Archive for the Video Games Category

“LIMBO” Game Review

Posted in Video Games with tags , , , on August 3, 2012 by Alex

“Limbo” is a puzzle platformer released by the Danish studio Playdead originally on July 21, 2010 for the XBOX Live Arcade and then spread to just about every major digital distribution platform.  In the history of indie games, Limbo might fit into the Second Age.  There was that which preceded “Braid” and that which followed “Minecraft.”  “Limbo” fits right in the middle of the two.

Or should I say LIMBO.  Because that’s what the title screen says.  And capital letters, when used sparingly, tend to be spooky.

LIMBO is a game about of a boy journeying through a dark world.  Some of the surrounding materials, such as the Steam store page, refer to him as searching for his lost sister, but this is not apparent in the story itself.  Whatever the case, LIMBO actually has a very interesting plot.  It’s not about the boy’s coming of age or politics or anything necessarily deep, it simply shows the decrepit condition of a fallen world.

As you take the boy deeper and deeper into LIMBO, you’ll encounter the story through the questions you ask yourself.  How did that get there?  Was there an alien invasion?  Or are those demons?  Why does everything want to kill me?  Am I playing the bad guy?  It never answers these questions, it simply allows you to fill in the gaps however you so choose.  Or, if you prefer, not at all.

I’ve never played anything that had the atmosphere of LIMBO.  It’s completely in black and white, but interestingly (just like the game’s lack of a story) I found myself imagining color where none actually existed.  I remember some waist high grass blowing in the breeze and distinctly seeing it as a dried green, but upon closer inspection it was actually gray.  If there’s a good criteria by which I usually judge art, it would be in how well it deceives.  If it can trick me, it can earn my respect.

However the game’s visual genius goes much deeper.  Shapes in the background and on the edge (literally the English word for Limbo) of the screen tend to appear faded so as to make you focus on the action, but also serve to heighten the romanticism of the game’s imagery.

The sound also deserves similar merit.  At crucial points in the story, there will be alarming swells of brass instruments or the most unnerving drones of ambient noise.  But what I found most satisfying about LIMBO’s sound is when it used none at all.  When I accidentally killed the boy (usually in a gruesome way like a beheading), there was no mopey “uh oh, so sorry” sound.  When I successfully solved a puzzle and laid waste to my enemies, there was no happy “You’re a winner!” jingle.  All the game gives you is the clear message is that it’s your intelligence keeping you alive.  The world does not rejoice with you when you conquer it, it just sleeps quietly under your feet.  And it does not mourn when you are crushed, it just silently embraces your ignorance into itself.

But the real reason this game is often touted as an example of “art” is not for its spectacular visuals or sound, but for its emotional pull in the midst of action.  The first time I died in LIMBO came as a complete shock.  I was enchanted by its visual splendor, but once I slid down a hill too quickly and shattered every bone at the bottom I found I was trapped in a nightmare.  You see, the difference between a good movie and a good game where the hero dies is in the issue of responsibility.  In cinema, the director put him down.  In a game, you put him there.  It’s a very intimate and frightening experience.

In terms of controls, I was satisfied with what LIMBO did.  It packs in a remarkable number of actions on a thumb-stick and three buttons (I’m using a XBOX controller hooked up to my PC) and I had no problem navigating the game’s world.  While the game does emphasize blurring in various capacities – sound and barely sound, shadows and almost shadows, story and imagination, or even whether its a puzzle-platformer or a cinematic platformer – there’s never a point where it’s unclear how to actually operate it.

When you need to jump, you’re not going to think pull a switch.  When you need to drag a box, you’re never going to think climb a ladder.  This might sound overly basic, but I walked away feeling impressed with how clear the game was about what to do when you saw something.  It does this, once again, all through the visuals.  With the blurring on the edges, your eyes start to ignore what’s around you.  You adjust to looking right into the action.

Movement, however, feels a little shoddy.  Sometimes the game is compared to the likes of Another World or the early Oddworld games, but I can’t help but feel that within the context of itself it was slower than it needed to be.  I was okay that the boy didn’t jump unreasonably high, but the actual lead into the jump felt delayed.

