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Author Archives: Matt Clarke
Doki Doki Literature Club has dug its way into my chest and ripped me apart over the last couple of nights. It’s a free visual novel game where you get to know a bunch of girls in an afterschool book club… except not really. It looks exactly like any other tropey Japanese dating sim type game, but what lurks underneath this cutesy exterior is something really quite sinister and thought-provoking. The game’s tagline does a good job of reminding you that all is not what it seems: “This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed.”
The following took place in 2012, in the beta version of the DayZ mod for ARMA 2. It recounts the story of how I survived the zombie apocalypse by eating 87 cans of baked beans.
Chernarus is not a welcoming place any more. The lush green fields are now infested with hordes of shambling undead. And if the zombies don’t kill you, other wanderers surely will. Being alone is risky, but trusting the wrong person could cost you your life. In this harsh new world, you won’t get far without friends.
Years: 1996 – 2003
To this day, the N64 holds my fondest gaming memories on a console. The PC may have stolen my heart eventually, but I’ll never forget the fun of my childhood, playing multiplayer games on my N64 with a bunch of mates after school, and during sleepovers.
One such sleepover took place at my friend Andrew’s house. There were 4 of us, and we played Perfect Dark for 17 hours straight. This is an estimate, but I do know that Andrew’s mother came in to say good night to us all, which must have been around 10 or 11oclock, and sometime later, after the sun had risen, she reappeared in the door to say good morning. We were still all sitting in the same spot. Still holding a controller each, and still playing Perfect Dark. I have no idea what his mother thought of us, but I doubt she was as impressed as we were.
I know for a fact my father wasn’t impressed with my gaming habits. He has never liked or really understood games, but he at least allowed me to play them as a kid which I am forever grateful for. He was also a fairly responsible parent in that he tried his best to limit my exposure to them. Whenever he caught me playing for too long, or if it was past my bedtime or I was supposed to be doing my homework, he’d say “goto sleep, or do your homework” but if he caught me AGAIN he would come in and confiscate the controllers. Not the games, or the console itself, just the controllers so I couldn’t actually play on it. I one day got wise and discovered that he had been hiding them in the garage, so the next time it happened, I snuck down and stole them back. He caught me again…
I used to read and collect N64 Magazine back in those days. Not the official Nintendo magazine (how could you trust reviews for games by a magazine that is run by the same company that made the console?!), N64 magazine had some excellent writers and freelancers, and the magazine was something to look forward to each month. I even wrote in a bunch of times, and once had a picture of Link printed in the fan letters section. They sent me a pin badge and a thank you letter! It was awesome.
The N64 was also a great console for trading games. The cartridges were so robust and solid, they couldn’t get easily scratched like the Playstation’s CD’s, so buying second hand games was an affordable way to try new games on a regular basis. There was a small shop just down the road from my house called Virtual Games. I’d sometimes go there on an almost weekly basis to see what they had on offer, to trade an old game for something new. In this way, I managed to experience so many different games, and the memory of simply going to that shop is something I’ll always look back on fondly. The internet has changed gaming forever, and its mostly for the better, but I’m glad I was young enough to experience the act of going into a games shop in person, to browse and chat to the enthusiastic shop keeper. Amazon and Steam can’t replicate that.
So, a list of some of the awesome games that the N64 had, because there were so many… Zelda Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Super Smash Bros, F-Zero X, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart, Diddy Kong Racing, Rampage!, 1080 Snowboarding, Wave Race 64, Tony Hawks Pro Skater, Bomberman 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Excitebike 64, Starfox, Donkey Kong 64, Banjo Kazooie, Pokemon Stadium, Jet Force Gemini, Rogue Squadron, Mario Party, Turok, Blast Corps, Mario Tennis…
I tend to sell a console after I’ve moved onto the next generation, but the N64 is the only retro console that I couldn’t bring myself to part with. I had to sell my Sega Saturn, my Megadrive, my Gamecube, my Xbox 360… But I kept my N64, it still works, and I’ll never let it go. Read More ››
Here’s another game that was introduced to me by my uncle Dave (who to this day, does the best impression of the monk from the first game out of anyone I know – “WOLOLOOOH!”) Anyway, I learned more history from playing Age of Empires 2 than I ever did in school. I experienced the brutal horde of Attila the Hun as he ravaged old Europe. I followed the rise of El Cid, and helped Ghengis Khan flood across Asia. I can’t remember much else actually, because my mind always turns to making a plague of Persian elephants to send at my enemies, crushing all of their puny houses and stamping their cities into the dust, mwhahaha! Ah man, it’s an absolute classic game, the first strategy game I ever played and thanks to the recent HD remake, is still a lot of fun even 18 years later.
