Feather, in pictures

Whilst the ambient game has a comfy home on the PC, there’s scant few to be found over on the PS4. Bit of a shame considering plenty would look fabulous on a big TV but whilst console dev remains out of bounds for most people, guess we’re kind of stuck.

Anyway! Feather is a lovely compact be-a-bird ’em up. Float around a really quite pretty island, do a bit of flapping and that, make some nice tweeting noises and occasionally pass the odd other player doing the same.

It’s largely a pretty lovely experience, the kind of thing it’s nice to pop on and relax to for a few minutes or so. Being a bird feels nice, swooping, rolling and diving to your own rhythm. There’s no punishments, no goals, just being a bird. It’s nice.

Five quid well spent, I reckon. It’s one I’ll be digging out when the old bonce gets a bit too sore again and I need something to take me away from it all.

The music can be a bit “stood at the back of Shared Earth picking some incense sticks” but I guess that’s kinda fitting regardless. Not every work can be as sublimely soundtracked as the hauntological nature dreamscape that is Proteus and, to be fair, nor would I want every game to be that. Give me breadth, you know?

It really is a shame that consoles are so far behind the curve on the sheer amount of videogame experiences people are making now, mind. Imagine if instead of the tired action, adventure, RPG, shooter categories that games have sat with since the nineties, consoles had some easily browsable space for “ambient”, “nature”, “relaxing” and all manner of other things that people pluck from their imaginations.

Hopefully this upcoming generation will see that finally shift though. It’s certainly long overdue.

Whilst I’m waiting, I’ll treasure the few experiences like “Feather” that can afford to sneak through the net and give me the sort of chill time I often crave. Especially when they look this good.

Hotshot Racing

Early impressions but it’s safe to say I’m pretty happy with Hotshot Racing so far.

Not entirely sure what I was expecting considering I’d pretty much forgotten about the thing 2 or 3 years back and so was pleasantly surprised to see reviews dropping this week for it. Eurogamer’s review pretty much sold it to me, anyhoo.

A low poly Roger Moore, with his face punched in.

Admittedly I’m having a bit of trouble with Aston (hohoho) looking like someone had wrote “draw Roger Moore but with his face punched in” on the design document and nobody stopped to think whether this was the most aesthetically pleasing choice BUT that seems like a pretty small complaint.

Honestly think I’m spoilt by the low poly stuff Ethan Redd knocks out so anything is going to look a bit worse in comparison, no one person should be allowed to set the bar that high. It’s just rude.

A low poly car going fast down a low poly road

It still looks pretty fine though, all the right bright colours in place for the most part, even the menus are perfectly Sega arcade enough. I like it.

Racing wise, it’s surprisingly more in the realms of the still rather excellent Split/Second (without the exploding scenery and stuff) than Outrun 2 or Daytona, even down to the really aggressive rubber banding. Though, as far as I can see, it doesn’t share Split/Second’s more gentle difficulty adjustment when you repeatedly muck a race up.

It’s not a huge problem but it does mean the racing can be rather unforgiving and mistakes can be costly in Grand Prix mode. A couple of times I’ve mucked up a drift and gone from first to last place with nowhere near enough track left to recover.

Luckily, I’ve been too busy going “wheeeeee” and “whoooooooo” to care all that much. (Figured I best mention it though in case that sort of thing is a deal-breaker for you.)

A low poly car ramming into another low poly car

There’s so much I haven’t had chance to look at yet, mind. There’s so many cars, so many tracks, a few different game modes – it’s a really excessively full game for its budget price! I’m happy enough playing the Grand Prix mode or doing a single race in Arcade mode so I haven’t really felt in a hurry to check everything else out. I’ll get round to it all soon enough, I’m sure.

Maybe? Truth be told, I’ve been playing Outrun 2 for a very long time now and still haven’t bothered looking at half of what’s in the home versions of that. Sometimes there’s enough joy to be had from the main game and the rest is a nice bonus. Like I say, I’ve been enjoying the main mode of Hotshot Racing plenty so, err, yeah. Might get round to the rest, dunno.

I really am quite happy with the low poly wheels on my car going round and round, round and round. Hotshot Racing is the good stuff, full of bright colours and blue skies and that’s all that matters to me.

The Elder Scrolls Online

A picture of a castle, behind a tree. It's a bit drab.

Look, it’s been a hairy few months shielding and trying not to catch a killer virus, obviously there’s no better time for me to lose myself in an MMO. For some inexplicable reason, I already owned The Elder Scrolls Online so it seemed as good a choice as any.

The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) kinda ticks off most of my needs at the mo. I can scale play to whatever I can manage, if I’m exhausted then I can pop it on and do a few hours fishing then spend another fifteen minutes shaving the fish. I am exhausted a lot right now. I have shaved a lot of fish.