My biggest complaint with LIMBO might be that it ultimately failed to complete what it set out to do.  The atmosphere was palpable in its early acts because the boy’s challenge makes sense.  If there was a trap set to maim him, it was clear who set it.  You don’t know why they’re after him, but you know someone is after him.  Eventually the game just gets too big.  There’s a point where you think, why is a giant ball about to crush me?  Why is the world spinning ever so slowly after I pulled that lever?  The game never ceases to be fun, but its charm ultimately struggles in all the bombastic chaos.

So no, I cannot easily grant LIMBO access into the Martian Sunrise Canon.  While I strongly enjoyed the game’s atmosphere, there are puzzle platformers out there (i.e. Braid or Portal) that fit better as a complete package.  But it is at least impressive to know that this is Playdead’s very first game.  It’s like your 5 year old kid made you something with his Crayola’s on par with Revenge of the Sith.  Maybe it wasn’t quite what it should have been, but dang… this kid is going places.

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N is for NPC

Posted in A to Z, Half-Life, Katamari Damacy, Resident Evil 4, RPG, Video Games, World of Warcraft, Zelda on April 16, 2012 by Alex

NPC stands for non-player character.  This typically refers to a character in a video (or tabletop) game not controlled by the player but also usually not meant to describe attacking enemy units.  Sometimes NPC’s only appear in a single scene but by virtue of saying something ridiculous or unexpected, they add charm and mystery to the game’s story.  So here are some of my most memorable NPC’s:

Half-Life (s) – Dr. Isaac Kleiner: Kleiner’s brilliance in theoretical physics has made him awkward around people so he compensates for his lack of social interaction with a pet headcrab named Lamarr.  Lamarr rarely shows any mutual appreciation and is often a nuisance to Kleiner by disrupting his meticulously detailed scientific operations.  Plus he has a shrill voice.  What a tragically funny man.

File:Kleiner bust.jpg

Resident Evil 4- nameless merchant:  We know almost nothing about this character.  He’s grizzled, grimy, and covered in a trench-coat.  When he swings it open to reveal his wares I am often overcome with the ghastly fear of him wearing only a speedo.  So far this has never actually happened.

Zelda Twilight Princess – Jovani:  This man sold his soul for unimaginable riches and now has been cursed to be a sentient, golden statue in the middle of a mound of treasure.  His cat is also welded to his head.  He has gems for eyes.  Probably the purest example of black comedy in a Zelda game.

World of Warcraft – Finkle Einhorn:  Remember the days of classic WoW?  If you got the chance to kill the Beast in Upper Blackrock Spire before the Cataclysm expansion, a gnomish explorer Finkle Einhorn pops out the corpse.  He’s been inside the belly of the Beast for months and has survived simply because of his wearing a lava suit and a built in food pellet dispenser.  Once asked about how he went to the bathroom, he angrily avoids the question.

Image of Finkle Einhorn

Katamari Damacy – King of All Cosmos:  A sizable portion of the game’s humor comes directly from this character.  He teleports the player’s character with a “royal rainbow” that comes out of his mouth, he has a funny wisecrack for every situation, and the whole point of the game is to collect enough random things to replace the stars which the King destroyed in a drunken fit.  How many people can claim that?

M is for Multiplayer

Posted in A to Z, Board Games, RPG, Video Games on April 14, 2012 by Alex

I have a feeling that, in some years, when I have my own family we will play lots of games (both physical and non-physical) together.  We would be similar to Minecraft Dad who plays the computer game Minecraft with his kids and posts the videos on YouTube.  I think the majority of video game’s bad rapport are due to their tendency to isolate people, but this mindset always assumes a singe player experience.  Nonetheless, let’s talk about some of my favorite multiplayer experiences both with and without a wall outlet:

Terraria:  Very much like Minecraft above, but done in gorgeous SNES-esque graphics.  A few of my buddies got together and we thought we’d only play it for an hour or so, that hour became all night.  It’s a blast.  It’s only flaw is that it’s Windows only (aside from hacks, of course) because of it being a .NET game.

Left 4 Dead:  You’re one of four people trying to survive a zombie cataclysm.  It’s a first person shooter that heavily emphasizes cooperation.  When you got a player down, you have to mow down the zombies and physically help him up. The single player version uses computer controlled bots with decent AI, but it’s a boat load more enjoyable with three other people.  One of my favorite things about L4Dis that your character choice is purely one made on aesthetics.  But what I like even more is that it’s played in short campaigns only taking a few hours or so each.  So instead of watching a movie with your loved ones and not talk to each other in the dark, why not blast away some zombies together?

