A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog lamenting the decline in first person shooter campaigns in favour of multiplayer components. Last month, in a blog addressing predictions of a games industry crash, I gave a little time to arguing that single player content may well be the way forward for the AAA industry. I’m writing today to give a bit more time to that idea and to act as a counterpoint to my blog of a year ago.
I won’t be giving much attention to the (awesome and always-inspiring) indie scene today, but everything that I argue for AAA here can apply down the foodchain as well.
As I wrote last month, 2016 left us with a lot of high quality AAA games that reviewed well and sold poorly. This could have been down to genre fatigue (‘sequelitis’), consumers being more wary of the hype machine, or just saturation of releases. Most likely it’s a combination of all of those things.
Even though Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (COD:IW) picked up its sales slack a few weeks after release, Activision were surely hearing alarm bells when they realised that the multiplayer servers were underpopulated because most COD fans were still playing last year’s Black Ops 3. This was further exacerbated on PC by the fact that Steam owners were unable to play with Microsoft’s paltry number of buyers on their Windows 10 games store.
So many games in recent years have reduced or foregone single player content in favour of focusing on multiplayer audiences. The problem there is that without hitting a critical mass of players, those who want to play your game will have nobody to play the game with. There are only so many players to go around, but they’re being offered more and more games to choose from, and then often being subdivided into those who have bought DLC maps and those who haven’t, and usually further divided by what platform they own the game on. Late 2016 may have been the early warning needed (whether it will be heeded or not remains to be seen) to alert these companies that current trajectories may not be sustainable.
Earlier Warnings and Reversals
We saw some foreshadowing before 2016, however. Titanfall (2014) was well received but criticised for its lack of any single player content, and that story came full circle when Titanfall 2 (TF2) released with a short (normal length for AAA nowadays, though) 5-6 hour campaign to great critical acclaim (but, sadly, poor sales) and was praised as one of the best AAA campaigns in recent years. Having played it, I wholeheartedly agree!
Star Wars: Battlefront in 2015, rushed out to coincide with The Force Awakens movie, was similarly criticised for being multiplayer-only, though later added a single player element. Its sequel is set to release at the end of 2017 and seeminglyis reintroducing single player content as a selling point.
While most of the Battlefield games in the last few years have featured single player campaigns, their delivery had been seriously under par until Battlefield 1 (BF1) last year, and again, critics and fans praised the focus on this.
While single player content is more expensive to produce, developers must realise that its absence from a €60 title is a deal breaker for a lot of customers (the price should at least be reduced to reflect this, many feel). More than that, though. Single player content leverages risk for the consumer. As we’ve seen recently, if multiplayer only games don’t have enough players, then there is no game! It used to be the case that players bought games primarily for their single player content and then spilled over into the multiplayer for a little more of the same, but with a twist. Now that trend has probably reversed for many, but not all. I, for example, have no interest in multiplayer only games, especially at the €60 price point, but I did want to play COD:IW, BF1, and TF2 for their single player, and in the case of BF1 and TF2 I spent a little time on multiplayer as well.
But even if I’d bought them primarily for multiplayer, and the servers then shut down from lack of players (whether in 2 months or 5 years), I’m glad to still have a game to play. Without single player, some gamers aren’t prepared to pay top dollar for that risk, and that’s worth developers considering.
We sadly saw Dead Star, which featured a great multiplayer twist, shut down in October 2016 – just 6 months after launch! Evolve has also shut down, and Battleborn looks to be treading water as well, despite being a perfectly solid and enjoyable game!
I’ll note that Overwatch is an exception to my argument, but Blizzard seem to be the exception to every rule anyway. Indeed, their success is part of why all these other games are failing – especially Battleborn.
So what about 2017?
It’s looking good for fans of single-player content. If you allow that coop modes are hybrids of single and multiplayer (usually single-player-style crafted content intended for 2-4 players), then Ubisoft are releasing Ghost Recon: Wildlands in March (and it’s listed is playable in single player), and For Honor in February, which has single and multiplayer.
A big one is Mass Effect: Andromeda from EA and Bioware in March. It has a multiplayer mode, but its main focus is a 20-30 hour single player campaign. The last Mass Effect game was 3 in 2012.
I already mentioned that the new Battlefront will have single player, and the end of the year will likely also see a new COD game with a 5 or 6 hour campaign. These aren’t terribly exciting for the purposes of this blog, but the fact that they’re holding course instead of veering towards multiplayer-only is noteworthy.
We’ve also just had Resident Evil 7, and this year will also see Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Prey for the PC, Horizon: Zero Dawn for PS4, and Red Dead Redemption 2 for consoles (and hopefully the PC later, as with GTA V). So there’s no shortage of single player games releasing this year, and they seem to be getting greater focus, but how they perform will be crucial.
The way forward for AAA publishers?
If these games perform well, and doubtless many of them will, one hopes that it will convince developers that single player is not only not a thing of the past, but that these titles can produce their own runaway successes and that they can help publishers leverage their risk with more predictable sales figures. Players won’t often buy a multiplayer game if their friends aren’t playing it, so sales are vulnerable to a cascade effect. With a single player game, people buy just for themselves, and sales should be more easy to predict. Multiplayer-only may often have a higher profit potential (by eliminating campaign creation costs) but one thing we know about AAA publishers is that they’re more concerned with reducing risk than innovating. That’s not a criticism. It’s a necessity for them.. mostly.
With single player games, in the same way as with cinema releases, people will often buy in immediately for fear of having the story spoiled from them. This can protect against launch slumps. With multiplayer, people are more likely to wait for a sale as they won’t miss much. We saw this at the end of 2016. I would think we’ll see at least a couple of developers attempt to put greater emphasis on a great story with an unbelievable twist, in order to increase day one sales. Pre-order bonuses aren’t cutting it in the same way as they once were, seemingly.
I pretty much already concluded in the last section, actually. All that’s left for me to say is ‘thanks for reading’. This is a very uncertain topic, of course, and these are only my thoughts. I’d love to hear yours in the comments. If you liked the article, do consider sharing.
Oh and if you haven’t seen it, we’ve just released a teaser trailer for our own game ‘Sons Of Sol’. I encourage you to check it out below and like/subscribe/share/all that good stuff.
Hello again. Boy, this Player Too thing is really going well! At the end of the last episode (two months ago) I said that Claire had said she’d write a foreword to this episode, so you can hear directly from her that I haven’t had to chain her to a laptop to play these things (there were rumours… okay no, there weren’t). But anyway, here she is!..
No need to send help, I’m here of my own free will. I promise that Kev is not holding a Duck Hunt Gun to my head and making me write this. I’ll start by saying thanks to you guys for reading. I probably wouldn’t have been tricked into playing otherwise. In this episode we are looking at Oxenfree, Super Hexagon, Stardew Valley & The Beginner’s Guide. Yes, Super Hot was supposed to be on there too and we had Abzu all loaded up and ready to go but something really interesting happened.. I sorta fell in love with a game and I couldn’t be dragged away from it. Yep, I’m surprised too. I started out this experiment with an idea that I was too busy to give too much time to gaming. Granted, I’ve encountered a bunch of games that have defied my expectations but I have had no problem shutting down a game before its end if I felt I’d given it enough time.
But now we’ve found a game that I got hooked on. Don’t judge me, but I may have stayed up past my bedtime playing more than once for this one. I’ll leave Kev to fill you in on the details. Writing the blog is his “problem”, so to speak, but we do always talk about the games together before he writes, so I’m happy that he gets my opinions across fairly.
Thanks again everyone for reading, for the recommendations, and the encouragement. I’m having more and more fun as we go along, hopefully some of you have tried the games we recommend (maybe with a loved one?) and have had some fun too.
Okay, me again. See? She’s real!.. I probably should have done that in a video or something now that I think of it.. but anyway, let’s get started. I always try to make the blog shorter every month and it never works, so let’s get to it!
This crazy thing! This epilepsy-inducing impossibility of a mind-shatterer! There’s actually very little to it. You rotate left or right (that’s the sum total of the controls) to avoid the inwardly shrinking hexagonal walls, always trying to move just fast enough to find the gap and not lose time.
It’s a very ‘more-ish’ game. If you live longer than 5 seconds on your first try I’d be surprised. My own high score on easiest mode was only 16.17 seconds. Easiest is a relative term. The game’s easiest mode is labelled ‘hard’, with ‘harder’ and ‘hardest’ following that, and three further unlockable difficulties. Strangely (it must have been a fluke, because I couldn’t do it again) on my first try on ‘harder’ mode I got 23.12 seconds.
The game has a super (no pun intended) soundtrack by Chipzel, but every time you die the music stops until you restart the level. This I found quite annoying, as I was enjoying it, but not living long enough to hear the tracks uninterrupted. I have sought out the soundtrack separately though and am enjoying it.
Here’s the problem with the game though. There are basically no early wins. And after half an hour there are no later wins either. If you don’t have ‘it’ (extremely fast reflexes. Colour blindness might actually help too) you’re going nowhere with this game. There are no easy levels. It took me twenty minutes to get my 16 second high score, and I’ve never gotten there again.
The levels are always the same, so you can master them with time (in theory) but unlike similarly difficult but fair games (Devil Daggers comes to mind) you won’t get much of a feeling of improvement without serious commitment, and it’s hard to commit to a game with just two buttons and flashing lights when the most attractive aspect is a soundtrack that keeps muting every 5-15 seconds because you died.
The controls also felt overly sensitive to me. Most of my deaths came not from not seeing the gap on time, but from seeing it, rotating 180 degrees towards it, and then overshooting and smashing into the far side of the gap. I tried keyboard buttons and controller stick and shoulder buttons. Nothing felt good to me.
