Player Too: Episode 4 – Game of Thrones, Speed Runners, & Sherlock Holmes

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays everyone! This is my last post of the year and completes my goal of doing one post every week for the year’s duration since I started in April. I didn’t set a time limit then but in my head I said “6 months or to the end of the year, then we’ll see”. I do think I’ll keep it up, but maybe less frequently. If you’d like to see the blog continue weekly, please do let me know. A lot of time goes into it every week and it’s nice to hear back if people are finding it worthwhile. Alors (it’s French)..

Finally, I return to Player Too! Sorry to anyone following this particular series that it’s been so long since the last one. Claire and I took our holidays in the intervening time and were each busy enough before and after that we didn’t get many opportunities to game together. That said, I’ve a lot of games backed up now to talk about today. So without further ado..

Game of Thrones (A Telltale Games Series)

Disaster! I mentioned at the end of the last episode that I’d just bought (in a Humble Bundle, admittedly; so not too expensive) almost all of the Telltale Games, including Game of Thrones. I, and just about everyone else who made us recommendations (thank you, guys. Keep them coming), figured Claire might really enjoy these since she was liking puzzles, narrative, the Game of Thrones books/show, and was still a bit of a novice when it came to skill based games.

The first Telltale game we tried was GoT, and it was not a success. We started up the game and the story began. We understood that your character is an original character from a new family, but who will tie in with characters and events from the main GoT story eventually. That’s grand. A few minutes and a couple of minor choices in, a big battle starts in your camp and along come the quick time events (QTEs). At the risk of sounding redundant, this is where the game limits your control input to just a few buttons. It plays an action like somebody about to hit you, then prompts you to quickly hit a given button or direction to avoid the danger and progress.

The first action is to press up to raise your shield as you run at somebody firing arrows at you. If you fail once then you die and actually have to re-watch about 20-30 seconds of cutscene just to try that again. It’s unskippable. Most people would see this as a minor game design failure. Anyway, what I didn’t count on was that Claire’s laptop wasn’t quite up to the recommended specs and the frame rate was very low. This made the QTE responses (especially where you have to move the cursor into a small moving circle to hit a target) feel very sluggish and much harder to perform. Claire had also never seen QTEs before (and doesn’t readily know where X, Y, A, and B are versus each other) so when as I wasn’t present to explain the first one, she kept at it, rewatching the same cutscene and death about 20 times before asking for help. This built her frustration. I tried passing the section (very hard with the low frame rate) and moving to the next QTE later in the battle.

 Quick Time Events demand that you press a certain button within a very short space of time to progress.
Quick Time Events demand that you press a certain button within a very short space of time to progress.

Claire asked and I acknowledged that a lot of the gameplay and obstacles to progression in any Telltale game would be based on QTEs and she said in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want to play any of them. 

Player Too Result:

We can’t say anything to recommend or not recommend the game. It has very positive reviews, and I’ve always found the Telltale Games to be very engaging (if depressing), and their QTEs to be quite intuitive. If danger approaches from the right, you’ll press left. If you have to hit something, it’ll usually always be the same button. 

The problem was that Claire is unpractised in QTEs and the laptop’s frame rate was adding an unwelcome handicap. The game forcing you to rewatch the same cutscene every time you fail was a major frustration though. It took over a full minute to retry the same two seconds of QTE each time, and the first one wasn’t terribly clear on whether you had to press up on the left stick, right stick, mouse, or W key. So it actually took trial and error, too.

I think it’s a shame to fail such a recommended series at the first hurdle. However, Claire feels strongly that it’s not the kind of game she wants to play, and that’s a result too. It brings us one step closer to finding the type of games that really are for her. Speaking of which..


This was on a Steam Free Weekend a few months back (if I remember correctly. There is a free demo too but I think we played the full version) and we played it then. It’s a 2D side-on racing game. You pick a character and the game starts you running. You always run so your main input is to decide when to crouch, jump, or use power ups as appropriate to gain the upper hand. There is also a grapple that you use to swing from certain environmental objects to reach a shortcut or just to gain momentum. You can also use this to grapple on to the person in front of you and pull them back to overtake them. You can play either in multiplayer or with bots.