Once during my travels around New Zealand, I ended up working as a vineyard labourer along with a whole bunch of other travellers. We were living in a grotty little house together, and needed to find ways to entertain ourselves after a hard day’s work in the various factories, vineyards and warehouses. A bunch of us had laptops and Age of Empires 2 ran easily on them because it’s such a low intensity game. We setup a miniature LAN party in the garage, using a table tennis table as the base and all sat around it waging epic 3 vs 3 or 6 player free-for-all battles. All connected via LAN through an android mobile phone. It was fantastic fun, and a real dose of gaming fun that I never expected to find wile on the road, exploring a new country. A few beers, good company, and some healthy gaming competition – what better way to wind down in the evening after working your arse off all day? Read More ››
Year: 2001 – present day
If Return to Castle Wolfenstein was my first date with PC gaming, Battlefield 1942 was when she invited me to meet her parents, and the relationship went to the next level. My god, did I really just write that analogy?
You could shoot people like any other FPS, but the maps were ENORMOUS. Big enough to accommodate vehicles. Drivable vehicles, and not just cars and tanks. Who else remembers taking off an airline carrier in the Pacific and flying Japanese Zeroes over Wake Island to strafe the allied runway? Or piloting a Lancaster bomber over the rolling hills of Normandy, bombing farms and windmills where the Nazis were hiding? And forming a platoon of Sherman’s to race across the desert plains of El Alamein? Battlefield 1942 had everything going for it, enough to blow my adolescent little mind. It came out just 2 years after Perfect Dark. Can you imagine how it felt to go from running around in what was essentially some corridors with 4 mates and some bots, to full-on vehicular warfare with up to 32 other players online? Battlefield felt like the future of gaming.
For good or bad, team killing became a regular thing, although it was never something I saw the point of. Waiting on the runway for airplanes to respawn, a mad scramble to jump in the cockpit before your teammates would usually follow, and some people couldn’t handle it. Planes often exploded before they left the runway, which is probably why they began to scrap take-off altogether in the later games. But that was part of the charm I guess. I miss that aspect of the newer Battlefields, which don’t let you take off and there’s never a reason to land. Spawning in midair disconnects me from the experience too much, and the newer games in general feel a bit too streamlined for their own good. Which is why my fondest memories of Battlefield lie with some of the early sequels.
Battlefield 2, as well as spin-off Vietnam, paved the way for the Bad Company revolution and Battlefield 3, which for me is the pinnacle of the series. Forget the singleplayer, I’m referring solely to the multiplayer aspect here. If you had a few mates with headsets and a team speak server, you could have a whale of a time. The game implemented squads by this point, making it easy to jump into a game with your mates and form coordinated teamwork. Paul, Sam, Jon and myself had many epic battles in Bad Company 2 and BF3. The Frostbite engine allows for some of the best destruction in gaming, making it stand head and shoulders above any of the Call of Duty games.
No other game can create the thrill of experiencing an entire building exploding all around you and collapsing in a heap of rubble. Or moments of glory such as when my mate Paul, who was our designated helicopter pilot, would carry our squad into the fray, swooping low over the danger zones, hovering close enough for us all to leap out and start securing checkpoints. With the zone cleared, we’d jump back in and swoop to the next one, machine-gunning troops on the ground with side-mounted miniguns.