There’s not a lot else to discuss. Claire pretty much said all those same things, but had even lower scores than me, and just didn’t enjoy it. It’s overly frustrating.
In its defence, it’s not really a game you sit down to, and we bought from Steam. It’s more suited to having a few goes on your mobile on the bus. And I’m not sure how well touch screen controls are tuned. We didn’t play there.
Also in its defence, I’ve enjoyed it each time I played. I always want “one more try”, especially when you die just short of your high score, but the frustration does set in quickly, so it depends on what kind of gamer you are, this one.
If you’re an Irish reader, it might be worth saying to you that both the game’s developer (Terry Cavanagh) and the composer (Chipzel) are Irish. So you know, do support, and all that 🙂
Player Too Result
Swing and a miss! I didn’t expect success here actually, but Claire had enjoyed those quick-restart, one-more-go kind of games before (Race the Sun, and to a lesser extent Super Meat Boy), but those games did have easier first stages to give you a taste of victory. Super Hexagon just kicks you off every 5 seconds and it’s hard to get any better at it.
I do recommend trying it on your mobile, or especially in the current sales, but don’t pick it up expecting to beat it for the achievements or anything.
The Beginner’s Guide
So, next we continued with the first-person branch of our Player Too campaign. Last time we played The Stanley Parable and said this would be the next one; a logical progression since this was developer Davey Wreden’s follow up game after Stanley.
I won’t say much because it’s only short and, like Stanley, it’s an oddity. I talked about the “it’s not a game” thing before (I am planning to do a proper blog on it some day) but I think it’s very fair to say about this one, no matter what your view on that label. Because this is literally a collection of older, discarded game ideas, thrown together as an exhibition. “Walking simulator” fits, and I don’t mean it as an insult. If you’re a regular reader you know that I never do. I think we should just own that term and enjoy the great games of that new genre.
The Beginner’s Guide is unlike anything you’ve likely ever played, and that alone makes it worth a look. It’s short (about 90 mins) and you don’t have an objective other than to be led through the game by the narrator. You can’t die. You’re just following a story.
It occupies a space somewhere between ‘based on a true story’ and ‘biography’. Like Stanley, “to say too much would be to spoil it”. Unlike Stanley, though, this isn’t a comedy game, but it’s very engaging and interesting. Curiosity and novelty definitely pull you along. The trailer tells as much as I’m really willing to give away here, other than to say that the game is about sequentially exploring all of those games in the folder, made by a person referred to as ‘Coda’. Viewing their work as snapshots of the person in time is a very interesting way to be told a story, and you’re accompanied the whole time by Davey Wreden’s audio narration.
You may replay it once (worth doing, take it from me) but if not you’ll appreciate the 90 minutes the first time anyway. I recommend it as long as you’re happy with what you spend for a 90 minute experience. The price of a cinema ticket definitely seems fair.
Player Too Result
Claire enjoyed this, as did I. It’s quite an interesting way to tell a story. Certainly unique. The true elements definitely increased our interest in it, and I found myself scanning forums and Wikipedia after finishing to learn more.
We’ve already learned from earlier Player Too episodes that Claire appreciates that games can be more ‘interactive experiences’ or works of art than just “pew pew” wastes of time. She likes her walking simulators like Gone Home and Firewatch so this was a predictable success.
The aspect I cared more about was training her first person movement skills, because I’d love to enjoy games like Minecraft or Portal in co-op with her, but she’s not used to moving around with WASD and mouse. Walking simulators are helping there. I’ve noticed that she doesn’t really lose the fingering or have to look down at the keyboard anymore, and while she doesn’t really strafe/look around corners, she does now use A and D a little. You’ll notice if you watch someone using WASD and mouse for the first time that they’ll pretty much only use W and if they need to strafe around an object, they’ll awkwardly turn to face the direction, press W, and then re-orient, instead of using all the commands available.
First person movement is second nature to me, and nearly all PC gamers, I’m sure. But when you try to share certain games with someone who’s new to that movement style, it’s a major hurdle. The numerous walking sims we’ve played on Player Too definitely seem to be good low-difficulty training wheels (and good games to boot) towards slightly more challenging experiences that we could hopefully play together.
Whether Claire will enjoy those games when we get to them is another story, but I’m happy to report that she’s enjoying the journey, at least.
Oxenfree is some combination of an adventure, 2D, puzzle, mystery game. You can tell from the trailer that there’s a distinctive and appealing visual aesthetic going on here. That’s the first thing that’s easy to appreciate. The second thing you’ll likely appreciate, only minutes into the game, is how well written and performed the dialogue is between characters.
Okay, I’m not, and never have been, an American teenager, but the way these teens speak to each other seems very natural, and authentic. There’s no dialogue that stands out as wooden, and no cracks in the performance.
The game centres around a bunch of teens who sneak onto an island to go drinking overnight (it’s an annual event / rite of passage of sorts) and then spooky goings on occur.
It’s not exactly a horror game, but it’s close. In tone it feels a lot like Super 8 or Stranger Things.
You control Alex, and interact with the world and other characters entirely from her point of view. Your main control over the game comes from dialogue choices, and a couple of “where do we go now? A or B?” choices. A criticism I have of the dialogue is that you don’t usually have much time to choose your responses, and most of the time you actually interrupt if someone else is speaking as soon as you’ve made your choice. If the other character finishes speaking, your options usually disappear about 1 second later and the other character comes back with a response tailored to your silence, which can be things that result in the character liking you less or whatever.
Basically, I didn’t find using the dialogue to be a smooth experience. I found it stressful to have characters interrupting each other and losing parts of conversation or losing dialogue threads. The constant interrupting and bitching may be a realistic way to represent teens talking to each other (read with a sense of humour), but I didn’t like how it worked in the game. Claire didn’t care much for it either, but despite the mechanic being clunky, we both still thought dialogue was something to put in the ‘Pro’ column for this game.
You walk around the island manually, with the control stick or arrow keys. It’s presented as something of an open world, but progression is fairly linear. Whatsmore, you walk every step of the way yourself with almost nothing to do (maybe a puzzle the first time you go, but nothing when you’re backtracking) along the way. Sometimes the time is filled by a conversation with a companion, but often they remain silent (you nearly always have at least one friend by your side during the game, especially on long treks) for long and boring sections of the game while you travel from A to B. This can be extra frustrating when they’ve just talked the ear off you moments before setting off, when they could have saved up that spiel for the long road ahead.
The game is about 5 hours long. Claire played it to completion with interest, and she enjoyed it, but without loving it. She was just engaged enough to keep going. There is a mystery to the story that tempts you along.
Personally, about 90 minutes in, I was frustrated with the dialogue mechanic. I’m also not really that interested in supernatural or ghost stories generally, so I didn’t care about the story as much. Because there wasn’t much input required of the player, I stopped playing and let a YouTuber finish out the game for me on the 2nd monitor while I did some work.
The main, and arguably only, non-dialogue mechanic is tuning your radio to the correct frequency to tap into the mysterious energies and spirits that are haunting the island. But the frequency doesn’t move. There’s no skill required to finding the frequency. It’s a nice mechanic, kind of, in that it’s a bit of fun and requires some input, but it’s pretty shallow at the same time.
You can have an effect on the game world, though. There are multiple endings, or at least combinations of character outcomes. Does this person survive? Do A and B get together? There are a few things you can affect, at least.
Player Too Result
For me, I played it because I’d heard so many great things about it, but that also makes me (and most people I’m guessing) quicker to play devil’s advocate against all the positivity and try to find the faults that nobody is talking about (or is that just me?..). I found enough game design faults to critique that I wasn’t as impressed as others appear to be. I didn’t dislike it, mind you. But it’s not for me. That’s okay.
Because I’m such a nice guy, I think I usually recommend nearly every game on Player Too, even if I phrase it with a caveat (“I recommend this game IF..”) so in the interests of balancing the scales a bit I’m going to say that I recommend giving this one a miss unless you’re really into your supernatural mysteries or you’re really looking for a good example of well-written and performed dialogue in a game.
Claire played the game first and actually had all the same critiques and praises that I had, but she just found it interesting enough to continue with. It might be that I had about a dozen games sitting on my desktop ready to play that I chose to move on when she didn’t.
This is a ‘casual’ game I guess. Its gameplay is laid back, but its tone is tense. It might be for you, but if you identify as a ‘hardcore gamer’ then I suspect it’s not. Do decide for yourself. The game has plenty of positive reviews to counterbalance my opinion.
As for a Player Too result, as a genre, as a direction, Oxenfree was just ‘fine’. Engaging story (if it’s your genre. Claire liked Twilight Zone etc more than I ever did) and good dialogue usually sit well with Claire, particularly when paired with a very pleasing art style and low difficulty. She appreciates games like this, but they’re nothing to write home about for her.
That’s in contrast to this next game, which Claire gushed about when we recently spent time with her mom and sister.
Released in February this year, Stardew Valley is possibly this year’s biggest indie success story. Certainly one of them (it’s been a good year for indie games.. and for quality AAA games – though not for sales of the latter). It dominated the start of the year anyway, with half my Steam friends constantly “playing Stardew Valley” and even this glowing piece (not a review, more like a special interest piece) from GameSpot piqued my interest. I’d have picked it up then but the reported 70 hour game length put me off. Not that you have to take that long with it, but I didn’t want to risk getting hooked on it while there was work to be done (Xcom 2 alone tanked 2 weeks of productivity for me). Stardew recently won a Golden Joystick Award for ‘Breakthrough’, so you know it’s good.