It works a bit like the old Micromachines games in that the camera tracks all players at once. If one falls to the back of the screen they are eliminated and the round continues until only one player is left. This means that the player at the back can see the furthest ahead of them and can more easily avoid obstacles than the player at the front can. It’s a very simple mechanism that simultaneously balances the game and creates tension.

As you can tell from the trailer above and from my description, the game is fairly skill based, but this didn’t stop Claire from competing. This was the first game where we both played on the same screen simultaneously and we had a lot of fun. Claire usually lost and after a few rounds I went to play online multiplayer while she continued against bots. In the multiplayer arena it was my turn to get my ass handed to me repeatedly. Skill levels are all relative.

I enjoyed this game for what it was; a fun party game and a short, simple distraction. Claire felt the same. She liked it in the same way that she liked Race The Sun. It’s a simple, action-packed game with very few inputs. It’s challenging but fair and with quick restarts when you die. This last point is very important, and is in stark (pun intended) contrast to what I said above about Game of Thrones. The learning curve is also fairly soft but you definitely get better every single time you play.

However, after an hour or two, each of us was kind of done with the game. We weren’t tempted to buy it to play more. I guess this speaks to the value of games nowadays. They’re (sadly) a dime a dozen and as gamers/ rabid consumers, we tend to just have a taste and move on. There are so many great games to play that games often have to be more than just “very good and a lot of fun” to get sales. That said, anyone who’s more into racing games, skill-based platformers, and/or party games than me (and those three are not what I tend to go for normally) might find that this is exactly the game for them and get hours out of it.

There is a free demo of the game and I’d encourage anyone to try it. It’s quite fun and if you want more do consider buying it. I realise I sound hypocritical encouragin you to buy when I didn’t but it didn’t have staying power for me and as an indie developer myself I’m in the unfortunate position of very much wanting to play and support all manner of indie games, but having neither the time nor money to do so. Sometimes the best I can do is spread the word. Go here and find the ‘download demo’ button to try SpeedRunners.

Player Too Result:

The fact that Claire liked the game reinforces what we found with Race The Sun. Simple but engaging gameplay, a small number of input controls, short but challenging rounds and quick restarts (not to mention speed, apparently) make for a solid an enjoyable gameplay experience. 

However, the fact that we both liked both games yet didn’t purchase or return to them suggests that round-based games without a story or greater progression are not exactly what we go for. I already know I prefer story-based games or tactical ones with a greater overall progression (like X-COM or FTL. I’m currently playing The Witcher 3 and Satellite Reign). But this series is about finding the type of game that makes Claire lose hours to fascination, to look for new releases along the same lines of this undiscovered game, and to voluntarily declare herself a gamer.

The most Googled game of 2015, believe it or not! This game is fantastic, and Claire agrees. It’s an extremely simple online multiplayer game played in your browser (or now on mobile), and it’s completely free! You can go to the address and just play. Signing in will track your progress and allow upgrades (like your own avatar or entering your name) but it’s not necessary.

You play as a small circle, very reminiscent of a cell. The camera keeps you centre-screen as you move around a flat and empty (but large) square-shaped arena. There is graph paper in the background for scale. You move your mouse to guide your circle towards smaller circles and as you meet them you consume them and grow larger. There are some small static cells to eat, but most are other players, and it will seem at first that they’re all bigger than you. 

It’s ingeniously simple. You flee bigger (but slower) cells and chase smaller (but faster) ones to climb the ranks. It feels like evolution at its most basic. The ultimate game! You catching a smaller, faster player often means that you succeeded in trapping them against the outer wall or simply between other players. There are only two additional controls. You can split yourself so that you become two or more (faster) cells of smaller size, all of which now follow your mouse in a cluster. This can help you catch smaller targets or (half) escape larger ones. You can also dump mass which makes you smaller and faster but allows your pursuers to eat up what you leave behind.

That’s almost all there is to it. There aren’t even sounds or music. This is a great example of raw gameplay done right, and its appeal is universal. There are millions of players around the world, and the servers are never empty. 