A spoopy cavern that's remarkably blue.

Otherwise, as MMOs are generally built to accommodate, the more energy I have to spuff on a game, the more of a challenging activity I can go off and do. Though to be honest, I mainly just run around collecting things when I’m not fishing. It’s calming.

It also provides a certain routine. Log in every day, do a bit of crafting, go and have a nap. Do the same tomorrow.

Bluntly, ESO is Very MMO.

One of my houses in the game. It's a wooden building with lots of wooden furniture, a fireplace and a curious glowing device on a table.

I couldn’t say it exactly does anything especially amazingly. I couldn’t even tell you what I’m doing or why most of the time either. It’s kind of a meat and potato game – filling enough, if largely unexciting. But that’s fine because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic so unexciting is sweet relief from the daily news. It’s more than fine at this point, you know?

Sure, it would be nice if the writing had a bit of charm to it (any charm at all really), but I guess I can’t have everything. The writing is largely not great and y’know, skippable. Best off just hitting things rather than reading things. I have skipped a lot of writing.

A scary mansion, it has blood red lighting, some fetching drapes and a couple of glowing alchemy bottles in case you forget this is a fantasy game.

My favourite thing about ESO though is how ESO perpetually very nearly looks good but somehow manages to flunk it at the last hurdle. Whilst some of it is understandable given it needs to run on a toaster almost, there’s definitely some interesting colour and art choices been made that mean the game falls flat for me no matter what angle I spin the camera to.

I know some decisions around the art are due to the internet backlash over its early art style that could have politely been described as “very PS3” and fair enough, that wasn’t an especially good look for a fantasy role playing game. The solution was partially to make the game look like A Very PC Videogame and whilst it has, absolutely, worked and it looks like A Very PC Videogame, it’s a Very PC Videogame from 2006 or something. Which is less kind on my eyes.

It's a videogame forest, red plants in the foreground, a sweep of green and a selection of autumnal shades make the trees almost, but not quite, akin to a painting.

But! I kinda like that. Sure, I’d love something with the kind of fidelity Ubisoft bring to their games or whatever but there’s something about the “photorealism circa the mid to late 2000’s” look that reminds me constantly that this is a videogame rather than a place.

It’s absolutely wrongheaded on my behalf, no doubt, but I like being reminded that a videogame is a videogame. It’s just somehow easier for me to relate that to “humans built this” and kinda marvel at the results. Even if the results do seem to have fallen through time.

A very profoundly blue rocky cavern. Really, it's mainly blue.

I realise I’m not exactly selling ESO here. It absolutely is a game I’d struggle to recommend to anyone who wants to lose themselves in a good story, it’s a game where I’d struggle to recommend it to anyone who wants an exceptionally pretty game and mechanically, I press buttons and things happen, it works. Sometimes I press buttons and this happens and that’s great.

Frankly, an absolute mess of colour that makes it difficult to see what's actually going on in the game.

But I don’t always want exceptional! Sometimes I want something that ticks the right boxes and I don’t give a toss about much beyond that. Not everything has to be astounding to be worth my time, sometimes it’s fine to just be a thing. Sometimes, that’s everything I want.

It’s also something I don’t think videogames as a space appreciates enough with everything being a race to the next best thing. I think people, generally, appreciate that games can just be and that’s fine. It’s just videogames again, really. Videogames is an odd, silly, place.

Will my dalliance with an MMO last beyond coronavirus? Probably not. Do I care? Definitely not. Right now, ESO brings me a peace I don’t find much of in real life and that’s more than enough.

Polybius

Polybius is the videogame as fairground ride. You must be this tall to play. Scream if you want to go faster. I can’t hear you, I said scream if you want to go faster.

Polybius is a Doug Trumbull dreamscape – the 2001 stargate made game, the TARDIS in the time vortex. This is your brain in slitscan.

Polybius is the dull thump thump thump of the sound of a sweaty club dancefloor heard from the bar, the bogs, somewhere, it’s walking from the sidelines to the euphoric centre, the relentless drive of the music building, building, building and…

SHIELD DOWN

If Slave Of God is the game as local nightclub after one too many, Polybius is a case of white labels, a warehouse and let’s hope the fuzz aren’t onto it.

It’s a game that grips and releases like no other I’ve played. It is dance music. It is the videogame rave. It’s fucking incredible. It is a night out, in. I don’t know how this works, it just does. Trust me. It works.

Polybius is purest videogame. Polygon spinning, pixel shattering, the ultimate arcade videogame. The very definition of The New Arcade, impossible in 1983, oh so possible today.