Omega Virus:  Okay, to be fair, I haven’t played this one since maybe Clinton’s first term. It’s a board game where you are trying to survive on a space station where a malicious computer virus is trying to wipe you out.  It’s got a battery powered voice with some creepy, snarky comments (think an early prototype of GLaDOS).  Is there anything more that really needs to be said?  Note to self, track this one down.

Munchkin: Takes the concept of dungeon diving and monster slaying and simplifies it into a card game where people with no experience in these sorts of games can enjoy it.  It’s absolutely chaotic and hilarious.  While it’s true you’re all playing together, it’s also built off competition and betrayal.

Unnamed tabletop RPG:  Tricky one because this a wild card.  I’ve been playing D&D 3/3.5/Pathfinder for some time.  They are fun, but I’m currently looking for something different.  Here’s what I got my eye on:

Labyrinth Lord:  A retro clone of classic D&D.  You can download some of the books on the publisher’s website and I’m blown away by the game’s simplicity.  Combat looks to be very quick and adventure building looks to be simple.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition: Warhammer is gritty and dark.  You’re not playing the knight in shining armor, but more than likely just a regular person in a dark fantasy universe trying to make their way.  Combat in Warhammer is also very lethal and is sometimes wiser to avoid rather than charge blindly in.

Call of Cthulhu: Even lower than Warhammer.  See my earlier post on Cthulhu and Lovecraft.  This game really isn’t even meant for combat (as you will probably die), but is built on investigating strange mysteries.  It’s made to be like its source material, so if you see one of the eldritch monstrosities you will probably go insane.  Hah!

Barbarians of Lemuria: Know almost nothing about this one other than its meant to be pretty rules light.  A low fantasy world like Robert E. Howard’s Conan (which I’d prefer).  Will have to look more into this one.

Deadlands: Just like barbarians, I know almost nothing.  It’s a weird west game that uses dice, cards, and poker chips (as any western game probably should).

K is for Katamari Damacy

Posted in A to Z, Video Games on April 12, 2012 by Alex

(Insert catchy opening about Katamari Damacy being more than a video game sold in a box, but an experience grasped with all thirteen senses.  Note to self: Be careful to avoid dramatization and pretense.  You do that too much.)

(Insert video, test for completion, and report back to self.)

TEST ENGAGE

TEST TERMINATE

(Result:  Success on most counts.  Faulted for not showing gameplay.)

(Insert comment on the video’s aural wonders.  Insert clever juxtaposition on the psychedelic nature of the music and the images of rainbows, humorously posed animals, and the revealing shot of mushrooms with hallucinogenic properties.)

(Insert gameplay video, test for completion and report back to self. )

TEST ENGAGE

TEST TERMINATE

(Result:  Success.  Follow up with video on final stage.)

(Insert comment on the growing nature of the katamari and how it’s ultimately about human arrogance and its inherent utility in any capitalistic system.  Insert witty foreshadowing of the next video’s comments being an interactive demonstration of the capitalistic trajectory’s expected end.)

(Insert gameplay video, test for completion, and report back to self. )

TEST ENGAGE

TEST TERMINATE

(Result:  Success on one out of three counts.  Follow up with part 2 video on final stage.)

(Insert disclaimer that commentator’s voice sounds nothing like personal voice.  Insert recommendation for music (search memory archive, engage [Donovan] and engage [The Raspberries] suggestion application) in place of commentator voice.  Note to self:  What does my voice sound like?  Make sure and ponder this with your bubble pipe and footy pajamas.)

(Insert gameplay video, test for completion, and report back to self. )

TEST ENGAGE

TEST TERMINATE

(Result:  Success on two out of three counts.  Follow up with part 3 video on final stage.)

(Insert comment that rouses curiosity of the audience and encourages the audience to play Katamari Damacy.)

(Insert gameplay video, test for completion, and report back to self. )

TEST ENGAGE


TEST TERMINATE

(Result:  Success on all counts.  Pat self on back.  Go eat dinner. )