Player Too Result:

 Some of the names or avatars you see really add to the game's unpredictable character. Some are offensive, But being chased by a giant Angela Merkel is pretty hilarious.
Some of the names or avatars you see really add to the game’s unpredictable character. Some are offensive, But being chased by a giant Angela Merkel is pretty hilarious.

Both Claire and I loved this game, and you will too! We both played at least an hour longer than intended on the first day, and went back to it several times. Even today as I looked it up while writing the article I spent about twenty minutes on it when I didn’t mean to. It’s a very “one more round” kind of game. Claire swore off it so as she could get other stuff done. Games that don’t end can be kind of addictive and dangerous for productivity, but the fact that she forced herself to stop rather than start playing is a testament to how good this game really is, and real progress for the Player Too project. 😛

The fact that Claire really liked a game as stripped-back (dare I say “casual”?) as this proves at the simplest level that she engages with games. I posit that anyone who plays even one round of this game and doesn’t enjoy it simply doesn’t like computer games. I bet I could even get my dad to play, and that’s saying something!

This was also her first time playing a competitive online multiplayer free for all death match! I wonder if, as her skills improve, she’d take to online racing or shooters. What is Call of Duty multiplayer if not Agar in 3D with guns? Thank God there’s no voice chat in Agar. That said, I did see people renaming themselves as Star Wars spoilers and getting the high scores. The world is full of ass-holes, and it’s generally what turns me away from multiplayer games.

So, from gameplay at its most basic, to today’s last entry; a full modern mystery game.

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

Given our relative successes with the mystery games Gone Home and Her Story, as well of the fondness Claire and I already share for Sherlock Holmes in general (we’ve each read all of the books), a Sherlock Holmes game was pretty much a no-brainer. Of the plenty to choose from, Crimes & Punishments by developer Frogwares was the best rated and most recent.

The game presents six unrelated cases that you can play in 90 – 180 mins each, depending on how stuck you get or how sure you want to be about the result. The first case is lifted directly from the books with only a minor change, so it wasn’t all that challenging for us. The rest seem inspired by the stories but not directly lifted from them. The first case is naturally a bit simpler as the game introduces you to the mechanics, of which there are actually quite a few. Mini-games and set pieces abound, and the game doesn’t often let you wonder what to do next. If it wants you to press X, it’ll damn well tell you.

I’d often complain about that but not here. There are a lot of mechanisms to remember and without prompts you’d be more likely in this game than most to get stuck and give up. Indeed, there is still plenty to slow you up. Gathering clues amounts mostly to wandering a scene looking for pop up boxes to press A on until the game tells you that you more or less have them all, and reveals more story. In a sense, this eliminates any meaningful ‘examining’ of the crime scene, but as players aren’t generally trained detectives, maybe this is for the best.

What does that leave you with?

Fortunately, quite a bit. Each case features a number of locations that you reveal as the story of that case goes on. You can travel between the discovered ones at almost any time. This could have been done without but they left it in, allowing you more agency over what to do next. When you’re a bit into each case, you’ll have a few leads suggested to you and generally you can pursue them in whichever order you like. The negative side of this is that you can often miss just one clue hidden somewhere in one of four locations and waste half an hour or more scouring every inch of multiple levels to find the one clue that will trigger the game to progress, when you may have already figured out what the clue was/meant, but you need the game to trigger that the Holmes on screen knows it. That’s unfortunately a disconnect that can come with story-based mystery games, and the best that developers can do is to minimise it. If you’re a fan of mystery games, it’s likely that you’ve come across this before and it doesn’t bother you much.

The real value this game offers is that each case can be solved incorrectly. You actually can have two or three results, and within those you can choose the ‘punishment’ that the game’s oddly pluralised title refers to. Generally this means you can absolve the criminal or let the police handle it. It’s a moral choice. There may also be a quick time event where the accused attempts suicide or to murder another party. You can fail or succeed at stopping them and still proceed. At the end of a case you can choose to see if you found all clues, if your conclusions were correct, and what other players chose to do. If not for this feature I think the game would really have been very dull as you’d just be walking around pressing buttons and revealing the story, but here you really have to think! That’s the real promise of a detective game, and this one delivered.