The 70 hour length is amazing when you learn that this is a game made by just one person over four years! It’s an homage to Harvest Moon. A harvest simulator-cum-fantasy RPG. Its SNES-era pixel art is very pleasing, especially as the seasons begin to change.
This blog post is getting very long in the tooth so if you somehow don’t know much about Stardew Valley then do check out GameSpot’s 5 minute video that I mentioned above. I’ll move on.
Player Too Result
Personally, I’ve only spent about 4 hours on the game yet, which is barely scratching the surface, but I liked what I saw and if the week were 70 hours longer I’d soon finish this game (and Witcher 3, AND Fallout 4, AND two dozen others). I knew about the game but hadn’t played it. In real life, this year Claire has gotten into planting trees and started a campaign for a #plasticFreeBray, to ban single use plastics from our town. She’s already planted 62 trees by herself! So as Winter rolled around and the days got shorter and the ground got harder, she was planting less and I thought it might be a good time to try this game out on her.
At first, she had a few frustrations with the controls and inventory management (and I agree that there’s a few niggling inconveniences in the inventory/shopping design) and an early game crash when my Steam account booted her off playing my copy of Stardew on her laptop (FYI you can share games with a few people via the ‘family’ option, but only one person can play (any game – if connected to the internet, at least) at a time) she lost (skipped, actually) a couple of days near the start of the game, overshooting an in-game event (Spring fair) that she was preparing for. Annoying.
Thankfully, this didn’t put her off the game and now she’s planting trees, spelunking caves, loving her dog ‘Floof’ and chicken ‘Toto’, winning farmers’ produce competitions, making mayonnaise, keeping bees, getting to know the townspeople, and generally loving the game.
The sheer amount of mechanics, art assets, characters, options, locations, and dialogue is staggering, again, especially considering it was made by one person. The game is a gem!
When Player Too started I usually had to negotiate out an hour or two to try a game together. Now with Stardew Valley it’s the first thing she wants to do when she gets home, and she’ll play until well after her bed time. Some nights. She’s already about one game-year (or 20-30 hours, estimated) in.
No other game has had this effect on Claire. Ever. And this game does include the frustration of ‘death’ in the caves with a respawn causing a loss of equipment and currency. This was a deterring feature of other games, but it’s not having a negative effect here.
I think it’s safe to say that we’ve found “her” game. She’s loving it! I’ve even heard her whistling to her in-game dog and celebrating the upgrade to iron tools. She’s even now had instances of “game brain” (you know what I mean) where in the real world she was thinking of picking up 100 plastic bottles on her walks through the woods. I asked “can you carry 100 plastic bottles?” and she realised she was thinking about having this gigantic inventory that real people can’t have (we’re going with 25 in a bag instead).
Apparently the game does ‘end’ after two in-game years (edit – I’ve also heard now that it’s three years). That is to say, it has some sort of resolution of your story and ending-style event, but, like many open world games, you’re free to continue playing and exploring afterwards.
At her current trajectory, I’m sure Claire will finish the game, but I wouldn’t be sure when she’ll finish with it. With most unending games, like myself with Minecrat, there comes a time when you just decide to stop, and that’s it. You might revisit once or twice, but you’re done really. For me with Minecraft it was after spending 3 full real days building a giant pyramid (in survival mode) that nobody would ever see. When I was done with that I was like “okay no more. This has to stop”. She does say she wants to 100% the achievements though, so that’s pretty awesome.
Claire’s initial objections to her gaming at all were basically that she didn’t have the skills to play them (which we’ve gotten around quite easily), and that she was worried she might get hooked on something and that it would be a real time suck. That’s basically now happened, but what else would you be doing in Winter anyway? It’s a debate for another time (the whole compulsive game addiction thing) but suffice it to say that spending a few hours a day enjoying a hobby is not something that’s detrimental to anyone’s life, in my opinion. It’s not all she does (it’s only been about two weeks anyway), and this game does have an ending point and limited content. Proper game addiction is really the domain of online round-based games or MMOs, if you ask me. It’s just always good to be aware of, I guess.
My one regret with Stardew Valley is that I can’t play it with her. It’s single player only. We play in the same room, and I might be playing that or something else at the same time, but it’s not the same as building a farm or castle together, as you can do in Minecraft.
On one hand I wonder would she like Minecraft. It’s first person, but not too hard (survival mode, I mean), and has farming elements, and creative expression is at that game’s very core. Then on the other hand I’m wondering will she ever stop playing Stardew Valley, or want to play another game after that when she does.
This may even be the end of Player Too as a project. I’d still like to get to where we play co-op games together, but we are now sharing our gaming time in the same room together and having good chats about what we’re liking in the games, so I’ve gotten a lot of what I wanted out of Player Too already.
Claire thinks she may never play another game again, but those of us more seasoned probably remember thinking the same thing about various games. For me I said it about GTA 3, Operation Flashpoint, and Planetside 2 before finally learning not to make outlandish statements like that. But we’ll see..
In short, we can’t recommend this game enough!
Next Time on Player Too
Let’s assume, despite what I just said, that Stardew Valley neither occupies the rest of Claire’s life, nor turns her away from gaming entirely because there’ll never be something better.
In that case, it’ll probably be a while, but we’ll have Abzu lined up to follow Journey’s success. We have Never Alone to follow the puzzle platformer trend (with a cute snow fox, because canines are really killing it for her), and in the first person genre we have Super Hot. Edit: I started playing Never Alone and realised you can play co-op as the girl and the fox, so we’ll definitely be playing it together, not solo.
We normally play four games. Happy to take suggestions for the fourth. I’d personally like to try something in co-op for once because we haven’t yet. But a non-First Person Shooter co-op is harder to come by. Co-op games that I can think of are usually quite difficult, particularly for 2 players if it’s built for 4. Thinking about Clandestine or Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime. Have any readers played those before, or something else you’d recommend?
In the event that we don’t play more games for a while, I’ve a few other ideas for series lined up, so I do hope you’ll keep reading and enjoying these monthly posts as they go up.
Actually, the new demo for Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest (my game) has gone up on the site, so Claire said she’d play that (despite it being somewhat unbalanced as of yet and quite hard until you get a grip on the flight controls). Do please give it a go, though. I’d love the feedback.
Anyway. Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed, do please consider sharing in your social places.
Hello again everyone and thanks for coming back to read these sort of mini-reviews that are Player Too, as I document the journey (word choice! foreshadowing! real writing!) to hopefully foster in my girlfriend, Claire, a real interest in games so we can share one of my favourite ever hobbies together.
At episode 7 I have to say we’re really getting somewhere. At this point she’d be tired of humouring me and I’d just be being cruel to pester her this much just for writing material. No, we’ve actually had a great couple of months for the games, following a very positive period for Episode 6 as well.
So during the last couple of months, my good buddy Ian lent me his PS3 so I could finally get around to playing some games that had been on my list a long time, but I hadn’t had a TV or PS3 console to really use them. We worked out that I could use my PC monitor for the visual, and output the audio separately into a portable speaker. This hassle was of course just weeks before Sony made PS Now available on PC anyway, but whatever.
I finally got to play a whole host of games over a few weeks. Uncharted 1-3, The Last of Us, MGS4, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, Killzone 2 & 3, Resistance, Flower, and of course, Journey; a game people still haven’t shut up about to this day. It must be good!
I didn’t play all of those games to completion, but I did most of them. Claire joined for for the evenings I played Flower and Journey. If anyone’s wondering, this was a couple of weeks before Abzu came out. I knew they’d be good games to try with Claire as they were chill, beautiful, short, and didn’t really have failure states. These are all things we’ve mentioned that Claire sees as positives in previous Player Too episodes. I’m increasingly appreciating short games too, as you get a well crafted experience that doesn’t eat up all your time over a few weeks – just one or two evenings. When you’re trying to play as many trending games as you can, that’s a Godsend.
Anyway, let’s get to it!
Journey, by ThatGameCompany, is a visual masterpiece from 2012 that still holds up, and it also now has a HD remake. It’s a gem of a game that throws many gaming conventions out the window while mastering others. For instance, there isn’t a single line of dialogue, nor popups, wrong-way warnings, health bars or even instruction. Everything you need to know is communicated visually or by example. There’s a very floaty feel to the controls as you soar, slide, and glide across magnificent landscapes towards a mountain in the far-off distance. Why we’re trying to get there isn’t directly explained, but is implied enough through environmental story-telling and short, wordless cutscenes that you can come to your own conclusions – and everyone’s theory will be a little different.
One of my favourite things was the multiplayer implementation. As long as you’re connected, this will work seamlessly. You start the game solo, but may be paired up with just one other player at at time, at any point, and you travel in tandem. There’s no indication that someone has joined you until you literally spot them moving around nearby, and there’s no indication that they’ve left until you look around and really can’t find them any more. There isn’t even a name tag until the post-game credits when they mention all the other users who joined you. Claire and I were debating as we watched another player move about if they were really another player or just an NPC (I had to look it up, and there are no NPC journey-ers). You have one way to interact with them. You have a sort of jumping, twirl animation that sends out a small pulse. It’s basically your only way to say hello. But, correct me if I’m wrong, it seems to charge your companion’s flying ability, and not your own (again, this isn’t explained in-game), so they’re encouraged to stay near you and you’re encouraged to reciprocate their charge.
This also means you kind of miss them when they’re gone. Aww.
Another nice thing is that your character’s gender is non-defined and you couldn’t tell by looking as they’re so stylised (and also they fly a bit so they’re clearly not exactly human), so again the game insists very little upon you and it’s easy to get in to. Claire saw the character as female, but me, having seen that character all over games media for four years, just saw them basically as “the Journey avatar”, though I do find it easier to lean towards female than male if I had to choose. The stylised skinny legs and graceful movement just imply that to me. Anyway.