Polybius is I, Robot, Polybius is the modern Blaster, Polybius is Tube Panic. Polybius is Horace Goes Skiing?!? Polybius is a lot. Seriously, it’s so much.

A game that dares to wear the name Polybius has to go hard. No questions, that’s the deal. Polybius goes hard. Polybius, the game, earns its mythical, legendary name and then some.

Polybius is a Nine Inch Nails video. I don’t know either, it just is.

Polybius leaves me breathless. No exaggeration, no kidding. I can only play it for so long before I need a bit of a sit down. Problem? I’m already sitting down. I haven’t worked out how to deal with this yet.

Llamasoft are at the top of their game right now, Jeff and Giles leaning in to the beasty, furry, psychedelia. Reaching deep for the soul of the arcade, pulling out videogames that feel profoundly digital, made from finest ones, zeroes and silicon. Implausibly ending up with videogames to dance to.

Polybius is a few years old now and unjustly ignored. That feels like a wrong that needs to be righted, you know? Even to a die hard Llamasoft admirer like myself, it feels special in ways I can’t put into words anywhere near well enough.

Maybe a sound then? Yeah, that’s it. A sound.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

That’s the one. That’s Polybius.

Like the man says, scream if you want to go faster.

Skool Daze Reskooled

I’m not sure at what point I managed to lose my way but I do know me of relatively few years back would be ashamed by more recent me for avoiding Skool Daze Reskooled because of how it looks.

Like, I’m not here to argue it’s an amazing looker of a game but I’m definitely here to point out that for someone who defends making games at most levels, it’s pretty bloody hypocritical of me to make a thing of this. Especially when what it might well lack in looks, it more than makes up for as a remake.

I’ve been kicking myself about this for week or so now. Considering my roots in remakes, it’s pretty atrocious of me. I’d be made up to be able to write a Skool Daze a tenth of what this is and Molyneux only knows, I’m personally responsible for making games that look worse. Honestly, I’ve no defence.

Crucially, I’m not damning it with faint praise. It is a great take on Skool Daze. If this had landed on my old remakey haunting grounds and/or been entered into one of the prominent remake competitions I used to run, I’d have been a strong advocate for it. You would think the recommendations of my friends and peers would have tipped me off, but nooooo.

Live and learn though, eh. Not exactly the first time I’ve been wrong.

Skool Daze Reskooled is pretty cheap on Steam as well as Android/iOS. It’s pretty good! Sorry.

Super Destronaut: Land Wars

Please sir, I cannot tell a lie. Sometimes, I really just want my videogames to let me switch my overly thinky brain off and allow me to run round a maze and explode things. The prettier the colours, the better. Scratch that! The more colours, the better.

I’m not an especially competitive person so stuff like kill/death ratios mean nothing to me. Ranking and whatever? The same. I do enjoy watching a number go up but that’s about where that particular thrill ends. “Ooh, that was a 7, love a good 7, me. An 8? Back of the net!” like the embarrassment that I am.

I have no shame in admitting that when I first spotted Super Destronaut: Land Wars, I had my fingers crossed that it would live up to my hopes that here was a game that would not only let me watch a number go up but also run around a maze exploding things into lots of colours. Readers, it did not disappoint.

I’m being a bit silly here, obviously, but it’s really important to remember that it’s 2020, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and I’m perpetually fluctuating between upset and angry (so much so I’ve taken up an MMO). If ever I needed a game that didn’t require anything of me, it’s right now.

In less interesting times, I doubt I’d hesitate long to take a gander at Land Wars, in times this interesting, I bloody well crave this sort of thing. And Land Wars hits the spot beautifully.

It’s a ridiculously neon affair, more Tron than the recent VHS tribute brand of neon that games have adopted. It’s the right kind of neon, yeah? Colourful, glowing, gratuitous. Enemies are huge, chunky pixel, also neon, things (this is definitely not a game where you’ll be squinting to see where enemies are hiding, that’s a definite). They bounce around a bit, act a little bit threatening but even on the higher difficulty levels they are often little more than target practice.

I know I probably sound like a broken record but this is all fine and desirable, I’m not slating the game here. This is what I want from it.

There’s a few rudimentary challenges you can indulge in if you prefer a bit of structure (they rarely stretch far beyond “shoot 5 baddies with this weapon” or whatever) or there’s a selection of slight difficulty adjustments if you want the game to push back at you a bit but this isn’t Destiny or something here. It’s a four quid neon shooty lazer maze thing with no ambition to be anything more than that and hand on heart, I love it.

It’s not a game you’ll learn to master, it’s not a game that prizes mechanics or depth or anything that isn’t lasers in a maze. It does everything I hoped it would, as nicely as I hoped it would.