It’s achieved through the ‘Deduction Space’ mechanic, shown above. As you reveal clues in the game, they populate your brain. You combine some of these as makes sense to reveal little nodes in the deduction space. Many of these nodes allow you to make two choices about what the clues mean. See ‘Missed Chesterfield’ above. It’s half blue and half grey, showing that you can make an alternate conclusion there. When enough conclusions join up, those white lines connect and reveal the golden node, which triggers an ending if you select it. The thing is it’s very possible to get the wrong conclusion, or partly wrong conclusion, which is where the gameplay happens. You have to intuit things and decide who you believe to come up with the answers. This can be very fun when done with another person. Claire and I played the first two cases together and actually got the second one partly wrong. She then played the final four by herself over the following weeks.

Player Too Result:

Very positive! This was at least a twelve hour game, and while Claire initially refused to play as she was frustrated by the dual stick move/camera controls coupled with over 8 other inputs (so I played the first two cases), she did pick up the controls herself and solved four additional cases with little or no input from me, beating the game! 

I mentioned already that Quick Time Events aren’t her friend at the moment, and she failed to stop one or two suicides, unfortunately, but the fact that the game allows that as a consequence only speaks in its favour.

We both found this quite an engaging detective game, though were at times frustrated looking for one trigger clue when we already knew the answer. The developers could have done more to minimise excessive backtracking, as it came into almost every case we played and really slowed the pace. That, and long loading times on Claire’s laptop broke the immersion for her, but it’s telling that she stuck with it. The game engaged her and she looked forward to beating each case. She went back to it night after night in the last couple of weeks. Those are some telling habits.

At the end, she said she really enjoyed it and would be quite interested in playing other similar titles. Frogwares have previously made a number of Sherlock Holmes games, but as this is reputably the best, it’s unlikely that we’ll look backwards. They are releasing Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter in Spring 2016 and it’s quite possible we’ll take a look. The only reason not to would be if it doesn’t feature original stories but instead borrows from something like A Study in Scarlet, in which case we’d know the ending already. I doubt this is the case, but there isn’t much information available yet.

Next Time on Player Too

I think that the ‘project’ (for lack of a better term) is coming along quite well. It was nice over the Christmas days to be playing something myself with Claire sitting next to me on her laptop frowning at clues or gasping at revelations. This is also the first time she’s beaten a long game and wanted to play more.

The Stanley Parable isn’t long but it’s still on the list, as is Life Is Strange (which has a new free demo out, fyi). Given that the Telltale Games games were a bit of a fail, has anyone got other suggestions for games based on what you’ve read today? Skill-based games are still a no-no, but Claire’s definitely improving in that area and we’re getting closer to Portal, I feel, but aren’t really there yet. Valiant Hearts has also been recommended.

Sorry for the long post today, but we had a bit of catching up to do. See you all in 2016! And do please drop a comment if you’ve been following and would like to see the blog continue weekly.

Until next time..

FREE game. Shadow Complex (Remastered).

In August I did a two-parter about PC Gaming on a budget. Taking advantage of the occasional free game was one of the obvious pointers, and this ties nicely in with that.

Donald Mustard from the developer ‘Chair‘ was at the Game Awards 2015 a few weeks ago to reveal the trailer for Shadow Complex Remastered and to make a comically awkward announcement that the game was free to PC users who downloaded the game this December from The game will return to normal price in January but (and I’ve confirmed with Epic Games by email) the game will remain in your library if you downloaded it this year. It’s yours for keeps!

Intrigued, I downloaded it. The only catch is that you have to download the Epic Games launcher (whose shortcut icon now joins the rapidly swelling ranks of game launchers on my desktop alongside Steam, Origin, UPlay and GOG Galaxy). The promotion seems to serve the dual purpose of hyping the game in anticipation of console sales, and getting more PC users aware of and using the Epic Games launcher. If doing that and creating an account sounds like a step too much for you, fine, but let me tell you that you’re actually getting a quality game in exchange for just your email address.

Admittedly, another minor annoyance is that you can’t shortcut to the game directly. You have to launch it from within Epic Games’ launcher; something the other launchers don’t force you to do. However, opening it did remind me that Unreal Tournament (the new work-in-progress one) is free to try through the launcher as well.