The game is only 2-3 hours long so I won’t spoil anything other than to say “just play it”.
And I haven’t even mentioned the music, which sort of means that it did its job perfectly. It’s only watching the trailer again today while I wrote this that I remembered how gorgeous and seamlessly integrated that it actually was, sitting in with the visuals and theme at any given moment without ever demanding your focus directly, or worse, lifting you out of it by being overly dramatic at the wrong moments.
Claire and I played together just swapping controls every other level and it’s so passive and low-skill level that we both advanced at the same pace and just chilled while watching the other. If this was Super Meat Boy or something then our gaming experience would mean we’d advance at totally different paces and might have gotten frustrated watching the other.
So yeah, this game is great for playing together, though I don’t mean online together as you’ve no solid way to know who the other player is or deliberately join their game.
Player Too Result:
We both liked this a lot. There’s something universally appealing about a game with nice controls and visuals and it’s short enough that you just don’t get the chance to get bored with it. I can see why people replay this a lot. I’ve since given back the borrowed PS3, but if there’s ever a PC version I’d give it another go, for sure. As would Claire, and she hasn’t said that about many of the games so far. Often she’s been willing to try something like that, but not that same thing again.
What would you call this game genre though? Meditative? Journey-like (from now on)? The Playstation Store page says simply ‘Adventure’, which fits, but in a 100% different way to how Broken Age is an Adventure, game. I’m going to say “Chill-sim” for now, okay?
As a play experience it feelsa little bit close to the walking-simulator (we’re taking that term back, by the way. I mean it positively) narrative games, for me at least, but where Firewatch and Gone Home are asset-light, easy-to-use games and emphasize story, Chill-Sims would be story-light, easy-to-use games that emphasize aesthetics and environmental storytelling.
Abzu, the diving Chill-Sim 😉 from Journey’s art director Matt Nava (new studio is Giant Squid – not ThatGameCompany) has come out recently and I’ve played it myself, loving it for all sorts of similar reasons to this, and some new ones. Claire is looking forward to playing that, and thinks the trailer looks gorgeous! So that’ll be next.
Are there other chill sims out there besides the following?..
I was so eager to play Journey, it was the first thing I did when I got the PS3, so it was a week or so later that I came to ThatGameCompany’s earlier 2009 game Flower. There’s a lot of similarities and I’d call this a chill sim also, but it’s definitely the inferior product, albeit with its own merits.
As such, I hadn’t planned to see if Claire would play it for the blog, but she came in near the start and we wound up playing together and swapping control each level, as with Journey.
In this game you start the levels as a petal floating on the breeze, and, quite uniquely, use only the controller’s tilt functions, and not the sticks, to steer. What you control is essentially the breeze, as you travel around the level sweeping up more and more petals from other flowers to bring more colour into the world. Controlling the game really was a joy and I still remember Claire getting way into it and raising the whole pad up behind her head in that unnecessarily-full-bodied-controlling sort of way that is iconically associated with ‘people enjoying games’.
The minimalist instruction approach and lack of fail states made it unmistakable as Journey’s forerunner, and I really enjoyed the early levels, but I thought the last few did get repetitive and lose the run of themselves a little. And this is only a 2-3 hour game as well so that’s a real criticism. For me, I like the early levels where you were literally a petal on the wind and the simplicity of the meadows and the beauty of nature were great themes. But unlike Journey, there’s less contrast from level to level, and when the aesthetic actually does change, I felt it was for the worse.
More literal magic is introduced as you start to somehow move rock formations by ‘activating’ enough of the other flowers. For me the game spoiled a little there. Then in later levels you’re introduced to deliberately ugly electricity pylons and city-elements that, while the contrast is deliberate, really didn’t sit well in the game for me. They’re used in unnatural shapes and the city parts, rather than just being a dilapidated urban environment, was closer to a Picasso painting in terms of how the urban elements were arrayed. It deviated from the ‘natural’ part of its ‘natural beauty of the world’ theme where I felt it could have perfectly contrasted itself by sticking closer to the real world.
Even though Journey has more of the unnatural going on, it begins in that way, and so doesn’t feel like it changes direction on you. I actually have this same criticism of Abzu, but that’s for next time (and don’t let me stop you, it’s a gorgeous game).
Player Too Result:
We both enjoyed the game early on and started flagging about half-way through, wishing it was over by the last couple of levels. Because I knew how short the game was, though, we powered through. There’s no point suggesting how they might improve, as they next made Journey, so every possible lesson was learned perfectly.
If we’d played this game first, we’d each have said “I like that, but I’d like to see it done bettter”, then played Journey and said “perfect, give me more!”. So there’s not much worth saying here that I didn’t say above. Look to Abzu next. If you’ve played both Journey and Abzu, Flower is still worth your time if you want more, but you won’t get as much out of it.
The Stanley Parable
Since as far back as episode 2, I’ve been saying we’d get to The Stanley Parable sooner or later. It appears ‘later’ was correct. Claire did play the demo late last year and really enjoyed it, but it’s somehow taken this long to play the real game. We’ve had our walking simulators and I’ve explained that they’re a good way to get used to first person movement in a “safe” environment. Claire doesn’t have decades of FPS training. She had none before we started Player Too, in fact. So these games, enjoyable on their own merits, are hopefully getting us closer to where we could play Portal 2’s co-op mode together, which I’d love to do. Baby steps though.
The catwalk jump is actually the only skill-based thing you can do in the game, and while it took her a few goes not to go splat, she did get there and experience an extra 10-15 minutes of the game’s content that lies down that direction. Including the part where.. ah, just play it yourself. One word though, ‘Portal’. It felt like foreshadowing and I forgot it was there since I first played.
If you don’t know what The Stanley Parable is, as the trailer says, to say too much would be to spoil it. It’s unlike any other game (well, that was more true before Beginner’s Guide and Dr.Langeskov came out). It’s sort of like what I imagine the Monty Python guys would have made if they made games instead of a TV show and some movies.
If you know nothing about games, you’ll really enjoy it. If you’re aware of gaming tropes and criticisms then you’re likely to love it. The joy is in trying to subvert what the game wants you to do (as we often do in other games – to see what happens) and realising that the designers were one or two steps ahead of you. Every time! They’ve every single thing handled, and you’re in a constant state of contention (well, sometimes cooperation) with the game’s narrator, with hilarious results.
Again, there’s no failure states (even the two places where you can try kill yourself are handled) but the game is simultaneously all about failure.
I’m really not doing it justice and don’t want to spoil anything with specific examples. All I can say if you haven’t played it is to make sure you do. Play the demo too. It features none of the same content as the main game so it’s like a free mini-game. Even the trailer is its own beast, with little to none of the game’s actual content, but all of its character, featured.
Player Too Result:
I really enjoyed this game when I first played it. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and refreshingly different as a gaming experience, and I really enjoyed watching Claire experience it for the first time, too. Her first instinct was always to not do as instructed, and getting stopped in her tracks, or dismaying the game’s narrator always resulted in outbursts of laughter.
We’d already played Dr.Langeskov so when I was asking would she like to play games like this, I couldn’t readily think of any. So I’ve suggested The Beginner’s Guide, which is more an autobiographical drama than a game, and with very little comedy. She’s interested to play that, though.
She explained to me then that her resistance to games was always that she saw them as very skill-based ways to entertain yourself, and that she had neither the skills, nor time to develop them, to start enjoying games. Seeing things like what we’ve been playing on Player Too has shown her that there’s all sorts of gaming experiences out there, and that they’re a great alternative way to tell stories, to challenge your brain, or in this case to experience comedies, without needing lightning-fast reflexes or platforming skills. She’s really enjoyed a lot of the games that we played recently. I believe that there’s a game out there for everyone, and it seems more true than ever today. Hooray!
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
The trailers for the game are a little cringe worthy, and this one actually implies a few things that don’t actually happen, but they’re touching all the same.
Okay, this game. I love it. I can’t believe I passed it over for so many years. I was actually starting to watch a Let’s Play of it once, but from the first few minutes I knew it deserved to be bought and played. Jack Gallagher and Michelle Burrell also recommended this game for Player Too around that time and so I’ve had it waiting in the wings for a couple of months. Thanks guys!
I played the first level or so, but because of the Steam + U-Play sign ins required, it meant that Claire had to play using my profile and so playing simultaneous saves at the same time wouldn’t work, so for once, she played a game that I hadn’t. I only beat it last night. It’s not exactly a short game either, emotionally it’s a roller coaster (if you’ve any soul at all – and I’m not known for mine so that’s an extra strong recommendation), and there are more than a couple of quite difficult skill-based segments, as well as a couple of more challenging puzzles, so after beating it myself, I was more than a little impressed that Claire had done it all before me without referencing guides or asking for help to beat any of the harder sections. I know she got frustrated with it at times (we played in the same room while I played Punch Club) but it didn’t stop her, whereas Talos Principle and Telltale’s Game of Thrones had, so that says a lot for either her growing skills, or the quality of the game that kept her coming back. Both, most likely.
“Valiant Hearts: The Great War / Soldats Inconnus: Mémoires de la Grande Guerre” (to give it its absolute full name, which I feel it’s earned. The second half is French for “Unknown Soldiers: Memories of the Great War”) was made by Ubisoft Montpellier (France) and released in 2014. It centres on the lives of four playable fictional characters and is set in France and Belgium from 1914-1917 (for once a war game actually mostly excludes the US period of the war, rather than focusing solely on it), during World War 1. It plays like an adventure/puzzle game most of the time, but with a lot of other types of sections like dodging bombs in a tiny car driving down a country road, or administering medical aid to soldiers with a rhythm-style mini-game. You can even drive a Mk1 tank, and it’s as unexpected as it is fun when the moment arrives.