Battlefield games create stories all of the time. Micro tales of heroism, insane acrobatics, one-man killing sprees combined with the tactical precision of a squad of mates all communicating and sweeping through enemy territory. Multiplayer battles can be complete and utter carnage, with planes exploding overhead, Humvees crashing into buildings, tanks reducing buildings to piles of rubble and snipers picking off stragglers from a mile away. I don’t like where the series has gone in the most recent versions, Battlefield 1 feels too streamlined for its own good. But I reckon it’s just a phase. Even 19 years later, Battlefield still feels like the future of gaming… And if it’s not, at least I have my memories of the glory days. Read More ››
It may look clunky as hell thanks to the original Unreal engine, but Deus Ex was a pioneer in videogames because it gave the player so many choices to make. It resulted in one of the deepest gaming experiences of the time, because it went to great effort to show the consequences of those choices. The story was spread across many ‘hub’ levels, giving you total freedom to approach your objectives whichever way you wanted, aided by an RPG style upgrade tree that you invested in as you played. Wanna finish it without killing a single soul? That is entirely possible. Prefer to tool up with a rocket launcher and just murder your way to the end? Nothing could stop you. Your NPC allies would respond differently back in the Unatco base, depending on what you did out in the field. This level of responsiveness was unparalleled for a long time, to the point that even if you walked into the ladies toilets, your boss would scold you for it during the mission debrief later on. It was many little moments like that which made the game so memorable for me.
The story is awesome too. Proper cyberpunk dystopian conspiracy tale involving secret societies, private military organisations and terrorists all vying for power, and you end up caught right in the middle.
*Spoiler warning – I’m trying to avoid spoilers in these memories, but sometimes its unavoidable. And Deus Ex is so old it should be exempt from such a warning but there it is anyway.
The NSF twist about one third into the game remains one of the best in gaming, up there for me with Bioshock’s “would you kindly?” and Heavy Rain’s reveal of the Origami Killer… Realising that your own brother has been working for the terrorists the whole time, and that Unatco are really the bad guys turns the entire game on its head. I remember feeling devastated on my first play through because I’d been recklessly murdering all the good guys in my misguided attempts to save the world from a global threat. During my many replays of the game, I prided myself on being able to finish all of those early levels without killing any NSF soldiers. My Unatco comrades would comment on my sympathetic nature, claiming it to be a sign of weakness, while Paul Denton praises you for being merciful. It’s such clever writing that if you’re paying enough attention on your first play through, you might be able to see the twist coming. I was just amazed that the game was able to distinguish between different playstyles and then respond accordingly to it, adding layers of insight to its characters that could only be fully appreciated on a second playthrough.
Those comrades of course wind up becoming your biggest enemies, and confront you in what are essentially boss fights. But even here the game rewards the smart gamer. For if you’d been paying attention and carefully examining your surroundings throughout the game you might stumble upon a terrifying discovery much earlier than the majority of players. It’s revealed that every augmented agent (including yourself) has a kill phrase embedded in their system. Uttering the kill phrase within earshot of the agent in question will cause their bodies to literally explode on the spot. You can murder both Anna Navara and Gunther Hermann using their kill phrases if you are clever enough to uncover them as you play. It makes a hilarious mockery of their confrontations, in what are otherwise devastatingly difficult boss fights between 2 of your fellow Unatco super soldiers.
Other memorable moments involve saving certain characters. The biggest one is Paul Denton, JC’s brother, who gets ambushed in his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. He tells you to escape via the window, sacrificing himself to the MiBs that come crashing through the door. You are completely free to abandon him. In fact, it’s by far the easiest option, but Paul dies if you do. It is possible to save him, however, if you stick around and fend off the fierce cyborgs. This was the first instance of a game presenting such a choice to me and I’ll never forget it. Later on, you might bump into a suspicious mechanic tinkering with your pilot’s helicopter. It’s almost a throwaway moment, something you could either never see, or just assume means nothing. But he’s planting a friggin bomb on the chopper. If you don’t kill him, the helicopter explodes later, killing the pilot, Jock. I only discovered that it was possible to save him after I played the game for a second time.