Okay. Enough logistics!

What is Shadow Complex?

So it’s free. But what is it? Is it worth your time? 

The original game released for Xbox 360 in 2009 and was fairly well acclaimed, scoring as high as 9.4/10 from certain media outlets, IGN being one, and being nominated for several Game Of The Year awards. This remaster seems to be an attempt to capitalise on that success by releasing to a wider audience via PC, PS4, and the new Xbox. But we on the PC are the only ones getting it for free! Go Master Race! (I kid, I kid).

I never played (or even heard of) the original so I was totally going in blind.

The game is a 2D side scrolling action game (‘Metroidvania’ as the kids are calling it) set inside a top secret facility run by a masked (and therefore, evil) antagonist and his gigantic hidden army who are intent on “liberating” the United States from its corrupt government. Again, these are supposedly the bad guys. Go with it. Your character stumbles across this secret base (one of many, as I understand it, though the game is set in just this one) while hiking in the mountains with your new girlfriend who is kidnapped while you’re separated. I finished the game feeling like there was a lot of story I was missing, and indeed, it turns out the events of the game are set alongside events of the novel Empire by Orson Scott Card. Hidden Empire is a follow-up novel. The story you do get is humorous and silly in a B-movie kind of way, and dutifully takes a back seat to the gameplay. All the same, I’m tempted to pick up those novels.

Note: There was controversy surrounding Card because of his positions on homosexuality and some called for a boycott of the game (Card had nothing to do with this game, though). In 2013 Card reversed his positions against gay marriage. Do with that info what you will.

2D Open-World

What’s very interesting about the game is how it feels. While your character moves in 2D space, the environments are fully rendered in 3D, and enemies even utilise the whole 3D space at times (mostly when entering the area, but sometimes positioned on catwalks slightly behind your playing area). There’s a healthy amount of auto-aiming the game does to allow you to hit the enemies in the background if you’re aiming in their general direction, though it can get frustrating in certain sections. I started the game on the hardest difficulty but quickly lowered it.

That all makes the game feel very fresh, however. I really haven’t played something quite like it before (though I’m sure people can point me towards a few examples). The 2D plane is also broken up a few times when you hop into turrets and pan around, and this really gives you an interesting perspective that you won’t find in other games.

Navigating the world is a treat. The base is gigantic, and you reveal more and more of it on your map as you progress through the game and hack into terminals. There are secret rooms and powerups that you may never find before you beat the game. For example, I got a grappling hook eventually that felt awesome but I was only ten minutes from the end at that stage. Given where it was, I realised I could have explored and gotten it earlier. 

 This game is NOT small! The map reveals to you only gradually so it takes a while to find out just how much you're in for.
This game is NOT small! The map reveals to you only gradually so it takes a while to find out just how much you’re in for.

You can nearly always back-track (or find a way around if you have the right equipment) and there are often two or more ways to get to where you want to go. The story gives you a waypoint to the next goal but you don’t always have to follow the planned route, and ignoring it in favour of exploring an older part of the map with a new missile launcher can pay dividends by finding you upgrades behind formerly impenetrable blast doors.

Exploring in this way reminded me of Metal Gear Solid 1 &2 (the walking robots helped there too, and they feature in plenty of cool boss battles) but this is not (at all!) a stealth game. The action can be quite basic, in fact, and it’s one of my few complaints. You pretty much just always shoot until the enemy dies. You have unlimited bullets but limited health, grenades, and missiles. While there are plenty of environmental hazards to take (usually hilarious and satisfying) advantage of, it still often feels like choosing whether or not to use your limited explosives is the only meaningful choice you make in combat, at least early on. This is definitely somewhere that 3D games have the 2D action genre beat. If you want a 2D open(ish) world stealth game, I recommend Mark of the Ninja. However, I mean it when I say I really enjoyed this game, regardless.


 You at the start.
You at the start.