It’s presented in a stylised, almost comical fashion, but in no way does it make light of the war. On the contrary, it handles its subject matter with the utmost respect, and even goes so far as to attempt to educate players by offering them to read short passages with real-world photos, whenever something relevant shows up in the game, though this is optional. Before playing, I actually thought this was an indie game. I was a little surprised to see a AAA label, Ubisoft no less, using stylised 2D art, and I was all the more impressed when I saw the educational segments. The fact that a AAA studio made a war game that doesn’t glorify war, in which none of your characters ever handle a rifle or directly cause the death of anyone on screen, and that then actively seeks to educate players, is a small miracle in and of itself. I’m so encouraged that this game exists. I’d never have believed that that pitch would get past Ubisoft higher-ups, so my hat’s off to them for that. I’d love to hear more about how it came to be. Edit: Here’s some further info, but it doesn’t cover the pitch or approval.
We should be so lucky if the upcoming Battlefield 1 (name sounds no less stupid to me this many months later) handles the Great War with any hint of delicacy. They’ve already relegated the contributions of the French and Russian forces to the DLC. However I am eager to see what they do in the campaign. BF3 and 4 certainly didn’t try very hard to humanise the Russians or Chinese in their fictional wars, but maybe they will be more considerate of a WW1 setting. Edit: This new gameplay footage has me a little encouraged as to the more respectful treatment of the war, but I do think it’s only for one level, and I’d far rather the narrator were a British, French or German soldier who’d been in the trenches for 4 years, rather than America-washing a largely European war. And I can’t resist to nitpick this: It says that these events happened over a hundred years ago. Some of them did. But 100 years ago we were in the middle of the war (1916), and the Americans hadn’t yet entered (April 1917). This gameplay level is clearly set in 1918, which is less than a hundred years to the time of the game and trailer’s release. Hey, I’m detail-oriented. Particularly when it comes to important history.
Most war games seem to try and say “war is hell, sure, but look how many dudes you can roast with a flamethrower”. Valiant Hearts says “war is hell, and real tragedies happen to real people like you who don’t deserve them. Now here’s a little info on how chlorine gas reacts with the water in your lungs to create acid and burn you from the inside”. I love that this game exists, and wish more games would follow its lead.
Despite the heavy tone, the dog companion is with you throughout most of the game to lighten it a little and make you feel love and care for something in these hellish settings. The credibility of the story does sometimes flounder, like when you’re reassigned to a new front, but get to take your dog, or you’re leading a charge in a new battle, but still don’t have a gun like everyone around you does, or when the dog puts on a gas mask and they’ve still animated its tongue hanging out, but these are small complaints.
The game paces itself well, too. After a tense opening chapter, we go back in time a bit and solve a puzzle involving repairing a taxi so as Anna can transport soldiers to the front (there is info available on how thousands of taxis were requisitioned to bring soldiers from Paris to the front during the Battle of the Marne) and the next section involves dodging speeding traffic to the sound of can-can music, before anyone has realised just how horrific the Marne is going to be, and patriotism was still the order of the day. Indeed, one the game’s final moments is sure to make a note of the mutinies that soldiers eventually carried out over continually being sent “over the top” to their deaths, and how the subsequent courts-martial were handled.
I could continue to gush over this game, but I should stop. It’s worth a play if you want to play either a good looking game, a different war game, an educational game, the most indie-style AAA game I’ve yet seen, or just a game that will make you feel.. things.. emotions. Claire was near-bawling when it was over, and even my cold cold heart-strings were tugged upon.
Player Too Result:
Something amazing happened with this game. Claire would come home from work, and straight away take out the laptop and continue playing, eager to beat a challenge from the night before, or to see what happened the characters (there are cliffhangers). This is real gamer behaviour and I haven’t seen Claire as eager to play something in this way since Race The Sun back before episode 2, and with that she soon grew tired as the game doesn’t really take you anywhere in a narrative progression sense. So I’m encouraged. With everything else she might play if I suggested it, or join me playing as with Flower, but so far she hasn’t been this eager to pick up and play any of the games. So major success with this one!
Her single favourite feature was hands-down the dog companion (she even repeatedly whistled to it) but she loved the game for what it was, too. A respectful war game and a challenging adventure. It’s probably the most difficult adventure game she’s played so far, and it definitely sharpened her reflexes somewhat (Level Up!!), but the love for the characters pulled her though the harder sections.
It would be great to hear of games on a par with this for emotional weight. The characters in Valiant Hearts are just too sympathetic because the context really happened. Karl, for example, is a German married to a French woman and living in France. At the start of the game he’s called up to fight for Germany, and then the woman’s father Emile is called up to fight for the French, leaving her alone with the harvest in a soon-to-be-occupied St.Mihiel, with the two dearest men in her life shooting at each other. These are real people’s stories and that’s hard to compete with.
I struggle to think of many games with a good dog companion (not COD: Ghosts) that would interest Claire, but maybe something will come up.
Essentially our take-away from this one is that adventure games are still good, furry companions are great, slightly more challenging games are now maybe an option, and that games with an interesting angle are worth considering for Player Too.
Next Time On Player Too
So, great success this time! I already have Abzu ready to go, hot on the heels of Journey, and we’ll keeping sharpening those first-person skills by next looking at The Beginner’s Guide. After that I think Claire could try her first ever “shooter”, with Super Hot, which is really more of a puzzle game, but is also definitely a shallow step into the shooter pool that would move us towards Portal.
We tend to play 4 games for an episode, so are there any other suggestions? 4 is a lot to write for at once (though it makes a nice square picture at the top) so I might actually reduce to 3 anyway.
I liked Punch Club and it’s quite accessible, but it’s quite long and grind-y and while I know Claire would appreciate the humour and references, I doubt she’d put the time into the mid-game to get through it.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an option for a puzzle/adventure with the feels, but we’ll see.
Can anyone recommend games with low-ish skill and good canine (or maybe robo-canine) companions? How’s the recent ReCore, if you’ve played it?
I got Spore and I know the first stage is a lot like Agar which Claire liked, so that may be an option, but I haven’t yet played the rest and I know that game isn’t the most wildly popular game out there, so maybe not.
Anyone played Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime? I keep seeing it and thinking that it might be appropriate but I really don’t know how it would suit 2 people with different skill levels? Is it friendly to all? It seems kind of hectic.
In real life, Claire’s also gotten really into planting trees. I wonder if Stardew Valley might get her through the Winter, but we’ve really not tried a game anywhere near that long..
All recommendations appreciated, guys. And thanks so much for reading! Hope you enjoyed it and try some of these for yourself!
Until next time..
PS Claire says she’ll write a foreword for the next Player Too, so I can finally stop feeling that little pang of guilt about putting words in her mouth every other month. We just think it’d be nice for readers to hear from her for once.
Well it’s been about four months since the last episode of Player Too, so as a reminder, or to anyone new, let me explain that Player Too is me documenting the attempt to get my girlfriend Claire to share in the wonderful world of games with me. I believe without a doubt that there’s a game out there for everyone. If you’re a gamer and have a friend, partner, or sibling who you’d just love to sit down and play something with, but who doesn’t share your passion, maybe you’ll find something in this series to recommend to them. We’ve certainly had some successes so far.
The reason it’s been so long since the last post is basically that old excuse; “life happens”. We hadn’t played many games together until the last few weeks, both having been too busy for more than the occasional episode of something on Netflix. You may notice, then, that the games I’m writing about this time are pretty short. The Steam sale led to me picking up a few titles that I thought we could try whenever we’d a free half an hour, without feeling the need to have to finish the game (Firewatch being the exception – though it was short enough to be manageable).
Firewatch is a beautiful, beautiful game. If you need to classify it, it’s a mystery / walking-simulator (if you can stand that term. I see no shame in it. Just embrace the irony. Own it, and move on). But the game is recognised first and foremost for its stunning art style. Not that it’s photo-realistic (it’s closer to cell-shaded, actually) but the colour palette used is perfect for capturing the stunning vistas of Wyoming’s great outdoors.
After an Up-rivalling introduction, setting up your character’s desire for some time away, you begin your Summer job as a fire lookout. Your only other real companion is your boss in the next tower a few miles away, which is always visible, yet always just out of reach. You really are alone in the tranquillity.. that is, until the plot turns from at-one-with-nature towards alone-in-the-woods as it becomes apparent that someone is watching you, messing with you, and you’re unsure of their intent.
The game’s story is linear, 4 hours long roughly, and any puzzle-solving elements are purely token gestures, but the plot is gripping. Claire and I, playing together, did continually stop to discuss our theories on who we could trust or who the antagonist might be, even questioning our only friend in the game, the woman on the radio. You do get to choose your dialogue responses, which carry some moral and ethical weight to them. Claire and I, each role-playing the same character at the same time, were often at odds over what the character’s mindset was, and what was the right thing to do, given the game’s prologue.
The world is semi-open, but not in an Ubisoft kind of way. There’s no side quests or radio towers to unlock, but as new climbing equipment gradually allows access to new parts of them map, you’ll find that you’re allowed the freedom to explore and approach your objective from multiple directions, actually using your map for orienteering. The game only has 5 achievements and they’re all given for progressing the story. It’s just that kind of game.
