tend to be crowbarred in to try and drum up sympathy with how pathetic they are. You know what makes Clementine different? She’s a person, an actual child and not a plot device. She’s competent and, over the course of the game, you end up thinking like Lee. Forget everyone else’s problems, just do what’s best for her. You start judging your own actions by how Clementine will react.

All this builds and builds as the game goes on and it gets more intense. The game is great and showing the problems created by this post-society zombie infested world. Believe me there’s things a lot worse than the Walkers out there. It builds to an emotion wrought ending that made me have to sit down for about five minutes in order to digest it. No other game has affected my like that and all I can say is that I’m sorry the game had to end.

Keep that hair short, sweetpea

So there you have my top 5 adventure games but before we go, a quick honourary mention.

Honourary Mention

Primordia

I couldn’t bring myself to put this on the list because, annoyingly, I haven’t been able to complete it yet. The copy I have  been playing is not actually my own and the person it belonged to moved away to France before I could complete it.

Another WadjetEye game, Primordia is set in the distant future when humans have died out and only machines remain. These robots worship humans like a religion in their wasteland. One such robot, Horatio Nullbuilt Version 5, is living a hermits life when he is attacked by another robot and has his power core stolen. Horatio gives chase with Crispin, his only companion, and together they make their way to Metropol, the city of glass and light, where many robots live together. But things are not right in the city and it’s up to Horatio to find out why.

The game, so far, has been amazing. The puzzles are challenging, the universe unique, the art is astounding, and the voice acting (with Logan Cunningham of Bastion fame as Horatio) is incredible. I only wished I could have completed it.

Damn this game is gorgeous