This is handled really well. When you start, you can only do a single jump and shoot bullets. You’ll see areas that you think you should be able to go to (your map often confirms this if you check it) but you can’t quite reach it. Similarly, you’re taught early on that your grenades can grant you access to areas that are hidden behind green highlighted obstacles (when you shine your torch on them) but you also see red and purple ones and it’s a long time before you reach the powerups required to get through them, which encourages (but doesn’t demand) back-tracking and exploration later on.

Your character finds an incomplete suit of advanced armour and collects more components of it as the game goes on. The scuba gear allows you to explore the sections that you flooded earlier in the game and finding the jet-pack grants the ability reach greater heights, and later to double jump. Finally reaching a balcony that you’ve seen ten times before can feel greatly satisfying. There’s a wealth of other upgrades rationed out to you over the 6-8 hours that it might take to beat the game’s story, and I really liked when I realised that the game wasn’t actually going to take me to some of them if I just followed the waypoint directly. Player agency is a great tool in games and I love it when developers ease up on the hand-holding a bit to let you play your own way.

The flip side of this freedom is that you can spend a long time going back to somewhere you think you can get to (twenty minutes for me in some cases) only to realise there’s one locked door or high-jump at the end that made the journey fruitless and then you have to spend another twenty minutes getting back to where you started from. I can see why some people report the game taking them over 20 hours to get 100% completion. However, later in the game the whole map does become revealed, including the locations of the remaining armour pieces. Once you have those you know you can reach everywhere, so I’d recommend holding off a little before doing too much back-tracking.

 You towards the end.
You towards the end.


This release is a remaster, so if you’ve played it before the gameplay and story that I mentioned won’t have changed. I also didn’t play the original so I can’t speak to how much better the game is in the sound or graphics departments. I do know that there are (of course) improvements that have been made in those areas, as well as the addition of a lot of new close-combat animations and new achievements. I can’t speak to how much mileage you’ll get out of this if you played the original, but I can say that the game looks beautiful. The environments have been very convincingly created, rendered, decorated and lit. I’ve no complaints about the music or sound effects and the voice cast includes Nolan North (you may remember him from EVERYTHING!!) and Eliza Schneider (almost everything).

In Summary

The game is basically what would happen if Metal Gear Solid, James Bond, Metroid, and Uncharted all got together to make a fun B-movie-style game that you can enjoy in 6-8 hours. I had a lot of fun with it. I recommend you get it for free on PC before December 31st and enjoy it over the holidays. I’d even recommend you buy it (price dependant) when it comes out for general release early next year.

Until next time.. 

Interview with Composer Frank Klepacki

This week I had the remarkable privilege of getting to have a Skype chat with Frank Klepacki for almost an hour. Frank is the legendary composer behind the games of Westwood Studios and Petroglyph, including Dune, Blade Runner, Empire at War, and of course, Command & Conquer!

We talk about his career, other musical interests, his favourite projects, current work, and we peek behind the curtain into how some of the Command & Conquer songs and sound effects came to be.

I apologise for some of the audio quality as the connection went iffy once or twice.

A timeline of the conversation’s questions are listed below in case you don’t want to watch the full interview.

You can check out Frank’s awesome music on his site where you can stream or buy dozens of his albums and soundtracks. I highly recommend that you do (‘Just Do It Up’ has been stuck in my head for two weeks now).

Interview Timeline references

00.21 – When did you first start playing music? What was your instrument?

01.49 – [Starting at Westwood Studios]

03.34 – Have you any advice for people on getting into the industry?

06.56 – You voiced the Commando in the first Command & Conquer. What else have you done?

09.44 – [Voice samples on early tracks] What led to that?

12.41 – What’s your favourite track that you’ve ever recorded and what’s your favourite soundtrack that you’ve worked on?

18.20 – Any chance we’ll see an Empire at War 2?

19.08 – What are they yelling in ‘Hell March’?

22.30 – Tell us about the second half (the electronic part) of Hell March 1?

23.34 – Do you play the games yourself? GDI or Nod?

25.05 – Are there any game soundtracks from other games that have impressed you in recent years?

27.51 – Do you like any Irish music?

29.10 – Do you have any advice for us as composers, and as RTS developers?