Deus Ex is simply fantastic, and I only wish there were more games like it. The recent sequels have come close to recapturing some of what made the first game so special, but for me, none has quite managed to beat it. Deus Ex remains the original, and best example of the FPS-RPG hybrid. Read More ››
Format: Sega Mega Drive
Another rare game in my long list of memories that include my brother, Sam, is Streets of Rage 2. It was the best in a trilogy of side scrolling beat-em-ups on the Sega Mega Drive. (Genesis in America). We would always play as the same 2 characters: I was Axel, and my brother would be Skate. He loved the agility and bombastic acrobatics that the tiny skater dude could pull off. Many of the boss fights would end with Sam leaping onto their necks and pummelling them in the back of the head. I liked Axel’s swinging flaming punch, and his multi-hit special combo. It’s a simple but satisfying game built around stylised hand to hand violence.
We played it to death and memorised each and every level. There’s a hidden 1up tucked inside the mist at the bottom of the screen just after you kill the floating chain monster head in the haunted house level… The huge wrestler bosses are pretty much immune to grab moves – if you touch them for much longer than a second, they will break out of it with devastating force. And pipes are just badass. They’re the best weapon in the game and must never be missed. If you’re already holding one, make sure you don’t accidentally juggle it with another weapon on the ground and use up all of its uses. Brotherly arguments would ensue if you wasted both weapons…
I remember thinking nothing of the absurdity that Eating apples out of bins boosted your health, and a garbage roast turkey was a special treat that would completely refill one’s HP meter. Every smashable object in the game yielded either edible treats or sacks of money and even gold bars, so my brother and I would just punch everything in sight and then occasionally get angry at each other for stealing the extra turkey during a tough boss fight…ah, brothers, eh?
But in the end, we triumphed. Streets of Rage 2 might actually be the first game I ever completed. I remember it feeling like such a momentous achievement when we finally defeated Mr X or whatever his name is, the big bad boss at the end of the final level. Back then, it felt like a really long game, but when I replayed it with my friend Robbie on the 360 a few years ago, I was surprised to find it only takes about 30 minutes to play through, assuming you both know what you’re doing. It may be shorter than I remember, but it’s still totally satisfying to play. Beating up hordes of thugs, punks and giant fat fire-breathing baby men doesn’t get old, apparently. Read More ››
Format: PS1 & PC
Release date: 1997
I’m not sure what to tell you about FF7. Simply put, it’s one of my all-time favourite games, and the hordes of fans it has makes me feel like a bit of a cliché to even include it in this feature. But I have to. It changed my life, I think. Before this, I had not played a game with such a deep and engaging story, an epic tale about a host of very likable characters, all unique and fleshed out with interesting back stories. It’s just wonderful.
I have played it through about 4 times to completion, and vowed that the most recent one in 2013 would be the last time. But as I reflect on it now, I realise that I will have to experience it again one day. If only to hear the mesmerising soundtrack, a powerful nostalgia that is unmatched with any other film or videogame.
It’s funny, because the first time I played the game, I didn’t even complete it. My friend Adam traded his PS1 with me for 6 months: he wanted to play Ocarina of Time and insisted that I play FF7. It took me about a month to make it out of Midgar, the sprawling starting location in the game, a filthy slum ridden city. Adam completed OOT in that time and begun his second play through. I made it to Junon, and met the playful Mr Dolphin, who helps you leap up to a platform that connects to a Shinra military base, and since it’s a little bit tricky, I got stuck and gave up for the night to go eat my dinner.
I never picked the PS1 game up again after that.
In school, Adam kept asking me if I’d gotten past Mr Dolphin yet, and the truth was I hadn’t even tried, but the official story became that I was stuck and couldn’t get past him for 6 months, during which Adam had beaten OOT for second time and maybe even a third, when he decided he wanted his PS1 back. At some point during all of this, a fat annoying schoolmate spoiled one of the most dramatic moments in the entire game for me with a single sentence. The game is well beyond spoiler territory by now, but this particular spoiler was my very first, and changed the way I looked at them forever so I can’t bring myself to write down exactly what he said for fear of ruining it for somebody else. But by blanking out the character in question, this is what he said to me while I was still on disc 1 of a 4 disc game: “Has [******] died yet?”