It’s a lot like Gone Home, but better. If you liked that, you’ll love this! There’s more character here, more suspense, and a far superior world to explore. It does occupy the same corner of the market, though. Indeed, the game has an easter egg – a book from Gone Home that you can find in the world in Firewatch. The Gone Home devs even reciprocated by putting a Firewatch easter egg into the newer console version of Gone Home.
Player Too Result:
Claire and I both liked Gone Home, and Firewatch is an improvement in every way. It’s a short game, good for busy people. The plot pulls you right through and you’re never bored. The scenery is one-of-a-kind, and the characters are compelling.
Claire and I would both play more games in this vein. Recommend if you know any.
Whatever your feelings on walking simulators and saying things “aren’t a game” I’ll accept no chastisement when I say that Proteus isn’t a game. We have to start defining things a big better than “If it’s digital and interactive, it’s a game”. An architectural program could be a game, then. Mario is to Proteusas chess is to ironing. The former both involve a screen, the latter both involve a board. You can’t say they’re all games. If you ask Claire and myself, Proteus is interactive art. It’s like a painting you can walk through. It’s a digital way that you can calm down, relax, and just enjoy what’s around you. It’s certainly experimental. That said, for simplicity, I’m still going to refer to it as ‘the game’.
My first impression, and later Claire’s, were actually identical. I’ve so much to do that without a goal to accomplish I feel I’m wasting time. This is why I’m not into many multiplayer games. When I started walking around the world, I was rushing, looking for an objective; a thing to do that would let me say I’d ‘beaten’ (or ‘finished with’) the game. But I quickly realised I was playing the game wrong. It’s not about a goal, or doing a particular thing. It’s about just seeing what can be seen.
Graphically, the world is a bit simplistic, but acoustically it’s rich! The world is so musical. Everything makes a sound. Rain makes plinky plonky xylophone sounds, bees drone up and done like a theremin, and startled flocks of chickens make a rattled bell noise. It really is quite a treat for the ears, and very soft too. No harsh sounds.
As little as there is to ‘do’, you can still interact with a lot of the creatures. Most are startled and run or hop away, and I frequently found myself chasing a bunny or flock of chickens around the island for a couple of minutes before something else would tickle my fancy. Something like a sunset, a cloud bank rolling in, a bat flying by, or a magical particle effect swirling in the distance leading me to wonder “what’s going on over there”. It’s hard to pick a point to stop playing the game. You just kind of stop after a few minutes, I suppose when you haven’t seen something new for a while.
There’s a lot to see though. Day and night cycles, a plethora of wildlife, a few structures, storms, magical creatures, and even an aurora borealis. I haven’t seen this last one yet, which leads me to wonder what else I’ve missed.
It’s hard to describe the game, but if you’re really into your games, or you’re a designer or audio person, this is definitely worth a look.
Something happened to me while playing it, also. I actually started to nod off. This may sound normal to some, but I’ve literally never fallen asleep playing a game, or watching a movie for that matter. I’m just not wired that way. I did play this around bed time, but I can play games all night when the mood takes me. This was just so calming and directionless that it was like meditation. Claire also fell asleep playing, but she often does, so it didn’t surprise me. Maybe there’s meditative merit in this game. Try it out if that’s your thing.
Player Too Result:
I played this first, and just thought I’d show Claire because it’s quick and easy. I think I only played it again so I could show someone new. Claire’s the same. She can see value in the game, but wouldn’t necessarily ever go back to it other than to show another person. And that person would probably not play again it other than to show someone else.
There isn’t really anything likeProteus (and that’s where its main value lies) so we can’t exactly play more of the same, though I have many times started a new Minecraft world just to explore the random generation and see something that nobody’s ever seen before.
Claire wouldn’t be pushed to play this again, or more of the same. She never really liked the simple Minecraft aesthetic, and Proteus also isn’t graphically that impressive. While she found the procedural element intriguing, she says it would take the world looking more like Firewatch to really get her interested in playing. I’m sure that kind of game is on the horizon (No Man’s Sky, if stripped of the combat elements, might be what we’re talking about) but for now, Proteus was a miss for finding a game Claire wants to keep coming back to.
I often go for a walk to clear my head and get some exercise. If it was stormy out I can see myself maybe playing this to center myself, though it’s usually reasons to get away from the computer that I’m looking for, not another reason to stay, so I don’t know. I really like the beauty of procedural generation and I’m an audio guy, so I’d probably play this for a few minutes from time to time, but if someone came up with a similar but prettier idea, I’d likely never come back to Proteus. It’s a weird one. You can probably already tell if it’s for you or not, so I’ll leave it there.
Mushroom 11 is a physics-based puzzle platformer that brings something new to the table. You play as an amorphous blob that can shape shift to solve puzzles, and you’ll have to do so with increasing skill and rapidity as the puzzles become more complex. There’s even boss battles.
The movement controls are truly unique, and give the game its main value proposition. You don’t even directly control the blob. Your mouse is an eraser with a large and small brush. You erase one side of the blob, and it grows out on the other side. So you erase the right side of the blob to grow out to the left.
The world is a nuclear wasteland with all sorts of crazy new lifeforms trying to survive – yourself included. Neither Claire nor myself have finished the game yet (I’m on level 4) so I can’t say if there’s any humans in the game ever, but I doubt it. I suspect that your blob is some sort of human creation. It looks like a printed circuit board crossed with flubber. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re some sort of science experiment, but you could just be nuclear sludge.
Interestingly, you move from right to left, not left to right as you would in almost every other 2D platformer ever. I do hope they work in a deeper meta meaning for this as the game goes on (like trying to go back and undo the disaster), but from what I’ve seen it’s just a series of puzzles, not a story-driven experience. There may be no reason for the decision to reverse the traditional direction.
Claire was playing on the laptop with a track pad, not a mouse. She played before I did. It looked extremely difficult, but when I played with a mouse we realised it really was just down to the imprecision of the track pad. The game is fairly easy to control with a mouse. You don’t use arrow keys at all. It’s actually quite a pleasure to move the blob, especially as it squeezes rapidly up narrow cave or vent sections. It feels a bit like squeezing toothpaste out or something. Definitely quite different from other games.
The puzzles start simply enough, just to get you used to what you can do with the blob, but they do get more complex. Unfortunately, a few of them I think I just fluked by rapidly moving the mouse/eraser around to try force my way past an obstacle quickly, but others really did make me feel clever, like forming a claw shape to hang from a ledge while trying to carefully extend past a lava pit.
Player Too Result:
Claire was still on level 1, but did play enough to make the game worth mentioning. The controls were fun, the puzzles were fun, the visuals were nice, and the game really was unique. We’ve learned that Claire likes puzzle games already, and the skill required in Mushroom 11 isn’t too prohibitive (if you use a mouse, anyway).
She does think she’ll play more of this and so do I. But as a puzzle platformer we both preferred our next game.
Limbo was briefly free on Steam for a day or two a couple of weeks ago. I made sure to grab a copy for myself and Claire. I didn’t know why it was free but a few days later I first heard of developer Playdead‘s new game Insidewhich released last week. It’s clearly coming from the same place so renewing interest in Limbo was a good way to generate some buzz about Inside. I’m just giving it the shout out in gracious repayment for the free copies of Limbo we availed of.
Limbo is a 2D puzzle platformer with a silent-movie and horror vibe. Pretty much every puzzle you have to figure out by dying first.. gruesomely. The puzzles I figured out without drowning, getting decapitated, impaled, or crushed really did make me feel smart. The violence is made all the more disturbing by the fact that you’re playing just a young boy whose only motivation (at first anyway, seems to be to get out of the scary woods by travelling to the right). If you’re afraid of spiders or squeamish, stay away.
Claire actually really likes spiders, and given that an early boss involved you removing all the legs from a giant one, I thought she wouldn’t like it, but I was really enjoying the art and the animation so I wanted her to at least try it for a few minutes.
The main appeal of the game is the art style first, and the game feel second. When you start moving around and making little jumps, your arms reach out to grab the nearest ledge and you scramble up them. It’s hard to see from the video, and even harder to describe in words, but the game feels incredibly smooth to play, and all the jumps and collapsing hazards are timed extremely well so as to feel tense and close, but not be overly difficult. You can clear most obstacles on your second attempt, if you were fooled by an unnoticed bear trap on your first.
Player Too Result:
Great success. Since the spider was evil, it was okay to kill it to save the innocent boy, according to Claire. With that sorted, Claire really enjoyed the feel of the movement and the spooky look of the game in the same way that I did. It’s one of the few games that she keeps going back to herself to beat. With many of them we’ve beaten them together or finished with them in a single sitting. She’s almost beaten the game now, and will.
After death, the restart checkpoint is always very close, and the respawn time is very short. This quick reset time is very important to stave off frustration. There’s also nothing to break the flow other than death. There’s no loading screens or levels. You can load the game at specific ‘chapter’ checkpoints, but the game constantly moves from left to right in a single, giant, continuous level. This really just keeps you in the game, which is a great strength.
The game is hard, but not in a Super Meat Boy kind of way. Both are violent (ish) puzzle platformers (indulge me – I know there’s less puzzling in SMB), but Limbo doesn’t frustrate. Claire said that once you figure out a puzzle, it’s pretty easy to get it right. And most aren’t too hard to figure out. I got stuck myself a couple of times and checked a guide, but Claire didn’t ever get blocked for too long.
Since she really enjoyed it, I asked her if she’d be tempted to play Inside, and she said that it looked like exactly the same thing. What’s the point in playing the exact same thing? (Take that CoD fans! :P) She said that she would likely play it in the future but not as the immediate next game. So that’s encouraging anyway.