32.14 – What did you use to get the awesome industrial bass sound on the C&C soundtrack, particularly on Target (Mechanical Man)

35.59 – What’s your favourite band/ game/ C&C game?

39.12 – [Asking about his goals with more mainstream music. Includes talk on Sly & The Family Stone]

45.00 – [Playing Hell March with Video Games Live]

45.52 – What are you working on right now? What’s next?

Hope you enjoyed this one folks! I certainly did!

Until next time..

Far Cry Primal. Where to start?!

Far Cry Primal is coming out of nowhere and is really worth keeping an eye on! It was first revealed in October, less than two months ago, and it’s releasing on February 23rd (March for PC), just over two months hence (Achievement Unlocked: “Use ‘hence’ in the blog). The short time from reveal to release is bucking the trend of super-long hype periods, and it worked very well for Fallout 4 this year. At the time of Primal’s announcement I did a post on why I was optimistic, but also what I was concerned about. You can read it here.

Ubisoft unveiled their second trailer on Thursday night at The Game Awards, which was immediately followed by a slew of gameplay videos from various press outlets who had played it in the days prior. Presumably a press embargo was lifted at this stage.

The new trailer is shown at the top of this page and shows a lot more of the game in action, giving us a better feel for what to expect. The press videos on YouTube are worth watching as they’re mostly uninterrupted gameplay, which is a more honest representation. There are videos from outlets like Angry Joe, PC Gamer, and Game Trailers as well as the one below from the developers themselves (in case you want to see only what they want you to see).

Expansion or Sequel?

Given that Far Cry 4 only came out a year ago, and that it’s not an annualised series (like Ubisoft’s favourite child Assassin’s Creed), people figured this would be more of an expansion along the lines of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, a single-player only short campaign which had the decency to release at a discounted price, to reflect the fact that it’s not a full game.

Developers at Ubisoft Montreal are insisting that this is “the next Far Cry game”, and are charging full price for it. I’ve a massive problem with this. You can hear from the gameplay videos I linked above that none of the other press really believe this about the game, and neither do I. Graphically, this game is the same as Far Cry 4. It uses the same UI elements (see the alert indicators and map icons?), same engine, and many of the same animal and human animations. Sure, there are new models (a brown bear is now a cave bear, a tiger is now a sabertooth tiger, an elephant is now a woolly mammoth, and the honey badger is.. well, still a honey badger) and a new map, but that’s exactly what Blood Dragon did, and it acknowledged that it was a short game and charged accordingly.

I feel they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes with the pricing. It remains to be seen just how long the game is, so I’m not willing to guess what a fair price is, but charging the same as they did for Far Cry 4, for half a new game with no multiplayer is not the fair price. I want to play this game, and I want to support the new direction they’re attempting, but I firmly believe that every time you spend money you’re casting a vote for the type of world you want to live in, and I don’t want to live in a world where games companies charge us more and more for less and less. I’ll wait for a sale or something, but I’ve a big problem with their pricing.

 That minimap and UI are looking extremely familiar, not to mention the tiger's running animation.
That minimap and UI are looking extremely familiar, not to mention the tiger’s running animation.

No guns, but you don’t even need to play

I feared that they couldn’t really commit to using no guns in a game series that is built on gun action, but it seems they have. Bows and arrows and spears rightly take the place of pistols and rifles, and (from what I’ve seen so far) they’re not stupid rapid-fire versions of the weapons. They work quickly, but there’s still a pull back delay and the projectile seems to have to travel the distance to hit its target, rather than being as rapid as a bullet. This means that learning to hit moving targets at a distance might actually take some skill and be an actual challenge.

However, no fear of actually needing to play the game yourself, it seems. As with The Phantom Pain you can pretty much let your companions do all of the work for you. I’m sure there are certain enemy types and locations with lots of enemies where your sabertooth or cave bear might meet their end before they can clear the entire enemy presence for you, but from what the videos show, it looks like you can just find a wild animal, feed it meat, and hold a button to own it forever. It’s not even a more challenging quick-time event that might have leant tension to staring down a giant wild animal to tame it. You just hold the button. This is too dumbed down for my liking, especially when it appears that if your tamed animal does die you can just resurrect it with meat or some other resource (according to PC Gamer’s video and some of the animal UI we’ve seen, anyway).