In these tumultuous times, I’m not asking for much else so put those neon lasers into my face and let’s forget about the world outside for a while. Molyneux only knows, we could all do with that right now.

Brut@l

I don’t really remember seeing many mentions of Brut@l when it came out four years ago, which is a shame because it’s really quite a nice arcadey dungeon crawler.

Wearing its inspiration on its virtual sleeve, it translates the more traditional ASCII dungeon map exploring into an arcadey 3d world. Where it ends up isn’t exactly unexplored already but, and this is the bit that matters, it does do a fine job of it.

It doesn’t really need much in the way of explanation, I don’t think. You choose a class at the beginning, run through dungeons hitting and collecting things, find the entrance to a deeper level and go.

Along the way there’s a mild bit of crafting to be done for weapons (nothing strenuous, just have the correct letters and a book, press a button and tada! Brew a mystery potion!), a lot of hitting, some jumping, the occasional maze and whatever. It’s a videogame! There’s nothing mould breaking, just a really good videogamey videogame.

It genuinely doesn’t look good static being largely busy and black and white with slight splashes of colour but in motion it’s both perfectly readable and, frankly, fine. I’ve not had a single problem either finding where to go or anything I need. I’m only mentioning this precisely because the screenshots make it look rougher than it is.

With the exception of a jump that doesn’t quite jump far enough to be entirely comfortable and the odd small but messy interface quirk (forgivable given most big budget games often end up in a worse place with their interface), I’ve really got no complaints of note. It does what it does and it does it well.

Well enough to make me sad that it’s probably been skipped over a thousand times in favour of more on-trend takes on dungeon crawling. That’s a fate it certainly doesn’t deserve. Playing a few quick-ish runs of it this afternoon and yes, it still hits the spot. By the time I’m hitting the third floor and it really gets going and comes into its own, a lovely speedy swords and sorcery dungeon delve, I’m invariably enjoying myself a great deal .

Oh, and it has a level editor too, which is always welcome.

So yeah, Brut@l! Overlooked and good. It’s a game I’ve been ducking in and out of for a few years and still find myself enjoying it a lot when I’ve become long bored of plenty of others. That’s worth something, I’m sure.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

One of the nicer things from the past few years in big box games is both Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed edging away from many of their less savoury elements and, as a result, making me pull fewer faces in their direction, becoming games I want to play and look forward to more of. Saints Row Syndrome, if you will.

In the case of Far Cry it’s been the slow but sure erosion of some of its nastier elements, culminating in the much less obnoxious than 5 (and very colourful) New Dawn and in Assassin’s Creed it’s the shift towards much breezier, less aggressively policed, adventuring in quasi-historical settings.

Also, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey lets you climb Zeus’s titty. This is important.

Because I’m nothing if not the videogame equivalent of a trainspotter (a gamespotter?), there’s a certain pleasure in watching how the people making these things move closer and closer to their ideals of what they want the game to be. Something made possible by the iterative approach Ubi afford to their game series.

Where a lot of games zig and zag from one entry to the next, there’s a clear line of progress found in Ubi titles (especially since the whole furore about Assassin’s Creed: Unity).

I take a ridiculous amount of joy from seeing if I can spot the stuff that’ll be kept and the stuff that’ll be discarded, seeing what will be cross pollinated to other series and how that emerges. It’s a fascinatingly public (and long term as games take ages to make) insight into how games move forward mainly through variations on a theme, rather than huge innovations.

And oh, the craft. There’s some incredibly impressive (and sometimes frankly showy offy) stuff found in these things. Yes, the success, money and team size of a big box game lends itself to more bombastic videogames, the real beauty for me is in how it affords teams the ability to include the little moments too time consuming or expensive for smaller outfits.

It’s the person in the background doing something, it’s the way the boat drifts seamlessly into dock and it somehow feels like a boat being moored, it’s the least videogamey stuff in videogames. It’s the stuff that lets folk really show off the skills they bring into videogames, the marriage of so many disciplines that go into making things shine.

From QA to art to sound to toolmakers and everyone else. It’s adding a more human element to a bunch of zeroes and ones and it’s literally all in the details.

It’s not something I value over and above the magic smaller teams can achieve, the tangents they can go on, avenues they can take us down, it’s just one more thing I enjoy in videogames. One more “Wait, we can do that? Woah” to a list of many.

Assassin’s Creed:Odyssey is chock full of this stuff. It is videogame excess in craft and in length, in art, sound and in an absurd amount of human effort spent on making it exist. It’s almost the poster child for it, a big showy “look what we can do” built on a familiar formula tuned to very much allow for this sort of thing.

I’m enjoying it hugely and like I said, it lets you climb Zeus’s titty and more videogames should do that. It’d get points for that alone.