Mid-low difficulty artistic puzzle platformers for the win, then!
Next Time On Player Too
I bought Valiant Hearts (thank you Jack Gallagher and Michelle Burrell) so we’ll get to give that a go soon. I’m a big history fan and think war games and movies are very important to be done right, and not overly-glorified. This looks like a good one. Very excited for it!
I’ve been saying it for a long time, but the full game of Stanley Parable (we played the demo) has yet to be played. I’d love to play Portal 2‘s co-op mode with Claire but it’s a high-skill game, so it’ll be necessary to build up her first person movement skills with games like Firewatch and Stanley first if we were ever to get there. Just because the humour and puzzles are something I know she’d enjoy, and playing together is always more fun.
Telltale games were a miss, unfortunately. Any other recommendations? Claire’s skills are growing, but she is not a Jedi yet; lower skilled games are the requirement.
How’s The Witness for movement difficulty, or is it all cognitive? Is Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime complex to control? How about the hacker role in Clandestine? Anything else?
Thanks in advance for any recommendations, and thanks for reading. Hope you got something out of these mini-reviews and that they help you find a game to share with a loved one.
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.
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..
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).
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 Klepackiof Command and Conquer fame!! Don’t miss it!
This weekend I’ve been playing the (I think) third and (definitely) final Beta before the game releases properly next Tuesday December 1st. I played the previous Beta also but didn’t share my thoughts. I just want to do so today as it follows nicely on from last week’s blog about First Person Shooter campaign modes dying off.
This isn’t a review of the game. The game isn’t out yet (so, technically this would be more of a Preview anyway) and I’ve only seen a fraction of what the game has to offer, so it wouldn’t be fair to judge. However, the fraction I saw was a huge chunk of what the gameplay is, and enough for me to make up my own mind about the game.
The Beta had three maps, which can be played in day or night modes. The final game launches with eleven but more will become available for free download. The Beta’s maps were the artistically-named ‘House’ (which everyone is probably familiar with by now from all the gameplay footage), ‘Kanal’ (it has a big cargo ship in the background but is set on the quays), and ‘Hereford’ (which is the base in the UK where Rainbow Six operate from in the original Tom Clancy novel).
The maps didn’t offer much variety for my money. They’re all pretty strong levels, don’t get me wrong, but the gameplay, at least for a beginner, is pretty much the same wherever you are. Breach, clear, try not to get flanked, repeat. Each level will of course have its own quirks and characteristics, and when teams really get used to them and develop preferred approaches, that’s when we’ll see the levels really shine. But for now, I didn’t care which map I was on, which was good because none of the game modes let me choose what level to go to, not even single player!
Lone Wolf mode (Single Player)
This mode was new for the Open Beta. The closed beta a few months ago didn’t have it. When you select “Terrorist Hunt” mode, the game’s 5 player vs AI co-op mode, you can now choose to tackle it as a ‘lone wolf’. I was informed on the menu that the AI are a little less accurate and do a little less damage. I have to say, it didn’t feel like the case.
As I said last week, I prefer to play single player modes, so this was the first one I went to in the Beta. It’s exactly the same as the 5 player co-op mode. There are two bombs to be deactivated and the interior of the level’s buildings are full of enemies. Almost every room has enemies, and when you alert them by shooting, breaking a window, or just being seen, many of them will break out of windows and move around to flank you.
Suffice it to say, this makes the game extremely difficult to play on your own. You really need other players to watch your back. If you go down in co-op mode, there’s a chance that another player will revive you before you bleed out. Not so in this mode. And your health doesn’t recharge like in so many modern shooters (I’m not complaining, but it’s hard in Lone Wolf mode). Every bullet that hits your armour brings you that much closer to death, and you can’t take many hits either. If you’re ever surprised from two angles at once, or ever caught in the open, you’re pretty much done for.
Add to that the heavies who have guns and explosive vests. They’ll charge you down and attempt to explode in your face. They were my most common cause of death. They take so many shots to kill that unless you spot them at the far end of a corridor and have a full clip of ammo, you’ll most often not have time to kill them before they get you. They do at least have a give-away Darth-Vader-breathing kind of sound that alerts you to stay on your toes.
Once I’d learned to allow for all of that, I finally managed to make my way to one of the two bombs on the map that have to be disarmed. These are always located in rooms with multiple entrances. Where there wasn’t an entrance before, there soon will be one. The AI spawn and start attacking from all directions, including second story windows and solid (looking) walls if they have to. As a single operative, it’s almost impossible to survive this stage. Indeed, I never did. If I had, I’d then have to do the same with the second bomb, with even less health than before due to all the bullet-sponging I’d have done at the first bomb site.
This was in ‘Normal’ difficulty. This is the easiest difficulty (go figure). There’s also ‘Hard’ and ‘Realistic’. I’m not a bad shooter player. I’ve twenty years of ‘training’ behind me. But even I couldn’t beat this mode. That said, I was using the default operative, as you have to earn points to unlock better/different operative who may have certain tech that makes the game easier (like heartbeat monitors. Are these real? They were in the original book, so that explains their presence in the game, but they amount to wall-hacking which gets you banned in other multiplayer games… anyway). But every class seems to get those robot spy droids, so it’s not like I couldn’t scout out rooms before getting to them, and still I couldn’t do it. Maybe heavier use of stun grenades might help me avoid those early hits and survive the later stages… hm.. must try again.
Another massive criticism I have for this mode is that it still gives you that 30 second timer for multiplayer levels to choose your character and ‘vote’ on your insertion point for the level. If you want to take longer with nobody waiting on you, you should be able to. You also can’t select the game level! I imagine that these things might be patched in the final game, but they’re ridiculous restrictions for now, and when added to the fact that the mode hasn’t really been re-balanced for play by a single person (never mind giving the player AI squad mates of their own), the mode is almost worthless.
This is how Terrorist Hunt is meant to be played. 5 players versus the AI team, securing two bomb sites, covering each other, reviving each other, and using 5 diverse gadgets and abilities to find an optimal way towards the objective.
In practice, if you log into a random game, you’re unlikely to find anybody co-operating or speaking to each other, so it kind of becomes like 5 players just thrown into the single player mode. This is typical of any co-op game really. Unless you log in with 4 other friends and agree to co-operate, you won’t be playing the game the way it’s really meant to be played.
If you do have said friends, the party-creation system seems solid, and this could then be a great co-op game to play, but I can’t speak to that yet.
I do like the AI though. They talk to each other intelligently (“move up, move up”, or “I heard a noise in the basement”) and that lets you respond a little to what they’re about to do. They’re also quite intelligent, and I’ve already mentioned how good they are at flanking you.
Multiplayer 5 v 5
This is the real game. This is what Ubisoft intends to become an e-sport and their Counterstrike-beater. The new trailer (above), while not gameplay, does manage to summarise the wide range of gameplay possibilities in a very short amount of time. Give it a watch.
There are modes where the attackers must either rescue a hostage, deactivate a bomb, or just wipe the enemy team. Hostage rescue was missing from the Beta, unfortunately.
The defending team has a short period at the start of each round to fortify doors, set up portable cover and barbed wire, barricade windows, and take positions. There’s nowhere near enough time or equipment to barricade the whole house, so they have to work together to fortify select rooms effectively. Technically, they’re also meant to communicate and decide on their defensive strategies, but you so rarely see any of that. This really is a game designed for serious players and clans.
During this time, the attackers can only control little wheeled spy robots and zip around the level trying to spot where the bombs, hostages, and enemies are. If the defenders see these robots, they can try to shoot them to remove the spy, but they’re hard to hit. The attackers should formulate their attack plan based on the information, but again… sigh..
This cringey, hyper-scripted, uber-rehearsed gameplay video from E3 2014 is how the game is meant to be played.
Quite cool, no? This is how it’s usually played..
I’ll re-iterate; This game could really be special if you have a small clan to play with. You’ll learn to work together, you’ll have a dedicated shield guy, a hacker, and become a really specialised crew, competing online against other skilled teams (a nice feature is that each of the 20 specialists on offer can only be picked by one player at a time, so you can’t all be the shield guy, and are forced to work together). What Ubisoft intend for the game to be is something really special, but I think most of the people who buy the game will never get that experience.
RealBlast Destruction Engine
As you may have known, or should probably have worked out from the videos by now, the destruction engine is the real star of the show. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Blowing through select doorways is common enough in other games, but in nothing else have I been walking down a corridor, happy enough with life, only to have the dry wall to my right start exploding in on me with random gunfire.
The fact that almost anything can be destroyed, including with simple gunfire or melee strikes, the fact that it all looks good and convincing, and the fact that that destruction effectively changes the layout of the level is what makes this game unique.
It can get fairly chaotic, but it’s far more realistic. It’s a lot more like being in an action movie than a traditional shooting game, at times. I love how, no matter how well you know a level, and what way you’d normally like to approach it, the ways in which defenders reinforce certain walls, or whether enemies are rappelling in from the roof or invading the basement can completely change the feel of the level, giving them all a lot of mileage.
I also love how a stray gunshot could open a spy hole in the exterior wall and your silent flanking manoeuvre could be scarpered by someone catching a lucky glimpse of you.
Plans have to be adapted on the fly, and communication is key. This could make the game great, but I think it also means it’s not really for casual players.
I think we’ll see pro players get a lot out of this game (if they migrate from playing Counterstrike), and we’ll see a big e-sports community form around those pro teams. The game is exciting to watch, no doubt! It’s just actually not that fun to play! That’s totally my own opinion (and while Planetside 2 is one of my favourite games, I’m not really one for smaller competitive multiplayer games).