There are over a dozen animals you can have play the game for you, but why would you pick anything less than the giant cave bear or sabertooth? It looks like a game design failure to me, to have the animals be so overpowered, but maybe there’s a progression system that means you can’t tame the bigger animals until further in the game, meaning you actually have to fear the wild ones early on and do some killing yourself. Hopefully.  The larger animals also take the place of vehicles in the game, allowing you to ride around on them

The owl can what??

This won’t bother everyone, but it bothers me. You are a beast tamer, so you can control an owl. It takes the place of binoculars when scouting enemy positions. You can fly around from the owl’s perspective, though, see what it sees, and tag enemies. This is a bit silly, but okay, gameplay has to come first sometimes. But I hate when ‘the rule of fun’ goes so far as to shatter immersion and make you say “ah come off it, ref!”.. or something..whatever you say, yourself.

The owl can be upgraded to drop fire bombs and other items onto the enemy troops, or dive bomb and rip somebody’s throat out directly. Maybe if it was even one bomb, that would be okay, but it can somehow carry and drop multiple ones.

A parallel: The Phantom Pain kept taking me out of the (otherwise brilliantly tense and immersive) experience by jumping the shark repeatedly. Upgrading D-Dog to allow him to attach Fulton Balloons to enemies was too far, and this after the upgrade to let him carry a knife! Why would a wolf carry a knife in its mouth?! But I digest..

 Owl control mode. Notice the 3 unlockable weapons on the right. How can an owl carry 3 things??
Owl control mode. Notice the 3 unlockable weapons on the right. How can an owl carry 3 things??

I’m still sold!

If there were more games like this, I wouldn’t be as excited for the game as I am. Far Cry is a series that I think has lots of problems. Even in hard mode the games are rarely challenging. Your character is just too strong to start with and only becomes more so. While stripping away your machine guns and grenade launchers was a bold move, letting animals do all the damage for you seems like even less fun, ultimately. But I’m partly assuming the worst there, as well. It could be very well balanced and there might be nuances to the systems that make varied approaches worth while (though ‘nuance’ isn’t a word I’d traditionally associate with the Far Cry series).

But we have to give credit where credit is due. This is a AAA publisher, the same one who’s deathly afraid to significantly innovate on Assassin’s Creed, trying something drastically different with one of their next-biggest franchises. While they’re doing a money grab by declaring that it’s a full game, this also means that they can’t shy away from it later by saying “oh, that was just a side-experiment; a joke, like Blood Dragon“, which again shows a very unexpected commitment to a new idea. 

If you asked almost anyone what the Far Cry series was about they’d say something along the lines of guns, fire, explosions, vehicles, action, (more recently for the series) flying, power fantasy, and maybe ‘exploration’ further down this list. Ubisoft Montreal is saying that exploration is actually what the series is about at its core, and they want to take us to the original frontier for mankind, leaving behind helicopters, wingsuits, cars, rocket launchers, and the guns (while retaining crafting, the grappling hook, melee combat, skill upgrades, and grenade-like items).

 Developers inform us that the map is
Developers inform us that the map is ” really  big”.. so there you have it…

I have to say I respect that, despite disagreeing with their pricing and some gameplay choices. I’m torn because I want to support new ideas, but not AAA greed. I may wait for a sale, buy it on a discount game codes site, or start a petition to drop the price… don’t laugh, somebody actually should. We should voice our concerns as consumers, not just pay-up-or-pirate.

I wrote two weeks ago about how first person shooter campaigns look to be dying off. Far Cry has been one of the few series holding back the tide, and here’s their newer game with no multiplayer at all. I want to support this game. I want it to succeed. It could see a reverse in that trend and encourage big developers to take risks with their first person franchises. Imagine Call of Duty set during the times of ancient Rome. Come on!!!! You can be sure Activision will be watching Primal very carefully.

Anyway, them’s my thoughts. Do be sure to check back on the site next week as I’ll have a very exciting post! An interview with legendary games composer Frank Klepacki of Command and Conquer fame!! Don’t miss it!

Until next time..