Summertime, and the gaming is easy. Or at least, the release schedules are, as video games enter their long summer vacation period. Given the lack of new major titles, the staff here at Power Up Gaming appear to have been exploring their back catalogue this week, with interesting and varied results.
With all the plaudits being given to Playdead’s latest game Inside (including our very own Jamaal Ryan giving the game a very rare 10 out of 10), I decided to go back and try out Limbo, their previous effort from 2010. This is primarily because I don’t have an Xbox One to play Inside, but also because Limbo has always interested me, yet I’d never got around to playing it. I was surprised to find it just sitting there in my PS4 library, so it must have been a PlayStation Plus game at some point. Go on, have a look yourself; it’s probably there.
I’m very glad that I finally took the plunge into Limbo. The game is deliciously dingy and, on more than one occasion, kind of shocking in the way it revels in grim brutality. The environment is deliberately obtuse and uncompromising, where almost everything is capable of killing you somehow. This was the perfect foil to Unravel which I played last week, as in Limbo, if I missed a jump or died tragically, I instantly knew it was through my own failure rather than a quirk of the in-game physics engine. Plus, the whole mood of the game is entertainingly macabre, like a taxidermy puppet show. Thoroughly recommended.
I’ve also been playing a lot of Pac-Man via the Arcade Classic release on PS4. It’s as faithful a port as you could hope for, but with a no-nonsense approach that just presents the base game as is, with a few modifiers such as round select and the ability to increase the number of lives you start with. Compared to Pac-Man Championship Edition DX from a few years back, which expanded on the original in many ways, it was nice to play the original game as I remembered it. The download is a whopping 800MB for reasons beyond human comprehension (especially since the 1980 original would have probably been measured in bytes), but if you want some Pac-Man action, it’s as good an experience you’re going to get without an arcade cabinet in your house.
I played Valkyria Chronicles for the first time this week. Okay, now that we’ve got that unfortunate piece of public outcry out the way, let me talk about Valkyria Chronicles; because I really, really want to talk about Valkyria Chronicles.
When I treated my PS4 to its very first spin of Valkyria Chronicles: Remastered, I had a handful of expectations already built in my mind. I was ready for deep, turn-based tactical play; I was ready for incredible art; I was even ready to be buried under a hundred different stats. Certainly, I’ve been treated to every one of these during the curt 12 hours I’ve invested so far. But there was one thing I wasn’t expecting at all from Valkyria Chronicles, and that was one of the darkest, most nuanced video game narratives I’ve ever come across.
To me, Valkyria Chronicles feels like one huge, anime-sheened episode of Band of Brothers. Sega’s (heavily) World War II inspired setup is teeming with character, charm, horror and wisdom in the most unexpected of places. Put simply, Valkyria Chronicles ascends above and beyond what is expected from the narrative of a video game about war. The game launches philosophical assault after philosophical assault upon some of the bleakest chapters of the mid-20th century. It is uncompromising in its persistent reflections upon racism, genocide and, most impressively, where normal people fit into this blood soaked mosaic. I’d name names and highlight moments, but, honestly, I don’t want to. I’d really like to think that you have already (or, at least, will) experience all of these highs and lows for yourself, because this really is a special game. Indeed, it really does disappoint me a little to know that Valkyria Chronicles is a special breed of interactive entertainment – a game that really, really wants to make you think. And think I did.
This week I’ve been playing a load of absolute nonsense.
After disparaging PlayStation Plus on the PUGcast a few months ago for giving us games that no one wants, I thought I’d let bygones be bygones, and take some of them for a whirl. This decision turned out to be one of my worst ever.
First, I tried Little Deviants on PS Vita, a puzzle/mini game bastard that requires the use of the Vita’s back touch. It controls are awful, so much so that my fingers now have permanent AIDS. Then, I fired up Nova-111, which consisted of flying a spaceship around some clouds. If you’re a fan of premature precipitation, as well as bumping into walls, then hop on aboard this annoying quest towards boredom.
After all of this, I spent some time with Luftrausers, a simplistic Nazi flying game that’s decidedly basic. The deluge of minimality and simplicity with these free PS Plus games is getting out of hand. Every single one is some sort of top-down-side-scrolling-tower-defence-2D-strategy-puzzle-platforming farce – something which I am getting entirely sick of.
Give me a LEGO game for a change, or one of the now out-of-date Call of Dutys. Why am I consistently getting these small, and frankly dull, indie titles when both PS4 and PS Vita have great, and sizeable catalogues readily available? Come on Sony, fork out the bunse for something worthwhile.
I’d heard a lot of underwhelmed talk about The Walking Dead: Michonne, so when I finally decided to play it, I went in apprehensive but still open-minded. And I have to say, even though it is only about five hours long, they are five hours very well spent. I’d been on the fence about Michonne as a protagonist, since in the comics she’s mostly a stoic but damaged killing machine, with only a little humanity around the edges now and then. But this actually made her really interesting for me to play, as the different choices and dialogue options reflect the different sides of her personality, and how close she is to giving up. All of the options felt true, and true to the character, depending on how you think of her.
Another concern I had was that unlike the vulnerable Lee and Clementine, Michonne in the comics is so battle-hardened that walkers are more of a nuisance to her than a threat. And there are times in TWD:M that feel like this, with a quick machete to the face replacing the frantic hacking and fleeing of previous games. Many of the quicktime events have semi-gratuitous slow-motion when you do something cool, too. But again, it kind of works, because it doesn’t go too far. The fights are still scrappy, and Michonne does get knocked around. There’s also plenty of peril for her companions on this brief adventure, each of whom is immediately engaging enough for you to care if they survive.
Oh, and GREAT theme song.