Ugh. What. A. Dick.
I’m over it now. I think. Well, clearly not as here I am reflecting on it 20 bloody years later! But I did eventually buy the game on PC (a terrible port, frankly). I overcame the nefarious Mr Dolphin, and saw the story through to its completion. That moment would have been epic had it not been utterly spoiled for me, but it didn’t stop me from soaking up the rest of the angsty, twisting story of Cloud, Tifa, Aeris, Barret and Red XIII… To this day, it’s the only Final Fantasy game I have managed to complete. I tried VIII, but it never grabbed me, XIII was boring, and I did finally get X when it was re-released in HD on Steam, but I didn’t finish it. None of them will top VII. Oh sod it, I might just reinstall it this week… Read More ››
Release date: 2013
Well, fuck. A FPS horror game, set in a mental asylum where all the patients are violent hyper crazed lunatics, and you are a guy armed only with a night vision video camera and can’t fight back? Better get Clarkie to play that shit.
Outlast is actually amazing. It’s a superb horror game, crafted with so much care and attention to detail. Its pants shittingly scary, and I hated every minute of it. That’s why I love it.
By this point, my friends have subjected me to so many scary games, I’ve grown to both admire and ALMOST enjoy them… I certainly know a good one when I see it. Too many cheap jump scares for example, quickly becomes tedious. A good horror game knows when to ramp up the tension with silence, when to stretch the quiet moments where anything could be waiting around the next corner. It must have thoughtful sound design and make expert use of lighting effects to create an atmosphere of pure terror. And if you must have a scary monster or creature to hunt the player, give it the entrance it deserves by building it up, tease its existence and make the player doubt himself of its existence at all…
The best horror games know how to really get under the player’s skin. The creators of Outlast understand this perfectly and made a game that had me screaming in blind panic when it finally revealed the reason for all of the madness that was occurring in the asylum. I barely even saw the fucking Wall Rider monstrosity, and I didn’t have to – all I knew at that moment was to run for my life. My mates’ ears are still ringing from the scream I released that night. Read More ››
Release date: 1993
I have 2 memories of this game that are separated by over 20 years.
I first played it on my father’s old DOS computer as a state-of-the-art CD-ROM game not long after it was released. The game is essentially a series of puzzles possibly ripped straight out of a “difficult problems” textbook threaded through a campy horror story about a haunted house and the oddball toy creator who lived there.
Its proper old-school, sprinkled with full motion video (FMV) sequences, real actors filmed and then superimposed into the pre-rendered 3D environments that you explore as a point and click adventure. The FMVs are creepy as fuck, and several of the ghostly apparitions scared the shit out of the 7 year old me. One encounter at the top of the grand staircase showed a ghost woman floating backwards as she beckons you to follow her down a long ‘The Shining’ esque corridor, with wavy arms, tattered robes fluttering all around her body. That terrifying image burnt itself into my brain and haunted my nightmares for literally years.
After that, I was reluctant to explore any more of the upstairs, so I mostly remember the lobby and front door area. And I was near hopeless at solving the actual puzzles back then. I remember my grandad taking an interest though. He loves crosswords and Sudoku and any good brain teasers and when he saw my dad and me trying to solve a puzzle that involved getting a spider to cross each branch of a web located on the front door of the mansion, he decided to help.
He sketched the whole puzzle onto paper and took it home with him to figure out. He returned a day or 2 later with the solution and… success! He’s very smart, my grandad.
I don’t remember getting much farther than that back in 1997. It wasn’t until 2015 that I even thought about the game again. It appeared on Steam and a bunch of us got together at the flat in Baldock to play through it. We do love to session puzzle games, particularly if they have a horror theme, and 7th Guest proved to be an entertaining romp. We played it pretty much nonstop all through the night, occasionally getting stuck on the frankly obscure as shit puzzles (Fly my tryst sly gypsy try by my crypt, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS BULLSHIT?) and spent over 7 hours trying to figure out an optional puzzle involving virus-like bacteria spreading across a grid.
