If you’ve been following us over the last year, you’ll have read on the order of 40 of our reviews. As it is, you’ve probably read about none. Still, all or nothing, there are games we missed out on reviewing in 2013. Here’s a brief summing up.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like stealth games. I find them frustrating and slow at best, punishing and unplayable at worst. My attempts at playing Metal Gear Solid always resulted in 30 minutes of cutscenes, five minutes of gameplay and about three days of powered-off consoles. Gunpoint, though, is different. Unlike other stealth games, it’s forgiving of failure. Restarting after death is a case of choosing how far back in time you’d like to hop, then giving things another go.
It’s also remarkably flexible in how you tackle levels. You can burst through a door, pummel three guards to death, then hack a computer and messily leap out of the window, or you can sneak through each stage undetected, killing lights and disconnecting alarms using your circuit-rewiring device before making good your escape through an open skylight. It’s your choice, and the idea of choice as something other than the ability to choose between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ moral choices is refreshingly welcome. There are dozens of ways to complete most levels, and a level editor provides creative opportunities long past the game’s admittedly short running time.
This one managed to cause a minor controversy when it was released because of the argument over whether its brand of interactive storytelling constituted a game. While the answer was obvious – of course it does, it’s interactive entertainment software – the overwhelmingly positive result was that the game was brought to widespread attention, and that’s only a positive thing.
When Katie returns home to Oregon from travelling in Europe in the middle of 1995, she’s confronted with an empty house. Unbidden by any objective-marking arrows or really any story setup, the player has to explore the large dwelling and deduce what’s happened there. Tying together multiple plot threads – a doomed love, the failing author turned electronics reviewer, the overstretched mother and the house’s dark past and hidden passageways, the game manages to express all but one of them almost wordlessly. The only method of exposition comes in the form of diary entries from Katie’s sister Sam, and the soundtrack consists solely of rain hammering on the darkened windows and taped recordings of amateur punk bands.
It’s all very atmospheric and it’s one of the most effective uses of silence gaming has seen in some time. Of course, the rather creepy atmosphere of the game is only added to by the fact of the house being empty. At no point during Gone Home does anything remotely scary ever happen. Never is there the mildest hint of a jump scare or mounting sense of dread. And yet there’s something about it that will have you leaving the lights on in every room and checking over your shoulder every five minutes.
Gone Home is a wonderful storytelling adventure that tugs at the heartstrings in a rather unexpected and rare way. It’s well worth playing for anyone interested in creating their own narrative adventures or learning how to tell stories.
Ride To Hell: Retribution
…nah, only joking. Just make sure you don’t buy it!