Moreso than other multiplayer game, this one really requires cooperation and communication; something casual gamers aren’t known for. I think the destruction engine is beautiful, and for that reason alone I think it will do well enough on sales to casual players, but I think these same people will tire of the competitive mode and drift into Terrorist Hunt with one or two friends before ultimately moving on. I won’t be one of the ones buying it. €60 is too much for me to drop on a game I don’t actually enjoy playing. I feel I got all I wanted from it in the two Betas. There are so many shooters I can play without spending new money.
If you want a similar single player game (though the destruction will never compare), try the old but fantastic SWAT 4. It’s still not on GOG or any digital outlet so you may have to get creative to find a copy, but do drop GOG a request to get it on their store. You never know. “Squeaky wheels”, and all..
I read an article during the week by Ryan McCaffrey at IGN (video format below) positing that the single-player first person shooter game might be dying off. It’s hard not to agree with Ryan’s points. While the ultimate fate of campaign modes in FPSs hasn’t been decided yet, we do see more and more shooters releasing without single-player modes, or with lame, half-assed campaigns. It’s a while since I’ve played something that really wowed me, and longer still since that was a game that didn’t feature multiplayer.
I just wanted to share my own thoughts on the questions raised by the IGN article, and hopefully get some of yours too. Note that that article and mine both focus on “first person shooters”. Not third person shooters, cover shooters, or first person RPGs. If you want to watch the IGN article before reading on, feel free:
What I love about Single-Player
So I love single player shooters. They’re pretty much my favourite genre (or have been, at least). When I started playing games I didn’t have internet access, and once I got it I was nearly 20 before connections in Ireland near my home were good enough to reliably play multiplayer. I grew up with single-player games and so developed a fondness for ones that draw you in as an individual; whether it’s with great gameplay or story, I don’t really mind. Preferably both!
I’m a gamer with limited time so I like to commit to some sort of journey for 6 – 20 hours and know that it will resolve satisfactorily and let me get back to my life. I’ve less interest in multiplayer games because they never end. You can sink way more time into them and merely wind up frustrated at your defeats or pissed off with hackers, griefers, trolls, n00bs, or just ignorant adolescents with big mouths. There’s also the danger of becoming addicted to the progression systems. I don’t like how I feel about myself when I’m working and I can’t wait to get back to the game just so I can unlock a new scope after about 3 more hours of online play. I’ve done it, mind you, and enjoyed it. There’s some great multiplayer experiences out there, but that’s just why I prefer the single player, anyway.
I’ve been feeling a lot in recent years that my interests are being under-served, as shooters become more and more focussed on online play. Take Call of Duty, for example. The biggest kid on the block! That series started as a WW2 shooter to beat Medal of Honor with the focus on the single player campaign. Multiplayer wasn’t a big genre yet, though the game had it. The campaign story was great! You could play it again and again. The same with CoD 2 and 3, and a few since.. CoD4 (Modern Warfare) had a stellar single player story, but it also had great multiplayer and that’s when the public started flocking to the series in earnest.
While I enjoyed the stories in Modern Warfare 2 & 3, and Black Ops 1, I feel (personally) that less and less time has been going into developing the single player sides of the games. They’re getting shorter and shorter, and the stories worse and worse.
Multiplayer used to be a bit of a sandbox where you take the levels and assets of the single player game and let players have fun with them after they finish the main game. Now it seems like the CoD games are developed the opposite way. More like “oh we need jetpacks and lasers for multiplayer. Cram them into the single player too and try make it make sense”. Ghosts’ story was pretty underwhelming. I can’t accuse them of cheaping out on the Advanced Warfare story (hiring Kevin Spacey and all) but the cracks were really showing in that story too. It just didn’t come together. Most of the marketing now focuses on selling the multiplayer.
The newest game, Black Ops 3, even shipped without the single player mode on Xbox 360 and PS3, proving which half of the game is the priority when compromises must be made. If players on those consoles buy the game anyway then Activision will have their “proof” that players don’t really care about story modes in shooters, as long as they have multiplayer.
I’m actually surprised that Activision and others haven’t scrapped story modes already. It’s an expensive side of the game to develop, needing the bulk of the writing, voice recording, direction, and set design, all for a mode that most players only get their 6 hours or so out of and then never play again. If players would still buy the game with multiplayer only, a lot of time and money could be saved in producing these annualised titles without single player.
Releasing both seems like splitting attention. I often cringe when I see games that are supposed to be primarily single-player experiences just tacking on multiplayer. Batman: Arkham Origins and Max Payne 3 arguably didn’t need multiplayer, and I’ve heard nobody say good things about them. Money was spent to create half-assed modes and the best reason I can think of for doing this is to justify the ‘full’ price tag. €60/€70 for a single-player only game is probably hard to justify. The same goes for multiplayer-only. Full priced games have usually had both modes, and publishers/retailers want to charge full price, so both branches of a game are usually developed to varying standards. I can’t justify spending €60 on the new Star Wars Battlefront, for instance, because it’s just multiplayer. Where’s my single player? Not to mention that the DLC pass is €50!! I protest! But I digress too..
Alien Isolation could have tacked on a ruinous multiplayer mode and upped their price from €50 to €60 but they stuck with single player only and crafted a masterpiece! Its 20 hours of play also justifies the price tag when compared with 6 hour games for the same money.
I think it makes the most sense to make either a single player game, a multiplayer game, or some co-op half way point. Not as an absolute rule, mind you, but a developer can focus on making their primary game better, save costs by not developing a secondary side, and still charge 5/6 of the price without batting an eyelid. Battlefront are even charging a premium despite having no single player and a very shallow game overall. We know that developers are very keen to do what makes the most business sense wherever possible (especially the big boys!) so I’m surprised we haven’t seen more devs trimming the fat yet. I do believe it’s coming, though.
We Can Already See The Split
The point the IGN article made was that we are seeing more titles focus on just one side, but unfortunately, that seems to be almost exclusively the multiplayer side, prompting the article on whether single player shooters will become a thing of the past.
Star Wars Battlefront, Titanfall, Evolve, Rainbox Six Siege, and the upcoming Battleborn, LawBreakers, and Overwatch are all multiplayer only (some have some 1-4 vs bots, technically allowing “single” player, but have no story mode).
Even Halo, traditionally both a strong narrative game and a strong multiplayer game, has fallen with the rubbish (my opinion, yes, but come on!) Halo 4 story mode. Halo 5 has now been designed with the story mode focussed on being a multiplayer co-op experience, with squads of 4 in all story missions (I haven’t played yet, correct me if I’m partially wrong).
You’d be forgiven for thinking that single player first person shooters are dying off. I mentioned Alien Isolation earlier, and that’s not even a shooter. Deus Ex is a first person stealth-RPG with guns; not a shooter. Even Fallout 4 isn’t really a shooter, though I won’t argue if you want to treat it as one.
The only (AAA/ high quality/ high-exposure) games I can really place on the scales as honest-to-God single player shooters from recent years are the Metro and Wolfenstein: New Order games. All fantastic, by the way! Play them! They have no multiplayer at all, but instead focus on really high quality campaign modes (and challenge modes in Wolf).
Reasons to include single and multiplayer modes
Plenty of games are still doing both modes, and there will always be good reasons to have single and multiplayer modes. Multiplayer is where most of the time is spent by players, and it’s where developers can make more money with microtransactions or cost-effective DLC. But multiplayer-only worlds like the ones seen in Evolve and Titanfall lack depth and character. Single player modes are needed to lend credibility to a narrative setting and really create hardcore fans. Without emotional investment in the world, the setting is all just white noise. Sci-fi games in particular need single player to make their worlds come to life.
The new DOOM game will have both modes, though how story-driven the campaign will be is unknown. DOOM’s story (and Quake‘s) was traditionally a mere paragraph of text followed by non-stop blasting action until another paragraph at the end.
Battlefield (originally multiplayer only, or single with bots) has had story modes for a while, but let’s be honest, they’re pretty crap. Battlefield 3’s story wasn’t up to much (how do you make nuking Paris lack drama) and my all-time most hated single player game is Battlefield 4. The Bad Company games were good though; humour helps.
The Far Cry games are still strong AAA single player shooters, it must be said, but are also trying to bring in more multiplayer elements with each title. Dying Light deserves an honourable mention as a primarily single player FPS from 2015, though.
The Real Question
Where the hell is Half Life 3?! HL1 & 2 were both total game changers for the genre. What will 3 have to say about all this, if it ever comes out?
Okay, the “Real” Real Question
While it may look like shooters are slowly moving towards being multiplayer-only games, we have to recognise that this creates a vacuum. A shortage of supply of narrative-driven single player shooters will be created, yet demand for these titles will presumably remain pretty steady. All sorts of games are made nowadays, serving all types of interests. While AAA studios have traditionally cornered the markets on shooters (because graphics are very important in first person games, and big studios can afford better graphics, models, and animations), what could smaller studios do with the genre if the bigger developers move on?
We might lose some scope and spectacle if single player shooters start becoming the domain of indie studios (and that will sadden me), but I don’t believe the genre will ever die out. It’s too much a main-stay of the games industry. Also, indies are the ones who take risks and create genuinely interesting new titles. There’s no particular difference between Black Ops 3, Modern Warfare, and Battlefield 3. Nothing major. They all offer the same basic gameplay. We could actually see some great new stuff!
What could indies do if they take over the single player first person shooter genre? Will it ever happen? Will the AAA studios ever totally cut out single player modes and would you stop buying their games if they did? I know I already have, as I’m less and less willing to spend €60 on a crappy 6 hour story when I could just replay Metro or Wolfenstain for my shooter fix.