But we did it. We beat the entire game, scary ghost lady and all. Together, my mates and I are a force to be reckoned with, and there’s not a survival horror / puzzle adventure game we couldn’t complete so long as we are all monging out together with beer, coffee drinks and pie. Read More ››
Release date: 2010
Heavy Rain is more like an interactive movie than a game, and it is mostly excellent. It’s a game about choices and living with the consequences. I played it through twice myself, just to see how different decisions affect the story and its ultimate conclusion, but to say that my first try was emotional would be the understatement of the century. This game almost broke me. I’ll tell you how soon, but first I want to recount the story of one of my friend’s choices… Like I said, watching Heavy Rain is just like watching a movie, but watching your friend play Heavy Rain gives you an amusing bit of insight into their psychology. The results can be hilarious.
For example, early on in the game, you end up in a standoff with a murder suspect who is aiming a gun at your partner Blake, who is a bit of a dick. Playing as FBI agent Jayden, your job is to resolve the situation in whatever way you can, be it peacefully or otherwise. Me and my friends all handled this very differently.
I managed to slowly calm the suspect down with choice words, opting to talk to the guy multiple times, carefully picking my words and eventually convincing him to lower the gun. My friend Andrew on the other hand, pressed the “shoot him” option as soon as it appeared, and blew the guy’s brains out. No hesitation. Another friend, Adam, did something very unique… He first spent a good deal of time slowly talking the man down, just as I had. About 5 of us were watching the whole scene unfold, the tension heavy in the room and everyone on the edges of our seats. After some lengthy effort, Adam managed to convince the guy to lower his gun and everyone watching let out a breath of relief. Then just as the guy was finally lowering his gun, Bird shot him in the face.
We were stunned into silence. “Why did you do that!?” I eventually asked, holding back a hysterical laugh.
“I thought were going to have a gun down,” Bird explained, as if it was obvious. He was referring to his final choice, a floating bit of text assigned to the X button that simply read “Gun down.”
“That meant you were telling him to PUT THE GUN DOWN. What the fuck even is a “gun down”?
Everyone fell about laughing at Birds misunderstanding, and we have never really let him forget it.
*Spoiler alert – this next part is all about my ending. I want to tell you about my specific ending, because until I played this game, I never truly understood the concept of devastation… *
It all started to go wrong for me when FBI agent Norman Jayden was thrown under the tracks of a moving industrial digger and crushed to death. I only had a couple of seconds to comprehend what was happening because the chapter ended and the game moved swiftly on. There’s no Game Over screen, no Retry option in Heavy Rain. If one of your main characters die, then you have to play the rest of the game without them. And Norman happens to be capable of rescuing another character later on, so without him, I was suddenly in for a slightly tougher time.
Then Madison, the insomniac journalist, burned to death in Scott’s house, immediately after learning that he was the killer. I couldn’t manage to get her out of the bedroom inferno, and she flopped onto the burning bed, caught fire, rolled around in agony screaming before the screen finally put me out of my misery and faded to black.
So two down, why not murder another one? My mistake with Ethan happened at the motel during a daring escape attempt to flee the cops. Madison was still alive at this point, but she was left helplessly watching me fumble the controls and get caught before even making it to the roof. My Ethan ended up arrested and locked in a jail cell for the rest of the game. He eventually hung himself, because there was no-one left alive who could save his son Shaun (who consequently died alone, drowned in a sewer drain).
The nail in my coffin was having to witness Scott Shelby, a character who I had REALLY liked up until this horrendous climax, smugly stroll away into a crowd of people, quite literally getting away with murder. And it was all my incompetent fault.
I was so disturbed by my ending that I spent the entire next day totally miserable. Unable to accept that I could fuck up a game so badly, I started it over from the beginning with, I’m ashamed to admit, the difficulty set to “easy”. This time I saved Shaun, none of my main characters died, and I enacted sweet justice on the Origami Killer by chucking him into an industrial garbage grinder.
I was amazed at how much I had missed on my first play through and how many subtle differences Quantic Dream came up with to really let the player create a unique experience for themselves. But I will never forget my first play through, as horrible as it was. Read More ››